DECEMBER 19, 2015 – FREDERICKSBURG, VA – Sanaa Soliman, sits in the living room of her home in Fredericksburg, Va. Soliman’s children bought her pepper spray to protect herself in public after they heard about something called the hijad challenge where someone will try to rip off muslim womens’ head scarves.
For the first time in her life, Yazmin Ali is afraid to leave her house. Unlike most neighbors in her family’s cookie-cutter subdivision outside Fredericksburg, VA—where homes have Christmas wreathes on the front doors and cars have American flag vanity plates—she’s Muslim, and she wears a hijab.
It doesn’t matter that Ali, 34, was born and raised in Florida, that her mother is an evangelical Christian Cuban-American, that she a masters degree from Auburn, or that she only learned Arabic through a State Department scholarship in Jordan—when it was raining at her kids’ bus stop recently and she offered to let other parents shelter in her car while they wait, she says, they said no.
Dirty looks are nothing new—she’s been tripped before at the mall—but events in the last month have taken a sobering turn. Four days after the ISIS attacks in Paris, her mosque, the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, held a long-planned meeting to share plans for its new building with the community. A protestor started shouting, “Every Muslim is a terrorist!” Soon after, ICF hosted a coat drive for Syrian refugees with a neighboring church, and a man with a confederate flag showed up with a sign, “No refugees in VA.” After the San Bernardino shooting, Ali started disguising her hijab under a winter hat and scarf. “I had a really long, good cry,” she says. “Because I have kids, I’m fearful of something happening to me.”