EDMONTON – Every time Sana Chaudhry’s daughter sees her father get up to pray, the two-year-old takes a scarf and waddles behind him to the prayer rug.
As she watches her baby daughter wrap the hijab around her head, Chaudhry says she prays that she can practice her faith in the same way when she is older.
“I wish this girl could step out into the world and be so carefree about her religion and culture,” the 31-year-old psychotherapist said in an interview from her home in Oakville, Ont.
“And then I feel bad because I know it won’t.”
Discrimination against women who wear a hijab is not new, but Chaudhry and others say they are more afraid as Islamophobia and attacks on Muslim women increase across the country. They say they navigate between their security and their faith.
A spokesperson for an Edmonton mosque says he’s had more conversations with women trying to find ways to be more vigilant against attacks.
“There has been an increase (in conversations about)” how (I) continue to be who I am and what supports we can put in place to keep me going, “said Jamal Osman, vice -President of the Muslim community of the Edmonton mosque.
“I have also had a lot of conversations with other brothers. Their wives, daughters, mothers have been exposed to various expressions of hatred. But we are not going to stand idly by and continue to be victimized.”
For example, he said, more women are taking self-defense classes.
Chaudhry said that wearing the hijab is a form of worship in Islam. It means modesty and beauty.
She made the difficult decision to withdraw hers in 2016 after being assaulted twice. In the first case, a man ripped off her hijab while she was shopping. In the second, a man came in from behind and tried to shut a door on her hand as she unloaded groceries into her car.
Chaudhry has said she wanted to wear her hijab, but her experiences and reports of violent attacks on Muslim women – including at least 10 in Edmonton in the past six months – continue to deter her.
This fear was heightened when four members of a family in London, Ont., Were killed in a targeted attack. Two of the women were wearing hijabs when a 20-year-old man entered the family with his truck. Only a nine-year-old boy survived.
“It’s an underlying subconscious fear that permeates all aspects of your life and it’s really hard to feel safe,” Chaudhry said.
Her friends who wear the hijab feel the same, she said. “Some of them said to me, ‘When we kiss our hijab, we are kissing death.’ “
“We live in a society that doesn’t really accept Islam or this decision to wear a hijab,” added Nadia Mansour, 18, of Prince George, British Columbia.
While reports of attacks on Muslim women frightened some, Mansour said they did not distract her from her religious belief.
Mansour cites a Quebec court ruling in April that upheld the province’s decision to ban officials in positions of authority – including police officers and judges – from wearing religious symbols, including the hijab and the turban, at work.
“This is a huge indication for Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab that they are not accepted in our society and that they are different.
“People are looking at you. I was bullied in high school for wearing a hijab. I even took it off for a short while. But honestly, I’m sick of hearing bullshit. I am no longer afraid. my religion and I will defend it. “
Aruba Mahmud, an artist based in London, Ont., Said all women are feeling the effects of the recent attacks.
“I’m more vigilant. I’m afraid this won’t go away, but I don’t want this fear to start dictating an important decision,” she said. “I’m sick of just explaining my existence”
Osman said he was angry because it shouldn’t be Canadians’ responsibility to protect themselves.
“It is frustrating to have to take matters into their own hands and push our so-called representatives to live up to their commitment to the safety of Canadian citizens,” he said.
“It boils down to the law and, if the law is not able to defend its own citizens, then what kind of social contract is it? “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 27, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.