DALLAS — An Enid resident and her mother recently were victims of an anti-Muslim attack in Dallas.
A woman reportedly told Jenan Ayesh and her mother to go "back to their country" and hit Ayesh Dec. 29, 2018, at Dallas' Reunion Tower, according to the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Ayesh sustained a concussion from the attack.
The women were harassed and attacked because they were wearing Islamic head scarfs, or hijabs, according to CAIR-OK.
“In this day and age, it is unthinkable that people are still being targeted on the basis of their religious practices,” said CAIR-OK Civil Rights Director Veronica Laizure. “It is imperative that crimes against Muslim women are treated as hate crimes and that we continue to educate people on how to treat each other with respect."
Ayesh said in a press conference Friday afternoon she and her family were at the Reunion Tower enjoying time together, and they decided to leave in the evening. As she was waiting for her ride, Ayesh said a woman confronted her mother and verbally harassed her, and Ayesh spoke to the woman about speaking rudely to her mother.
"I was attacked by a woman who simply just wanted to use the door that we were standing in front of. She got really agitated with us, told me to go back to my country. As I was explaining to her that this is my country and I'm an American, she told me that if I was an American then why do I wear the scarf on my head," Ayesh said. "I told her because I'm an American Muslim."
The woman proceeded to slap Ayesh and curse at her multiple times, Ayesh said.
"She tried to provoke me, she got up in my face and when she realized she was not going to get a violent response from me. I guess that made her even more mad," Ayesh said. "So she struck me another time. At this point she hit me in the middle of my head. I felt my eyes go blurry, I couldn't see in front of me."
Following the blow to the head, Ayesh said the woman grabbed her by the scarf, pulled it off her head and pulled at her hair. Ayesh said others surrounding her were successful in subduing the woman.
"At that point, people were more concerned of her well-being, not mine. I even heard one of the women told her, 'It's OK sweetie.' They were protecting her as if I was the one who was attacking her, not the other way around."
Ayesh said the experience was hard for her to deal with.
"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," Ayesh said. "Also hard for me to know that my ... oldest daughter had to witness that too. No child has to ever see their mom in that kind of condition or have to experience that."
Laizure said CAIR-OK denounces anyone who would attack another person based on their decision to wear a hijab, and that the organization is calling for Dallas authorities to fully investigate the assault as a hate crime.
"Jenan Ayesh and her family simply wished to enjoy a peaceful weekend with their children before the school term started back up again. Just like thousands of other Oklahoma families, they wanted to spend time together over the holiday and celebrate the beginning of a new year," Laizure said. "Instead, they found themselves the victims of a vicious, bigoted, hateful crime."
Laizure said the Ayesh family stated, and CAIR-OK agrees, that the incident provides for an opportunity to educate the public on the meaning of the hijab, which she said is a religious head covering Muslim women wear.
CAIR-OK is an organization working to promote the increased understanding of Islam through programming, social media and educational workshops and events, according to Laizure.
The organization tracks anti-Muslim bias incidents across the state and shares data with the national office. In 2017, CAIR reported a 15 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, with Oklahoma coming second to Texas with the highest number of reported anti-Muslim bias incidents in the south-central region.
"No one should have to fear verbal harassment, physical assaults, or further violence because of the way they choose to dress — whether because of religious choices or personal inclination. No one should be told 'go back to your own country' simply because they don't fit someone else's closed-minded view of what an American looks like," Laizure said. "And no family, of any religion, any ethnicity, any national origin or immigration status, should ever have to fear for the safety of their kids."
Imam Imad Enchassi, senior imam for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said Muslims aren't the only people who choose to dress modestly, and that many men and women across various religions choose to do so. Enchassi also is a professor at Oklahoma City University and Phillips Theological Seminary.
"Today we come together to stand with the Ayesh family, to stand for their religious rights and unalienable constitutional rights. The hate and violence they experienced in Dallas is not only an action that goes against the values of Texas as a state, but also against American and human values," Enchassi said. "As a religious community, we will continue our support and stand with the Ayesh family until justice prevails."
He said America is home to more than five million Muslims, 40 percent of whom are immigrants. The other 60 percent are people who were born and raised in the country.
Ayesh said Dallas police were contacted, a report was filed and she was told the police "would follow up on that." She said she hasn't heard anything else from law enforcement yet.
Laizure said CAIR-OK is working with the CAIR Dallas office to investigate how Dallas police are responding to the assault, with more information forthcoming.
"I don't wish her any kind of harm or bad. I know she has children herself. I just want to see her understand what I went through and understand that we're not scary, she didn't need to be afraid of me and she didn't need to attack me in that way," Ayesh said.
For information on CAIR-OK, go to https://www.cairoklahoma.com/.