Jiva Akbor was sitting on the very back row of a flight from Britain to Spain when the woman sitting next to her stood up panicked and asked the staff if she could change seats. Her reason was that Akbor, who wears a hijab, was texting a friend of hers and used the word “Allah” in her text.
Akbor's friend had been robbed earlier that day. Her text message read, "May Allah make the day easy for you all!"
The fearful woman next to Akbor was named Beverly. She was traveling with her 11-year-old son. When she complained to the flight attendant about Akbor, she was given the option of getting off the plane or returning to her seat. As she watched Beverly come back to her seat, Akbor decided to talk to her.
Akbor wrote about the encounter in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.
"This lady was actually scared to sit next to me on this flight and had gone to tell the staff that she saw me write the word 'Allah' on a text message and wanted to now change seats," the post began.
"At that moment she looked at me and said, ‘I saw you write a text message and you wrote Allah on it. My heart stopped. And I thought Oh Ma Goddd. But the words ‘Okaay’ came out my mouth. She repeated herself and was looking like she was on the brink of tears."
"It just means God in Arabic," Akbor said she explained to Beverly.
"I quickly filled her in and told her that I’m just a regular Muslim girl traveling, on my way to tour Spain, I was born and bred in Greater Manchester, England and she has nothing to worry about being sat next to me."
After 15 minutes of explaining Akbor wrote that could feel Beverly was beginning to come around. "Before too long I could see remorse in her tone, I think she was shocked at her own reaction and the realization of what she had thought of me was setting in," she wrote. She continued:
"In her own words she said ‘it’s so scary what the media can make us think’ and ‘I just panicked.' I wanted to understand the mindset. I asked her, ‘So you saw me writing the word 'Allah' and what was the exact thought in your head?’ and she said, ‘I just thought what if this was like the last message you’re sending…’ and I laughed, And with each laugh, she apologized."
Akbor thanked the hostesses who handled the situation professionally without kicking Akbor off the plane. "Also much love to the Jet2 Air Hostesses who are AMAZING!! Their support in making me feel safe and ‘normal’ was beyond appreciated."
Beverly and Akbor exchanged WhatsApp messages after the plane landed.
A couple of hundred people commented on Akbor's Facebook post. Some thanked her for her patience and others were grateful to the Jet2 Air hostesses who handled the situation in a just way.
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."