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Why are Muslim women living ‘in fear’ in this Canadian city?

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

Members of the Muslim community and supporters gather for a vigil at the London Muslim Mosque on June 8, 2021 after a driver ran over a Muslim family, killing four people [File: Ian Willms/Getty Images via AFP]

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

While the recent incident did not escalate further, Nur said it left her feeling unsafe, especially as it took place shortly after a Muslim family was run down by a driver in London, Ontario in a deadly attack that police said was spurred by anti-Muslim hate.

It also came amid a string of verbal and physical attacks against predominantly Black Muslim women in and around Edmonton since late last year – a reality that Nur said has left many members of the community feeling afraid to leave their homes.

In late June, two sisters, Muslim women who wear hijabs, were attacked by a knife-wielding man who hurled racial slurs at them on a path just outside the city. In other instances, Muslim women have been knocked to the ground while out on a walk or threatened while waiting for public transit.

The city says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving Black women wearing hijabs since December 8, 2020, and the police force’s hate crime unit arrested and laid charges against a suspect in each case.

But Muslim community advocates say incidents often go unreported. “We had a town hall meeting where many women came out and actually stated that they have previously been attacked with knives, they have been told to go back to their homes, they have experienced a lot of gender-based violence and hate-motivated crimes – it just went unreported,” Nur said.

“Muslim Black women are being attacked and they are being attacked because of anti-Black racism and they’re being attacked because of Islamophobi[c] rhetoric and they are being attacked because they are women… I feel like right now we’re at a point that we’re not sure what’s going to happen to us when we go outside.”

City measures

The capital of the western Canadian province of Alberta, Edmonton was home to just more than 972,000 residents in 2019, according to a municipal household survey.

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

“There are systemic and long-term contributing factors to that, there are also issues of specific prejudice in the hearts and minds of [Edmontonians] who ought to know better – and there are far too many of those people that have been given license, in a variety of different ways, to spew their hatred in this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want it to stop. Now,” the statement said.

Read more: Why are Muslim women living ‘in fear’ in this Canadian city?

Source: Al Jazeera

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