Behind the Veil: Barriers and bias

Violent Muslim extremists are attracting infamy by releasing videos of their atrocities on the Internet, leaving many of Westchester's own Muslim families angered, upset and sometimes unfairly targeted by barriers and bias.



"ISIS has nothing to do with Islam," says Ayse Keskin, a Turkish immigrant and new American citizen living in Sleepy Hollow with her husband Shakir and 3-year-old daughter, Nyshe. "ISIS mostly kills the Muslim people."



Shakir Keskin runs the Turkish Cultural Center of Westchester. The couple says they hope a better understanding of their religion will help break down some of the obstacles Muslims face here in the United States.



"We shouldn't characterize people by their outfits or hair," Ayse Keskin says. "I think there is more to it, and we have to get to know people and give them a chance."



Dr. Esra Caylan, a friend of the Keskins who is a pediatric pulmonologist with the Children's and Women's Physicians group at Westchester Medical Center, says her young patients and their parents are sometimes shocked by her Muslim clothing.



"Sometimes, I can see on their face they are like, 'Who is this?'" Dr. Caylan says. "When they know you are a good doctor, doing a good job with their kid, it doesn't matter where you are coming from or what you are wearing."



Many Muslim woman say that one of the biggest misconceptions about their religion is that they are treated unfairly. Women are often required to cover up with headscarves to enter their mosques and pray. Many wear similar cover in public.



Women are also kept together when worshipping -- in the back of the mosque, separated from the men.



The imam at the mosque in Thornwood says this is because men and women aren't supposed to mix side by side, which could create a distraction during prayer.



But Keskin says that's not a sign of inequality.



"As a person, we are equal," she says. "Man and woman are equal in front of God."



Still, Muslim women's attire here in the U.S. can often draw unwanted or unnerving attention from strangers.



"One of my daughters was made truly uncomfortable," Keskin says, when a man demanded to know why she wasn't wearing a veil or headscarf.



And Dr. Caylan says she was once heckled in the middle of the street in Manhattan.



But behind the veil, Keskin and Caylan say they want what all mothers want, happiness for their children.



"I really want for our children a place where they can live together without judging each other," Keskin says. "And we have to make this happen."


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