Lifestyle & Belief

This woman was attacked for speaking Swahili. In court she forgave her attacker.

This story is a part of

Global Nation

This story is a part of

Global Nation

Asma Jama's face still bears the scars from the attack that took place in October 2015.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

It happened at an Applebee's restaurant in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. She was having dinner with her family and they were speaking in their native language: Swahili. As they were chatting, another customer who was sitting at the next table got agitated. She didn't like that they were speaking Swahili and not English.

"She said 'speak English or get out of the country,'" Jama recalls.

When her family gets together, they speak Swahili instead of English. It's not that they don't know English. In fact, she is a US citizen and her kids were born here.

"She continued to say the same thing," Jama says, "and I had to turn around and tell her 'ma'am, we can speak English, we choose not to when we're with family.'"

But she got more aggressive. So much that she smashed a beer mug in Jama's face.

Jama was left with deep gashes on the lower part of her lip, which needed 17 stitches. Her nose and eye were left bloodied as well.

The attacker, Jodie Burchard-Risch, ran away, but Applebee's employees chased her and later police took her into custody.

This week, Jama and Burchard-Risch faced each other in court. Burchard-Risch was sentenced to six months in prison and up to five years of probation.

Jama got the chance to speak directly to her attacker.

"What happened to me on that day is unacceptable," an emotional Jama told the court, "it shouldn't happen to anybody else. I used to be a care-free person and now I can't go anywhere by myself."

But for Jama this wasn't a day for revenge. She wanted to forgive.

"I just want you to ... at the end of all this to understand that we're all the same," she said. "It doesn't matter what's on my head, it doesn't matter ... the color of my skin. We're all the same human beings. We're fighting for the same rights."

Jama says this was her chance to follow the teachings of her faith, Islam, which encourages forgiveness.

Join our on-going discussion with Asma Jama on the Global Nation Exchange Facebook page.