Aishah, a 19-year-old college student studying to be a teacher, found "Isis" written on her frozen Starbucks beverage. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Standing at a podium in front of a poster reading “Justice for Floyd,” a Muslim woman who found the word “ISIS” written on her Starbucks cup said she felt “humiliated” and “enraged.”

The incident occurred on July 1 when Aishah, who declined to give her last name out of concerns for her safety, ordered a drink at Starbucks operated by the Midway Target store in St. Paul on her way to her job as a home care worker. 

As soon as she started telling the Target employee her first name, she said, the barista wrote something on a clear plastic drinking cup. When the Muslim woman received her drink, she found “ISIS” written on the cup. 

“When I first received the drink I was in shock,” Aishah, who wears the hijab, said at a press conference Monday morning at the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ offices in Minneapolis. “I felt humiliated, I felt enraged, I felt belittled.”

CAIR-MN pointed to Aishah’s covering as a cue for the alleged discriminatory behavior, adding that Aishah is a common and familiar name in America.  

When Aishah, a 19-year-old college student who lives in Minneapolis, complained to the barista, she said, a Target manager on the scene sided with the employee, stating, “What is the issue?”

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. is calling for the firing of the Target Starbucks employee who wrote ISIS on the cup of a Muslim customer. Credit: Photo courtesy of CAIR-MN

In a statement to Sahan Journal, Target has apologized for the incident which it called an “unfortunate mistake.” 

“We are very sorry for this guest’s experience at our store and immediately apologized to her when she made our store leaders aware of the situation,” the statement said. “We have investigated the matter and believe that it was not a deliberate act but an unfortunate mistake that could have been avoided with a simple clarification. We’re taking appropriate actions with the team member, including additional training, to ensure this does not occur again.”

According to CAIR-MN, Aishah complained to the manager, and, failing to get satisfaction, filed a formal complaint with Target. As of midday Monday, CAIR-MN stated, Target had yet to respond directly to Aishah or ask for her account of the transaction.

“I felt a lot of emotions because we’re at a time when people are protesting injustice all over,” Aishah said in an interview with Sahan Journal. She’s participated in Black Lives Matter protests after the deaths of Philando Castile and George Floyd. “All these protests and all these people who are using their voice for a change. To me, it felt like in that moment, we’re doing all of this for people who don’t even care, or who are going to look the other way.”

Aishah said she wanted a true apology: firing both the barista and manager, a thorough vetting of employees, and an in-depth training for employees rather than a one-time workshop.

In a Target statement cited by CAIR-MN, the store described the “ISIS” incident as an accident, adding that the barista “has never heard of ISIS.” 

ISIS, an acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is a terrorist group that is active in Iraq and Syria. 

“Islamophobia is real; it happens every day”

In response to the situation, CAIR-MN has demanded an investigation, improved employee training and the firing of Target staff involved in the “horrible incident,” which the organization described as “Islamophobia.” 

Alec Shaw, a civil rights attorney for CAIR-MN, cited a recent statement from Target CEO Brian Cornell professing Target’s “commitment to stand against racism. We call on Cornell to make the same commitment to stand against Islamophobia.”

Shaw added that the organization would look into all legal remedies, starting with the filing of a complaint through the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The charge of discrimination, filed Monday afternoon, alleges a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which provides a right to full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations.

Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR-MN, said that the group would not immediately call for a boycott of Target. But he suggested protests in front of the store would be likely if Target’s response did not change. He also pointed out that this isn’t the first report of Islamophobia at Target or Starbucks. In May, a Muslim woman complained that a Starbucks in Edina refused to serve her. 

Jaylani emphasized how “this word, ‘ISIS,’” matches the “number one” discriminatory stereotype wielded against Muslims: “terrorist.” 

“Islamophobia is real; it happens every day,” he said. 

Aishah suggested that she has visited the Midway Target, and the Starbucks there, in the past. So far, Aishah said that Target’s response has been inadequate. 

According to CAIR-MN’s account, after Aishah walked out of the store, Target provided her a new drink through a friend she was shopping with, along with a $25 gift card.

“The response should have been that this is not who we are, this does not speak about how we treat our customers,” Jaylani said. “There can never be a confusion between somebody’s name and a terrorist organization, period.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.