AUSTIN, Texas— Leilah and Sirat started their Sunday morning just as most Americans do: a Sunday morning breakfast at a local cafe.
The pair headed to Austin's well-known Kerbey Lane Cafe on Guadalupe Street. While waiting to be seated, they experienced what they describe as Islamophobia— a much too common experience for many American Muslims today.
“My friend and I just experienced Islamophobia in Austin. This is the first time this has happened to me in Austin,” Lailah wrote in a Facebook post. “I have never felt more dehumanized and humiliated than I did this morning,” Sirat added in her own post.
Leilah Abdennabi, a Palestinian-American born in Chicago, and Sirat Al-Nahi, an Iraqi-American born in Seattle, said that while at the popular eatery, an older man at the restaurant shouted, “she [Leilah] should just go back to Saudi Arabia where she came from.”
Nobody said anything. People silently watched.
“I couldn’t believe what he said and I guess I hoped someone would have the humanity to acknowledge it because their silence hurt just as much as his words,” Sirat wrote.
The incident didn’t end there. According to the post, the man continued the harassment, adding, “and the same goes for you. What? You have a gun in there? Just go ahead and shoot me,” at which point the management intervened and proceeded to seat him in an attempt to deescalate the situation— but did not force him to leave.
Leilah says she asked to speak to management, but they said there was nothing they could do. The pair decided to leave.
“As we turn to leave, Leilah, in tears, says, ‘just [so] everyone knows we were told very racist things and this restaurant doesn’t feel the need to address it because who cares about us?’ And somebody called out, ‘nobody.’ And we left. Because it was true,” Sirat wrote.
Their story has been shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook in just hours. They hope their posts will highlight the responsibility businesses face when it comes to discrimination and how no customers should fall victim to harassment in a place that has the ability to not provide service for such incidents, Leilah told FOX 7.
Leilah’s message to people who witness such harassment is simple: speak up.
“It made the experience so much worse that no one said anything,” Leilah said. Since the incident, she has received messages of support through social media from people who witnessed the incident.
As for those who decide to use such language and actions, Leilah hopes they will “unlearn their hatred and bigotry.”
FOX 7 also spoke to Kerbey Lane, who said their management is aware of the incident and is looking further into it, adding this does not reflect their beliefs. The cafe reached out to Leilah and Sirat to apologize.
Kerbey Lane also issued a public apology on Facebook:
We have reached out to both of the guests who had a negative experience with another guest in our restaurant today and apologized, and we want to publicly apologize for the way this was handled. We do not condone discriminatory comments or behavior in any way, shape, or form; and according to our policy the guest who made these hateful comments to another guest should have been asked to leave our restaurant. This was a mistake made by our management, and we are addressing it with that individual. For anyone who has any concerns about Kerbey Lane’s policies, please contact us directly at or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Kerbey Lane's CEO, Mason Ayer, has issued a personal statement and apology: