Southern California's Muslim, Sikh communities share grief and backlash following 9/11 attacks

FBI data shows hate crimes against Muslims nationwide jumped from 28 reported incidents in the year 2000, to 481 in 2001.
Through 25 years, Southern California is not just a place where Khloud has raised her family, earned her degree and settled in.

"I love it here, I feel the peace here," said Khloud. "That's why it's home for me."

So she took it personally when, about eight years ago, she was caught off guard while going to the post office.

"I'm trying to go in and a guy inside was going out, and I thought, he's holding the door for me like a gentleman," said Khloud, who didn't want to share her last name, citing safety concerns. "So I proceed and when I got in, he hold the door and hit me on my shoulder. It took me seconds to understand what happened. Then I felt the pain and fell on the floor and start crying and I said, 'Why are you doing this to me?' And he said all the bad words you can imagine."

Khloud said she called 911 and Cypress police responded shortly after.

"And he told me, 'If we get a hold of him, what do you want us to do?'" said Khloud. "I just want to ask him why he did that. Why he think I'm responsible for anything he saw on TV? Why me?"

She believes, based on what he called her, that she was targeted because she's Muslim. Ranjit Singh has, too, found himself vulnerable because of his faith.

A Southern Californian since 1985, Ranjit grew up in India.

"Still, people say 'Are you Taliban?' Most of the time I just ignore it and change my path, because it's not worth it," said Singh.

He and his family are Sikh.

At its core, the religion values service to god and the community, equality and compassion. Most people notice Sikhism by long hair, silver bracelets, often times men wear turbans.

Both Singh and Khloud have felt tempted to make their religions less visible.

"Some of them were advising me... don't wear (your scarf) anymore so you will not be attacked," said Khloud. "I said no, this is my belief. This is what makes me what I am, who I am, so I can't take it off."

Singh had similar conversations after the September 11th attacks.

"Instead of wearing this color of turban, we found a flag turban, so people can see from far away that we are American," said Singh.

Singh's daughter, Simrin, remembers the overt patriotism well, but not always why. She was a toddler on Sept. 11, 2021.

"It's sad to think that Sikhs had to literally wear the flag on their sleeve in order to prove that they belonged here," said Simrin.

The disconnect for Americans who do not believe they belong here, according to therapist Maher Sonbol, has to do with people viewing reality inaccurately, sometimes as a way of coping.

"In mental health, we call it cognitive distortion," said Sonbol. "This is really there in our day-to-day life -- overgeneralization."

FBI data shows hate crimes against Muslims nationwide jumped from 28 reported incidents in the year 2000, to 481 in 2001. They tapered off before spiking again from 2015-2017. The bureau only has anti-Sikh data available for the past six years. Last year had the most reports at 67.

Khloud never learned why she was attacked her at the post office. She decided not to file a police report.

"I hesitated," said Khloud. "To be honest with you, I was scared that if I go after him, he will go after me."

Sonbol says this is common, particularly for first-generation Americans.

"The people who are coming from immigration and different countries...they are not used to being open and talking freely about their problems because they are worried about, 'What will this impact me? I'm not used to reporting like that or I'll be in trouble,'" said Sonbol.

Instead, the Singh family is focused on normalizing their religion through education, while keeping the faith.

"Make light out of dark and use that as an opportunity to then tell people who we are and why that was a problem," said Simrin.

Khloud wants something similar.

"I wanted people to understand that the religion of Islam is about peace," said Khloud. "Like when we see any person, we say Salaam Alaikum, which means peace be upon you."

Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.