Transformative Muslim Women: Unveiling Islamophobic Experiences
Project Update: May 2021 by Alexis Fisher, CUNY Hunter College; Anna Savva, CUNY Queens College; Maimuna Begum, CUNY Hunter College; Nour Abdelwahab, New York University and Zahraa Mohammed, University of Pennsylvania
Seven interviews have been conducted, (Anonymous, Doha Hussain, Mooniba Abdul, Nafisa Hafidh, Safa Javid, Toma Uddin, Walaa Khalil). Interviews are conducted via zoom and range between 30-45 minutes long depending on the participant. Prior to the interview, participants are required to read and sign the consent form and notify the interviewers if they'd like any particular arrangements. The interviews are conducted by two interviewees, one of which takes active notes, while the other asks the questions. Interviews are also audio recorded for transcription purposes.
The women participants range in age, between 19-44 years old and share different ethnic backgrounds. Some countries which have been mentioned include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. All of the participants have lived in, and currently live in, the tri-state area (NY, NJ, PA); however, many participants have spent time living abroad, including in Canada, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. When participants have lived overseas, we ask them to compare their experiences as hijab wearing women cross culturally. This has yielded discourse involving cultural attitudes toward the hijab across the U.S as well as in the MENA/SWANA, South Asian regions.
While conducting interviews, many participants reiterate common themes. Some of these common themes are listed below
Choosing to wear the hijab as a religious obligation, not out of cultural requirement
Wearing the hijab increases their scrutiny under the public eye by both non-Muslims and Muslims alike
Challenging islamophobia through “de-mystifying” Islam, answering questions about Islam to strangers or even perpetrators of Islamophobia
Islamophobic experiences are not the main reason our hijab-wearing participants considered unveiling (if applicable), rather, internal tests of faith were more challenging to their relationship with the hijab
Representation in public spaces and social media is an empowering tool for hijab wearing women
Being a hijab wearing woman in a non-Islamic country has strengthened their faith
Instances of Islamophobia
All participants shared the experiences of prolonged stares and uncomfortable comments. Participants also mention their American identity can often be challenged, especially as women of color. Some participants have experienced other instances in which they were targeted as hijab wearing women, for example,
One participant, Mooniba, had her hijab ripped off publicly by an Arby’s worker
One participant, Safa, was in elementary school when she got a note saying, “you’re a terrorist” and was told to “take it off”
One participant, Walaa, sat at a restaurant with her family where the table next to her began making Islamophobic and xenophobic comments, and asked to be moved away from Walaa’s table
Our last interview question opens discussion related to the ways in which politics in the last few years have impacted the way hijab wearing women navigate life. Common themes were revealed, some listed below,
Political discourse related to Islam (e.g the Muslim ban, France’s hostility toward hijab) increases hypervigilance in hijab wearing women
Under the Trump administration, our participants felt as though Islamophobia was more readily acceptable, and would go unpunished
Political instances which our participants have mentioned feeling intimidated in the U.S included post 9/11, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the Trump Presidency, the Muslim Ban. Some participants also mentioned France’s potential hijab ban.
Moving forward our team is concluding our interviews the week of March 1st. Two participants remain who are yet to have been interviewed. Once all interviews are complete, our team will be going through the notes we take during our interviews and line them up with our recorded audio. Team members will make an effort to transcribe some of the audio recordings, in order to extract quotes that can be used verbatim in the final publication. Once all of our information is compiled, we will structure the project in a way which highlights the parallels, as well as differences, our participants have experienced as hijab wearing women.