Staying safe – A manual for Muslim women


SHAFAQNA – With the influx of Islamophobia-related crimes in the United States these past few months, it can be an extremely scary and nerve-wracking experience to leave home and brave the world as Muslims today.

Because of the crimes of extremists across the globe and right here in the U.S., Muslims are being unfairly given the assumption and stigma of being suspicious, dangerous and a higher risk to those around them. With the addition of online hate, anonymous phone calls and protests outside of religious institutions — we shouldn’t feel as unsafe and on edge as we have to be now.

It is vital for us to keep in mind that we are in no way, shape or form responsible for all the extremism and atrocities that are occurring globally and we have nothing to personally apologize for as Muslims.

However, as Muslim communities face backlash from the ignorance caused by the media, extremists in the name of our beloved religion, along with bigots who simply look for an excuse to show their racist colors, it is crucial that we all take the necessary precautions and keep safe.

Despite our disappointment that this list needs to exist, we’ve gathered some tips on how to keep yourself safe in public, at home and on your way to work.

1. Keep your phone charged and on you at all times.

In this day and age, our phones are literally lifelines and are essential to keeping in touch with family, friends and the authorities. Use that lifeline — phone a friend and keep in contact with someone, while still maintaining awareness of your surroundings.

2. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you feel you’re in danger.

Don’t be afraid to be extra cautious. If you end up being wrong — know there are people in this world who wouldn’t think twice about calling 911 on you for simply walking past them and “looking Middle Eastern.”

3. Use your camera.

If a car or person is following you or someone near you, try to take a picture discreetly. In the case of a hit and run, you’ll have evidence to catch the perpetrator and get justice.

4. Tell people where you’re going beforehand.

Just going to school? Text someone. Going for dinner or a meeting across town? Text multiple people of when you leave and when you arrive to and from the location to home. It sounds ridiculous. But remember that even though you might feel okay walking to the end of your driveway, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Apps you can download to help ensure your safety:

  • Kitestring: A safecall app designed to alert friends and family with a timer for how long you’ll be gone. Once the timer runs out and you don’t check in with the app, it immediately texts your loved ones to check up on you.
  • bSafe: An app to alert your “guardians” with one button. It calls and texts them to let them know you’re in danger. The app also has the option of a fake incoming call, if in a distress situation.
  • Circle of 6: Lets six of your friends know if you are in a dangerous situation.
  • ACLU’s Mobile Justice: Details your rights, records cops and sends videos immediately to the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Self Evident: A U.K.-based app for London residents to report hate crimes. According to the description, it “records, validates and secures evidence. It lets you file a report for work, notify an adviser or business of a claim, report a crime to the police, send the media a news story or just secure evidence in your private account.”

    Regarding mosques and hijab:

    1. If you wear a hijab, try the hood or beanie option to attract less attention.

    Keep in mind that you are not disguising your hijab because of embarrassment — this is for your safety. This can be difficult given that if you’re black or dark-skinned, police are more prone to racially profiling you, so be cautious. It’s also tough when you can literally be punched in the face just for visibly wearing a hijab.

    2. Wrap your hijab as a turban.

    You’re not responsible for anyone policing you because they think it’s not “proper hijab” — just like you’re not responsible for people getting angry and targeting you because you’re wearing a hijab in the first place.

    If you want to keep a low profile and not sacrifice your choice to be a hijabi, this might be a good option to think about if your area has been facing a lot of Islamophobic backlash.

    3. Be aware of your surroundings before entering and leaving your mosque.

    If you see someone sulking around the entrance, don’t be afraid to call the police or inform management.

    If there’s a group of people threatening people in or around the mosque, like this racist Marine Corps veteran — Call. The. Police. If they were trying to hurt Muslims by being bigots, the best way to take them down is to have the authorities take care of them instead of trying to intervene yourself.

    4. Don’t leave the mosque by yourself. Take care of one another.

    Leave in groups, even if you are all not going to the same place. Walk with your group to the closest car one of you came in and offer to drop the others off at their own cars if they are farther away.

    In times like these, not only is group contact important, but keeping in mind the safety of others is as well. We’re all sadly in the same boat so make it easier for the sisters with small children or the elderly who can’t walk quickly.

