Hijab Grab Escape: the video that helps Muslim women fight bigotry

Therapist Zaineb Abdulla has gone viral after posting a video offering women advice on how to defend themselves against anti-Muslim attacks

Since Donald Trump’s election to office, anti-Muslim attacks in the US have eclipsed those that followed 9/11. However, despite this resurgence of fear and bigotry, 24-year-old Zaineb Abdulla from Chicago has remained adamant not to give in to the victim narrative.

By day, Abdulla works as a therapist for children with autism, but by night she delivers self-defence classes for Deaf Planet Soul (DPS) – a non-profit in Chicago that works with deaf and hard-of-hearing people. For four years, she has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a sport suited to smaller people fighting off larger opponents – ideal for someone of her 154cm (5ft 1in) stature.

Zaineb Abdulla self-defence class
Safe space ... one of Abdulla’s self-defence classes. Photograph: PR Company Handout

On the morning Trump clinched the presidency, Abdulla received an avalanche of calls – not about the election, but from concerned Muslim women in her community.

“People wanted to know if [there were] strategies for defending against bigoted attacks. I looked online and saw there was nothing,” she says. “I kept hearing on the news that someone tore off this woman’s scarf and she sat on the floor and cried, or ran away crying; I’m so tired of that. Fear is a legitimate and reasonable reaction, but it’s not the only reaction we can have.”

On 16 November, she posted the now-viral video “Hijab Grab” escape, which she made with fellow fighters Misho Ceko and Patrick Gatbunton. The first hate-crime survival seminar, which she developed following the video, was held at DPS the following day.

The viral video: Hijab Grab escape

“We’re not passive receptacles for bigotry; we fight back, we stand up for our rights,” she says of the video. “This is my country as much as it is John Smith’s.”

The tutorial is unique in that it includes American Sign Language (ASL), making it accessible to deaf women who, along with those wearing the hijab, often find themselves particularly susceptible to attacks. Abdulla believes the fact she wears a hijab signalled to women that this was a “safe space for people to train”.

In the UK, British Muslim women are facing a similar backlash. An annual report released by Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors anti-Muslim hate crime, said there was a 326% increase in anti-Muslim attacks even pre-Brexit, more than half of which were targeted towards visibly Muslim women. So, it’s unsurprising that Abdulla’s tutorial has been watched worldwide.

For Abdulla, self-defence is not only a means of non-violent protection, but also a way for women to assert their place at the table: “If we prepare ourselves and train enough, we’re not only giving ourselves the option to kick ass – we’re also giving ourselves the confidence to walk with our heads held high in this country.”


Aina Khan

The GuardianTramp

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