I leave my bag open on the train so people can see that I only have books inside, and they do look. The question I keep asking myself is - am I being too paranoid?
According to the Metropolitan Police's reports, I am not being paranoid. In fact, I should take every measure to be careful. The number of Islamophobic attacks has increased by just over 70 percent in the past year alone. Last week my friend was attacked whilst managing the 'Discover Islam Week' stall outside the Strand, King's College London - once the attackers were done hurling verbal abuse they proceeded to pull off her face-veil.
But I reassure myself that my paranoia is well-grounded, I have been attacked for being a Muslim in the past. What's to say it won't again?
I used to live in South Croydon, in what you might call a council estate. My family were repeatedly bullied and violently abused for being both Muslim and 'not English'. In a bid to keep us out of harms way, my parents were cautious about letting their children play outside - even though we had a huge field just in front of our flat.
Day after day was spent sitting in the balcony, which was often too crowded with our mother's plants. Our faces squeezed between the railings, watching enviously as the estate children played football below. These were the same children that followed us on bikes when we only wanted to kick a ball around just like they had a few hours before. They threw stones at us, egged our front door and chased myself and my siblings up four flights of stairs telling us to 'go back to where you came from' to 'go back home'.
Little did they understand that 'going back home' meant walking back into our flat that was just above theirs, not hopping on a plane to some far away place as they imagined.
That was about ten years ago, since then we have moved neighborhoods and nothing like that has ever happened to me again. However, I can't help but feel that my decisions are driven by deep paranoia. For example, one of the main reasons that attracted me to apply to my university was the fact it had a large, respected and well-established Islamic Society. I guess from a psychological perspective, I was looking for a university that made me feel safe and had a community within the university space that I would fit into.
Speaking to other people, I have learned that this is not an isolated problem - there is a collective paranoia amongst the Muslim community.
A third year King's student told me about her own way of trying to keep safe, 'I make a conscious decision to step away from the edge of the platform.' She says that this only began after watching the video of a hijabi woman being pushed into a moving train. 'I judge the distance of how far I would have to be in order to not fall into the tracks if I get pushed. I was attacked one day whilst walking on a quiet road. A car stopped at the side and a man threw a glass bottle at me. It hit the wall instead and he drove off.' She believes that if the bottle had hit her then all the precautions she takes would justify here paranoia.
However, student Ripa Uddin believes that Muslims are not 'paranoid' but proactive especially with the rise of Islamophobic attacks. She says, 'we are right to take protective measure or be fearful because there is an increase in these attacks, they have become a reality.'
It is both distressing and encouraging to know that there are other Muslims that feel the same way as I do. It is distressing that people who are 'visibly' Muslim become vulnerable to attacks, but at least I know that it is not all in my mind which is somewhat selfish of me.
I do however believe that at this moment in time I am simply being paranoid. No one has done or said anything to compromise my security or safety and until this happens I need to stop feeling paranoid and instead live like the rest of the people on the train - free to stand near the edge of the platform and zip up my bag again.Suggest a correction