The day should have fallen by the wayside, productive if uneventful, where nothing out of the ordinary occurred. It was a Saturday after all, a day to relax. But for one Muslim woman, who we will call A, reflecting on the events of this day are a source of pain.
It was July 2, 2016, and A was with her children at a McDonald’s within her local supermarket superstore. The room was expectedly loud and crowded. Her young children switched between food and their crayon options. For A, who was fasting, she welcomed a chance to rest and wait to collect her prescription.
The serenity of the everyday was broken by a group of two men and a pregnant woman who demanded their seats. The woman had placed her child of around 10 or 11 months down on the table before berating A.
Her tone sought confrontation as she told A to “get out” and then informed her that “you come here to take advantage”. The comments were also directed at her children.
No person around them, despite the busy atmosphere, interrupted or intervened on A’s behalf. The diatribe went on for ten minutes. A’s efforts to diffuse the situation grew more desperate after the pregnant woman threatened to ‘lamp’ her.
What A did not expect, however, was an act of violence from elsewhere. One of the men, in his oversized clothes, stood up and said to A: “Shut the f*ck up and sit down before I lamp you”. Despite the hood covering most of his face, A later recalled the burning rage in his eyes. She had challenged him saying, “calm down, I’ve done nothing wrong”.
He then spat in her face. A had to push him aside to get herself and her children to safety. The man was at least 5’8 and A stood below 5 feet. The power dynamics were all too clear. A fled fearing further violence as the third man attempted to calm the pregnant woman.
Staff had finally intervened but the abusive group had attempted to lay the blame on A.
The McDonald’s staff member then declined A’s request for an escort from the building. A was informed that she could wait for the abusive group to leave instead.
At no point did A speak with or receive support from security in the superstore. When A queried this issue, a member of staff informed her of a ‘problem’ with security.
The only comfort A found was in the presence of a stranger – another Muslim woman who also wears the hijab. Now, someone had taken her aside, comforted her and hugged her, told her of her bravery, and to report to this incident to Tell MAMA.
This trauma might have convinced A to remove her hijab and to feel like she did something wrong. Yet to hear a supportive voice offers its own catharsis and helps a person claim ownership of their pain and trauma. What happened to A was abhorrent and compounded by the failure of those around her to intervene. It’s also concerning that security in the store was unable to assist that day. This is a point Tell MAMA will raise with ASDA in its contiuned support of A.
The event has left me feeling sad, confused and truly afraid for the safety of myself and what my children may witness.
It was a major test of my faith, forcing me to question whether or not it is now safe to wear the hijab, and if I want my daughters to wear the hijab in the future.
As for my children, they did not understand why these people were being so mean to us. Sadly, I’ve had to explain to them that sometimes people will dislike you for being different. I’ve avoided telling them that we were targeted due to our skin colour and faith.
I cannot emphasise enough how much relief I have found from reporting to Tell MAMA. Talking to someone who cares to listen and knowing that I have done something to make people aware of the dangers we face has lifted a deep burden off my daily thoughts and provided some closure.
The reassurance that what happened was wrong and that I was within my rights to question it from the staff member alone has helped me move past this frightful ordeal.
Thank you Tell MAMA and to the Muslim woman who approached me, kissed my forehead, and gave me their contact details.
Without both, I don’t think I would have got the closure I required, or the courage to tell my children about the wrongs happening in the beautiful world we live in.