Edmonton racialized Muslim women rally in solidarity after hate-fueled attacks

·3 min read
Poet Aisha Ali says she hopes Saturday's online dialogue puts pressure on government authorities to act to make the city safer and more inclusive for Black Muslim woman. (Submitted by Aisha Ali - image credit)
Poet Aisha Ali says she hopes Saturday's online dialogue puts pressure on government authorities to act to make the city safer and more inclusive for Black Muslim woman. (Submitted by Aisha Ali - image credit)

Edmonton writer Aisha Ali shares photos and her location with her siblings whenever she and her five-year-old son leave their home.

"If anything were to happen to me, people know how I was dressed that day and where I was going," Ali told CBC News.

It's one of multiple safety precautions she takes in the wake of six recent hate-motivated attacks on Black and racialized Muslim women in Edmonton. The victims were simply walking in public, waiting for a bus or sitting in their cars.

"I'm always looking over my shoulder, making sure that we're safe in the area, not being outside at nighttime, trying to do everything during the daytime and even then maybe bringing somebody along with us," Ali said.

She is far from alone in her hyper-vigilance as fear ripples through the community and protesters, including people carrying symbolically racist Tiki torches and members of Soldiers of Odin and Urban Infidels, openly march in Edmonton.

This Saturday, Ali and four women from her community are holding an online event called Sisters' Dialogue. The event has already attracted nearly 300 participants coming together in solidarity to denounce the incidents. Speakers will share their own experiences of discrimination, Islamophobia and micro-aggressions that single out and isolate women in the community.

Not enough outrage

Part of the focus will be on highlighting mental health and legal resources for a community that often faces barriers.

Speakers will also discuss policy and legislative changes aimed at creating a safer and more inclusive environment for Black and racialized Muslim women.

"We're not seeing enough conversation out there, enough outrage out there," said co-panelist and criminal defence lawyer Amna Qureshi.

"The people, unfortunately, who are struggling the most — we do feel forced to come out and say, this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously."

Criminal defence lawyer Amna Quresh says the event will inform Muslim women, who often face barriers, how to access legal resources and protect themselves.
Criminal defence lawyer Amna Quresh says the event will inform Muslim women, who often face barriers, how to access legal resources and protect themselves.(Copyright 2019 Brock Kryton)

The rise in Islamophobic attacks, such as the attack at a Quebec City mosque in 2017, and the policing of what Muslim women wear, also factor into the current climate, Qureshi said.

The conversation will also explore what tools are available to ensure justice is served for anyone who becomes a target such as what information is important for investigating officers to know.

The police hate crimes unit is investigating the attacks. Two arrests have been made. But police have also been accused of not treating the case of one victim with the sensitivity and seriousness it required — an allegation police dispute.

With many hate crimes going unreported and the amount of energy it requires, Ali said proper support from police is essential.

Sisters' Dialogue has its roots in an article written by Wati Rahmat called 'Why Is My Hijab Still A Threat,' published in the Progress Report, after the rise in attacks on local Black Muslim women, Qureshi said.

She says it came with the realization that there's a conversation here that needs to happen, and that Muslim women need to be part of it and speak for themselves.

They hope their dialogue will put pressure on governments to act and encourage allies to step up, Ali said.

Ali first felt the cruelty of having slurs hurled her way and being told she didn't belong here, when she was in Grade 10. She said it was a lesson in keeping her head down.

She didn't realize the power her words held until she saw the lengths some would go to silence her. She can smell their fear. - Poet Aisha Ali

But she recently published her first book, Spilt Milk, refusing to be silent — something she will continue to do this Saturday. One poem goes like this: "She didn't realize the power her words held until she saw the lengths some would go to silence her. She can smell their fear."

Sisters' Dialogue takes place on Saturday at 11 a.m. You can sign up on Eventbrite for free.