Arab News – The attack in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, was the 355th incident of mass shooting in the US in 2015. But it became the most infamous as it involved a Muslim couple. Media gave nonstop coverage to the event for weeks, as though nothing else happened in the world during that time.
The Islamophobes went into overdrive. Graffiti appeared on mosque walls and Muslim homes screaming. “We hate Muslims,” “Go home.” There were scores of hate crimes from name calling, physical attacks to firing at a Hijabi woman’s car.
In Canada, too while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees, a Muslim woman, Hiba, faced hostility especially because she wears a niqab. “Ninja, Ninja” was something she was used to hear but now people were telling her to go home. “A woman actually came up to me and told me I was a step back to feminism. Hiba, who speaks fluent French and English calmly told the woman that feminism to her meant to do what she wanted. “If you have the right to uncover, I have the right to cover.”
Across the US, Muslims were in shock. Some found it hard to believe at what had happened on Dec. 2, in San Bernardino. Some resorted to conspiracy theories suspecting that someone had framed the shooters to bring disrepute to the Muslim community. They could not believe that Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani woman and mother of a seven-month-old baby could be so brutal.
Fear gripped the Muslim community. One woman came crying to a well-known Islamic imam stating that she had taken off her hijab after donning it since age 7 because she was scared. One person who did not wish to be identified said, “Before I would pray anywhere; in parking lots, restaurant lobbies. But now I am careful. In malls, I pray in the fitting rooms, at the airports I check with the authorities where I can pray.” A man with a long beard said, there was pressure from relatives to trim his beard to a smaller size.
But while the media and the Islamophobes spewed poison against Muslims, a kinder, gentler side of North America emerged: Sabra a California resident said that in their mosque, over 250 Christians and Jews formed a circle vowing to protect the mosque. Non-Muslim schoolgirls in a Chicago school covered their head with scarves to stand in support of their fellow Muslim students.
John, a young man in Ohio said, “I have met many Muslims and find them to be nice and friendly. I would say to them, like the terrorists are in minority, so are the Islamophobes. Just be patient. This is an election year, anti-Muslim sentiments are being fanned by the politicians. It will pass. Unfortunately, we have a history of racism. We were not too nice to the American Indians or the African Americans or the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, so some are quick to paint all Muslims in the same brush.”
Hiba told Arab News, “I have discovered for every racist, every nutty Canadian, there are at least hundred good ones who are understanding and supportive. “I have had several non-Muslims come up to me uttering words of support. They said, ‘We appreciate your presence and your community. There are lunatics in every religion. Please be safe and don’t be handicapped by fear.’”
And, while they wait for things to calm down, some Muslims are actively trying to let non-Muslims know that Islam is not a religion of hatred. Terrorists are a common enemy.
Mona of Flint Michigan stood in a public place with coffee and donuts and a sign that read, “Talk to a Muslim. Free coffee and donuts.” In her Facebook post she writes, “Everyone who stopped to talk was so kind and sweet. ‘Thanks for doing this,’ was the most common comment.”
Hiba said she tries to be kinder and present the best of manners. Like on a train in downtown Toronto just recently, there was a Hasidic Jew in his conservative attire, with a hat and ringlets. His young daughter had put on a long skirt that got caught in the door between two compartments. It looked unsafe. I thought of telling them but hesitated because of being in my niqab. But I gathered strength and while I was walking up to him, there was complete silence. People must be thinking what is this niqabi going to do to an orthodox Jew? When I told him that his daughter’s skirt was stuck, he was so thankful and appreciative and everyone smiled perhaps in relief. Sabra who travels quite a bit said, “At the airports, I talk and smile and try to remind people that Muslims are friendly, educated and harmless”.
Islamophobia unfortunately appears to be here to stay. “Hope it has made you a better Muslim” a Sikh remarked to Shaikh Omar Suleiman during an interfaith event. “It has made me a better Sikh’ (he was referring to the attacks on Sikhs by Islamophobes who often mistake them to be Muslims because of their turban and long beards).


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