“Hatred towards Muslims has gone on way before the Paris attacks,” says Suraia Sahar, a political activist and protester who helped organize the Rally Against Islamophobia (RAI) in Toronto.
Sahar is no foreigner to Islamophobia and discrimination; in 2013 she sued a media outlet for wrongfully labelling her as a “terrorist”.
Rally supporters gathered around the Thorncliffe and Flemingdon area and marched towards Valley Park Middle School on Nov. 21, a spot where just a few days earlier, a Muslim woman was allegedly attacked and robbed by two men while she was on her way to pick up her children from school.
According to police statements the men tore off the woman’s hijab, called her a “terrorist” and shouted, “go back to your country”. The woman allegedly was punched multiple times in the face and stomach.
Not far from where the alleged attack took place, a relative of the attacked woman discovered graffiti on the wall of their apartment that read, “Muslims not welcome”.
Sahar says that since the incident many women in the neighbourhood stopped taking their kids to school, saying they were too afraid and feared they would also be attacked.
Sahar has organized many rallies against Islamophobia, which were prompted by other incidents related to hate crimes within Canada and the U.S. She says that the location of choice for the rally was very significant because it was important that people from all over could see first hand where something like this could happen.
“We wanted the community to come out, speak out, and be involved,” says Sahar.
The rally lasted for approximately two hours, and Sahar estimates it attracted more than 100 people.
Atiya Siddiquei runs the Muslim Welfare Centre in Durham, which serves more than 300 meals a week to people in need, and also provides a 45-bed emergency shelter for women and children. She says since the Paris terrorist attacks people have gone out of their way to support the organization.
“People from the community have come around to say we are part of the community, and that they have nothing against us and we are welcome here,” says Siddiquei.
She says many of the locals who come to help are not Muslim, and have continued to volunteer with the organizers. Siddiquei says she has heard about what happened to the woman in Toronto, and says that though she and her co-workers all wear hijabs they aren’t too concerned about how that will impact their safety.
“ So far I have nothing to say, nothing is disturbing my life. Even within my workplace I have no complaints,” says Siddiquei.