Apr 11, 2008


Assalamualikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh,

Insha'Allah you are all enjoying the blessings of Allah (SWT).
Recently, I wrote an article for my local newspaper. Alhamdulillah, it was received very well. Besides the odd hypocritical, anti-Muslim comment, most people acknowledged me for shedding light on such a relevant and important issue.

Agoraphobia. Claustrophobia. Motorphobia. Heck, there’s even a phobia for beards – Pogonophobia. I had heard the term “phobia” quite often, and although perceiving it to entail some sort of fear of something, I never quite understood what it truly meant, since I was not afraid of leaving my home, nor was I fearful of closed spaces, cars or beards for that matter. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines phobia as “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.” It was not until I grew much older that I realized what phobia really meant, and the effects it could have not only on greater social society, but on an individual level as well – in short the effect a certain phobia would have on me.

I remember the first time I was exposed to what I know now as constituting a phobia. In this case, it is now defined in my mind as Islamophobia. I remember it really well because when you are 9 years-old, things like this traumatize you. It had been two years since I had started wearing a hijab, a religious head-covering worn by Muslim women, as well as modest loose-fitting clothing which is supposed to cover everything except the face and hands. Quite contrary to the notion of being forced to do so, I chose to wear it myself. I was walking down the school stairs before lunchtime when this big guy in grade five pushed me and said “Don’t you know you can’t wear hats in school?” Although it sounds ludicrous now, when most adults in a multicultural metropolitan like Toronto know or should know that hijabs look nothing like hats, at the time, I was too young and shy to even think of hurling words back at him. That day, my only way of coping with the hurt was to go home and cry.

Comments about the hijab can range from silly, to rude, to absolutely disgusting. Hijabs aside, something that really bothers me is when the random individual tells me to “go back home to my country.” Has it ever occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, Canada is my country? I have heard many similar stories, in fact, I have even read about them. Recently I became aware, through the radio, the news and newspapers; of a woman named Halima Muse who wanted to wear an ankle length skirt instead of a mini skirt at work (she worked at the airport scanning luggage and such). The comments some Torontonians gave in response to the issue were often supportive. However, more often than not, I would see the typical “if she can’t abide by it, she ought to not work there” and “she can go back home to her country or find somewhere that suits her beliefs.” This sort of mentality is prevalent in Toronto. There have been numerous times when people approached me or my sisters and told us to go back to our country. The first time somebody said this to me, I was completely stunned because Canada is my birth country. I thought they were asking me a series of conversational questions so I went on a long rant about how I wanted to go back to the city I was born in, Calgary. Another thing that bothers me is when people take long pauses between words and use exaggerated hand gestures when talking to me as if I do not know English. Hello. English is my first language!

Before 9/11, when people asked me where I was from, I told them that my parents were from Afghanistan and the usual response was, “Where is that?” Nowadays, the response is something like “Ha! Terrorist!” or “Hey, are you related to Osama bin Laden?” Comments like this make me think. Are they trying to imply that I am a terrorist, or are they really so naïve as to think that every single Afghan is related to every other Afghan (including Osama bin Laden, who is, you guessed it, not Afghan)? Wow. What I cannot comprehend is that when a terrorist attack is carried out by the odd fanatic, as soon as people find out that the terrorist was a “Muslim”, or is named Ahmad or Muhammad or has an Abu or bin somewhere in his name, they blame Islam. The terrorist was a Muslim. Muslims are terrorists. All Muslims are terrorists and even if they are not, we can prove many of them are. Ehem, ever heard of Daniel Pipes?

Along with branding most Muslims as terrorists, the media has spoon-fed the public into thinking that Muslim women who cover their heads are deprived of their rights and are inferior to men. The media then takes verses from the Qur’an out of context and makes it seem like we are forced to cover ourselves modestly. In actuality, to me, the hijab makes sense. Contrary to what people think, a hijab keeps a girl cool in the summer time. I see people sweat and get all sticky and smelly during the summer. Personally, I have never gotten sweaty under my hijab! Many times people have told me that they feel sorry for me because I wear the hijab along with long sleeved shirts and pants year round, including the summer. In fact it has been proven that wearing long sleeves prevents diseases like skin cancer and other sunburn-related skin diseases. If a random woman decided to cover her head with a designer scarf, wear long sleeves and a long skirt, she would not be looked at horribly. For that matter, nuns, with their long black robes and head coverings are seen as pious and pure. If my clothing is so similar to theirs, why do I not merit the same judgment?

My sister was once walking to her class downtown. While walking towards the subway station, a homeless man approached her and asked her for money. She sincerely had no change and told him so. As she walked away he started to follow her and whispered to her that he knew that she had a bomb with her. When she paid him no heed, he screamed, “She has a bomb! I saw it! She’s going to bomb the subway station!” My sister hardly reacted and walked into the subway station where the homeless man could not follow her. Nobody did anything but stare. A friend of hers was harassed downtown for also apparently “having a bomb” by a nicely dressed man in an expensive suit. Such is the state of the society that Muslims cannot go anywhere without being pigeonholed as a terrorist at least once in their lives.

Ask any Muslim and they will tell you that in some way or other, whether directly or indirectly, they have been a victim of hate crimes. It could be graffiti on the walls of the local mosque, or a face-to-face confrontation with someone who has a fight in mind. Whatever it is, it is no less than Islamophobia. I may sound cliché, but I just thought I would share my side of the story.


Insha’Allah keep me in your dua’s

Ma’asalaam =)