Nasro Hassan, 18, was attacked on November 15 after walking out of Mary Gates Hall, which sits in the heart of the University of Washington campus. It was around 5:30 p.m. As she was looking down at her phone, a man came up to her and struck her in the face with a glass bottle. The attacker, a male in his 20s wearing a black hoodie and dark jeans, ran away laughing, said Hassan, a junior at the UW who plans to study computer science.
“I was in a lot of pain,” she told a room of reporters during a Tuesday interview at the offices of The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington (CAIR-WA). "My head was ringing."
Hassan said all she could think immediately after the attack was: “Why? Was it because of my hijab?”
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election—a time that's brought the United States’ ugly bigotry into full view—that is a real possibility. Outspoken Trump supporters, some of who are vying for a cabinet seat, have proposed creating a Muslim registry, a plan that Washington legislators have firmly denounced.
Hassan’s mother, Dahabo Hassan, told reporters that she’s received the occasional hateful comment.
“Since the election, one lady standing across the street told me I should go back home. I told her, ‘Thank you,’” she said. “It seemed like she shamed herself. She said, ‘Sorry,' so I took that.”
“It was really, really scary,” Hassan's mother, Dahbo, said during the meeting at the CAIR-WA office. “I have four other girls who wear hijab, too. … Anyone who has kids knows the pain I felt. I thought the worst.”
The organization has received more than 25 reports of possible anti-Muslim hate crimes and more than 350 reports of discrimination in Washington since the start of 2016, said Bukhari. According to a recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the 10 days since the presidential election there have been 867 hate incidents—including incidents of intimidation and harassment—across the U.S. Forty-eight of those hate incidents were reported in Washington State.
CAIR-WA is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who may have witnessed the attack and comes forward. Anyone with more information should call the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Seattle field office at 206-622-0460.
Representatives with CAIR believe Hassan’s attack fits the pattern of hate attacks against American Muslim women across the country. A recent report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that hate crimes against Muslims increased by 67 percent from 2014 to 2015.
After calling 911 and obtaining the police report number for one's case, Bukhari asks that victims reach out to CAIR so the organization can advocate on their behalf.
Despite the violence of Hassan’s attack, neither the UW administration nor campus police issued a school-wide e-mail notification of a criminal incident because there was little description of the attacker available, CAIR claimed.
When called for comment, Major Steve Rittereiser with UWPD said that a campus-wide notification wasn't issued because only assaults occurring as part of a documented pattern require student notification. This rule is per the Department of Education's Clery Act, he said.
Because UWPD did not notify the university community of Hassan's assault, CAIR Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari and two UW Muslim student groups called upon the UW president, Ana Mari Cauce, to denounce the attack leading up to Monday's press conference at the university. A representative from Cauce's office issued a statement just before the press conference started.
“The University of Washington condemns the attack against a Muslim student earlier this month in no uncertain terms,” the statement from Cauce said. “We continue to offer our support to the student and we stand with the Muslim community here today and all who oppose any form of bigotry, harassment, or hate. … The UWPD is continuing to investigate this incident.”
CAIR-WA is now collaborating with the University of Washington Police Department and Seattle's FBI office to find Hassan's assailant.
"We obviously have a situation here where our Muslim community is concerned with these incidents and a rise of incidents across America," said Maj. Rittereiser. "We are sensitive to these concerns of violence against the Muslim population and certainly want to provide whatever service we can to help people."
This isn’t the first act of hate UW’s Muslim community has seen in recent years.
Mina Sultana, the president of UW Muslim Student Association, said an on-campus prayer space and an off-campus mosque "had graffiti and bricks thrown through the windows” in 2015.
Sultana said she has felt afraid since Trump was elected, but is trying to remain optimistic about the coming years.
"I'm hoping that this is an opportunity for us to acknowledge the issues we have on our campuses and in our communities and take action to [create] meaningful solutions," she said. "That's why we want incidents like [Hassan's assault] to be handled well [and thoroughly] because that shows our students that yes, their concerns are being addressed.”
A group of interfaith leaders—including Seattle reverends, pastors, and rabbis—attended the Monday press conference to show solidarity with Hassan. So did Saffiyah Hardin, 20, who said that she was the victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime in March. While waiting for the bus to go to her job in Everett, Hardin remembers a car pulling up near her stop.
"I assumed they were just dropping off somebody. A man got out of his car and walked towards me," she said. "He grabbed me by my scarf, pulling my face towards him. He then proceeded to punch me in the face and knee me in the ribs and he was shouting anti-Muslim slurs. It seems like it went so fast. When he thought enough was enough, he left."
After the assault, Hardin said she filed a police report with the city police. (Hardin agreed to provide The Stranger with a copy of the police report. We have not yet received it as of publication time.)
"In my situation, there was no investigation done," she said. "No one ever followed up with me."
Hassan, who plans to apply to UW’s computer science major and pursue a career in software engineering, did not hesitate to go back to school after the attack. She said she was encouraged by a flood of supportive e-mails from colleagues, friends, and even her high school teacher.
“[He] can’t take this away from me,” she said, of both her education and faith. “Other girls should know that they should speak out, too.”
But Hassan is still taking safety precautions, including walking with friends between buildings, especially at night. Rather than taking classes that let out in the evening, she plans on taking more classes during the daytime for winter quarter.
Fahra Misbah, the secretary of UW’s Muslim student group, said she now feels hyper-visible.
“Hijab is such a big thing in America,” she said. “When it starts getting dark, I won't go to dark areas of campus. I won't go by myself. I try to get rides instead of taking the bus because it's safer.”