    Resources to contact and report hate crimes:

The public shield.

1. Avoid walking by yourself.

This one is a no-brainer. People are less likely to be attacked in crowds and less accessible to be attacked if you’re surrounded with people. Keep your pepper spray close and your girls closer.

2. Stay near crowded places.

Don’t venture out to back streets or through wooden paths if it can be avoided. Make sure the area is well-lit and you have cell phone service.

3. Keep calm.

If you are visibly shaken or worried, it actually makes you a bigger target. Don’t be paranoid and trust your instincts while in public. If you feel in danger, remember to stay in a crowded place and call someone to let them know where you are. Refer to the apps in slide 2.

4. If attacked physically or in danger, yell loudly to attract others to you.

Although speaking in Arabic might land you in more trouble than not speaking, do not stay silent. If you’re attacked, pull out your rape whistle, scream for your mom, anything.

Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to disturb others around you — your safety is more important than anything they might be doing. Calling attention to yourself will make potential attackers run for the hills.


Self-defense measures:

1. Take some classes to learn the basics.

A simple google search can tell you where classes for self-defense are being offered near you. But here are some resources to filter that search a bit:

U.S. residents:

  1. Rape Aggression Defense System: With classes all across the country, R.A.D. provides services with more than 11,000 trained instructors in various levels of self-defense. Click through to find programs in your state. The prices for these programs vary but are on the expensive side.
  2. The Gracie Jiu Jitsu Women Empowered Program: A bit less costly and specialized alternative that’s also offered in centers within various states. Find your local one here. They’re 10 classes with free online access to more resources along the way. Kick some ass with a bright pink belt? We so approve.
  3. Female Awareness Self Defense: Manhattan-based classes that you can sign up for individually.

U.K. residents:

  1. Student Central Women’s Self-Defence: Classes in London offered for students. Affordable, useful and easy to sign up. Get on it.
  2. Premier Self Defence: Workshops and courses based in London.
  3. Hard Target: According to their site, they’re “Ireland’s longest established self-defense school.” They offer women-only classes as well.
  4. Scottish Center for Personal Safety: They actually offer courses specifically for “black, minority and ethnic” women. Not sure how we feel about that name, but they do have special moves for women who wear the hijab and niqab.

2. Use free tips and resources online.

If you find the classes are too expensive or you just want some basic tricks, there’s a multitude of links available on YouTube.

    • Gracie Academy’s playlist. Remember the classes you could take at their centers? They also have a list of videos on youtube for their “Women Empowered” program that show sample clips as well as specific moves you can use for specific situations.

3. Buy pepper spray, a rape whistle and safety cat keychain.

Invest in these small purchases so you have a quick defense to go to in case of any surprises. They’re lightweight, can be added to your keychain and can do a lot of damage in case you freeze up or need to temporarily incapacitate your attacker.

Be wary of Mace laws in your country, though. In the U.K., only an alternative pepper spray is acceptable. Some states in the U.S. also have laws about carrying chemicals. Don’t risk getting arrested!

4. Ask if your mosque can host self-defense seminars.

These Toronto women organized their own classes at their Islamic center with a local martial arts expert. And this U.K.-based Muslim charity group hosted classes in North London from a Taekwondo expert. What’s great about these is that they focus specifically on Islamophobic attacks.

Take matters into your own hands if you can’t find the proper means!

Travel and transport:

1. Unplug your headphones.

Ever have that friend who sneaks up on you in the library during finals week and makes you loudly freak out? It’s kind of like that — but a lot scarier. By wearing headphones, you’re losing touch with one of your senses, making it easier to become a target. Don’t sacrifice your safety just for Adele to say “Hello.”

2. Be careful in parking lots and parking garages.

Keep your keys pointed out between your fingers to disarm potential attackers and carry Mace on your keychain.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask a friend, co-worker or security guard to walk with you to your car — chances are they get the request often. Parking garages are creepy even when it’s day time.

3. Sit close to the driver. Don’t choose a window seat if alone.

On public transportation, staying away from the front and sitting close to the window furthers you from help and lets you be caged in by potential attackers. This poor pregnant woman had to endure being called an “ISIS bitch” on the bus, alongside pure hate speech and threats. Be sure to stay in the sight of the driver — don’t sit directly behind them.

