'Hijabi Like Me', Video Clip from 'Founders Like Me' Video Series by SHE

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For Rana Abdelhamid, the fear and anxiety felt by many Muslim women became clear to her seven years ago while roaming the streets of her native New York City.

“I was 15 years old and walking down the street when a white man grabbed the back of my hijab and was trying to pull it off of my head,” she says in her exclusive "Founders Like Me" clip produced by storyofshe.org. Rana remembers feeling shaken and vulnerable, resolving to locking herself up in a bathroom and crying for hours. “I basically saw hate for the first time in my life.”

It was an experience that would always stay with her. However, she refused to let it keep her down, but rather used the fuel it ignited in her to help other women feel empowered and prepared in similar threatening situations.

At 16 years old Rana, a black belt in Shotokan Karate, founded the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE), an organization which trains young women in self-defense, social entrepreneurship, and leadership. WISE believes in holistically empowering women, which they achieve by also leading healing spaces and organizing trainings.

“Starting WISE was really about starting a safe space for women in my community,” says a now 22 year-old Rana. A safe space which allows these women to share their experiences, not feel alone in their fears, momentarily let go of their anxiety, and get training to help them fight back.

Given today’s political climate, the fears felt by Muslim women have proven to be justified as hate crimes against them have increased at a disturbing rate. In 2015, the FBI reported a 6 percent increase in all hate crimes from the previous year. Attacks against Muslims, however, rose 67 percent, the highest it’s been since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even more, Rana describes the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign as “horrifying" because of the way its fueled Islamaphobia.

“People affiliate you with the religion of Islam, affiliate you with the stereotypes that they see of Muslims on TV, and you become a walking target, unfortunately,” she said in an interview with The Philadelphia Tribune.

She explained that simply walking down the street can cause Muslim women to conjure up different threatening scenarios in their minds and feel like they could be attacked at any point. WISE helps these women to let go of their anxiety and feel empowered so that they can take control over their bodies.

Each of WISE’s self-defense classes start with Rana giving an overview of the different pressure points on the body, which include the nose, chin, neck, biceps, kneecaps, and groin. Attacking one or a few of these areas causes ones attacker to feel a lot of pain which gives the victim more time to escape. Rana’s self-defense classes also teach women how to get out of an arm grab, produce a forceful punch, and execute a front kick.

Whether or not these women end up having to use their training in a real-life situations, the confidence they get from these sessions is invaluable. With each session, the fears and vulnerability that they initially hold gradually transform into courage and confidence, leading them to take more control over their attacks and ultimately their lives.

Although a full-time master’s student of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Rana regularly travels from Boston to other states, such as Washington D.C. and New York, and other countries to teach her self-defense classes. WISE also has an international team of over two dozen people who have been trained to support the program in various locations. Rana plans to continue WISE’s momentum of connecting women within the U.S. and internationally to support each other and reach their full potential free of negativity, hate, and violence.

Soon to come, check out Rana's exclusive video clip, 'Hijabi like Me' on our YouTube channel (STORYOFSHE Admin).

Alana Brownfeatured