Hate Crimes Against Black Muslim Women Are Skyrocketing – Why Is No One Paying Attention?

Photo: Courtesy of NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images.
Trigger warning: This feature contains reference to violence against women.
Last December, a Black mother and daughter wearing hijab were attacked in their car outside an Edmonton shopping mall in a racially and religiously motivated hate crime. I was gutted to hear how the pair fled the vehicle, trying to protect each other while bystanders stood by and watched. I’m not sure what was worse: the fact that someone felt bold enough to express such violent hatred to two innocent women or that no one intervened. Like the victims, I am a Black Muslim woman, and soon after the attack, I tried to draft safety plans on how best to avoid this level of physical rage against my community.
Since then, the violence has only escalated. In Alberta, over the last eight months, Muslim women have been targeted, assaulted, threatened, and harassed across the province — everywhere from the street in my old neighbourhood, where a woman in her 50s was hospitalized after an unknown man grabbed her by the neck and pushed her down onto the sidewalk, to my alma mater, the University of Alberta, where a transit employee intervened when a man was verbally harassing a student. As recently as July 23, a woman was nearly strangled to death by a stranger in front of her children while picking them up from daycare. And these are just the assaults that have been reported, there are more.

Despite gender-based violence gaining more attention nationally, one silent epidemic of abuse is still not getting the attention it urgently requires: violence against Black Muslim women.

Notably, the majority of these victims, at least 10 of the reported 14 attacks, have been Black, visibly Muslim women wearing the hijab. There are tragic stories like this across the country; Statistics Canada has reported a 92% increase in hate crimes targeting the Black population this past year. I believe it could be due to the media’s hyperfocus on Black experiences after the murder of George Floyd. With more people speaking out on anti-Black Islamophobia online and in real life, the rate of reporting is bound to increase. It could also simply be due to the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent economic insecurity, which racist and far-right groups choose to blame on marginalized and immigrant communities.
Globally, anti-Muslim hatred has reached “epidemic proportions,” according to the UN. This drastic increase is not a surprise to Muslim communities. And yet no one is talking about it — or doing anything about it. Despite gender-based violence gaining more attention nationally, one silent epidemic of abuse is still not getting the attention it urgently requires: violence against Black Muslim women.
Making sense of this level of violence requires addressing years of neglect and ignorance towards anti-Black Islamophobia from stakeholders. Media, governments, and feminist organizations, whose mandates claim to advocate against gender-based violence, are failing to identify that hate crimes Black Muslim Women experience is a form of gender-based violence.
After the December attack, as a law student, and in light of little national support for Muslim women, I was ready to help my community navigate these tragedies. After noticing many women's rights organizations in the province did not have the capacity to understand the anti-Black and religious gendered component of these attacks, let alone prepare initiatives for community members with emergency funds, I realized something: This would not have been the response if a white woman was attacked while sitting in her car with her mom.
It’s frustrating that we constantly have to beg for our humanity with “what ifs” pegged to white victims, but it’s the reality. With more and more people getting hurt every day, “the urgency of this situation needs to be a priority,” says Ayaan Abdulle, a community advocate and organizer with the Black Muslim Initiative, a Toronto-based group interested in identifying systemic barriers against Black Muslims.
Complacency towards violence against Black and Muslim women is nothing new in Canada. After 9/11, placements on no-fly lists, Muslim Student Associations being interviewed by CSIS, and the current Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney advocating for a niqab ban was rhetoric I grew up with. Canada has been exceptionally bad at tracking any race-based data, long ignoring the inequities racialized women in Canada have faced. But what little data there is, is telling. We know from Canadian studies prior to the pandemic that Black women and girls are at a higher risk of gender-based violence simply due to their race.
In 2019, with support from The Black Muslim Initative (BMI) and the Tesselate Institute, Dr. Fatimah Jackson-Best, a public health researcher specializing in mental health working with the Black Health Alliance, conducted the first consolidated review of Black Muslims experience in Canada. The report found that unavailable literature and data on the lived experiences of Black Muslims groups contributes to the erasure of Black and Muslim identities in systemic reviews of anti-Blackness and Islamophobia. With Black women disproportionately facing a growing lack of data collection, the consequences from this erasure is reflected in how well governments and organizations can mobilize.

After years of policies and funding that has disproportionately affected Black, Muslim Women, it will take more than simply acknowledgement to undo the harm.

Ganiyat Sadiq, president of the Black Inclusion Association at the University of Calgary
Can they holistically assess the issue if they have no experience or understand what's at stake? The significance of this gap cannot be understated. Canada has outranked all G7 countries when it comes to hate crimes the past five years, in turn showing the world gender equity policy requires an intersectional lens. “Ignorance from experience absolves people from acting,” says Ganiyat Sadiq, president of the Black Inclusion Association at the University of Calgary.
After this wave of hate crimes, there has been some action. This month, the federal government held a National Action Summit on Islamophobia where I was invited as a panellist. In the week since, three Black Muslim women were attacked in Calgary. A summit barely scratches the surface of what we need now, and that’s safety. There are also programs, like the Advancing Gender Equity for Black Women and Girls in Canada to Respond to COVID-19, where $2.5 million in federal funding has been allocated. It’s not enough. “After years of policies and funding that has disproportionately affected Black, Muslim Women, it will take more than simply acknowledgement to undo the harm,” says Sadiq.
To put it simply, the system needs an overhaul. Without addressing the lack of education surrounding intersectionality and power dynamics, simply just putting funds into organizations will just allow ill-equipped systems to continue to inadequately address the crisis at hand. 
Both Abdulle and Sadiq highlighted the importance of listening to Black Muslim Women, which hardly ever happens. This reminded me of the current responses to hate crimes from Alberta’s Ministry of Justice. After meeting with only male and white police officers, the solution Kaycee Madu’s ministry came up with was that women should be able to carry pepper spray to protect themselves.
The provincial government has also suggested upping security protocols at mosques; while the city of Edmonton, where many of these attacks have taken place, is looking into increasing security at transit centres. Both solutions will involve an increase in policing, which in itself is deeply concerning for Black women who have experienced gender-based violence, racism, and islamophobia.
On February 17, a Black Muslim woman who experienced a hate-motivated attack in Edmonton spoke up about the response she faced from police when filing a complaint. (This is the same police force known for a “morality squad” that intentionally targeted Black women in the early 1900s). Feeling "doubly traumatized" after interacting with the police is not unique to Black or Muslim women. Rates of overpolicing have skyrocketed for Black Women since the start of COVID-19, which has exposed the relationship of health and safety being a privilege afforded to some (aka white) Canadians.
So where do we go from here? As a researcher and organizer myself, and like Abdulle and Sadiq, I don't see a future of eradicating hate crimes without first addressing who gets to advocate. If organizations, governments, and media are presenting a specific experience of what gender-based violence looks like, they are directly participating in toxic white feminism.
This points to a culture that creates the conditions for the repackaging of feminist ideals to promote and affirm the safety of middle and affluent white women. If Canadian feminist organizations truly embody feminist ideals, they need to venture away from only addressing topics that are usually reflective of board membership and instead consider what Canada truly looks like.
With a potential federal election looming, we need to carefully look at what feminist policies are being put forward and whether are they reflective of the gender-based inequities occurring right now. The current reality is that Canada seems to be okay with Black Muslim women fearing for our lives when we walk down the street.

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