Yasir Billoo was in law school at Nova Southeastern University and returning to Miami from Pakistan, where he had been visiting family over winter break about three months after Sept. 11, 2001.
He had a connecting flight in Paris. As first class was boarding, Billoo was called to the front desk and questioned by security: “Where do you live in South Florida?” “What do you do?” “Why were you visiting Pakistan?”
After a few minutes, he was allowed to board. As the plane filled up, men in police jackets circled his seat, asking him to come with them. Book and boarding pass in hand, Billoo was questioned again.
“They either wanted to confirm the truth or catch me in a lie,” said Billoo, who returned to the plane, sat down and pulled out his law book to read for the long flight ahead. “I didn’t get up once.”
Fifteen years later, Billoo says bigotry toward Muslim Americans has only gotten worse, fueled by the 2016 presidential campaign, in which GOP front-runner Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban of Muslims entering the United States (after the San Bernardino attacks) and Sen. Ted Cruz suggested law enforcement “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” (after the Brussels bombings). In fact, surveys show that about one-third of Americans had a negative view of Islam before 9/11. Today, about two-thirds do.
“It’s become a litmus test, almost, for being a ‘true American’ that you have to express hostility toward Islam and Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group.
Added Billoo: “Most Muslims don’t have a positive outlook of the future right now,’’ although his living in the United States for 30 years has taught him to be optimistic: “I have to believe it will be better.”
Billoo, 37, an attorney who grew up in California, moved to Miami in 1994 when his father opened a clothing business. He was 15 and entering his sophomore year at American Senior High in Hialeah. He attended Florida International University, earning two bachelor’s degrees, in journalism and international relations. In 2003, he graduated with a law degree from Shepard Broad College of Law at NSU. He and his law partner run a law firm in Hollywood, where they represent corporate clients.
Billoo lives in Pembroke Pines with his wife, Sanober Bangloria, and their daughter, Shiffa. (His parents live nearby). The two sets of parents were good friends in Pakistan and arranged their children’s marriage.
“My parents chose him for me, and I feel very lucky to be married to him,” said Bangloria, a stay-at-home mom who had been an elementary school teacher in Pakistan.
They celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last year with a Disney cruise to the Bahamas; Shiffa had a blast, dazzled by every princess she met.
Shiffa, a spunky 6-year old who loves Red Lobster biscuits, is a first-grader at a local charter school. She’s an avid reader, on her way to finishing her 200th book. Billoo said they chose a public school so that Shiffa would have Muslim and non-Muslim friends, and that her friends would realize she is just like them.
“I don’t like that Muslim students are learning about Christians instead of with them,” he said.
Bangloria worries about her daughter, fearful of kidnappers, fast drivers in the neighborhood and anti-Islamic feelings entering her world.
In Sunday school, Shiffa is required to wear a head scarf, or hijab. Bangloria said she doesn’t let her daughter wear it in the car. She puts it on only after they arrive at the mosque steps.
Said her mother: “It’s better if she doesn’t wear it because we never know what is going to happen.”