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These Muslim and Arab Americans say the surge in hate crimes has made them more vigilant

Editor’s note: CNN recently asked America’s Arabs, Muslims and Jews how they are coping with the new reality of hate-motivated attacks against their communities. Find out how Jews in America say they have been affected.


Nicole was walking in an affluent neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, with a friend last month when a man approached her and started screaming.

He denounced the hijab she wore, saying she looked Muslim, and made comments about Hamas’ rape of Israeli women, she said. Her friend corroborated the story.

It was just days after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas and the meeting left Nicole shaken, worried and scared. So much so that she asked CNN to use only her first name, out of fear for her family’s safety.

“I haven’t stopped wearing the hijab. I didn’t do it after 9/11 either,” she told CNN. “If another person yells at me in public and certainly if someone threatens me, I think all bets are off.”

Austin Steele/CNN

Nicole poses for a portrait on November 13.

Nicole, who is in her 40s, said she has worn a hijab for more than half her life. And although she has gotten used to the stares and occasional comments about her headscarf, Nicole said she fears growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States could escalate into violence.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the United States is experiencing an “unprecedented” increase in reported incidents of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in the weeks following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

A week after the Hamas attack, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was stabbed to death outside Chicago. Her family’s landlord has been charged with what police say is a hate crime. He has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including murder.

A Muslim postal worker was attacked while wearing a hijab, and many Muslim, Arab and Palestinian American leaders told CNN they were experiencing post-9/11 Islamophobia — or worse. They called on the Biden administration to do more to combat anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias.

CNN recently asked America’s Arabs, Muslims and Jews how they are coping with the new reality of hate-motivated attacks against their communities. Nearly 800 people responded from across the country.

Some, citing security concerns, are changing the way they live their daily lives. Others have become defiant and are more vocal about their identities. These are their stories.

Austin Steele/CNN

Abdallah Jwayyed displays objects that he no longer keeps in his car for fear of violence. Items include a Palestinian flag, a necklace, a miniature Quran and a Palestinian keffiyeh.

Although Abdallah Jwayyed has been a registered gun owner for years, he said his gun has remained locked in a safe – until now.

As reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attacks grew across the country, Jwayyed said he began carrying his weapon concealed. when he goes out at his home in Cleveland, Ohio, and when he goes shopping with his wife.

He also removed the Palestinian flag hanging from his rearview mirror and peeled off the Allah stickers from his car. He doesn’t want anyone slashing their tires or breaking their windows, he said.

A rise in hatred

CAIR received 1,283 requests for assistance and reports of bias in the month following Hamas’ attack on Israel. This represents a 216% increase in requests for assistance and reports of bias from the previous year, CAIR said.

The Palestinian American is proud of his heritage, but said he does everything he can to protect his wife and three children.

“We are tired of having to hide the fact that we are Muslim or the fact that we are Palestinian,” Jwayyed said. “We must hide who we are to live safely in America.”

As a father, Jwayyed said he was devastated by the news that a 6-year-old boy had been stabbed to death near Chicago. Authorities said Wadea Al-Fayoume was killed because he was Muslim.

“I have a 7-year-old son, a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old daughter. Of course it affects me,” Jwayyed said. “As a parent, this scares me. »

Since the war, the 34-year-old said he has stopped taking his children on weekly trips to the movies and local parks. Today, Jwayyed said they only go to school or to a relative’s house.

“Baba, why don’t you take us outside this week?” he said his children asked for it.

“I don’t want to tell them, ‘I fear for your life. It’s dangerous out there,” Jwayyed said. “They don’t need to know that.”

Jwayyed lives in the Little Arabia neighborhood, which is full of Middle Eastern stores and restaurants, but he said he no longer shops at stores that carry Israeli products, like his wife’s favorite brand of chips. . Instead, he said, the family agreed to stop buying the snacks after the war began and now only shops at an Arab grocery store.

“Anything made by Israelis, I will boycott,” Jwayyed said. “And not just any Israeli company, not just any company that sympathizes with Israel will get my money. »

Austin Steele/CNN

Mona shows off a Palestine necklace that she wears under her clothes out of fear.

Since Oct. 7, Mona said daily activities she enjoyed have become anxiety-inducing. She now limits her trips to the grocery store, takes her children to the park and drives alone for fear of being targeted because she is a Muslim woman who wears a hijab and dresses modestly.

“As a visibly Muslim woman, I fear being targeted,” she said. “Every move I make, I question it. »

Mona, who is in her 30s, asked CNN not to use her last name out of fear for her family’s safety.

She said she brought up her fear and anxiety in the beginning of war and the increase in hate crimes against the Muslim community. As a health care worker near Houston, Texas, she said she was especially heartbroken by the Oct. 28 fatal shooting of Houston-area Muslim pediatrician Dr. Talat Jehan Khan.

While local police said they had yet to find evidence linking Khan’s death to a hate crime, Mona said the attack on Khan had shaken her.

“It also makes you think, ‘What, am I going to be next?'”

She avoids social gatherings and meets in public with her friends who are also visibly Muslim, so they are “not a collective target.” She also does not publicly demonstrate empathy and solidarity with Gaza, for fear, she said, of being targeted or attacked.

Instead, Mona now wears a necklace in the shape of the Palestinian territory under her clothes – near her heart – as a quiet sign of solidarity.

Austin Steele/CNN

Yasmeen Abou-Sayed poses for a portrait at her home.

Yasmeen Abou-Sayed said she refused to change the way she lived.

Instead, since the war began, she said she has become more civically engaged and denounces anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments when she sees them.

When her children’s school district issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism but neglected to mention Islamophobia, the 41-year-old from suburban Washington, D.C., and other parents contacted the superintendent and board school.

She asked us not to name the school district out of fear for the safety of her children, who have a different last name.

“After the fact…we had to, as parents, step up and contact the principal and the school board and point out that their statement completely excluded the experiences of our Muslim and Arab students in the schools,” Abou-Sayed said.

The next day, the superintendent issued an updated statement acknowledging that Islamophobia should also have been included, according to two statements reviewed by CNN.

“I will always defend myself. I will always defend the interests of my children,” Abou-Sayed said. “But it’s just a little tiring to always have to take those extra steps to be seen.”

Although anti-Muslim sentiment is not new in America, Abou-Sayed says his views have changed since the war began. She said she would now talk to her sons about how some people might perceive them when they become Muslim men.

“I never thought about preparing them a little more for how the world is going to treat them until now,” she said.

“I wear the hijab,” she said. “I will not change the way I live, because the second you compromise your own values ​​and principles, why are you living?

Abou-Sayed said she remains proud and steadfast about her identity.

“I’m going to continue my daily activities, take my kids to soccer and their clubs at school and do the things we do,” Abou-Sayed said. “We’re not going to change our lives because of this, but I will be more vigilant.”

View this interactive content on CNN.com

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