‘It’s important for Muslim women themselves to have a voice in this narrative and actually set the record straight that we aren’t the threat,’ says Nahella Ashraf.
A Muslim woman who was racially assaulted and spat on by a stranger in a restaurant has urged more female Muslims who have experienced hate crime to speak out.
Nahella Ashraf, 46, was wearing a head scarf when she was attacked as she sat around a table with four friends in the restaurant in Hammersmith, London.
Ms Ashraf, from Manchester, was left “shaken” after a man sitting behind her, who was “smartly dressed and well put together”, grabbed her from the side and tried to pull her out of her seat, before launching a barrage of racist remarks and spitting in her face.
“He just grabbed me from the side, my arm. It felt like he was trying to pull me out of my seat. The first thing I remember him saying was something about him not tolerating people like me. Right in my face.
“It all happened really fast. I think the guys behind the counter came out straight away, and got between him and me.
“They asked him what his problem was. He said ‘It’s not me, how can you have her in here?’ and then he spat at me. He leaned forward past this guy and he spat in my face.
“As soon as he did that they started pushing him out. As they were pushing him out, he was just saying something like: ‘Her kind of people kill people’ and ‘They’re the problem’ kind of thing.
“It was racist. He kept saying ‘those kinds of people’. He could’ve grabbed the white woman on the side of me that would’ve been easier, but he went for the Muslim woman in the crowd.”
Ms Ashraf, who had been working in London during the week as part of her job as a researcher, said it was the first time she had been physically assaulted because of her race, adding that she was particularly shocked that it had happened in such a public setting.
“I was really shaken up. I was really shocked that it happened somewhere in public,” she said.
“I’ve had people walk past me and shout abuse, but it had never been to the extent that they’ve physically touched me.
“You think it might happen when you’re walking late at night on your own. I’d heard people make comments about me on a bus or a train before, but never when you’re in a group.”
She added the experience had made her realise that while many female Muslim victims of race hate crime choose not to talk about their experience, it was important for victims of such crimes to speak out in order to “set the record straight”.
“Initially I thought I didn’t want to talk about it. But actually it makes me think if it can happen to me in the centre of London, it’s happening everywhere. People just don’t seem able to talk about it,” said Ms Ashraf.
“I think it’s important that we do talk about it. I think it’s important for Muslim women themselves to have a voice in this narrative and actually set the record straight that we aren’t the threat.”