The random stranger and the cloth on my head

The other day I was on my usual bus commute to work in the morning. The fog from my head still hadn’t completely cleared up and I was struggling to stay awake in my seat. I was staring straight on, completely lost in my hazy thoughts when the bus stopped to allow some morning passengers to board. In what would have ordinarily been a mundane moment in my day, a middle aged woman sat next to me and immediately sent a chill down my spine. I could feel her piercing stare on the right side of my face. I would have ignored this, but her eyes soon felt too uncomfortable so I turned around and gave her a smile.

“Are you new here?” she asked, not so much a polite question as an intimidating interrogation.
“Erm, no.” I answered, shifting uneasily in my seat. I could feel my face grow hotter as the seconds passed.
“Where are you from?” She continued probing, without the least bit of concern that she was on the border of crossing personal space. Curious to see where this was leading to, I told her to take a few geographical guesses.
“You are Muslim. Are you Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim or some other Muslim cult?” Her eyes had narrowed into angry slits now and the menacing glare behind her clumpy mascara-ed lashes had turned her into an evil witch; an inquisitor of sorts riding high on some special kind of a hate-laced drug.
With my heart now galloping, I let out a deep breath and answered as calmly as possible: “You asked me where I was from, not what religion I belong to.” Her eyes continued to bore into mine and without as much as a blink she declared “Whether you are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ethiopia, I don’t appreciate you people coming to my country and trying to lay shariah law on the land. I know your type and I’m watching you.”

Well, I just had nothing to respond to that. It’s not that I had nothing to say back to her. Sure, I could have tried to correct her on her misconceptions of where I really was from, or asked her why she had made the jump from country to religion so fast, or given her a brief speech on the co-existence of Islam and the West, but I could tell that she really wasn’t after learning. She was just after hating. For about 3 seconds, I stared at her face in silence in an attempt to find a shred of love in her being. It just wasn’t there.

Her face was a representation of the many memories I had gathered throughout my life as a Muslim woman. She reminded me of the horror stories that my friends had told me of: the time Mary (a new American convert) was yelled at by a man in truck and told to ‘go back to the dunes’, and of Sarah (a gentle Eygptian-American) whose headscarf was yanked from her head while she was studying in the library, and of Camila (another convert) who cried everyday because her devout Christian family was close to disowning her because she chosen to wear the niqab.

That woman’s face also reminded me of my fellow Muslims: the ones that constantly pointed out how I wasn’t wearing the hijab properly because a piece of hair was showing, or that I wasn’t a true Muslim because I don’t wear the abaya, or that women are inherently evil and so my chances of going to heaven were slimmer than my own brother’s simply because of my gender.

All those memories in one face were a bit too much to handle so I looked the other way and swallowed the painful lump in my throat. I could still feel her hateful stare at the back of my covered head and my quiet recitations of dhikr (remembrance of God) were all that I had to keep me from letting the salty tears flow from my eyes.

(Fa inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) Surely with difficulty is ease.
(Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) With difficulty is surely ease.
(Quran 94, 5-6)

I let out a sigh of relief and felt myself relax into my seat. The warm morning sun gently caressed my face and my heart was beating at its normal pace now. I knew deep down that every trial, big and small, had a purpose to serve and that this incident was no different. I fiddled with my phone and quickly wrote this status on my Facebook page: I have just experienced my first religious hate comment/threat in this country. It’ll take a long time to erase this moment from my head. — feeling sad.

After a few bus stops, my seat mate stood up to leave and I looked back at her and smiled.
“Have a wonderful day” I said.
“You also have a wonderful day” she answered back harshly.
And just like that, she was gone.
I was still trying to digest what had just happened when I reached for my phone again and found these comments underneath my status:
• really?wow! Sorry. some lowlife idiot maybe and a sun paper reader
• I am so sorry.
• Alhamdulillah.. my Allah protect you all and make their hate turn to Love..
• So sad to hear that. I’m very sorry!
• It cuts deep but understand that you aren’t the problem, they are. *hugs*
• I am so sorry to hear that
• I am so sorry
• Sorry to hear that but Allah will reward you for that.
• It’s tough but you are tougher… Don’t let them get you only you can control your emotions and how this makes you feel and I would chose to chalk it up to ignorance! So sorry you had to go through that… Hugs!
• I’m sorry to see this honey, I can go and kick some asses, you call it…
• I can only imagine how awful that must be. So sorry you were the recipient of someone’s ignorant and despicable hate. May love cover and protect you. Sending you my big hug!!!
• Unfortunately there are ignorant people everywhere. I had an incident @ Heathrow that really shook me up. It was a long time ago. Don’t take it to heart. Most people aren’t like that.
• so many people without knowledge in this world, don’t let them frazzle you. live in peace.

And in that moment I realized that for every 1 person that spews hate, there are 10 others that radiate love. It may have been Facebook but those comments made me feel like I was getting enough love to neutralize my negative encounter, and tonnes left over to last me through future personal battles. I said a prayer of gratitude, picked up my bag, got off the bus, and walked to work.

(photo credits: