Islamophobia seems to be on a rise in Canada.
Earlier this month, a pregnant woman in Montreal reportedly fell to the ground when two teenagers tried to rip her hijab from her head. Now, in the most recent case reflecting the growing anti-Muslim sentiments in the country, a Muslim convert was allegedly attacked in a Toronto mall in front of her kids.
Safira Merriman, who converted to Islam 10 years ago and wears niqab in public, was on her way to a Shoppers Drug Mart in Fairview Mall with her two young daughters when a “taller Caucasian guy” carrying a liquor-store bag blocked her path.
“[His] body language made me uncomfortable,” the 30-year-old explained. “As I got closer I felt I was in their path so I moved the girls over and myself to the right, and then they stepped into my path again.”
The woman said she made several attempts to move out of the way as the man neared, but he mirrored her movements. Finally, when they got close, the man “braced himself” and drove his elbow into her shoulder, right below her collarbone.
“Since deciding to wear the hijab I have encountered individuals who very openly disagree with my decision,” she wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post that has since gone viral. “Since wearing niqab I have encountered even more of these people.”
Merriman is certain that it was her attire that spurred the aggressive act – even though the attacker did not utter any specific threats. Moreover, what makes the entire incident even more appalling is that no one around her did or said anything.
While the police are investigating the incident and looking over the CCTV footage from the mall, Merriman is more concerned about her daughters, who are both confused and upset after witnessing the assault.
“My youngest is 4, so for her it's more a matter of ‘Mommy is upset, I don't necessarily understand why,’” said the mother. “But my 9-year-old, she noticed. Her immediate reaction was, ‘Why did that happen, mommy? Why did he hit you?’”
In an attempt to down play the incident and console the young girls, Merriman told them that “sometimes it’s just what happens” – although truth be told, that is hardly a solution. In fact, the children must be taught that insulting or being insulted for expressing your faith is not the right way to go.
The attacks, on both Merriman and the pregnant woman in Montreal, came amid heated debate about allowing women to take citizenship oath while wearing niqab.
There is general conception that as the issue of Muslim women and niqabs gains steam, more Canadians may feel entitled to lash out against Muslims.
“I feel that the more it is debated, the more prominent it is in talks, the more people feel they have the right to do or say something to someone or toward someone who is wearing one,” Merriman added.
The effects of identity debate playing out in election campaigns and courtrooms are now apparently being felt in the streets, shopping malls and on social media.
“On social media, already we’ve seen a huge spike of what appears to be anti-Muslim sentiment being expressed,” said Amira Elghawaby, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “This issue around the niqab has put Islam and Muslims in an extremely negative light. The entire community has been tarred with this brush of not wanting to join the Canadian family.”
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