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I know my rights, and I’ll never take off my hijab



Even in “safe” countries, Islamophobia lingers — and that’s why we need to stand together and speak out

To the bully who targeted me for my hijab: you must’ve been so happy to make me afraid like never before. You took my innocence, and my excitement at enrolling in university. It was a struggle to gather myself and get back to who I am: a strong, fearless woman.

“Go back to where you came from,” you said. You looked at my headscarf and told me it wasn’t accepted here, told me to “remove it or go back.” I felt helpless, not knowing whether to run, scream for help, or just do nothing. I recited every prayer I could in my heart, begging for God’s mercy.

As if sent from heaven, an angel of an old man came to my rescue. He walked straight to where you were tormenting me, and you left calmly, like nothing happened, sure that you achieved whatever you had in mind.

I remained, devastated and traumatized, having no words to describe what just happened. I couldn’t properly reply when asked if I was okay; all I could do was nod and walk away, short of energy, and unsure of who to trust.

That happened after barely two months in this country. My high expectations of my time here went down the drain. I asked myself: how safe am I here? Who do I turn to? To whom do I tell the story of what had happened to me?

I hadn’t yet made friends at SFU. My mother came to mind, but I ended the call before she picked up. I realized that I’d regret telling her, because she’d worry that I wasn’t safe in my new faraway “home.”

I spent days in my room with no food and no contact with anyone, just lying down and sobbing. Afterward, I became anti-social, and never felt ready to talk to new people. I wouldn’t walk anywhere alone. Whenever I saw bigger guys, I found myself moving quickly away.

It wasn’t something I could control, and I didn’t like that. I questioned those behaviours every time, promising myself that they wouldn’t happen again, but I couldn’t help it for a long time. I’m normally social, joking and ever-joyful; now, I can’t stop thinking about the many happy moments I missed during that period.

To the bully who targeted me for my hijab: I don’t know who else you hurt before coming for me, but you’ve opened my eyes to the real world and made me see things as they are. I came here excited to feel safe and secure, able to exercise my rights and privileges, but even in one of the “safest countries” in the world, I still don’t have the power to choose what I want to do.

You’ve reignited my fire, and despite the fear you tried to inflict upon me, you’ve empowered me. I know my rights better now, and I’ll never take off my hijab just because you or anyone else wants me to, or because it’s “not accepted here.” It is my dignity, my respect, and my honour, and I will never trade it for anything.

I speak for all the women out there who, like me, have faced racism and Islamophobia without knowing how to deal with it; who kept their grievances to themselves because of fear; who didn’t know where to report the injustices. We’re in this together, and nobody should feel abnormal for it. Racism and Islamophobia can happen anywhere, and it’s no fault of the targeted individuals.

Insecure, unwanted, and unsafe: that’s how I felt that day. But I won’t let it stop me from speaking my mind — everyone assumes that all’s well, when it’s not even close. I tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it’s what many women face. I choose to tell my story today, tomorrow, and every day after.


Syrian capital rocked by explosions but no immediate word on source or target of attacks




  • Israel has also targeted the international airports in Damascus and the northern Syrian city of Aleppo several times over the past few years, often putting it out of commission

DAMASCUS: Violent explosions were heard from missile stockpiles of pro-Iran militias east of Syria’s capital Damascus before dawn on Sunday, a war monitor said.
Residents of the Damascus region heard the blasts which came from “the warehouses of pro-Iran militias” in a mountainous area east of the capital, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.
“We don’t know if it was from an air strike or ground operation,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
During more than a decade of war in Syria, neighboring Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters, as well as Syrian army positions.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said during the night that “the sounds of explosions” had been heard on the outskirts of Damascus.
Four Syrian soldiers and two Iran-backed fighters were killed last Monday in pre-dawn Israeli air strikes near Damascus, the Observatory said at the time, in the latest deadly Israeli air raid to hit war-torn Syria’s capital.
The air strikes targeted Syrian regime forces, as well as military positions and weapons depots used by armed groups supported by Tehran, the monitor said.
With Iranian as well as Russian support, the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad has clawed back much of the territory it had lost to rebels early in the conflict, which broke out in 2011 and has pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Israel rarely comments on strikes it carries out on targets in Syria, but it has repeatedly said it would not allow its arch foe Iran to expand its footprint there.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions.

