I hesitantly open my Facebook feed. Hesitant because I can’t stand seeing another headline about a Muslim woman being attacked while on a walk or heading to her car, or waiting for the LRT, or, or, or. I skim the articles with a huge knot in my stomach. Will there be another one today? You don’t really feel the effects of these hate-motivated attacks until they “hit home”. Unfortunately, for Edmonton Muslims, it has. From January to today (July 2021) we are at about 7 known attacks. How many were not reported because they seemed insignificant? How many went undocumented because the victim just wanted it to go away.
I often wonder if the fact that these women are Muslim is the sole reason they became a target? I guess deep down I want to gauge what my chances are of being the next target. Although I share some intersections with the recent victims; female, Muslim, similar age, etc. I do not fit the description perfectly. To my knowledge, the victims have mostly been women of color. Sometimes I wonder if my fair skin has made me less of a target. Perhaps it has given me a bit of privilege; a privilege I am not sure I’m proud to have. Being Muslim is a significant part of my identity. Yes, my identity is a complex compilation of many other things but one's faith is the essence of who one is. It is the deepest most intimate part of them and that part of me is under attack and I can’t even comprehend why. This makes me feel so many different emotions; frustration, fear, sadness, hopelessness, and ANGER.
With each attack, we naturally send links to the articles or screenshots of Whatsapp groups with other sisters. Of course, the link is followed with a “be careful” but what the hell does that even mean? How can we be careful? It’s usually followed by “May Allah protect you all”. We all know these are just words we say but nobody really understands how to go about doing that. Do I carry a weapon of some sort? Should we constantly be on high alert? Do I only go out during daylight hours? Do I only leave the house with my husband? And the hardest question to answer: Do I remove my hijab to protect myself?
In a heart-wrenching conversation with my daughter, she bravely told me that although she was so proud to be Muslim and loved her religion, culture, and traditions she hated how being herself could one day put her in danger. She voiced how she feared for my life. Feared I would be a victim too because I wore hijab. I am not one to hide the presence of Islamophobia from my children. I do not want them to fear it but to know that these things happen and give them the tools to protect themselves, educate others and fight it. But, as this disease spreads in our community, I don’t even know if I have the tools to pass on to them. The most distinct thing my daughter said to me was “why us?” I usually have all the answers for her, but not this time. I quickly try to make it seem like it’s not JUST US. That racism, discrimination, and hate do not just select Muslims. But who are we kidding? She knows I’m just trying to make her feel better.
I think we are all aware that all of these events have stemmed from the anti-Muslim misinformation campaigns and propaganda we try to deny exists. With the presence of Social Media individuals, groups, organizations, and even politicians can slowly push their ideas onto the general public without us even noticing. One time it’s a news article, the next an ad, the next a thread from a community group, the next a viral TikTok video, etc. These ideas have grown exponentially until they become more than just thoughts, and ideas. They become actions. Actions that are more dangerous than we can even fathom.
I recently posed a question to some of my Muslim sisters regarding these attacks. I asked them “In light of the increasing number of attacks on Hijabis, would you take off your hijab to protect yourself?” We are all confused and concerned. In a group of 20 women; some hijabis and some not. All with great points to make about this topic:
"I know it's scary but if we persist and resist then they don't win." - S.F
"My family told me I shouldn't go for runs alone anymore... Like how can I function?! I do alot of things on my own...most things... so now I can't live a normal life?" - W.T.
"I try to be as friendly as possible and show my Deen (Faith) in a good way when I'm out because I know people are watching me, I am a rep for Islam." - S.M.
“I know it’s hard but if I take it off to feel safe and say I will put it back on when it’s “safer”, I don’t think that will ever happen so I’ll just give it up and fear will never let me put it back on.” – S.I.
“Subhanallah I feel the hijab for me personally wearing it at a young age (7) has become a part of me, my core belief, my identity as a Muslimah” – F.K.
The belief that the hijab protects us is not uncommon. But if you ask most Hijabis they will tell you that there are many other reasons to wear hijab and the most important is simply submission to God. Would we wear it if we didn’t have to? Maybe. Maybe not. But the point is that we (when I say we I mean the sisters I know well) love it and are proud to wear it. I came across a post by one of my former students that explained this point perfectly.
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We need to answer: What happens when the thing we believe protects us becomes the thing that threatens our life?
So now what? Do we go about life as usual? Do we live in fear that we are next? Is there anything we can do to change the dialogue here?