The Current

These Muslim women say harassment because of their faith is constant and relentless

A Toronto legal academic who studies hate crime and Islamophobia says she is tired of Muslim women being asked to recount the violence they face, while “nothing fundamentally changes” to prevent that violence from happening.

‘You're treated differently,’ Edmonton activist says in wake of London, Ont., attack

From left, Azeezah Kanji, Areej Ansari and Wati Rahmat spoke to The Current about some of the hateful behaviour they've faced because of their faith. (Submitted by Azeezah Kanji; Shehaam Makhdoom; Submitted by Wati Rahmat)

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Azeezah Kanji, Toronto legal academic who studies hate crime and Islamophobia says she is tired of Muslim women being asked to recount the violence they face, while "nothing fundamentally changes" to prevent that violence from happening.

"This requirement that we prove our humanity over and over again by talking about our grief and our pain and our violence continues to exist," said Kanji. 

Meanwhile, she said, "the conditions giving rise to the fact that Muslims' humanity became something that was put into question and needed to be proven in the first place remain unchanged."

Kanji's comments come after four members of a Muslim family were killed in a hit and run Sunday in London, Ont., in what police are calling a hate-motivated attack.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother, Talat Afzaal, died in the attack as they were taking an evening walk. The youngest member of the family, nine-year-old Fayez, survived.

Thousands attended a vigil for the family on Tuesday evening in the community, while religious and political leaders came out to show support for the Muslim community and to denounce Islamophobia.

From left, Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, were out for an evening walk in London, Ont., on Sunday when they were killed in a hit and run by a man police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by Afzaal family)

Kanji joined other Muslim women on The Current to talk about how people have targeted them with hateful comments or behaviour because of their appearance and faith.

For example, Kanji said people have spat on her while she is wearing her hijab in the streets of Toronto.

And she's not alone in the harassment she faces. 

'The effect of it is real'

Wati Rahmat, a community activist in Edmonton, used to live in Montreal where she said she was constantly the target of inappropriate comments. People would tell her to take off her hijab or go back to where she came from.

"It was constant. It was relentless," said Rahmat. 

She eventually moved out West, thinking things might be better, but said she still faces similar insults. 

Rahmat doesn't always know whether she faces microaggressions because she is Muslim, or because of the way she looks, "but definitely you feel that you're treated differently."

"And especially in Alberta, the effect of it is real. I mean, like, it's dangerous," she said, citing recent attacks on Muslims in the province.

WATCH | Muslim advocates call for more tangible action against Islamophobia:

Canada faces another reckoning with anti-Muslim hate

The National

16 days ago
2:03
It’s not the first time Canada has reckoned with anti-Muslim hate in recent years, but after an attack in London, Ont., advocates and Islamic leaders are calling for more action by the governments to denounce Islamophobia. 2:03

Areej Ansari, a fourth-year student at Western University, lives near where Sunday's attack happened.

She said she often feels like she has a target on her back when she goes out because she wears a hijab.

Ansari recalled once incident when someone threw a beer bottle at her from a car while she was out walking. She said it's difficult to know whether she was targeted because of her faith, or for being a woman.

I don't know why people are staring at me; I don't know if it's because, for example, they might like what I'm wearing, or whether they're planning on doing something to me.- Areej Ansari

But she says it's "absolutely terrifying" to consider that she could have been the victim of Sunday's violence, simply because she frequently walks in the area where the attack took place.

"I don't know why people are staring at me; I don't know if it's because, for example, they might like what I'm wearing, or whether they're planning on doing something to me," she told Galloway.

"Not being able to differentiate them, it makes me very uneasy."

Ansari said she's skeptical about whether politicians will push for change in the wake of Sunday's attack. 

However, she does have faith in the local community.

"I am confident in … my peers and the people around me, especially those who aren't Muslim at Western, to hopefully help and stand with the Muslim community in getting the change that we deserve."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Alex Zabjek and Amanda Grant.

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