For Arhama, a recent college graduate who asked that her last name not be included in this article, the offensive ISIS costume became personal when an acquaintance sent her a text message asking for Halloween help. The sender asked Arhama, who wears a hijab but does not cover her face, to borrow "the face thing" for her costume, failing to recognize that some might see the request as conflating the militant group with all of Islam.
Ismat Sarah Mangla, a writer for The International Business Times and a friend of Arhama, posted the content of the text to Twitter on Tuesday:
— Ismat Sarah Mangla (@ismat) October 28, 2014
"Lots of words popped into my head when I read the text," Arhama told HuffPost over the phone. "But what do you even say to that?"
As a member of the Ahmadi Muslim community, Arhama said she wears a scarf to cover her head but doesn't keep it very tight. Sometimes her bangs pop out, prompting "weird questions" like, “Is that a fashion statement?” or "Oh, you have hair?”
Arhama said such comments typically do not offend her, as she gets them all the time. But the text message crossed a line.
"She's not just equating what I wear to being Muslim -- she's equating it to ISIS."
Some have argued that dressing up as Islamic State militants for Halloween may be a good way to undermine the group by making fun of it. The Washington Post's Justin Moyer recently published an article arguing that "we should fight [the Islamic State] not just with cruise missiles but also with laughter."
The text message Arhama received, however, points to an everyday reality of discrimination for many Muslim Americans who find themselves forced to apologize for something they have nothing to do with.
A recent Twitter hashtag, #MuslimApologies, highlighted the absurdity of conflating the Islamic State with the entire religion of Islam, as Muslims posted their "apologies" for everything from traffic jams to Algebra.
Arhama, who is now applying for law school to pursue international human rights law, never responded to the text but said she believes the media coverage will send a message that such costumes are not okay.
"I hope my silence spoke volumes," Arhama said.