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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.

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