Why do Muslim women live “in fear” in this Canadian city? | News about Islamophobia


Canada – Dunia Nur was out buying paint when it happened. The community organizer in Edmonton, Alberta, was speaking Somali to her aunt on the phone when a store man aggressively told her to “speak English.” When she tried to get out of the situation, he blocked her step.

“He was offended that he spoke my language,” he told Al Jazeera Nur, a Somali Canadian and president and co-founder of the African Civil Engagement Council of Canada. “I tried to move and then it blocked me.”

Although the recent incident did not escalate further, Nur said it left her feeling insecure, mainly because it occurred shortly after a Muslim family was hit by a driver in London, Ontario in a deadly attack that police say that spurred on by anti-Muslim hatred.

It also occurred amid a series of verbal and physical attacks on black Muslim women predominantly in and around Edmonton since late last year, a reality Nur said left many members of the community they were afraid to leave their house.

In late June, two sisters, Muslim women wearing hijabs, were attacked by a man with a knife which threw them racial insults on a road just outside the city. In other cases, Muslim women have been lying on the ground while walking or threatened while waiting for public transportation.

City says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving black women wearing hijabs since Dec. 8, 2020, and that the police force’s hate crime unit was arrested and reported a suspicious in each case.

But advocates for the Muslim community say incidents are often not reported. “We had a town hall meeting where a lot of women came out and declared that they had previously been attacked with knives, they were told to go home, that they experienced a lot of sexist violence and crimes motivated by the “I just didn’t report it,” Nur said.

“Muslim black women are being attacked and attacked because of anti-black racism and attacked because of Islamophobia.[c] rhetoric and they are attacked because they are women … It seems to me that right now we are at a point where we are not sure what will happen to us when we go out ”.

City measures

According to a municipal home, Edmonton, the capital of the province of Alberta in western Canada, hosted just over 972,000 residents. poll.

In an email to Al Jazeera, Mayor Don Iveson’s office said some Edmontonians “have not received the message that racist and fanatical behavior is not welcome in our city.”

“There are systemic factors that contribute in the long run to this, there are also issues of specific prejudices in the heart and mind of [Edmontonians] who should know better, and there are too many people licensed, in several different ways, to throw their hatred into this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want it to stop. Now, “the statement said.

Community organizer Dunia Nur says many Muslim women in Edmonton are afraid to leave home amid a series of attacks [Courtesy Dunia Nur]

Iveson said Edmonton City Council supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and has provided financial assistance to strengthen initiatives to combat hatred and violence, including a working group to provide advice on how to make the community feel safe.

“The city, the Edmonton Police Service and the Edmonton Police Commission have responded with a work plan outlining 70 different actions that address the issues identified. A more comprehensive strategy will be presented in early 2022,” he said. he said in the statement.

The council also passed a motion earlier this month to direct Edmonton to continue to engage with blacks, Indians and other communities of color to address harassment and violence.

The motion also orders the mayor to write to the federal government “requesting a review and potentially updating the current definition of hate crime” for any racial, gender or cultural breach or prejudice, the city said.

Women with fear

But despite these measures, activist Wati Rahmat told Al Jazeera that “Muslim women are afraid” in Edmonton.

“I’ve had friends who hold conversations about whether they should change the way they wear the hijab or take it off, or go out with a friend or not go out,” said Rahmat, who founded Sisters Dialogue, a Muslim women-led initiative. in response to attacks. The group is currently working on a safe walking service to provide support to Muslim women who do not feel safe going out alone.

Demands for more support in Edmonton appear amid growth, across Canada calls on federal government to implement action plan to curb Islamophobia, advocates say systemic racism and far-right intolerance increase the risks of violence.

For many, the June attack in London, Ontario, as well a deadly 2017 shooting to a mosque in Quebec City and deadly stab last year outside a mosque in the far west of Toronto: show how deadly the problem can be.

Muslim community members and supporters gather for a vigil following a deadly attack in London, Ontario, and killed four members of a Muslim family in June [File: Ian Willms/Getty Images via AFP]

“I don’t think it’s right for women to be afraid to go out,” Rahmat said.

Some Muslim advocacy groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), have also called for tightening of street harassment laws, as most recent attacks on Muslim women in Alberta have taken place in public.

Fatema Abdalla, NCCM communications coordinator, said at least 15 attacks on Muslim women in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary have been reported in the past six months.

“These women did their daily walks or were in a park or the LRT [light-rail transit] station or some form of transit station, ”Abdalla told Al Jazeera, adding that NCCM receives calls almost weekly about verbal abuse directed at members of the Muslim community across the country.

“We need to prevent cases like these from happening that stop provoking attacks as devastating as the one we’ve seen in London, Ontario,” he said.

Community action

Meanwhile, leaders of the Muslim community are taking steps to try to curb the violence on their own. Noor al-Henedy is communications director for Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, which this year organized self-defense courses for Muslim women.

While the community felt that women needed to be provided with concrete tools to get out of a bad situation – and the courses aroused overwhelming interest – al-Henedy said they also reflected an annoying reality.

“It’s very sad and disappointing to be honest with you and I think it makes some people angry a little bit because we have to do this, we have to resort to these measures,” al-Henedy told Al Jazeera in an interview in March .

“We are concerned about the future generation; we care about our daughters, ”he added. “When a 15-year-old girl comes and tells you that she is too scared to cross the street, walking from school to home, it is very worrying. It’s heartbreaking. “

Nur, of the African Civil Engagement Council of Canada, said the organization also works to provide psychological support as well as information so that Muslim women know what to do if they are attacked, including how and to whom to report an incident of violence.

He called on international organizations such as the United Nations to push Canada to take action to respond urgently to the Edmonton situation.

“We need international attention and solidarity because we cannot do it alone and our civil servants are failing us. We need international help and intervention, “Nur said.” We are not well. We are not really well. “

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