“Men & women of colour were also involved in my islamophobic harassment.”
For years Muslim women have been ridiculed for how they look. Especially if your South Asian. We’ve all heard comments such as “eww, look, she has a moustache” “she has a beard”. I wanted to share my experience as a visibly Muslim woman who wears the hijab and niqab.
I’ve experienced Islamophobia for some years now. Those harassing me spread rumours throughout the area that I am a man under my hijab and niqab and a threat. The rumours had been circulated for a while before I found out what was happening. The smear campaign that I’m a threat spread around London. The islamophobes followed me whenever I went shopping, character assassinating me. As a result, even Muslims became weary of me in grocery shops, takeaways, restaurants, bookshops, and Muslim clothing stores, often treating me with hostility.
Constantly having to prove I’m a woman is exhausting. I took a Quran into a Muslim shop to prove myself. “I’m a woman born a woman look here is the Quran,” I shouted. Those targeting me had recruited people to follow me into shops and character assassinate me. They would make comments like, “this person is a man, not a woman”. Despite moving home to flee Islamophobia, the rumours, character assassination, abuse and harassment did not stop.
Men felt they could treat me in any way they wished like I was subhuman. As a result, I have been sexually harassed, winked at, tongue stuck out at me in a sexual way and grabbed. A man shouted “Suck my C” when I was sat outside a coffee shop. I told the staff what happened. In Tesco’s a man brushed his hand on my bum. I reported this incident to Tesco online. Staff in Tesco made my life incredibly difficult, from mocking to bullying. On one occasion, a member of staff stood behind, pressing his pelvis close to my back. I immediately asked to speak to the manager, explaining what happened. There have been 9 sexual harassment incidents in the last 12 months. That does not include all the islamophobic incidents I’ve experienced and reported.
Staff in supermarkets, stores like Selfridges and coffee shops refused to help because those harassing me would say, “it’s a man.” And spread fake rumours and character assassinated me. The staff would look at me like I deserved the harassment. At Starbucks in Victoria, London, staff shouted, “oh, it’s a man” it was truly awful. Anytime I tried to speak out to defend myself, I was seen as the perpetrator creating a scene.
Recently in Waitrose on Edgware Road, two men followed me to the pet food aisle, making sexual comments. I approached the security guard and broke down into tears, explaining what had happened. A member of staff came to help me. However, the man harassing me told the staff I was a man, which led to staff having little empathy and victim-blaming me.
In my local Sainsbury’s. I was harassed by staff. A man harassing me fist-bumped a member of staff and spread rumours I’m a man. I reported my harassment to the managers who victim-blamed me. The security staff in the same supermarket harassed me anytime I went in. On two occasions, staff members asked me to lift my niqab to prove I was a woman. I messaged Sainsbury’s on social media, explaining what happened. Despite emails and messages to Sainsbury’s they never replied.
“One might assume that it’s men harassing Muslim women. However, my harassment has been just as many women as men, both young and old. Women joined in and instigated my harassment.“
I joined a few gyms over nine months due to the harassment. I was also harassed at the gym. On one occasion at my local Everyone Active gym in Pimlico, my bra strap was digging into me when using the cross-trainer. I decided to pull it up. There were two men behind me, and one of them said, “Oh look, he is trying to act all feminine”. On another occasion, A woman in the changing room said, “you should not be in here”. The abuse was never-ending.
At The Gym Group in Vauxhall, young men shouted at the manager because I used the female changing room. The manager had to reassure them that I was a woman. The manager told me, “when you are told that you are a man when you’re a woman, you start to believe it.”
When walking past the local pub in my area, other incidents included a woman shouting, “remove your face covering. You don’t need that.”
A man outside another pub called me a “F spoon”.
The constant baiting and sets up were disturbing. Situations were created for me to react. When I tried to defend myself, I would be seen as the one causing problems. Often I was filmed in set-up situations where it was made to look like I am the perpetrator. Videos of me were being shared around. Men and women would walk into shops and share videos of me with staff. It felt like a witch hunt and targeted harassment.
At times people harassing me would bring their children with them. Even ask their children to shout abuse at me outside my flat. When I visited shops, stores or anywhere for that matter or I was walking in the street sometimes perpetrators would block my way with their pram or children. Some mothers would point me out to their children. It was truly awful. Those harassing me were doing everything in their power to try to set me up.
I could not help but think that these parents are creating a new generation of Islamophobes. I worry that the children will associate a woman wearing a hijab and niqab as a threat.
