A university student was left feeling “humiliated” and “on the cusp of tears” after she was asked to remove her hijab to gain entry into a popular Sydney hot spot on Friday night.
Soaliha Iqbal, 21, said she was waiting with her friends to enter Paragon Hotel at Circular Quay when a bouncer didn’t look at her ID, and instead pointed at her hijab and requested she “take it off”.
“His threatening demeanour kicked me back into reality, my face burned with humiliation and rage. Seething, and on the cusp of tears, I could only respond with a shaky ‘Are you serious? This is my hijab’,” Iqbal wrote on website, 5Why.
In her detailed post, Iqbal said that when she didn’t comply with the bouncer’s demands, he refused her entry into the venue and told her to “stand aside”. She claimed her friends’ ID cards were all checked, but the security guard had refused to even take a look at hers.
After bystanders called out the incident as racist, the bouncer reacted by telling the Muslim woman she was “overreacting”, Iqbal noted.
She said she was “shocked” this happened to her during a night out as she was “just doing my everyday business”.
“As a visibly Muslim woman you’re pretty used to xenophobic microaggression, an unfortunate part of the truth is that it happens,” she told HuffPost Australia on Tuesday. “But I’ve never had anything that aggressive before. Never from a person in a position of power. Never an authority figure, it’s usually a random on the street.”
The group of friends Iqbal was with were a mixture of Caucasian and ethnic people, yet she was the only person wearing a hijab on the night.
“I felt like I was being racially profiled for sure. I felt like I was being denied entry on the basis of the fact that I was wearing a hijab,“she said.
“I felt like it was an aggression towards people like me. I felt very othered. Nobody else was being harassed except me, nobody had anything said to them.”
In her post, Iqbal said that a nearby police officer had noticed the commotion and “told us that being within 50m of the entrance of a bar that has denied you entry is a legal offence under the liquor act, and that we better move on”. She said 13 other police officers then arrived on site.
A NSW Police spokesperson told HuffPost Australia: “Police attended licensed premises outside Loftus Street, in Sydney CBD on Friday 25 October 2019 following an interaction between a private security guard and a group of people.
“Police were satisfied there was no criminal activity and provided advice to the group on how to lodge a formal complaint. Police remained at the location to prevent any breach of the peace. The group later dispersed without incident.”
In an apology shared by Iqbal, Paragon Hotel’s operations manager Craig Wesker said it was the security guard’s first shift at the venue and “he wanted to impress venue management with his professionalism and attention to detail”.
“Due to this diligence when checking you (sic) ID and trying to ensure he had facial recognition, he asked you to remove you (sic) Hijab interpreting it as only a head scarf,” he continued.
Wesker claimed Iqbal had “incorrectly” interpreted the guard’s request to “step to one side” as “the Security Personal denying you entry, for you refusing to remove your Hijab.
“We would never demand such a request and unreservedly apologise for his mistake and by no means wanted to cause you offence.”
Paragon Hotel did not immediately respond to HuffPost Australia’s request for comment.