Muslim American women fear wearing of hijabs leads to harassment, violence

(CNN) — Some Muslim American women are no longer wearing their traditional head scarves — their hijabs — afraid that displaying their religious faith could lead to harassment and violence.

“I went from expecting to be the center of attention, to nobody looking at me whatsoever,” said Marwa Abdelghani. “I felt a huge sense of relief. I didn’t feel like a target anymore.”

Since she was a senior in high school, Abdelghani wore the hijab whenever she was in public — a part of her Islamic faith, culture and identity.

But with this presidential election, that changed.

“I was walking on the street and a driver drove by me and slowed down, rolled down his window, and he just spit at me. … It was getting closer and closer to Nov. 8th (election day). That’s when I decided I was going to take it off for awhile.”

Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked more than 700 hate incidents. But Muslim American women say a year ago that their sense of safety began to change after a picture of San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik went public.

“After that, people started to see us differently,” said Samar Salem.

Muslim American women began taking self-defense classes, driven by fear.

Now, post-election, the women are sharing tips on social media and making a searing choice — their faith, or personal safety.

“The headscarf has become something that went from being a very spiritual element of a woman’s life to be something where she had to be scared to wear it,” said Abdelghani. “I myself didn’t feel like I wanted to continue with that fear.”

The only places she feels free to express that part of Islam is in the privacy of her apartment and her mosque.

To the incoming Trump administration, this young Muslim woman has this message: “When you hold that kind of position and you think it’s OJ to make these racist, Islamaphobic, sexist statements, there are people unfortunately, as crazy as they are, who look up to you. And they will follow you. And they will act out in response to what you’re saying.”

When asked if she’ll ever wear her hijab again in public, Abdelghani said “I hope so. I hope I can wear it again one day. I hope I can feel safe enough to do so.”

And practice one of the founding principles of America, freedom of religion.

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