A 36-year-old marketing manager who wears a traditional hijab said she was harassed for her Muslim religion by an unidentified man who made offensive comments as he followed her from Alakea Street to Bishop Street.
Shereen El-Kadi, who grew up on Oahu, graduated from Castle High School and holds a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Hawaii, said the man sang a profanity-laced song around 8:15 a.m. Tuesday that included the lyrics, “We’re going to hang a Muslim in the White House today. … We’re going to hang a terrorist Muslim in the White House today.”
As they stood at a downtown intersection, El-Kadi said an unidentified “brave woman behind me” asked the man to stop, but he responded with more profanities and the phrase, “I’m an American.”
El-Kadi, who often promotes events at her mosque, did not contact police “because I didn’t see his face,” she said. “I was afraid to make eye contact. I just wanted to get away.”
But she described her experience on Facebook, “where I have a lot of Muslim friends and a lot of friends who aren’t Muslim,” she said. “I honestly wanted my friends to be just aware.”
The experience came after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump this week called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. And it was similar to two other incidents that El-Kadi and her younger sister endured in January on Oahu right after terrorists attacked Paris’ Charlie Hebdo magazine.
“One guy on Ward Avenue called me a terrorist when I walked by,” El-Kadi said. “Another guy was telling us that we were going to die.”
In all three instances, the people who made the comments were men but El-Kadi declined to describe them further, saying, “I’d rather not make generalizations and play into the same kind of prejudice.”
Kapali Lyon, chairman of UH’s department of religion, said it’s rare for Muslims to face blatant antagonism on Oahu.
Lyon frequently writes letters to Department of Motor Vehicles officials on behalf of Sunni Muslims to verify that they are required to keep their heads covered.
Some Muslims he speaks with are “sometimes suspicious of the reasons they don’t get jobs or they don’t get things that other people do who are not Muslims,” Lyon said. “But overt acts seem to be very rare. I think Hawaii’s just a more diverse place than any place else on the mainland.”
El-Kadi worries that publicity about Tuesday’s incident could lead to more harassment.
But, as she wrote on her Facebook page, El-Kadi also hopes that the experience, “which was supposed to create hate, instead generated some awareness from those watching.”
She added, ”It’s wrong to blame an entire group of people for the actions of a mentally ill few.”