British Columbia

Taking a walk is a simple step for most, but now steeped in fear for many Muslims

The idea of a walk has become a focus of fear for many Muslims around the world, myself included.

'We're used to seeing people like us be murdered,' Fatima Aziz says

CBC Vancouver reporter Zahra Premji says she and other Muslim Canadians now wonder what risks they are taking merely by going for a walk. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On the evening of June 6, while out for a walk, a Muslim family was struck and killed by a 20-year-old driver in London, Ont.

I feel guilty admitting the very first question that came to my mind was: Could it happen here to my family, too?

Four out of the five family members died that day. Mother, father, daughter and grandmother. Only a nine-year-old boy survived and is being treated in hospital.

Police believe members of the Afzaal family were targeted in the attack because of their Muslim faith. The driver has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder following the hit and run.

But, the charges won't bring back those four people and a fear of walking while Muslim has rippled across Canada.

Taking a walk: a simple step for some, but a deep fear for many Muslims

3 months ago
3:15
Many Muslims in Metro Vancouver are sharing a new-found fear of walking outside their homes and in the streets after a Muslim family of four was struck and killed in London, Ont., in what police are describing as a targeted attack on their faith. 3:15

I acknowledge that I am a Muslim woman who doesn't wear a hijab and doesn't dress in traditional clothing most times I'm out for a walk. But  I cannot change my faith  — or rather I do not want to. And I cannot erase my skin colour or how I look. 

To fear walking, one of the basic necessities of life and one of the few things one can do for exercise and fresh air during a pandemic, is unfathomable to me.

But now, a simple walk is tainted with fear of being targeted for my religious beliefs.

I can only speak for myself when I say I hold my breath each time I hear my grandparents are going for a walk or a Muslim friend is out for a post-dinner stroll. But why should we fear our own skin and the sidewalks outside our own homes?

That is a question I haven't found an answer to just yet.

Amirali Jinnah and Roshan Jinnah say they walk every single day, but will now be looking over their shoulders. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Amirali Jinnah, 91, and Roshan Jinnah, 85, walk every day. They are my grandparents; my Muslim grandparents.

"I was scared my God because I am a Muslim, too, and my skin is brown ... so I was thinking what shall I do? If I walk everyday, what will happen?" Amirali asks.

He's not alone with his questions.

In B.C., Muslims and allies attended a vigil at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday acknowledging their fears of simply being themselves in Canada.

For Roshan, her fears are rooted in not just her religion, but her age.

If a driver were to target her as a Muslim woman, like police said a 20-year-old did with the Afzaal family, she fears she could not escape

"I am scared ... but I will keep courage and I will walk," Roshan says.

Fatima Aziz with her daughter Leila Al-Obeidi in Surrey, B.C., this week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fatima Aziz, a mother of two from Surrey, says enough is enough.

"Walking the street with my hijab, this is what my struggle is and I do it with pride," Aziz says.

She says her identity is rooted in her hijab and she's tired of trying to blend in to feel safe.

"How much more do I need to assimilate? I speak English, I speak French. I was born and raised here. This is my identity," she says.

She says it's a lie to say she'll continue to walk feeling safe. But, she will walk anyway.

"We're used to seeing people like us be murdered," she says. 

"It's unbearable.... It's debilitating to think if I leave today, will I come home?"

Hussain Dhanani says he often debates with himself about wearing traditional clothing when heading from prayers to a restaurant or grocery store for fear of standing out. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For Vancouverite Hussain Dhanani, 35, walking is peace and comfort.

But it's now an uneasy part of his day.

"I actually grew my beard out over the last year and that's made me feel even more visible as a brown person," Dhanani says.

The uncomfortable feeling won't stop him though.

"I'm going to continue to walk, but we now walk with a sense of always looking around," Dhanani says.

This First Person article is the experience of Zahra Premji, a reporter for CBC Vancouver. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zahra Premji

Host/Reporter

Zahra Premji is a host/reporter for CBC News Vancouver. She has worked as a host for CBC Alberta News in Edmonton, and a reporter in B.C. and Manitoba on various stories from racism to health and crime to asylum seekers and immigration. You can reach her at zahra.premji@cbc.ca

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