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Saudi adventurer traces Prophet Muhammad’s Hijra route




  • Badr Al-Shaibani traced and documented Prophet Muhammad’s historic journey to Madinah over a span of 12 days

JEDDAH: A Saudi athlete, adventurer and entrepreneur has completed an epic 500-km trek from Makkah to Madinah tracing Prophet Muhammad’s footsteps along the Hijra route.

Badr Al-Shaibani traced and documented Prophet Muhammad’s historic journey to Madinah over a span of 12 days.

Al-Shaibani, who walked 40 km everyday, said that the “expedition’s goal was to highlight a journey that changed the course of history.

“Work is currently underway with relevant authorities to mark and document the migration route, as well as train individuals to travel the historic route as part of tourist excursions.”

He passed 12 significant spots, including Cave Thawr, where the prophet and his companion Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq sought refuge after fleeing from Quraish soldiers; an unnamed site where he rested on a rock; and Wadi Qudaid.

Al-Shaibani added: “This epic voyage, which needed five years of painstaking planning, has a special place in my heart among all the experiences I’ve had so far.

The most remarkable feature of the expedition was the nightly stay in Cave Thawr, where the prophet once took sanctuary.

“Being in the same place as the Prophet of Allah was an unbelievable thrill and happiness that I will never forget. I was as happy and emotional at the end of my adventure as I was when I reached the summit of Mount Everest,” Al-Shaibani said.

The adventurer said that he has climbed the highest peaks of all seven continents. He is the sixth Saudi to conquer Mount Everest.

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How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America




  • Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula left many influences, later taken to the continent by colonists

  • Some researchers believe 700-1,000 Portuguese words and about 4,000 in Spanish come from Arabic

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: In recent years, a new generation of researchers has been examining the ancient Islamic roots of Latin American societies.

In the age of social media, such content is being disseminated among larger audiences, and many people in Latin America seem to be avidly interested.

“I began to read about the Moors when I was studying Arabic in Egypt,” said Mansour Peixoto, a Muslim convert from the Brazilian city of Recife who in 2014 founded the website Historia Islamica (Islamic History).

“I’d already learnt at that time about the Islamic influence on Portugal, but then I became interested in its direct and indirect impacts on Brazilian culture,” he told Arab News.

Between 711 and 1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of present-day Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.

An almost-800-year presence in the Iberian Peninsula left many influences that were brought to colonial Latin America.

After the Christian re-conquest, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal. From then on, especially at the beginning of the 17th century, many Muslims — including people of European ancestry — were forced to move to North Africa, but many accepted to convert to Catholicism, some of whom remained secretly Muslim.

“Those people, especially the poor, were numerous among the Portuguese who came to colonize Brazil since the 16th century,” said Peixoto.


  • Between 711-1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.

  • After the Christian re-conquest of Al-Andalus, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal.

  • Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic.

Although his website deals with several Islamic themes, the history of Muslim Portuguese settlers — known as Mouriscos, or Moors — and their influence on Brazil is a frequent topic. “Many people don’t realize that we have customs in Brazil that come from the Islamic world,” said Peixoto.

Historia Islamica’s publications about the influence of Arabic on the Portuguese language are among the most shared by the website’s followers.

Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic, but recent studies suggest that the number of Arabisms could be much higher.

Several everyday words in Brazil have Arabic origins, such as alface (lettuce), almofada (cushion), acougue (butcher shop) and garrafa (bottle).

“Not to mention architectural terms that we still use today, like alicerce (foundation) and andaime (scaffolding),” said Peixoto.

“Iberian building methods were mostly Arab in the 16th century, and they were brought to the Americas.”

