If you’re a Muslim girl and you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen her demonstrating self-defense moves tailored for Muslim women in a post-Trump election America.
In a series of simple videos, Zainab (Zee) Abdulla, a slight young woman wearing a hijab, shows off Muslim Girl might and demonstrates that you don’t have to be big to be a baddie. Self-defense for Muslim girls doesn’t have to be about size or self-defense gadgetry: Zee Abdulla is all about brains and bravery.
While defending herself against a sparring partner, Abdulla uses sign language to ensure her videos are accessible. As Vice-President of Deaf Planet Soul, Abdulla advocates for inclusiveness and accessibility for Deaf people and Deaf Muslims.
I was blessed to connect with and interview the young woman who has Muslim girls all over the world putting away their fears and putting up their fists.
Muslim Girl: There are some videos of you demonstrating self-defense techniques that are especially relevant to women who wear hijab. Was it your idea to share these videos?
Zee Abdulla: I’ve been teaching self-defense through my nonprofit for a while now. And while the classes are specifically designed to be inclusive of the deaf, many Muslim women saw my hijab and began attending, realizing it was a safe space. Slowly, these women started associating me with self-defense and so following the election, I got a LOT of calls from people asking me if I knew how to defend against this sort of attack.
After a ton of googling, I realized nothing was out there in terms of defense against a hijab grab. I texted a bunch of fighter friends and eventually connected with Misho Ceko of Chicago MMA. That very Saturday, we were in the gym developing the moves. That’s when we recorded the videos.
How long have you been studying self-defense?
I started training in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), Muay Thai and kickboxing four years ago but I eventually stopped Muay Thai and Kick Boxing and focused solely on BJJ. I like the confidence that comes with martial arts training––I know I can take a punch and not let it knock me to the ground. I know I can hold my own in a fight, especially against larger men and that makes me feel much more confident moving about as a woman. It’s also great stress relief!
As a Muslim woman, have you faced any violence or discrimination?
Yes, I’ve been at the receiving end of some anger. I’ve been yelled at and spit on. I’ve had a lot of passive aggression, too. One guy, for example, tried to refuse service at a small-town Starbucks in southern Illinois by just ignoring me. I wasn’t willing to accept that so I refused to let him get away with it and watched him very angrily make the drink, mumbling under his breath as his associate literally shoved it to me.
The little things like that really annoy me more than the outright yelling. It’s just so petty, you know? Like what point are you proving by being a pain while making my coffee? Ugh! People.
Why do you believe it’s important to share these self-defense techniques with other Muslim women?
I think self-defense is important for all women—but especially for visible minorities in this post-election world. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported intense spikes in hate crimes following the election and Muslim women are often the recipients. We need to make sure we’re prepared for any attack that might come our way, especially since these defenses didn’t really exist in any visible way before the videos were made.
What has been the response to your videos? Have you had any feedback from other women who have viewed them?
The response has been INCREDIBLE. So many people have reached out to me, all saying essentially the same thing: it’s sad these videos have to exist, but we’re glad they’re up here.
What is your ultimate goal in sharing these videos? Do you think you will continue doing this?
I want people to know two things: First, we’re not just passive receptacles for bigotry. If you grab my scarf and attempt to assault me because my choice of religious expression offends you, know that I will react with a kick to the crotch and elbow lock strong enough to snap your arm. Second, know that we have options. I’m tired of hearing stories of bigotry that end with the victim running away in tears. If you feel safest running away, I totally get it. But that’s not our only option. We can kick ass.
We’re not just passive receptacles for bigotry. If you grab my scarf and attempt to assault me because my choice of religious expression offends you, know that I will react with a kick to the crotch and elbow lock strong enough to snap your arm.
Can you describe your work with the Deaf community?
I’m the VP of a deaf non-profit called Deaf Planet Soul and I’m super involved in the Deaf community as a result. This is why I made sure to keep all the videos and interviews accessible!
What can Muslims, Masajid, and Muslim Community Centers do to make spaces more inclusive and life more accessible for Deaf Muslims?
Awesome question. The easy answer is interpreters. Make sure that interpreters are available for all events attended by Deaf Muslims. Make your spaces visually accessible. Remember that illiteracy rates are high amongst the Deaf, so captions alone aren’t always the answer. Make an effort to reach out the community. Learn a few words or phrases in ASL and make a connection!
What are some of your goals in your work with the Deaf community?
I hope to help break down the barriers that normally prohibit Deaf folks from accessible health, fitness, education and employment opportunities. There’s so much I want to do in the world and I’m starting through Deaf Planet Soul, where we offer educational advocacy, job training, ASL tutoring, life skills support and, of course, self-defense classes.
Is there anything else you would like to tell other Muslim women, other members of the Deaf community, or anyone else who might be reading this piece?
My biggest messages: don’t be afraid. Fear is an easy, instinctual response in this crazy time but don’t give in to it. Know that you have an army of allies––Muslim and non-Muslim, Hearing and Deaf. We’re in this together.
Watch the videos by Zee Abdulla on Facebook.