By Ayan Ismail
Hey Mr. Bully,
You must feel so happy that you bullied me and created fear that I’ve never felt before. You took away my innocence and all the excitement of being in university. I went through a hell of time after the incident and I struggled to gather my thoughts and get back to who I was—a strong and fearless woman!
Your racist and mean words still ring in my head. « Go back to where you came from…. (referring to the scarf on my head) this is not accepted here… look at you… remove this or go back! » I felt very helpless and shattered standing in front of you, tears rolling down my face, not knowing whether to run away, scream out for help or just do nothing. Realizing how strong and violent you were, I opted to shut myself off and stay rooted on the ground. Staring at you, from the depths of my sickened soul, wishing and praying that the world would come to an end, so that what was happening could stop, but no! You kept on pushing me, even threatening to beat me up because you knew how vulnerable and defenceless I was. I recited every prayer I could in my heart, begging for God’s mercy and miracles to happen and alas! He showed His revelation!
As if sent from heaven and for a purpose, an angel in the disguise of an old man, came to my rescue, just when I needed it most. A few more seconds and I would’ve collapsed out of fear, agitation and shock. The old man walked straight to where you were tormenting me, and as calm as the sea, you walked away like absolutely nothing happened, slow but sure in the fact that you achieved whatever you had in mind. I remained stranded, devastated and traumatized, having no words to describe what just happened to me. « Are you OK young lady? » The old man asks me. I can’t afford a reply and all I can manage to do is nod my head in agreement and walk away because I was short of energy to speak out and feeling unsafe about who to trust and who not to. “How safe am I here?” I kept asking myself.
Shattered, I walked aimlessly to my room, my mind a mess and not able to think straight. It had barely been two months here and that had to happen…what on earth did I do wrong to deserve this? The joy and high expectations I had all went down the drain as reality seemed to take its course. I remember getting into my room, banging the door behind me like I’d never open it again. With a sob of despair, I threw myself onto my tiny bed, sinking my face into the pillow because that was the only comfort I could afford. Who do I turn to? Whose shoulders do I cry on? Who do I open my wound to and share with what had happened to me? I had no one to turn to, because I had not made friends yet. I tried to call my mother as she was the first person who came to my mind, but I hung up before she picked up. I realized that I would be making a mistake I would regret later because this would only worry her, and she would feel that I wasn’t safe in my new far, far away « home. »
I spent a couple of days in my room without going out. No food, no phone, no contact with absolutely anyone, just lying down—sobbing all day and all night long. Honestly I still don’t understand how I made it through, because I used to be full of jokes, bright smiles and was so socially active before what happened. I can’t stop thinking about all the happy moments I missed out on during that period. Suddenly, I became anti-social and was never ready to talk to new people. I’d avoid walking alone and always got scared, even though I was surrounded by people. Whenever I saw tall, huge men, I would find myself moving quickly away from them. Well, it wasn’t something I was in control of, it was involuntary and I didn’t like that at all. I would question myself every time it happened and would promise myself that it would never happen again, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t help it.
I don’t know how many innocent souls you’ve bullied before you came for mine, but I just want to let you know that your decision to come for me was probably the worst you’ve ever made. You’ve opened my eyes to the real world and made me see things how they are, and not how I want to see them. I came here, thrilled at the fact that I was in a safe and secure place, where I could exercise my rights and freedom the way I wanted to, but no, it was not what I thought it was. I still don’t have the power to choose what I want to do even though I am in one of the « safest countries » in the world. Thank you for reigniting the fire in me and making me feel more empowered than before. I know my rights better now, and what to do if that were to happen again, so you should be scared and concerned, as I will not let history repeat itself. This is just to warn you not to try bullying anyone ever again, because it won’t work for you. And yes, I’m NEVER going to take off my hijab just because you want me to and because it is « not accepted here ». My hijab is my DIGNITY, my RESPECT and my HONOR. It is MY CHOICE to have it on and I will never trade it for anything whatsoever!
I must confess that it has taken me a long time to pen this down because every time I tried writing, I would stop as I couldn’t muster enough courage to do it. I am glad that finally I could, thanks to all the people who have stood with me in my healing process, and who are still with me in it. Many people ask me: is it truly necessary to write this? Well, YES! Not only does my writing represent me, but it also speaks for all the women out there who have had to face racism and Islamophobia at any point in their lives, and didn’t know how to deal with it—just like me. It speaks for all women who have had to keep their grievances to themselves and could not speak out because of fear. It speaks for all women who could not get justice because they did not know where to report the injustices that they faced or who they should report to. It gives a voice to every woman out there, and shows that we’re in this together and they should not feel different or abnormal because racism and Islamophobia can happen to anyone, anywhere.
It all depends on how we tackle it. Talking about feeling insecure, unwanted and unsafe; that’s how I felt from that day onwards until now. But it doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind and letting people know what’s happening, because without this testimony, everyone will assume that all is well when it’s not even close.