By Ada Mullol
“I didn’t take off my hijab, I didn’t feel unsafe to the point where I had to take it off,” says Maha El Bardicy, a 31 year-old American student, recalling the days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
On this day she is wearing a green hijab and a beige abaya that covers all her body.
“It was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as after 9/11,” she assures. El Bardicy explains that the aftermath of the attacks in 2001 was a hard time for everyone, and also the reason why her dad made her take of her hijab: “Without it I look American: I have light-colored hair, light-colored eyes… So, without it, I was safe”.
Maha took her hijab off for a year. She had been wearing it since 9th grade. But then she put it back on because she “didn’t feel comfortable with it off”.
She says that she would never take it off again willingly.
Maha is one of the 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S. Attacks against this community are on the rise in the country, according to the Pew Research Center, now surpassing the post 9/11 level.
In 2001 there were 93 assaults against Muslims in the U.S. reported to the FBI, compared with 12 in 2000. This trend decreased in the following years, but has been rising again since 2015, when there were 91 attacks, followed by 127 in 2016 — when the presidential campaign started.
Maha is keenly aware that she is Muslim. She says she is still scared, and mentions that, although after 2001 “people were more physically aggressive,” since last year she has suffered emotional and verbal aggression, and angry looks from people: “It’s a different kind of fear, but it is fear”.
Following 9/11, considered to be the worst terrorist attack against the U.S., a Muslim registry was implemented by the George W. Bush administration. This resulted in deportation proceedings against 14,000 people, mostly from Muslim countries.
In January 2017, 16 years later, President Trump took office and issued the Executive Order 13769, known as travel ban or Muslim ban.
Since then, the deportations of undocumented immigrants have shaken again the Muslim community — in some cases, affecting people who moved to the U.S. decades ago pursuing the “American dream”.
Maryam K, a 41 year-old American who would not give her last name, is wearing a blue hijab with decorative patterns that match her glasses. Under the watchful eyes of her teenage daughter and her younger son, she assures that it breaks her heart to see that recent policies by the U.S. government are tearing families apart: “You already see broken homes all over the place, but for people who actually have their homes together, and then breaking those apart, I think it’s horrible”.
Maryam, who works in Washington, D.C., and whose parents were born in Pakistan, mentions quietly that Muslims have become more self-conscious: “I have to tell my kids to be careful of what they say and do, because it’s not going to be taken in the same context as somebody else”.
She recalls, for example, that she has seen Muslim people praying in public, in parking lots, and the police have been called “because it’s strange”.
“If there were more public prayer rooms it wouldn’t create those awkward moments,” she muses.
Not everyone feels the same. Hala Maarouf, a 37 year-old American housewife from the United Arab Emirates, considers that Trump’s policies are “up to him”.
Hala, who wears a black hijab and a black coat, sits down in a chair and mentions that she is is following the laws, respecting everybody, and enjoying life in the United States without getting bothered by anyone.
“I never felt any change, at all. They are all nice people. I love being and spending my life here, this country is for all religions,” Hala says, while holding close a shopping bag that reads American Girl.
Nonetheless, according to the Pew Research center, half of U.S. adults consider Islam not to be part of American mainstream society — Republicans, white evangelicals, and those with less education (high school or less) express more negative views about Muslims.
Moreover, seven in ten U.S. adults acknowledge that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the country today.
Maha points out that Islamophobic comments and actions happen “too much to report”. However, she believes that most Muslims have learned to ignore it: “If we fight back, we look like we’re aggressive people”.
She looks optimistically to the future of Muslims in America, and considers that they should be more active to change the situation: “It’s bad on us we’re ignoring it and not speaking up as well. We should say something and maybe things would change”.