Sarah Ouadghiri has been active politically from the early 1970s when, as a Cambridge high school student, she took part in anti-war protests. She converted to Islam in 1992 and now works at the Roxbury mosque. “I didn’t get much flak for being Muslim until 9/11,” she says.
Soon after 9/11, a co-worker at a previous job told her she should leave the country. A direct descendant of Thomas Hooker, she responded: “Where do you want me to go? My family has been in Massachusetts for 400 years. Do you want me to go back to 15th century England?” Another co-worker told her that all Muslims should be shot.
“They never talk about the root causes of 9/11 in this country,” she says. “If you have a real discussion, you are opening the door to what is really going on here. It is easier to say ‘they hate us’ and never look beyond that.”
She began to wear the hijab in 2008. In that year when she was at Logan Airport to catch a flight to Miami, an American Airlines agent said that in her passport she did not have a hijab and now she was wearing one so she could not be sure she was the same person. She offered to take off the hijab in private if it helped, but the agent said she wasn’t sure she could let her travel. She showed her all her IDs, with and without the head covering, and finally the agent agreed to let her travel but marked her for extra scrutiny.
“On the way back to Boston, I was at Miami Airport at 6 am and there were not that many travelers in the security line. A security officer from the opposite side screamed to a co-worker near me, ‘Make sure you get the one in white!’ referring to me.”
She says the Roxbury mosque is unique because it has no single constituency, but attracts people from all over the globe. The mosque has its problems. Many people are afraid to give money to the mosque. “Muslims who are immigrants fear everything can be yanked out from under them if they give. It has happened.” The group that tried to prevent the mosque from being built still protests across the street occasionally and hostile articles about it appear in The Jewish Advocate on a regular basis. And she assumes it is infiltrated by informers.
“I am sure my phone is tapped because I work in a masjid [mosque]. I think probably all the phones in the masjid are tapped. A lot of people think that there are microphones in the masjid too. I have no doubt that there are undercover FBI agents. You always see these new Muslims who just converted and all of a sudden they are dressing super conservatively, trying to put themselves in the middle of everything and asking a lot of questions. It definitely makes you wonder.”