Toronto is known to be one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Rich with multicultural food and art, this Canadian city also holds the title for having the most tolerant people in North America. Not to mention they take the cake in hosting the largest LGBT festival in the world. Most recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set an example of how world leaders should react to the refugee crisis by exhibiting phenomenal hospitality in welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada. Torontonians hold more university degrees than anyone else, proving the logic that more education leads to more tolerance and acceptance of those from different ethnic backgrounds. With all these accolades, what could ever go wrong in such an amiable city?
Shockingly: Islamophobia. It’s a fear that spreads across countries and communities. No corner remains untouched. There have been a number of hate crimes reported across Canada, with at least six reported anti-Muslim incidents after the Paris attacks in November of 2015.
While in Toronto, I too spent most of my stay admiring such a dynamic city. I was in awe of the community Torontonians had built. However, that changed all too soon.
While walking back from a local grocery store with my two siblings, groceries in hand, a man started walking toward us. He gave my sister a glare in hopes of intimidating her. As soon as he came face to face with my sister he said, “Whatchu got under there?” My sister, not really understanding what he was referring to, kept walking.
My brother however, looked at him and responded, “Don’t worry about it”. But the man persisted: “Yes I am gonna worry about it, you got something’ to say?” and then he began charging towards my brother. My brother, not giving it a second thought, dropped the groceries, put his MMA training to use and kicked him hard right in the gut in an attempt to protect us.
The man jumped back and took a fighting stance. In an attempt to shield my brother from what was to come, I got in between them and implored my brother to just walk away. But I knew, as did my brother, that there was no turning back now. Before the man could get close enough to swing at my brother, security from the nearby stadium came rushing out. One of them held the man back away from us and the other apologetically helped pick up our groceries, while continuously apologizing for the man’s behavior.
We went on our way, in complete silence and utter shock in the events that played out. We never thought we would encounter such treatment in a city as accepting as Toronto. All I could think about was: what would have happened had my brother not stepped in to protect us? Would we have been able to protect ourselves against such aggression and bigotry?
If this experience taught me one thing, it is this: self-defense classes are crucial, now more than ever, especially for Muslim women who are often identifiable targets. You never really know when you might be placed in a situation where you have to protect yourself. And even in places where you might feel safe, Islamophobia will rear its ugly head. There is no shame in empowering each other to learn not to rely on the protection of others. After such an encounter, this has motivated me greatly to take action within my own community and educate those around me of the importance of knowing physically how to counteract such situations.
I have never been the type of person to rely on someone else to defend and protect me in such situations, and I don’t intend on becoming that person now. Teach your sisters, mothers and daughters to be independent and not wait for someone else to step in and come to their aid, there might come a time when no one will be there.