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Two American Muslim Sisters Must Decide if Wearing a Hijab Risks Too Much in Donald Trump's America

SPLC chart

The sharp spike in hate-crimes against America's Muslims has led some women to abandon a spiritual and cultural symbol -- the hijab. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke about that with two sisters who have chosen different paths, not with their faith, but with their scarves.


As HanadehDarayyad and Amal Abulatifa arrange the fat, chocolate-covered strawberries in Valentine’s boxes, it’s clear they’re sisters. It’s not the looks. It’s the way they finish each other’s sentences – like when they talk about Mom.

“She didn’t pray five times a day and she wasn’t as ...  religious, ... she wasn’t as ... I mean she was practicing ...  but she wasn’t as strict about it.”

The sisters are four years apart. Amal, the older, is mother of three small girls; Hanadeh’s son is 7.

Like their six brothers and sisters, the women live close to where they were born and raised and where their parents have lived since they emigrated from Palestine in 1978 -- Akron’s Firestone Park. It’s a neighborhood they remember as diverse and accepting.

​Mean girls and life lessons

  Amal remembers there was that time, in the sixth grade, when she first wore a scarf to school.

“My very first day of wearing it in junior high a girl came up from behind me and ripped it off my head. And I told my mom I can’t do this right now.”

That was nearly 25 years ago. Eventually, Amal chalked it up to a mean girl and a lesson learned.

“Never judge anybody by the way they’re dressed by the way they look. Their skin color. I was never mean before, but I feel like that set the tone of how I was going to be for the rest of my life.”

The Trump factor
And as an adult, she donned the hijab again and wore it for eight years. Until last May, as Donald Trump was rising to political prominence.

She removed it “not because I’m embarrassed to say I’m Muslim. I’m proud I’m to say I’m Muslim. I’m with my girls a lot, alone. And I just don’t want any extra attention.”

Hanadeh was in high school on 9/11. A student asked why her “cousins” had crashed a plane into the World Trade Center. She hadn’t yet heard about the attacks and didn’t understand the comment.

The student was admonished, and the incident was isolated. Hanadeh wasn’t wearing the hijab then, nor during her years at Kent State nor most of those as a police dispatcher. She says that was because she and her mother had had a kind of coming-of-age talk.

'My decision'
 “And my mom was the one who said, ‘Don’t put it on; don’t put it on yet. Live your life. Make sure it’s your decision make sure you want to do this.”

The week after her wedding, Hanadeh donned a hijab. It was very much her decision. And today, her collection today fills color-coded drawers. From ornately styled and brilliantly colored formal wear to one that she jokingly calls her “sweatpants scarf” – as in a comfortably tattered piece of fabric.

'People think it's their patriotic duty to do something about these 'damn Muslims' who are taking over their country.'

Both sisters say the scarves are a point of faith and pride and respect for a religion they say gives them peace and strength.

Amal remembers, “I used to walk with my head up and even if somebody looked, I didn’t care. I didn’t care if they looked because they thought it looked nice or whether they thought it was weird or I didn’t belong in this country, I didn’t care then. But I just feel like, the minute he came, something changed.”

He is Donald Trump. And Hanadeh says what changed most was his audience. “Everybody out of the woodwork came out and the ones who never said anything felt like they had a bigger voice to hate.”

Hanadeh and Amal say the voices are sometimes muttered, sometimes shouted and often begin with a phrase like “those people.”

Anger surfaces
Like the guy at the swimming pool who – in an obscenity-laced tirade -- wanted to know why Hanadeh was allowed to wear her bathing scarf. The woman at the GAP who suggested Muslims don’t know how to raise their children. The woman at Walmart who called Hanadeh and her husband “garbage.”

Amal says some of it is wrapped up in what she sees as a twisting of the idea of patriotism.'  

“People think it’s their patriotic duty to do something about these ‘damn Muslims’ who are taking over their country.

The sisters acknowledge the insults can be perceived as minor stuff -- nothing like what their husbands saw before they emigrated from the Palestinian territory to the U.S. But they say it’s pervasive.

Based on FBI stats, a Pew study shows a sharp increase in assaults and other hate-crimes targeting Muslims.

They didn’t leave their houses the day after Omar Mateen opened fire on an Orlando nightclub.

Planning for a family vacation to Disney included a lengthy debate about what to wear, and an agreement that no one would speak Arabic on the plane and that everyone would keep their heads down.

Explaining it to children
And then there are the conversations with their children that other parents don’t need to have. Amal recalls a conversation with her 7-year-old daughter, not very different from the one Hanadeh had with her son.

“She’ll say stuff like, ‘Mommy, people don’t like me ‘cause I’m Muslim. Is that OK that people don’t like me?’ I say, ‘It’s OK. It’s sad that they don’t like you ‘ cause they’re missing out. But it’s fine. You’re not going to like everybody that you meet either, but who cares what anybody thinks about. You be a good person. And you be happy and don’t let it affect you.’”

Hanadeh tries to see the plus side: “I think it’s also a good learning experience for our kids to not judge.”

"Things like that show me that we're not alone. ... America's great ... and this is just a bad period in our lives."

Keeping a balance
Against the overall backdrop, the sisters say, small kindnesses are huge. A clerk at the GAP who apologized for the rude customer. A man who protected Hanadeh from the one shouting obscenities. A customer of the family’s Middle Eastern restaurant who delivered flowers -- just because.

“Things like that show me that we’re not alone and America doesn’t suck. America’s great and we’re going to prosper. And this is just a bad period in our lives right now, and we’re going to get through it.”

It’s the kind of kindness they say – as they fill the Valentine’s boxes for teachers, school bus drivers and others – that they try to return. 

Somali-American Halima Aden and her hajib drew a lot of attention at New York's Fashion Week this week:


M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.