Loyola Muslim Student Harassed for Religious Clothing on the Red Line

At around 3 p.m. on Sept. 16, Loyola student Abida Diasso was harassed by another passenger on her way to Loyola’s Water Tower Campus (WTC).

Content warning: harassment, Islamophobia

While on her way to class at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus (WTC), sophomore Abida Diasso said she was verbally harassed by another passenger on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Red Line for her religious identity.

Around 3 p.m. on Sept. 16, Diasso got on the Red Line at Loyola and made her way to WTC. Diasso said she was faced with backlash for her religious clothing, an abaya, the traditional prayer garment for muslim women, as well as a hijab. Since, Loyola’s Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) has said they stand in solidarity with Diasso and aim to combat Islamophobia. 

Diasso said the passenger tapped her thigh, initially causing her to think the passenger was bothered she was not wearing a mask. However, the situation escalated and it became clear to Diasso the passenger was bothered by her Muslim identity. 

The passenger verbally threatened Diasso saying, “You wouldn’t want to go home killed,” Diasso, 19, told The Phoenix.

Another passenger, who had heard the harassment, jumped in to defend Diasso, but the passenger continued making Islamophobic comments and began recording Diasso, according to Diasso.

“My initial response was to stand up for myself,” Diasso said. “I knew I could not let my guard down and allow her to disrespect me.”

After approximately 10 minutes, Diasso said the conductor kicked the passenger off of the Red Line after hearing the harassment take place. 

“We see these events happen to other people, but it is completely different when it happens to you,” Diasso said.  “I felt emotions I had never felt before.” 

Diasso said this is not the first time she has dealt with Islamophobia. When Diasso was in high school she said she was benched from a basketball game because her hijab was seen as a hazard to the other players. 

Royana Yousedzai, the digital media chair for MSA, said she was shocked when she heard what happened to Diasso on the train. 

“People wear necklaces with a cross, but when we wear a head covering we are threatened,” Yousedzai said. 

Loyola’s Muslim chaplain Omer Mozaffar commented on the prevalence of Islamophobia,  saying he has become accustomed to anti-Muslim comments.

“There is a point where I have to remind myself this is bigotry,” Mozaffar said. “Islamophobia is one of the many conversations America has to have.”

Both Mozaffar and MSA leaders are working to combat Islamophobia at Loyola. When Mozaffar became aware of Diasso’s incident, his main goal was to meet with her.

“I try as soon as I can to get the student sitting in front of me,” Mozaffar said. “I will be checking on them very frequently and assessing whether I need to direct the student to other resources or discuss the experience in a religious capacity.”

Yousedzai said she and her fellow board members in MSA are working to publish posts and events to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about Islamophobia. 

“We have an event called Hallukah where we invite community members for discussions, so we are hoping to educate others how to combat Islamophobia in a way that does not make Muslims a bigger target,” said Yousedzai. 

Jannah Abu-Khalil, MSA public relations chair, commented on how MSA will support students who have faced Islamophobia. 

 “Our main goal is to ensure there is a safe environment for all Muslims on campus,” Abu-Khalil said. 

Mozaffar said he is very grateful for the allegiance they received with the dean of students during Ramadan and hopes the next step will be including religious contexts in diversity and inclusion training. 

“It is not about fighting,” Yousedzai said. “It is about educating.”

Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix

Giulianna Larson

Giulianna Larson