Muslim teenage sisters call out racist attack in St. John's

Two Muslim youths say a man yelled racist slurs and slapped one of them outside a fast-food restaurant where they work.

Anti-racism coalition says attacks on Muslim women increasing

Muslim teenager slapped during break at St. John's restaurant

1 year ago
Duration 0:11
A cellphone video recorded earlier this month outside a St. John's restaurant shows a man slapping a teenage girl. Two sisters say the man shouted a racial slur at them. CBC News has blurred the man's face as he has not been charged.

Two teenage sisters say a man yelled racial slurs and slapped one of them outside the fast-food restaurant in St. John's where they work.

Asmahan and Malak Al Salloum say they were on a break from their part-time jobs at the Mary's Diner on Torbay Road around 9 p.m. on May 6 when a man started yelling at them.

"He was telling us, 'I don't know what you're up to' and 'Why are you here?'" said Malak, who is in Grade 9. Asmahan is graduating from high school this year.

The sisters say they were targeted because they're Muslim. They, and a friend who was with them at the time, wear hijabs.

"He told me … 'Shut up, you Black,' and then said the n-word, and that's when I got mad," said Malak.

Asmahan and Malak Al Salloum watch a video that Asmahan took of an attack on May 6. CBC News has agreed not to show their faces for their security. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Malak says she started yelling back, worried that he might attack the other two girls.

A video taken by one of the girls shows the man getting up close to Malak's face and slapping her. She says she then threw her iced coffee at him.

The video shows an unknown man in an orange hat hitting Malak. (Submitted by Asmahan Al Salloum)

"He came over to hit me again, so I punched, because I had no idea what's going on," said Malak.

After that he backed off and walked away, say the girls, who then called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. The girls say officers took a statement but haven't been able to identify the man or lay charges.

CBC News has asked the RNC about the case but have not received a response with information about the case.

Three young women wearing hijabs were taking out the garbage from the Mary's Diner on Torbay Road in St. John's when they were attacked. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Sobia Shaikh, chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, says her group has seen an increase of such incidents 

"We've been hearing more and more of these racist acts of violence towards racialized women and girls," said Shaikh, a professor of social work. Muslim women and girls like the Al Salloum sisters have been a particular target, she said, because they wear hijabs.

"They're often seen as meek and quiet and, you know, sexism allows women to be better targets," said Shaikh

She says she applauds the women for being willing to share their story publicly. Incidents like theirs often aren't even reported to the police, she said.

Shaikh estimated she hears about similar incidents every six weeks or so — an increase in frequency since the start of the pandemic. She says it could be because people feel insecure and are exposed to more online hate.

"It's becoming normalized in ways that I'm really concerned [about]," she said.

Sobia Shaikh, who heads the Anti-Racism Coalition in Newfoundland and Labrador, says the organization is hearing about more attacks against racialized women. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Malak and Asmahan, who came to Canada from Syria in 2015, say the attack hasn't changed their view of Newfoundland and Labrador. The support from friends, coworkers and other Newfoundlanders since the attack has been heartening, they said.

But they hope the man will be found and charged.

"I just want to ask him why he did this. Was he drunk? Like, why? Did he have a bad day to do this?" said Asmahan. "I really want to know why he did this."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.