A step-by-step guide to escaping a “hijab grab”

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In the wake of Donald Trump’s election to US president, many Muslims and other minorities in the country are fearful that his rhetoric on the campaign trail has inflamed bigots. Indeed, by Nov. 18 the Southern Poverty Law Center had reports of  701 incidents of “hateful harassment” since election day (Nov. 8).

Muslim women who wear a hijab, or headscarf, have special cause for concern. Since Nov. 9, there have been several reports of harassment of hijab-clad women, and some have said they’re afraid to wear the hijab in public. One San Jose State University student described an attack immediately after the election in which an assailant pulled on her hijab, choking her.

Zaineb Abdulla, the vice president of the Chicago nonprofit Deaf Planet Soul, was already teaching self-defense seminars for women through her organization, which focuses on empowering the deaf and hard of hearing. Because she is a hijab-wearer herself, several Muslim women approached her the day after the election to offer techniques specific to their needs.

Abdulla has now developed a two-hour “hate crime survival seminar” in which she teamed up with a mixed martial arts trainer to teach hijabi Muslim women how to respond in an attack. She posted two videos from the class to her Facebook page featuring techniques to stop an attacker from the front and from behind. The videos have since been viewed nearly 4 million times.

“Practice this move until it becomes muscle memory and teach your body to react before thinking,” Abdulla wrote on Facebook.

Her goal, she tells Quartz, is to empower women to not feel helpless or afraid. ”I kept hearing stories about hijabis being attacked or having their scarves torn off,” she tells Quartz. “And I was tired of seeing our community as susceptible to abuse.”

Abdulla is not the only one bringing attention to self-defense techniques. Self-defense instruction facilities in New York reported an explosion of interest after the election, according to the Daily Beast. McClatchy reports that Muslim women in five different states are doing self-defense training at mosques. The Muslim Community Network in New York has scheduled three self-defense workshops for women in December. And the popular website recently launched a monthly subscription box service—its first box includes pepper spray, a “crisis safety manual for Muslim women,” and other safety tips.

Zaineb Abdulla teaches her hate crime survival seminar in Chicago.
Zaineb Abdulla teaches her hate crime survival seminar in Chicago.
Image: Zaineb Abdulla

Since sharing the videos, Abdulla tells Quartz she has been flooded with positive feedback and requests for her seminar from around the world. She has also received some threatening anti-Muslim comments. “A man from Australia messaged me that if I ever come to his country with ‘that thing’ on my head, he’ll rip it off,” she says.

That type of response only confirms for Abdulla how necessary her work is. “Trump’s victory was seen by so many as a legitimization of racism and bigotry,” she says. “We might be afraid, but we’re not going into hiding. We are doing something about it. We’re training ourselves, networking, building coalitions. It doesn’t start and end with fear.”