Montanan, Muslim, Soldier: Abena Lane On 'Sharia Law Bill'
The last time Abenayaa (Abena) Lane was told to return to her "home country" was just before the presidential election in the fall.
She was shopping at a Walmart in Billings while wearing a head scarf, her hijab, when someone told her that when Trump becomes president, she will need to leave the Big Sky State.
Lane is a soldier in the U.S. Army studying sociology and criminal justice at MSU Billings. She told YPR’s Brie Ripley about one of the first times she felt unwanted in America for being Muslim.
Lane: The day after 9/11 I was on my way to the grocery store. It was turmoil. I used to wear a niqāb.
Ripley: What’s that?
Lane: Niqāb is face veil. I had on my hijab, which is the head cover. And I had the face veil on. And I’m on my way to the grocery store—Kroger at the time—it’s like in between the school and the library. And there’s a police car. And this is Cleveland. And he passes by really fast and you just hear the screech of the tires and he turns around and he comes back. And he pulls up, up onto the curb—and he stops me and he just has his gun up to me. And he just tells me—“stop, don’t move.” And he tells me to get down. So I’m on my knees. And then there’s another cop, another cop car comes. And he tells me, both of them, “Get down.” And they both have their guns up to me. And I’m like down on the ground, hands splayed. I’m like there, waiting. And they just want my ID and everything. Just because. And I’m there for a good hour to hour and a half for… what?
Ripley: I’d be scared out of my mind.
Lane: I wasn’t scared, I was angry.
Ripley: Tell me more about that?
Lane: Mainly because, I have had to deal with things like that most of my life. Not because of being Muslim, but because of being black. So it’s kind of just something you deal with. It’s sickening, but you deal with it.
Ripley: How do you feel around police officers in Billings, Montana?
Lane: I know a lot of the police officers here. Some of them who are—who have been in the military, who I’ve actually worked with side by side. In Montana there’s like five—what is it? Like five degrees of separation here?
Lane: So you know, you know a lot of the people here. So you’re going to see someone you know through someone else. So, yeah. I like being here. You don’t have the issue of looking over your shoulder.
Ripley: You feel respected.
Lane: Exactly. And when I literally got here, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re so beautiful!’ There’s love here.
Ripley: So when you face ignorance or misunderstanding about your religion, how do you address it?
Lane: Well I pretty much allow people to ask questions because the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask because your imagination is worse than anything that you don’t actually put out there. Because anything you’re thinking in your head is the biggest stupidest monster than what’s reality.
Ripley: As a soldier sworn to protect the Constitution, is the Constitution threatened by people who practice Islam?
Lane: No. No.
Ripley: Back in January, 31 people gave testimony in support of Senate Bill 97, also known as “the Sharia Law bill.” There are some folks in Montana who are really scared of Sharia law. As somebody who is Muslim, and in the army, do you believe that Montana state is at risk of threat of Sharia Law?
Lane: See, this is—this is what people need to understand. For a Muslim, the first thing that we have to do, is we follow the law of the land that we live in. Period. They’re making up their own stuff in their head. Because they’re trying to fear monger, is what they’re doing. They’re trying to make a monster under the bed. They’re trying to start something that’s not there. They’re trying to make something look worse than what it is.
Abena Lane is an American Muslim mother of five children. She’s the president of the Black Student Union and Vice President of the Veterans Club at Montana State University Billings where she studies sociology and criminal justice. She enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2005.
The Republican-controlled legislature approved SB97 and sent it to the governor’s desk.
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