This is a letter I was forwarded that was written by a sister who was the victim of some harassment for nothing more than being Muslim. This should serve as a wake up call to us. We must work together to prevent these types of things from happening. The letter is unedited (except to remove the location as to preserve the anonymity of the author).
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39
On July 22nd, 2007, a trip to the neighborhood pharmacy turned into a life-changing experience.
On this Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took our baby and went shopping. We stopped at the Walgreens in [location removed], to purchase an infant thermometer. My husband stayed in the car with our baby and I went into the store on my own.
I had stopped in an aisle to look at some items on the shelf when I noticed a couple, possibly in their late forties or early fifties, approaching where I was standing. There was an employee packing goods behind me and she asked them if they needed any help. The lady said yes and all three started heading to the next aisle. The gentleman, however, seemed to linger behind a bit. He then came up behind me and said to me in a low voice, “I do not appreciate people who wish to cut off my head!” I was appalled to say the least. Words cannot describe my shock at such a statement. I felt as though the devil himself was whispering in my ears. Though my thoughts were still reeling from the statement, I responded that I do not cut people's heads off. In response, the man then insisted that I do, saying that he knows this because my religion teaches me to cut peoples heads off. He said, “Islam teaches you to cut peoples heads off!”
Islam does not teach me such heinous behavior, as this man insists. Islam teaches me of the sanctity of life and the great value of each soul. The Qur'an states in Chapter 5, Verse 32, “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”
He went on to insist that he knows the “Qurʾān” and knows all about Islam. His obvious ignorance and disrespect was infuriating and appalling. He walked off to catch up with his significant other and the employee. My mind and emotions were spinning. What he was saying was so wrong and I greatly wanted to respond. But in that fleeting moment there was too much to say to a mind so wanting of truth. I wanted to point out the fallacies in his statements, and to derail his insistence on knowing about Islam and its teachings.
His mispronunciation of “Qurʾān” made me think that he did not even know Arabic and given that the Qur'an is written in Arabic, this language deficit – in my opinion – barred him from any scholarly attempt at truly understanding Islam and its Holy Book. English translations of the Qur'an can often lose much meaning from the Arabic – a poor translation can misrepresent the true meaning altogether.
Moments later the employee returned to the aisle and asked if I needed anything. I responded that I didn't but I added that I did not appreciate how their customers were treating me. I proceeded to tell her what the man said to me. Her response was that she did not hear it so she couldn't do anything. She dismissed me and continued to pack her goods. I was surprised at her disregard and lack of action. I could not believe it was acceptable for customers to be harassed in this manner. The emotions were beginning to take its toll and tears slipped from my eyes. I walked away, wanting to just leave the store. However, I refocused and realized that I could not let this ridiculous situation prevent me from functioning. I had come to the store to purchase something for my baby and that was what I was going to do!
Not knowing where to find my item, and refusing to further converse with the unsympathetic clerk, I headed towards the pharmacy counter to ask for assistance. I found my thermometer just before I spoke with the pharmacist, so I took it to the register to check out. Unfortunately, as I approached the line, I noticed the same abusive man in line ahead of me. He saw me and turned away. The woman with him continued to avoid eye contact with me.
It was not long before the man started off again. He decided it was necessary to blame me for “murdering the thousands of Americans on 9/11.” This personal accusation was unbearable. I wondered how anyone could blame me for horrific events of such magnitude. The tragedies of 9/11 were caused by individuals who had their own agenda and misrepresented Islam, distorting the peaceful teachings of Islam. Leaders and Scholars of Islam in our community and all over the world have condemned the tragedy of 9/11 and clearly stated that Islam forbids acts of terrorism and violence.
His malicious statements continued and became more aggressive than before. He was now loudly voicing his opinions in front of the line of customers and the cashier. He kept repeating that I wished to cut his head off. Any rebuttal on my part, saying that he was wrong, only got a response from him that he knew Islam and the Qurʾān. I could not help but notice the lack of response by those witnessing this barrage. I only heard a woman behind me say softly, “How mean!” Was I less of a person, less of a customer, so much so that he could treat me in this way with no one objecting? I couldn't help but wonder if the tables were turned, and I had spoken such words to him, if I would have been arrested and taken in for “further inquiry.”