An older man approached me in my local coffee shop. He was charming and clearly lived a colourful life. He told me “If you don’t keep quiet about what is happening you will have fake charges pinned on you.”
The false rumours that I am a man spread to my university. Some students in my class were lovely and understanding, as were some of my lecturers. However, some students and staff weren’t as kind. I was referred to as a man and was told to attend LGBT events. It felt mentally abusive, like they were pushing an agenda to turn me into a man. I stopped attending lectures because of the bullying and Islamophobia. I had gotten behind with my university work which impacted my grades.
Rumours I’m a man, a dangerous person, a threat and need to be watched also spread to takeaways, libraries, museums, supermarkets, and the tube station. At the British Museum, two female staff members told me, “You should use the men’s toilets” I asked to speak to the manager and showed him my ID to prove I’m a woman. He apologised. I was harassed by security staff anywhere I went.
Harassment at the tube station by the perpetrators left me feeling unsafe. At times the staff at the tube station would watch or join in with the ridiculing. A man pinched my bum on the tube. On a couple of occasions, I approached staff asking for help; however, not much help was offered. Women should feel safe on the TFL network; however, that has not been my experience.
Being called a man when you’re a woman in hijab and niqab has profound implications. You are seen as dangerous trying to access female-only spaces. That’s precisely what happened to me.
We know victim-blaming and gaslighting happens when women speak out against violence, harassment, and abuse; however, it’s twice as difficult when you are a Muslim woman due to Islamophobia.
Since 2018, I reported majority of the incidents to the police.
One might assume that it’s men harassing Muslim women. However, my harassment has been just as many women as men, both young and old. Women joined in and instigated my harassment. Women would walk past my home shouting abuse and throw rubbish on my patio.
Young women primarily white, targeted me daily. They were following me into shops, coffee shops, galleries harassing me. These young women would point me out on the tube with their friends. If I looked in their direction to figure out what was happening then the dirty looks and comments would continue. Women of colour were also involved in my islamophobic harassment.
My harassment included my food tampered with. Local shops were asked to add things to my food. Someone kept breaking into my flat and adding something to my food and toiletries. I reported the break ins. When I went for my blood test results came back the doctor explained the symptoms I’m displaying are someone taking hormone blockers. I have never taken them I was born a woman and have not changed my gender nor have any intention to as it is against my religion. Yes, I am tall and broad and I have put on weight. Despite speaking to my GP repeatedly, pleading for help as my body changed. No help was offered.
A recent article discusses the discrimination Muslim women face when attempting to access healthcare “An independent watchdog, the NHS Race and Health Observatory, has revealed institutional prejudice towards Muslims in the NHS. In particular, a failure to understand Muslims’ religious context has led to systemic failings in the UK’s health system”
Photo : Sarah Everard Vigil Clapham Common
Since the death of Sarah Everard the UK Government and the Metropolitan police launched a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. Many have questioned whether the framework has been implemented.
Here is the dissertation I wrote on violence against women and girls
This leads me to the question. Why are staff, including security at supermarkets, coffee shops, museums like The British Museum, The Photographers Gallery and society in general willing to believe anyone over Muslim women?
I’m not the only woman who wears a niqab that has experienced islamophobia in the Westminster borough of London. Here is an article of a Muslim woman who shares her personal experience. She was called “‘ISIS bride’ and ‘Osama Bin Laden’s wife’ you can read about her experience here. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/i-wear-niqab-most-islamophobic-24982579
The most disturbing aspect of my harassment was the number of women who participated. Some women would laugh when I was harassed. Others stood there with a massive grin on their face. Some Muslim shop workers were willing to believe anyone but me. Why are Muslim women irrelevant and not believed?
I’ve been treated like a terrorist, a threat, character assassinated and fake rumours spread have about me. I experienced abuse, ridicule, and targeting, something no one should ever have to go through. I want to be able to practice my religion in peace. The last couple of years I’ve spent my time documenting incidents. Spreading rumours that a Muslim woman is a man is rooted in Islamophobia and discrimination, which will lead to further harassment and abuse of Muslim women in the UK. It’s time to take violence, abuse, and harassment towards women seriously, especially Muslim women.
M&S, Café Nero, Starbucks, Holland and Barrett, Waitrose, GAILS Bakery, Everyone Active and Le Pain Quotidien have apologised via email. I’m yet to hear from a couple of stores and supermarkets.
This article will be updated as there have been many incidents.
My harassment was covered by the mainstream media. Here are the links to the articles.