Trigger Warning: Islamophobia, hate crime, bullying, pregnancy
We had an eye testing appointment on Sunday at 1. We woke up early and left around 12:30 p.m. When we reached the doctor’s office, there were still people inside the office, so we were asked to wait outside for five minutes. We stood there: I and my eldest daughter both in hijab, my 11- and 4-year-old daughters chatting with my husband about the beautiful day. We were looking forward to ice cream and fries from Costco after the checkup.
It was a warm sunny day, but there was a sense of foreboding—a knowledge that something terrible was going to happen that settled itself in my bones. Still, I did not say anything.
After our checkup, we bought ice cream and headed out. While walking on the street, just like always I was looking around, cautious of my headgear and the chance of someone attacking us, not because of what happened after but out of habit. It has always been like that for many years, since we lived in Toronto.
We drove along the Grand River and enjoyed the beautiful summer breeze while the heavenly ice cream melted on our tongues and filled us with sugar and joy. It had been a long time since my whole family spent time together. Usually, we don’t go out together due to the pandemic, and I am fortunate to have my mother living with me, so she is at home to take care of my children. Sometimes she accompanies us, but that day she stayed at home.
While I basked in the warmth of the sun and my family, I had no idea that just a few hours from then, a family from the same ethnic background, from the same country, with the same skin colour living just 100 km away would be brutally attacked and killed.
I didn’t know about it until Monday morning when I opened up my phone and one of my uncles from Toronto sent me a text asking if I was doing fine. I had no idea why he was asking me that particular question that day. But my worst fear came true when I opened Facebook and learned the most horrific news of a family being attacked in London. A nine-year-old boy was left alone and battling severe injuries in hospital, having just lost his father, mother, sister and grandmother to a hate crime.
I froze. I was shattered. But I was not shocked.
I have talked about this with my children. I have been restless when my eldest daughter wears her hijab and leaves for a bike ride, I have stood with my children in the scorching heat so they can safely play basketball on our driveway, I have avoided walking on the street with my family. I was not surprised because I was verbally bullied for covering my head twice. I was attacked physically by a white man at a Walmart in Brampton who hit me in the back with a shopping cart while I was four months pregnant with my first daughter. So I am well aware that Islamophobia is alive in Canada. It may be a new thing for some people, but I have lived it since I came to Canada in 2005.
When I read the news on Monday, fear trickled down my spine and pain swept into my heart. I was numb because someone just lost their lives for their Muslim faith, a faith I exercise every day. I thought about how it was the same time when I was on the road with all my children, two of us wearing our hijabs. All I could think was: it could have been us. My husband, my daughters, my mother, me.
Why did a 20-year-old man decide to kill this family that had nothing to do with him and were simply out for an evening walk?
There is a lot that needs to be checked for racism in Canada, especially Islamophobia. Organizations like National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and (Coalition of Muslim Women Kitchener-Waterloo (CMW-KW) are continuing to raise awareness of increasing Islamophobia at the national and community level. But it is time the government, the educational system and the people of Canada, recognize Islamophobia as an emergency before it makes Canada an unsafe place for Muslims who have already left their own countries often due to war and racism.
We need to take initiatives to educate people about immigrant families and the history of their migration to flee genocide for hundreds of years. These people came to Canada to find peace, but it doesn’t look like there is any. After Sunday’s incident, I don’t feel safe for me and my daughters who wear a hijab and are visible Muslims in the community. This is our home. We live here in peace. Now is the time to speak before it is too late. And if nobody takes care of this increasing hatred, where should we go next?