"Because of what happened to me, and the countless stories of women who have had similar experiences, I refuse to stand by and allow us to be victims." - Nausheena Hussain
By Nausheena Hussain
It's a beautiful fall sunny day in 2002. I'm driving down the street to the local grocery store with my two-year-old safely buckled into her car seat. We're a few blocks from turning into the parking lot when I see a car approaching me from the left lane.
A young man is hanging halfway out of his car window. His tight fist is punching the air. Although my windows are rolled up, I can faintly hear the words coming out of his mouth. "GET THE F' OUT OF OUR COUNTRY! YOU DON'T BELONG HERE!"
Not knowing what to do next, I immediately slowed down. I frantically searched my car. What do I have as a weapon to protect myself? To protect my two-year-old daughter?
We're slowly approaching a red light and I can see another woman of color crossing the road. He's yelling profanities at her. I grab a pen and quickly begin to scratch down the car's license plate number, make, model and color. The light turns green and the perpetrator drives off. I turn my car around and head home. I'm shocked, scared and upset. This incident shapes how I go out into the world everyday.
My story isn't unique or unfamiliar. Across the country, Muslim women are harassed, discriminated against and victims of hate crimes. According to FBI statistics, the number of assaults and hate crimes against Muslims spiked 67 percent in 2015, the highest since the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported 867 hate incidents in the ten days following the November 2016 presidential election. There has been an increase in "hijab-grabs" - an incident where someone tries to rip off the religious headscarf from a Muslim woman's head.
Because of what happened to me, and the countless stories of women who have had similar experiences, I refuse to stand by and allow us to be victims. A series of self-defense workshops was created through the organization Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE). We partnered with Sergeant Toni Weinbeck of the Brooklyn Park Police Department to conduct the workshops. The two-part series included sessions focused on personal awareness and self-defense techniques.
Women of all ages and backgrounds attended the workshops; mothers brought their daughters, female college students came with their friends. My daughter was one of the attendees. All were there to be proactive and learn how to keep themselves - and their loved ones - safe.
During the personal awareness session, women in attendance learned about the psychology and physiology of how our minds and bodies react during stressful situations. We learned how to use the emergency call function on our cell phones and how to take note of our surroundings. Women were advised to park in well-lit areas; to walk with keys in our hands; to be alert and pay attention.
In the session covering self-defense, attendees practiced making a fist and using proper defensive stance. We learned how to protect ourselves, especially our heads, and our space. Women left the workshops less fearful, more confident and empowered because they now had a plan.
Until perpetrators change their behaviors, we will do what we need to do to defend ourselves. I pray that none of the women who attended these workshops ever find themselves in a situation where they require the use of these skills. However, if they do, I hope they aren't victims but rather survivors.
Nausheena Hussain is the founder and executive director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE). www.revivingsisterhood.org