Updated on November 21.
On November 20, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., a “safe discussion space” for Muslim women and allies was held in New Chancellor Day Hall. It was organized by Aishah Nofal and former Daily editor Humera Jabir, two Muslim women at the Faculty of Law.
The first hour of discussion was closed for Muslim and racialized women who feel targeted by the recent increase in racism and Islamophobia in the wake of the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks. The second hour was open to Muslim and racialized men and to other allies.
Nofal told The Daily that the first hour was closed to certain identities because “it’s important to create a space for all brown bodies, and women specifically […] because some of us don’t feel comfortable sharing in front of others.”
“Muslim women who, for instance, wear the hijab, they are perhaps the [most visible] targets right now,” Nofal said. However, Nofal noted that all racialized women who feel targeted were encouraged to attend the event.
“The victims of terrorism include Muslims, not just in France, but in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Nigeria.”
Last week alone, a Peterborough mosque was torched and a Muslim woman in Toronto was physically assaulted. In addition, there have been numerous other reports of threats and harassment targeting Muslim people.
Regarding the Islamophobic discourse surrounding the Paris attacks, Jabir said, “The victims in Paris were of all faiths, of all backgrounds. The victims of terrorism include Muslims, not just in France, but in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Nigeria.”
When asked how non-racialized people can be better allies during this time, Nofal cited the recent instance of a white British man coming to the aid of a woman in a hijab who was being verbally assaulted on the London Underground.
“I was a bit conflicted because it was a white man – and I’m thankful that he did step in – but it sort of perpetuates the ‘white saviour’ discourse,” said Nofal.
“Every person that you pass in the street, you have a chance to make them feel secure, a chance to make them feel welcome.”
“But I think it’s more important to recognize the good, because a lot of times […] women have a heightened sense of fear in those circumstances, and may not be able to stand up for themselves as much as they want, because the repercussions they might face are very real. It is a very real and tangible fear,” Nofal continued.
Jabir also talked about the importance of noticing acts of harassment, regardless of their magnitude.
“Few people will see someone verbally or physically assaulted and have the chance, perhaps, to intervene on that person’s behalf – but in general, what people experience is smaller aggressions, in terms of sideways glances, and comments,” Jabir said.
Jabir encouraged every person who felt threatened or allies “who want to come and just hear and try to understand” to attend the discussion.
“We have to remember that peace and security […] is something that we extend to others at every single moment of our day. Every person that you pass in the street, you have a chance to make them feel secure, a chance to make them feel welcome,” said Jabir.