Toronto

Self-defence classes taken by some Muslim women following violence in Toronto

Courses teach women about awareness and making themselves heard, participant says

Muslim women self-defence

Arij Elmi, an instructor teaching self-defence classes, says she, too, was targeted on public transit. (CBC)

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Some Muslim women in Toronto have decided to deal with violence head-on by taking part in self-defence classes aimed at protecting themselves following a string of anti-Muslim incidents in the wake of the attacks in Paris

In some of those events, women wearing hijabs were targeted. Ola Mobarak, 17, says she decided to take a self-defence course to show others that she isn't going to let herself become a victim. 

"Instead of letting the actions of some hateful bigots or some people who want to take it out on a minority, instead of letting them dictate my life, I'm going to take the action into my own hands," Mobarek said. 

The 17-year-old is learning about self defence at Wen-Do Women's Self-Defence near College and Bathurst streets, which is the oldest women's self-defence organization in Canada. 

At the University of Toronto, another course by Wen-Do was taking place last Thursday and more are planned to keep up with demand. 

There's yet another self-defence course available to residents in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood after a Muslim woman was robbed and beaten in the area by two men while picking up her children from school in the days following the attacks in Paris. 

'It's actually a lot about simply being aware of what's around you.' - Marium Vahed on self-defence classes

In another instance, two Muslim women were verbally assaulted on a Toronto subway, something the Toronto Transit Commission says they have "zero tolerance" for. 

These events are not limited to women, though. Nine days ago, CBC News reported a 21-year-old Muslim student was allegedly spat on and insulted while wearing a skullcap near the University of Toronto's downtown campus.

Arij Elmi is an instructor teaching self-defence classes who says she, too, was targeted on public transit.

"About a week ago, a woman on a streetcar called me a 'raghead' and said to everyone else on the streetcar, 'Don't you know what they did to us in Paris?'" she said.

But the instructor says there was a silver lining behind the incident. 

"Two men on the streetcar got up and said, 'That's not OK,'" Elmi said.

Marium Vahed tells CBC News she already knows karate and adds the course isn't so much about learning how to inflict pain as it is about identifying the right clues in any situation. 

Perhaps most importantly, self-defence classes teach participants how to make themselves heard during an attack so others can take notice and intervene. 

"There's a misconception that self-defence is learning how to punch or kick or something like that but no, it's actually a lot about simply being aware of what's around you," Vahed said.

Self-defence classes are designed to be small, safe and informative. Visit Wen-Do's website for more information on their courses. 

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