La Pila fountain in Chiapa del Corzo. (Government of Mexico)

Islamic architectural influence in Latin America is one of the most noticeable cultural traits of Al-Andalus in the region, according to Hernan Taboada, an expert on the subject and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“That can be seen in the architectural style in New Spain, the viceroyalty that extended from the south of the present-day US to Central America,” he told Arab News.

Along with the Viceroyalty of Peru, in South America, that region probably concentrated most of the Moorish settlers in colonial Latin America, Taboada said.

Colonial-era churches in Mexico, from Veracruz on the Atlantic coast to Oaxaca in the south, exhibit evident Moorish artistic traits.

Tlaxcala’s cathedral Mudejar wood ceiling. (Gobierno de Mexico)

“They’re especially visible in the elements of decoration in those churches,” Taboada said. “Many temples in Mexico undoubtedly have Moorish style, which doesn’t mean they were necessarily built by Moors. In general, such elements were assimilated in Spain and transposed to Latin America.”

The presence of Muslims in New Spain and elsewhere in the region is not easy to verify, given that it was a clandestine presence.

This may be why the subject was ignored in academia for so long, although classical works of Latin American history mentioned it in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The study of the Moorish presence was mostly resumed by Muslims and people of Arab origin. Those works showed that they weren’t as few in Latin America as was once supposed,” Taboada said.

Although Islam was forbidden, the Moors — like the Jews — largely enjoyed tolerance in the New World, though the Inquisition did act against them at times, he added.

Historian Ricardo Elia, cultural director of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina, has since the 1980s been one of the pioneers in the study of the Moorish presence in the region of La Plata River.

“I discovered that the gauchos (the term used in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil for legendary horsemen) are nothing less than Moors,” he told Arab News.

Ricardo Elia at the Islamic Center. (Supplied)

There is an ancient controversy regarding the etymological origin of that term in Argentina. Some scholars say it comes from a Quechuan word, but Elia and other researchers say it comes from chauch, a term with Arabic origins that means something like indomitable.

“In Valencia, Spain, the word chaucho was used to designate horsemen and pastors,” Elia said, adding that most of the crews of the Spanish ships that explored the Americas since the 15th century were composed of Moors, and that the first person to catch sight of the Americas was Rodrigo de Triana, a Moor.

“They needed to leave Spain so they came to the Americas. And they were good sailors.”

Over the centuries, Moors intermarried with other ethnic groups such as the Guarani indigenous people, but their cultural impact in the region is felt to this day.

Elia said empanadas, Argentina’s most typical pastry, have Andalusian origins, as does dulce de leche (caramelized milk).

The linguistic influence on the Spanish language is unquestionable. Elia estimates that there are about 4,000 Arabisms, most of them adopted in Spain.

Argentinian empanadas. (Salta city government)

“But in Argentina and Uruguay, the Moors also impacted our way of pronouncing the words,” he said.

Over the years, Elia has taught classes in universities in Argentina and Chile about the Moorish presence in South America.

“Unfortunately, the community of Lebanese and Syrian descent in Argentina has never shown much interest in such themes. Non-Arab Argentinians have always been the most curious about that,” said Elia, who comes from a Lebanese family.

He added that more and more people now want to learn about the first Muslim settlers in Latin America.

“In Morocco, an academic conference dealing especially with that topic was organized in 2021,” he said.

Mudejar Tower in Cali. (Cali city government)

Peixoto said many people are “willing to discover more about their ancestry and the many questions not answered about it,” which is why a new generation of scholars has been researching the Moors of Latin America.

He plans to conduct an academic study about the Moors in Brazil, publish books on that topic and offer online classes.

“Our elite (in Brazil) likes to see itself as European, but we’re a combination of indigenous peoples, Africans, Europeans, and also Moors,” he said.

Peixoto thinks Muslims and Arabs made a decisive contribution to the formation of the Brazilian people, not only with the settlers from Al-Andalus, but also with the Africans brought as slaves, and the huge wave of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil since the end of the 19th century.

“They transformed our way of being on many levels,” he said.

Taboada agreed, saying: “Eurocentric views are dominant among the Latin American elite. We have to emphasize that we have a multicultural origin.”

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