Remona Aly
Tuesday 29 August 2023 BBC Radio 2, Pause for Thought

Three hijabis and a police van

Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show

Three hijabis and a Chicago police van


It was around this time, on the hinge of summer and autumn 16 years ago, that I found myself in the back of a police van in Chicago. 

I’d travelled to the States with two other hijabi women to sell a lifestyle magazine I worked for, at a big Muslim family convention. After a nine hour flight that only served us bread rolls and salad as the veggie option ran out, and after raised eyebrows from immigration control, we shuffled out of departures, hungry, jetlagged, and lugging stacks of heavy boxes. We wondered how on earth we’d get them all to the venue, as taxis refused to take us. 

We felt lost and despondent, with no one to call. 

At that moment, Chicago’s finest spotted us three goons and our boxes, and started beelining towards us. We glanced at each other in panic, but were met with smiling officers who said, “Hello ladies! Where are you headed?” 

We told them of our predicament. They radioed in for a van which bolted out of nowhere. Out jumped two more officers, who grabbed the boxes, piled them in the back, and promptly drove us all the way to the venue. And that is how three Asian Muslim hijabi women ended up in the back of a Chicago police van. 

There are moments I’ve felt abandoned, misunderstood and pushed to depend on myself. When my anxiety was laughed off by an incredulous peer, when another turned away from my tears, I began to build a wall. Not letting people in avoided the burn of disappointment, the hurt of shaken trust.

But sometimes, when I’m at the bottom of an ocean floor, a hand is offered to raise me out. I work against myself to take it, to breathe again without barriers, to allow myself to be rescued. 

Hafez, the 14th century Persian Muslim poet said, “This is the kind of Friend you are: Without making me realise my soul’s anguished history, you slip into my house at night. And while I am sleeping, you silently carry off all my suffering and sordid past in your beautiful hands.”

Even when I can’t see a way out, an unexpected saviour can come to my rescue – if I let them in, be it a friend, a stranger or indeed, a Chicago police van.

To listen, click here Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show