North·FIRST PERSON

The North I know is a place where hate is not tolerated

'As a visible Muslim woman, I refuse to live in fear and that’s my action against Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all hate,' writes Yusur Al-Bahrani.

'I refuse to live in fear,' writes Yusur Al-Bahrani in response to the attack in London, Ont.

'During my stay in Yellowknife, I experienced an isolated incident of discrimination driven by Islamophobia. I need to acknowledge the solidarity and compassion that encircled me at the time,' writes Yellowknife resident Yusur Al-Bahrani. (Submitted)

This First Person article is the experience of Yusur Al-Bahrani, a Muslim woman living in Yellowknife. Find out how to pitch your own story to CBC North here.

A few years ago, I moved to the North not knowing what to expect. And soon, Yellowknife became my home. 

Job interview and offer followed by relocation. That's how my journey began in Yellowknife. 

My father offered to help with moving. He travelled with me to Yellowknife. "Not many people have the privilege of living in the North," he said, ecstatic, when I received the job offer. "You're lucky and you must be grateful." 

My Muslim father was not worried. He spent a couple of weeks in Yellowknife and helped me move to my new place across from the frozen lake.

A few months later, I travelled back to Toronto for a visit. "Are there any Muslims? I can't imagine being a visible Muslim woman far from home [Toronto]," a friend was concerned. Toronto is a big city with more diversity that creates comfort for visible racial and religious minorities. "I'm not sure if there are other Muslims. It doesn't really matter," I answered. It's heartwarming to see a woman with Hijab waving at me or saying hello, but personally, it made no difference when choosing where to live. 

What makes a community strong

I'm a visible Muslim woman from a racial minority. I lived by myself in Yellowknife surrounded by good neighbours, friends and co-workers. I never had to walk in fear.  

Unlike Toronto, I was unable to see many visible Muslim women at my workplace, gym or restaurants. My non-Muslim friend introduced me to the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife. He, kindly, helped me find a place to celebrate the month of fasting, Ramadan.

I was then able to meet members of what's known as the "Muslim community." I refuse to identify a community by religion because subscribing to a faith doesn't mean being part of an organized group. And that's how I've always felt as a Muslim. It doesn't matter if my community subscribed to my faith or not. There is much more to what makes a community strong: accepting one another, care, compassion and love. 

That's what Islamophobes want to strip away from our communities: lovingly accepting one another without fear.

The hate crime that claimed the life of four members from the same Muslim family and orphaned their child left our Canadian communities wounded. As a visible Muslim woman, I refuse to live in fear and that's my action against Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all hate. 

Our communities are not immune to Islamophobia

The Yellowknife I know is a place where hate is not tolerated. The North, inspired by welcoming Indigenous traditions, is my peaceful haven when I tune out of disturbing news. 

However, our communities are not immune to Islamophobia and xenophobia. We must remain strong. 

During my stay in Yellowknife, I experienced an isolated incident of discrimination driven by Islamophobia. I need to acknowledge the solidarity and compassion that encircled me at the time. 

More than a couple of years ago, I was at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly for work. I went to the gallery, just like the rest of the public. One of the Legislative Assembly employees stopped me and yelled: "You must remove your head covering." I was offended, embarrassed and speechless. She called me out in front of many people. I gathered my words and responded: "But you can't ask me to remove my scarf. And I will stay here." She insisted that I should either leave or remove my scarf. 

But I was not alone. 

When my co-workers came to my rescue, her supervisor noticed that and asked her to let me in the gallery. She gave me a stern look and said: "good luck." As I walked in, I answered: "You know that this is not a hat, and what you did was wrong." Two concerned individuals, who are now my best friends, stayed with me for the entire time. They ensured that I felt safe. (Editor's note: The legislative assembly later called this a "valuable learning experience.")

Later, I reached out to the supervisor. He said: "But she let you in." I told him this happened after creating a scene and calling me out in front of everyone: staff, members of the public and journalists. He apologized and said that the employee has not received cultural awareness training and that he would ensure that this doesn't happen again. 

The story would be incomplete if I didn't acknowledge the support, resiliency and compassion of those who refused to be bystanders during the incident. 

To my fellow Muslims in Yellowknife, don't allow fear to creep into your life. You'll always have friends, allies and a loving community. We have each other's back. 

Want to write for CBC North? We welcome pitches for 500- to 700-word essays or opinion pieces that may be of wide interest to our audience and you don't have to be a professional writer. Read more here or send your pitch to northfirstperson@cbc.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yusur is a writer and communications professional with an MA of Journalism from Ryerson University. She is currently based in Yellowknife, where she enjoys driving on the frozen lake and chasing the northern lights.

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