GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Gulfport woman said religious discrimination is forcing her to make a painful decision when it comes to how she practices her faith. Latrice Jackson-Artis is a Muslim who prefers to cover her head, but lately says she's reconsidering her decision to wear a hijab.
Latrice Jackson-Artis was raised a Christian in Chicago, Illinois. She said her father would often visit mosques which is how she was introduced to Islam. When she converted to Islam, she decided to wear a head covering.
"I wear my hijab according to my faith and because I choose to wear it and not because someone is making me," said Jackson-Artis. "My husband is not even Muslim. I decided to wear the head covering because it makes me feel more modest about how I carry myself and most importantly how I carry myself around my daughter."
Jackson-Artis has two daughters, 11 and 15-year-olds who always cover when they leave the house. She said she covers about 80 percent of time, but because of problems she's had finding work in the last year and a half since moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast she's considering putting on the hijab a lot less often.
"You talk to me over the phone and you're like 'Oh, you have so much great experience. I would love to hire you,'" said Jackson-Artis. "Then when I show up you're like, 'No. You're the Taliban. You're Isis or whatever.' That's not fair to me. I'm an American citizen. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois."
While she studies the Bible, the Quran, the Torah and other religious texts, Jackson-Artis finds many people in the area are not open to learning about her faith and about why she covers. She said she and her children have been made to leave businesses because of their hijabs.
Jackson-Artis said, "The lady went off and was saying, 'You don't serve the same God we serve and you ain't coming in here with that on your head.' She was really irate, ignorant."
Now it's a decision between continuing to practice her faith the way she wants to in spite of the difficulties or taking off the hijab. Neither will be easy.
"My heart. My mind and my spirit is telling me I should continue to cover. But when you're faced with a dilemma and your livelihood in your household and your children you have to put other things first. Nothing is working for me when people see this and it's almost like should I do it or shouldn't I do it," Jackson-Artis.
Also the mother of three worries if she takes off her hijab to get work she might not be able to keep it.
"After I take this off to get the employment when I put it back on are they going to keep me? Are they going to exit me?" said Jackson-Artis. "Are they going to say, 'We didn't know you were Muslim, so you have to go.'"
Jackson-Artis said she doesn't think it's right she should feel forced to choose.
"I have pros and cons with that, but I really would like to stay covered and still have the ability to choose whether or not I would like to wear my covering," said Jackson-Artis.
Jackson-Artis says her prayer is that instead of making assumptions about Muslim, people would just pose questions.
"I think they should ask. If you want to know why am I wearing this on my head it's because I reverence my husband. If I don't have it on my head and I'm with my husband again it's because I reverence my husband," she said. "There are days I want to feel cute and wear my natural hair. I have an afro. So sometimes I want to wear my afro and sometimes I should be able to wear my afro. It's my body. My choice."
Jackson-Artis said, "People don't know and they refuse to ask questions. Because of what they see in the media and the news, they take that and they run with that. Everybody you see that's Muslim is not radical."
The family moved to the area after her husband retired from the military. She said previously the family had been living in Virginia where covering wasn't a problem because there was a larger Muslim community. She worries about the treatment her daughters will receive as they get older.
"Being down in the South I have three things against me. I'm a Muslim, I'm black. And I'm a woman so that causes a great scare for me to let my babies go," said Jackson-Artis.
She points to verses in the Bible that speak of women and head covering, specifically 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 11:6.
"Would you ask a nun to take her religious garment off? Would you tell her you can't come in here and eat? You can't come in here and enjoy yourself because you have that on your head. Nobody is bothering other faiths. They're attacking Muslims and that's unfair to people," said Jackson-Artis. "I believe in all of the prophets. Abraham. Adam. All of them. You cannot believe in the Quran and not have the Injil, which is the Bible, and the Torah. You cannot do that. You have to have all three in order to understand everything. We as a community should be able to agree to disagree, but still love one another. As far as what other people believe and what I believe, I have Christian friends, I don't knock how they feel because I've been a Christian."