Clark Graduate Student Hasnaa Mokhtar Advocates for Islam

Islamophobia Following 2015 Paris Attacks Causes Many Muslims to Suffer

Katherine Hamilton, Scarlet Staff

Shootings and bombings in Paris killed one hundred thirty civilians on Nov. 13, 2015. According to BBC, the attacks were carried out by ISIS-related extremists.

France responded with an objective to combat terrorism by instating a three-month state of emergency during which police could put people under house arrest or search them without a warrant, according to the New York Times.

Across the world, the attacks engendered strong reactions from governments and civilians. The International Business Times, among other publications, reported a spike in hate crimes against Muslims after the attacks. It also cited rising numbers of Muslims who felt unsafe in their own homes.

Hasnaa Mokhtar, a Clark doctorate student, remembered feeling that, “no matter what information came to light, the backlash would make everything worse for Muslims regardless of geographic location.”

Mokhtar was accepted into Clark’s International Development and Social Change M.A. program in 2013, and is now working for her doctorate in that field, with a minor in gender studies. As a Muslim woman in the United States, Mokhtar explained a huge mix of emotions—deep sadness and empathy for the victims and their families, but also disillusionment about her own faith and concern for her own safety: “Please don’t claim to be Muslim,” she recalled thinking about the perpetrators. “Please don’t let me carry the burden. Please don’t force me to denounce and condemn…”

Just one day after the Paris attacks, Mokhtar wrote an article titled “A Muslim Woman’s First Thoughts after the Paris Attacks.” The article outlined her immediate response as the news poured in from France, as well as other commentary about Islamophobia and why all Muslims should not be blamed. First published on, Mokhtar’s work was well-received and quickly gained popularity.

“Many Muslim women reached out to me saying that what I wrote echoed their feelings,” she said.

The article was featured in both TeenVogue and Fortune Magazine, and later recognized as number one in the top ten articles of 2015.

She commented, “the publicity made me realize the power of articulating my thoughts through writing.”

Mokhtar began her writing career in Saudi Arabia, where she grew up, and wrote for the leading English language daily Arab News there. She took a break from journalism after starting at Clark for her M.A., but in 2014, she saw the founder of, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, speaking online against Muslim women stereotypes. Inspired by Al-Khatahtbeh’s words, she decided to apply to write for and was accepted.

“Today, MuslimGirl to me is not just a website,” she explained. “It is about the collective spirit and sisterhood that bonds me to all the writers and editors.”

The website has served as a supportive community for many women since its creation in 2009. It covers topics including Islamophobia, biographies of role models, fitness tips, and everyday life for Muslim women. Patrons of the website call themselves the #MuslimGirlArmy.

Along with her contributions to this website, Mokhtar has done extensive work against gender violence committed in the name of Islam and culture. Starting at Clark, she thought the task of fighting gender violence would be relatively easy, but she now says that “the more I read and learn about the topic, the more I realize the daunting complexity of this task.”

The doctorate student explained that, by adding in the dimensions of faith and culture, there are a number of factors that must be accounted for, and many of them are simplified into stereotypes.

However, she also noted how Clark has helped move toward her goal. “Being in the self-designed, interdisciplinary doctoral program gives me that space to be creative,” said Mokhtar.

During her M.A., Mokhtar was involved with organizing events for the Muslim Cultural Society and working as treasurer for the IDCE Student Association. She also volunteered at a rape crisis center in Worcester called Pathways for Change. Last year, she designed an anti-violence intervention manual which she introduced at a workshop in Washington, D.C. The manual is “culturally competent and consistent with the Muslim contexts to tackle gender violence,” according to Mokhtar.

This past year, she worked with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss strategies of supporting Muslim students and staff at Clark affected by President Trump’s Muslim ban.

Currently, she is working as a research assistant for Professor Nicole Overstreet. Their project is localized in Worcester, and looks at some of the obstacles that female victims of violence face.

Mokhtar also continues to write for, with some of her most recent work addressing Trump’s Muslim ban.

“I will continue to write so that the suffering Islamophobia causes to Muslims is acknowledged and commented [on],” she confirmed. “I am so grateful and honored to be part of this revolution that is countering the narrative and reclaiming Muslim identity.”