Detroit, Michigan

Scarf, School, and Self: Afifah and Hamzah Latif

First Recorded

May 10, 2017


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Afifah Latif moved from Qatar to Detroit, where she faced discrimination as a girl for her Muslim faith. In this conversation, Afifah discusses with her brother Hamzah the relationship between her experience of wearing a headscarf in the aftermath of 9/11 and her sense of self.

This story was produced by StoryCorps.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Afifah Latif and Hamzah Latif

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Afifah Latif: I remember, I think I was seven or eight, being on the playground. Parents would wait for their kids to basically leave, and I remember standing near the fence, because we were still in the school and they were outside the school. One of the parents yelled terrorist at me. It's one of those moments that it doesn't make sense to you.

Hamzah Latif: So, you didn't comprehend it at the time.

Afifah Latif: No, but you know that it should hurt, and it does hurt, but you can't comprehend why, because you can't understand someone that's so much older than you saying something like that to you. And also like, I was really young when 9/11 happened, so I didn't really understand that, and I didn't understand that I had to like bear the burden of what had happened because that wasn't...

Hamzah Latif: How did he identify you as a Muslim?

Afifah Latif: Because I wore a scarf, and I remember wearing like miniskirts and a scarf, but I wanted to wear that scarf because it was beautiful to me. And so yes, when I came here, it was just a completely different understanding of like what a scarf was. And I can't imagine that it can stand for so much more for some people, in a light that I never even thought of it in.

Hamzah Latif: Right. So, when that happened, your initial reaction was just that you were hurt, but you didn't really know why?

Afifah Latif: Yeah, because that was just one of the first things that had happened, I think this was like in the first week of school or something, so it didn't make sense to me. And then the next thing that I remember is being on, like those things on the playground that looked like a spider web, I think they're called the geometric dome. I remember hanging from it, and I remember somebody climbing inside of the dome calling me a terrorist. And I remember wearing a peach scarf and they just ripped it off of my head. That was somebody that was in my class. I think that's one of the most scarring incidents that I've had. You feel like you don't have dignity, and I feel like even now sometimes, when I feel really insecure, it's for moments like that, where you feel so, so, so small at that point.

Hamzah Latif: You wanted to wear the scarf earlier than you actually started. And both mama and papa—your mom and dad—were actually against it, and they wanted you to hold off. And it was around the time of 9/11, so you decided to wear it and then it contributed to you being bullied at school, so then you would come home and talk about it.

Afifah Latif: Everybody in the family said to take it off. My aunts told me to take it off.

Hamzah Latif: Cousins.

Afifah Latif: My brothers, cousins, my dad, my mom especially, because she didn't want me to go through that.

Hamzah Latif: And you were really young. Do you remember that one thing that you said that really impressed mom and dad about it?

Afifah Latif: It was like, "If I take it off, I'm still the same person. Nothing has changed about me."

Hamzah Latif: And they're not going to love me any more or less.

Afifah Latif: And they're not going to love me any more or less.

Hamzah Latif: And this an 8-year-old talking.

Afifah Latif: Because that's all that it is, right, it's just a piece of scarf, my personality's not going to change. I think it still holds true to me though, because nobody else is going to speak up for you. So, whether or not you're ready for it or not, you need to do something about it in your community.

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