By: OnIslam & News Agencies
Concerned with the increasing reports of Islamophobic attacks, a forum is planned later this month in the southern eastern Australian city of Hume, giving terrified Muslim women an outlet to speak up against violence they have been facing recently.
“Muslim women are more explicit than men when they wear the hijab,” Uniting Through Faiths interfaith network developer April Robinson told Herald Sun on Sunday, February 1.
“They’re wearing this as an expression of their devotion … yet a lot of women are feeling like they have to take it off just so they can ride the train without being harassed.”
Robinson’s interfaith network is one of the organizers of the forum held next February 25, at Hume Global Learning Centre from 9.30am-3pm.
Special workshops for those living in fear were also planned by the Uniting Church in Australia in conjunction with Lentara UnitingCare and Dianella Community Health.
According to Robinson, recent events such as Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and Sydney siege were putting Muslims in the same sentiments they faced after 9/11 attacks in 2001.
“To feel and be told that you should not leave the house unless you are walking with a man or walking with a group . . . it makes you feel despondent and it makes you feel alone and isolated,” she said.
Emigrating from the US, Muslim woman Reem Hakem said she was shocked by the increasing backlash against Muslim women in Australia.
“It’s unfortunate that sometimes when a bad event occurs, you sort of anticipate that something might happen,” Hakem, who will chair the forum, said.
“It’s also sad to say it’s somewhat understandable because people will choose to look at the Muslim female as a symbol – that’s the only symbol available to them, physically in front of them, to vent their anger and frustration towards.
“It is unfair because it’s almost like putting all of us in one big pot along with the terrorists.”
Some Muslim women recalled how they were targeted in Australia just for being a Muslim.
Rehab Ayoubi, who lives in Meadow Heights, was walking along Sydney Rd while heavily pregnant when a male stranger approached her, pushed her and threw her into a trestle table.
“When we do go out, we get physically abused, we get verbally abused,” she said.
“You get terrible stares everywhere you go and just having to constantly feel almost apologetic everywhere we go. We’re carrying a burden of what’s being portrayed by the media.”
Though going through various attacks, the physical attack was the hardest experience for the heavily pregnant woman.
After giving birth, she was threatened by a woman in her ward, but was denied a room change.
“It wasn’t until I started doing a course and started integrating back into the community and having the support of my mentors and my teachers that I was able to build that confidence up again,” Ayoubi said.
“Now my role is to help women like myself. (By being) a role model, being positive, not hiding away and being a victim, you can really be useful in the community.”
She said practical strategies were needed to face the growing threats.
“(We need to be) breaking the stigma and being role models ourselves and integrating into the community,” she said.
“There is a lot of support out there but we just (need) to know how to (find) support and be confident.”
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.