'He whispered, 'terrorist'': South Bay restaurant owner harassed over religion, to raise money for other marginalized groups

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- In Palo Alto, many are familiar with Zareen's on South California Avenue. The place is known to be packed with people craving Pakistani and Indian comfort food.

Owner Zareen Khan told ABC7 News, she was recently forced out of her comfort zone.

Khan explained she was harassed by a stranger during a business lunch at a restaurant in Sunnyvale.

"He approached me and said, 'Where are you from?' I said Pakistan," she told ABC7 News. "And he's like, 'Are you Muslim?' I said yes. And then after that, he just turned around and whispered, 'Terrorist, terrorist' to me a couple times."

Khan said restaurant staff stopped the situation from growing more intense. However, she knew she had to find a way to turn the bad situation to good.

Khan posted to social media, detailing the incident.

"There is no artful way to put it: being attacked like this-- in my town where I always have felt safe-- it hurt," she wrote.

The same post announced she would use her busy Bay Area restaurant locations to help immigrants suffering far worse than the harassment she faced.

"Ok, if I feel like this, what do other immigrants who are more exposed feel," she asked. "Those who are living in places where there is more intolerance."

Specifically, Khan pointed to planned ICE raids and broken families at the border.

"ICE raids will begin and, as a result, over 2,000 undocumented immigrants, who have been through the unimaginable already, will be targeted and sent to detention centers," she wrote on social media. "And as ugly as my experience was, these people will face far worse."

Khan is vowing to donate up to $5,000 a year, for the next few years to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The move is a show of support the Council on Islamic Relations said must continue, considering racism is still thriving.

"This is yet another incident in showing the prevalence of Islamophobia, anti-immigrant bigotry even in the Bay Area," Ammad Rafiqi with CAIR said. "A pocket of the country where we expect that immigrants are welcome."

The two locations for Zareen's include: 1477 Plymouth St C, Mountain View, CA 94043 and 365 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

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