He paid for his items and walked towards the exit continuing his tirade, telling me he knew so much about Islam. And when I asked him if he knew my religion better than me, he said yes, arrogantly reiterating his self-acclaimed vast knowledge. He left the store only to return shouting to me, “Why don't you go back to Saudi Arabia!” At this remark, my mind went through a whirlwind of thoughts. I wasn't even from Saudi Arabia. I am from the Caribbean, but it should not have mattered anyway. There was so much hypocrisy in his statement since all Americans, with the exception of Native American Indians, came from somewhere other than American soil at some point in their ancestry. I wanted to make this point and emphasize that I had as much right to be here as he did. I wanted to say that there are many “American” people who are “Muslims.” If all Muslims were to go back to where they came from, as he suggests, then where would my “Caucasian American Muslim husband go? Was he to go back to “America?” Or more specifically, was he to go back to Texas?” This man obviously couldn't see that people who were different than him had the same right as he did to live peacefully in this country. And to suggest that I leave was as ridiculous as me telling him to leave. Unfortunately, the only words that could fall out of my mouth were, “Why don't you go back to where you came from?” He paused at my surprising response. But my point still must have eluded him. He walked out the store.
I was beside myself, barely able to complete my transaction at the register. The cashier handed me the bill to sign. With shaking hands I signed and gave it back to her. Not knowing if I was coming or going I asked her if I was done as she handed me my bag. I didn't even know if she gave me my receipt or not. I walked out to the parking lot, only to be more alarmed that the man was waiting for me. The woman with him was already in the car. He stood at the rear of his silver Thunderbird waiting for me to go to my car. As I approached my vehicle he continued to make aggressive remarks, much of which I barely heard. I was too shaken to even hear him anymore. I got in the back seat of my vehicle and broke down, to my husband's shock. He was on the phone and quickly hung up. I told him what the man had been doing. My husband consoled me and then got out the car to go speak with the man. But the man had already gotten in his car and, seeing my “white American” husband approaching, drove off.
In the midst of everything I looked at my baby boy in his car seat and there were tears in his eyes as he watched me in confusion. I had scared him with my burst of emotions. He was upset because I was crying. It broke my heart. When my husband returned to the car, I asked him to console my son while I gathered myself. After we were all a bit more composed my husband asked if I had told the people in the store. When I told him that I did but got no help from them, he went into the store himself. Not surprising, they apologized to him and the manager even called the police. I could only think that they responded to him instead of me because, unlike me, he fit the “typical” American stereotype.
Moments later the police arrived and spoke with us and the employees. The cashier finally responded in a sympathetic manner. The manager never spoke with me. The police heard my story but said they could do nothing since they had no information on the man's identity. They recommended that if it happened again that I should alert the employees and have them call the police.
I found it ironic advice since I had indeed alerted the employees, and they even stood witnessing it all, yet nothing was really done to help me. The officers were apologetic. They indicated that such an incident had not happened there before. This fact was reiterated by the store employees. And it certainly was a first for me as well.
The police asked if we needed to do more shopping and pointed out that they would remain in the area for a while, but I was too shaken and needed to go home. It is difficult to explain how I felt about the incident. It left me with a sickening feeling in my stomach. I wanted to cry. But over time I realized there was no need. This man was too ignorant to cry over. I had done nothing wrong and had no reason for tears. The fault this man saw in me was that I was a Muslim. And that is no fault in my eyes. I feel blessed to be a Muslim. This man has a great misunderstanding about Islam. My fear is that there are many others like him. He spoke as if he represented all of America but I know that just as he cannot judge me for other's actions, I cannot judge other people in our community based on his actions. When the incident began I knew that he targeted me because I wore “hijab” with its tell-tale head scarf. In spite of malicious comments, I have no regrets or fears about wearing it. No one can ever make me stop doing something good that I do to please God.
This man, unprovoked, verbally attacked me. Did “Love your neighbor as yourself.” escape his vast knowledge? I am hopeful that this is not, and will not be, a normal occurrence in my society. I do, however, feel that it is important that I speak about it so other Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be aware that it happened. I trust that this awareness would prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. My hope is that those in our community with true scholarly qualifications will step forward and address these misunderstandings and perhaps prevent other innocent individuals from being subject to such prejudices.
If future instances of such harassment and prejudice continue to occur however, the following is a suggested course of action.
- Immediately contact the authorities.
- Notify the management.
- In the case of unresponsive or apathetic management, establish witnesses and gather contact information. Inform police of the management's lack of concern and file complaints and grievances against them with corporate headquarters and the authorities.
- Attempt to gather and confirm evidence to establish the identity of the harasser, such as name and license plate number.
- And very importantly, as they say, “Keep your head up!” Always remember that you have done nothing wrong. It is the harasser who is wrong and ignorant. Never allow hatred to fill your heart, because it is evil and dark. Instead, feel pity for those of such ignorance and narrow-mindedness and take positive measures to stop such incidents from reoccurring, like writing this article.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allāh's Messenger (saas) said, “Anybody who believes in Allāh and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allāh and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allāh and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet. (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk). Sahih Bukhāri: Vol 8, Book 73, Number 47