CHICAGO (CBS) — President Barack Obama’s Oval Office address vowing to defeat the Islamic State, and encouraging the nation to treat all Muslims fairly came as welcome words to many in Chicago.
In this Original Report, a Muslim woman and Chicago native talked to CBS 2’s Mai Martinez about the impact of negative public perception of her religion, because of the Islamic State terrorists.
Born and raised in Chicago, Fatima Ahmed never imagined the challenges she’d face decades later as a 24-year-old Muslim woman.
“I guess I really didn’t see myself as being different from anyone else,” she said.
But in a time when ISIS is terrorizing the world, Ahmed and other Muslims have found themselves wrongly associated with the extremist group, simply because of its self-association with Islam.
“I get judged for the way that I look, and the way that I dress,” she said. “Once I was told I look like the devil. … I don’t really feel safe anymore leaving home.”
That was especially true following the terrorist attack on Paris last month.
“From my own personal experience, as well as really close friends of mine, we were terrified to leave the next morning. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way,” Ahmed said.
That fear grows with every ISIS-linked incident, including the shooting massacre in San Bernardino, California last week.
When she heard about the shooting suspects, Ahmed said, “The first thought that went through my head was ‘please don’t let his name be a Muslim name.”
And when it turned out the shooters were identified as Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tafsheen Malik, Ahmed said she knew she would automatically associated with them and their actions.
Renner Larson, who works with Ahmed at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said it pains him that she and other Muslims are automatically associated with ISIS.
“Last week, when a guy that looked like me with a name like mine walked into a Planned Parenthood and started shooting, nobody judged me for his actions, and that’s a double standard,” Larson said.
Ahmed said she “absolutely” believes some people look at her and see only a terrorist or potential terrorist, because of what’s going on in the world.
She choked back tears, unable to answer, when asked what it’s like living with that day in and day out.
Ahmed said the way to bridge the divide and overcome the fear is to educate each other. She suggested simply walking up to someone greeting them, and seeing where the conversation goes.