4. Stand away from the edge of subway platforms. Hold onto pillars if necessary.

There have been way too many instances of unsuspecting Muslims (and suspected Muslims) being pushed into trains from behind and oncoming traffic. Don’t let that be you, even if it means standing too close for comfort to the sweating man or crying child also talking the train or bus.

5. Enduring TSA checks, we know the frustration.

We wish there was an easier way to not be subject to “random” searches at airports. But now we can’t even go on our phones or we’ll be forced to get off the plane for further questioning! This no-win situation requires compliance, patience — and solidarity on social media, because we ain’t going to get it elsewhere.

We’d recommend not wearing hijab, honestly — or opting for the hoodie here if it can’t be avoided. There’s no shame in face of danger. But if not, wear loose, comfortable clothing in airports so it’s over as quickly as possible and you can be on your way.

Threats/verbal attacks are inexcusable.

1. Continue to move away from an attacker at all costs.

We’ve all heard Islamophobic insults hurled our way. But they’re clear provocations. Try to stay out of such conflicts. This will put distance between you and someone who wants to harm you in case it escalates to physical violence — like this woman who was picking up her kids from school. It starts with “go back to your country” and ends with getting punched and kicked. No one deserves to be treated that way or hear that noise.

2. Don’t respond to ignorance.

In any case, it is better to ignore hatred and keep moving in the interest of your safety. I know you may believe it’s an opportunity to educate, what with white politicians and men everywhere deciding your religion’s values for you — but right now your safety is always a primary concern.

Flip that hijab, and walk away. It’s just not worth it.

3. Keep your doors and windows locked.

If you are in your house or in your car — safety comes first. Be cautious, Islamophobes can eventarget and leave anti-Muslim sentiments in your mailbox. You have no idea when someone might try to break in while you’re at home or away.

4. Report any suspicious activity near you.

If someone would do that to you, why can’t you do that to someone else? It’s about caution, guys. Refer to slide 3 to contact and report someone.

For your own solace.

1. Make use of some powerful dua’s.

These are great to use on any day and situation — but even more prevalent in the face of increased danger.

When leaving the house:

بِسْمِ اللهِ، تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللهِ، وَلَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللهِ

Bismillaahi, tawakkaltu ‘alallaahi, wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata ‘illaa billaah. tweet

Translation: “In the Name of God, I have placed my trust in God, there is no might and no power except by God.”

When traveling:

سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ لَنَا هَذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لَهُ مُقْرِنِينَ . وَإِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّنَا لَمُنْقَلِبُونَ

Subhana alladhee sakhara lana hatha wama kunna lahu muqrineena. Wainna ila rabbina lamunqaliboon. tweet

Translation: “Glory be to Him Who made this subservient to us and we were not able to do it. And surely to our Lord we must return.”

For courage:

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي. وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي. وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي . يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

Rabbish rahli sadri, wa yassirli amri, wah lul uqdatan min lisaani, yaf kahu kauli. tweet

Translation: “O my Lord, expand me my chest, and ease my task for me and remove the impediment from my speech, so they may understand what i say.”

2. Come to terms with your limitations.

Yes, in the face of adversity, we as Muslims are taught by the greatest among us to stand up for Islam and teach the truth about our faith.

However, like Hosai Mojadedi recommends in her facebook status, consider limiting your activities and activism to the necessities for a few days. There is no requirement in Islam to put yourself in danger.

3. Always, always, always know that there is no greater protection than Allah (SWT).

Make sure you keep your prayers on time, leave the house in the state of wudhu and keep in mind that nothing happens in this world without His will and permission.

Keep these tips in mind wherever you go and share them with your friends and family. Add any more that you think we may have missed in the comments!

We may not be able to end these atrocities coming at us at full force entirely, but we can do our best to limit them as much as possible. That being said, no matter how bad things get for Muslims here and around the world, we cannot let fear rule our lives.

Continue to raise your hand in class, speak up for your beliefs, go to work with your hijab on, grow your beards however you want and be the Muslim that you want to be.

This is not the first time in history that Muslims have faced backlash and hatred — look at the lives of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions. Keep safe and remain cautious but retain your strength. And may Allah (SWT) be with us all.

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