A Muslim woman from Oklahoma said an attacker pulled her hijab and told her to “go back to [her] country” in an incident that police are now investigating as a potential hate crime.
The alleged assault occurred while Jenan Ayesh, from Enid, Oklahoma, was in Dallas with family a little over a week ago. Ayesh said she was later diagnosed with a concussion.
At a press conference in Oklahoma City last Friday, Ayesh said she was particularly troubled that her mother and 10-year-old daughter witnessed the alleged attack.
“It was very hard for me to experience this,” Ayesh said during the press conference organized by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK). “I never thought that I would get attacked in this way, especially not in front of my mom. It was very hard for her to see that and also hard for me to know that my oldest daughter had to witness that, too.”
“No child [should ever have to] see their mom in that kind of condition or have to experience that,” she said.
Ayesh said the attack occurred on Saturday, Dec. 29, while she and her family were waiting for a ride home after visiting the Reunion Tower, a popular tourist spot in Dallas. She said that a woman who wanted to use a door that Ayesh’s family was standing in front of became agitated, telling her to “go back to [her] country.” When Ayesh explained that America is her country, she said the woman asked why she wore a hijab, an Islamic head covering some Muslim women don as part of their spiritual practice.
According to Ayesh, the woman slapped her twice, yanked off her hijab and pulled her hair before fleeing the scene.
Although she initially didn’t think she was physically injured, Ayesh said she began experiencing headaches as well as neck and chest pain the next day. She contacted police on Sunday, Dec. 30.
There are some discrepancies between Ayesh’s account now and the summary released by the Dallas Police Department. The police report suggests that the officers responding on Sunday night may have thought Ayesh was describing an incident earlier that same evening. The police report also has the incident occurring at the Renaissance Tower ― perhaps reflecting a confusion of names by an out-of-towner.
“Like many victims of trauma, it was not until later after the attack that Ms. Ayesh realized that she had been the victim of a hate crime and that she should report it,” Veronica Laizure, CAIR-OK’s civil rights director, told HuffPost.
A few days later after the alleged attack, Ayesh visited an emergency room and was diagnosed with a concussion, Laizure said.
Dallas police spokesperson Carlos Almeida told HuffPost on Tuesday that the department is investigating the alleged incident as a hate crime. Police haven’t publicly identified a suspect in the case.
CAIR-OK is not representing Ayesh in a legal capacity, Laizure said, but is helping raise awareness about the incident.
CAIR’s Dallas/Fort Worth chapter is also offering support to Ayesh’s family, according to legal director Dontrey Tatum. He said he welcomed the police department’s decision to treat the matter as a possible hate crime.
“The Dallas PD are sending a message that bias-motivated intimidation and attacks will not be tolerated,” Tatum told HuffPost. “It is important to show that hate crimes are unacceptable and will be punished by law.”
CAIR-OK’s executive director, Adam Soltani, said during the press conference that he believes the alleged incident is part of an “atmosphere of Islamophobia” in America. He said that the “vast majority” of hate incidents the chapter has dealt with over the past 13 years involved Muslim women who were wearing headscarves “because that’s a very visible symbol of their faith.”
Nationwide, CAIR documented a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2017, compared to the prior year.
“We, as Americans, should work on creating an atmosphere that encourages dialogue respecting differences and building a foundation based on understanding, based on things we have in common so that we can move forward in a way in which everyone can live peacefully,” Soltani said.
For her part, Ayesh said she bears no ill will toward the alleged attacker.
“I just want to see her understand what I went through and understand that we’re not scary,” Ayesh said. “She didn’t need to be afraid of me and she didn’t need to attack me in that way.”