SAN ANTONIO – Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Sarwat Husain rarely wore a hijab – the Muslim headscarf. But just as the attacks on the United States changed the world, they transformed Husain.

Practically overnight, this product of a privileged upbringing in Pakistan became an activist, determined to defend Muslims from discrimination and to educate San Antonians about Islam and Middle Eastern culture.

The most visible sign of her transformation was the hijab, now ever-present since a group of Muslim women complained to her about the ugly looks and threats they were getting on the street.

“At first I thought, ‘No, that can’t be happening in San Antonio,’ so I agreed to wear the hijab for a week to see how people would react to me,” said Husain, now in her mid-50s, who became a U.S. citizen in 1975 and moved to San Antonio with her family in 1989. “I wanted to see if anything would change from before.”

What happened next not only would open her eyes to the reality that anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise, it also would motivate her to become the public face of the San Antonio Muslim community. Today, she’s the founder, president and sole woman on the board of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-discrimination group.

Last year, Husain was featured in a book, “The Face Behind the Veil,” which profiled 50 prominent Muslim women in America. The book’s author credited Husain with her patriotism and opposition to terrorism.


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