I grew up in a country where my closest relationship to Muslims was through media which mainly (if not only) covers negative events when it comes to Islam. Basically, all I saw on TV was that Muslims kill those who don’t share the same views. Deep in my heart, I knew it wasn’t correct so I decided to find out more about this topic – I turned to my best friends when it comes to knowledge: books. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea because most of the books that are available in the West about the Muslim world shows man domination, arranged marriages, abused women and polygamy… in total my opinion about Islam was far from positive.

Since I didn’t have real life experiences my opinion was formed by what I saw on the news and what I read in my precious books. What’s shocking is that the picture that the Western society depicts about Muslims is so negative that even though I am well educated and very open minded I started to be afraid of Muslims.

This fear came to such an extent that whenever I saw a person in veil on the tube (3-4 times/year) I couldn’t take my eyes of them: I was l examining them to see if they showed any signs of suspicious behaviour and I planned a whole escape route in my head in case they pulled a gun out of their baggy clothes. Since I’have been contra racism my whole life, I tried to fight against these thoughts.

I realised I had a problem and when I was travelling in the same carriage with a Muslim (which was the equivalent of a near-death experience to me at the time) I tried to convince myself that what I was thinking was wrong and that Muslims are not terrorists – but I couldn’t help my feelings. I started sweating, my heart was beating faster and at some point I even messaged my mom “I love you” in case this was my last chance to do so. I was suffering from Islamophobia.

The good thing was that I was aware of my “condition” and I knew I developed it to this extent because I saw Muslims on the news more often than in real life. That is why I was quite sure that when I move to London it would all miraculously disappear- and I was half-right.

I moved to London, I saw Muslims every day and my panic attacks got a lot better, but it was still far from ideal. Even though my heart rate stayed normal and I didn’t conduct a complete evacuation plan for the whole carriage when I saw a hijabi on the tube, I still had racist thoughts such as “I reckon a suicide bomb fits right under those layers”. As soon as these ideas came to my head I felt stupid and I got really angry at myself. Why am I still thinking like this? How many times do I have to travel with Muslims without being blown up to convince my brain that Muslims are not terrorists?!

I knew I had to take stronger measures to tackle the problem so I decided to get out of my comfort zone and I move in with a Muslim family.