Every once in a while, Fatuma Ibro-Ali feels uncomfortable walking down the streets of Victoria.
As a Muslim woman, the 16-year-old Vic High student wears a hijab to proudly display her religion.
“I’m a Muslim woman, I should be wearing the hijab. I feel like it empowers me and I feel like a leader to other Muslim children. I can teach them things about the hijab,” said Ibro-Ali, whose parents are originally from Ethiopia. “It’s not a piece of cloth — it’s a way of life, it’s how you walk, talk and present yourself.”
But since the terrorist bombings in Paris, in which the Islamic state militant group carried out mass shootings and suiciding bombings at cafes, restaurants and a music venue leaving more than 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, Ibro-Ali said she’s has faced more discrimination from people in Victoria due to her religion.
She said people give her weird looks on the street and someone at school called her a terrorist. Her sister was on the bus when someone spat in her face as well.
“I was surprised because I’ve never had anything like that happen. I was really shocked,” Ibro-Ali said. “Just because I wear a scarf on my head doesn’t mean I’m different from anyone else.”
In order to bring awareness of the discrimination Muslim women face, a group of students at Vic High organized an event called walk a mile in her hijab, as part of the school’s annual compassion week.
As part of the inaugural walk, roughly two dozen female students donned hijabs, along with male students, teachers and staff, and walked around downtown Victoria in support of Muslim women and to educate people on why women wear the hijab.
According to Kaela Douglas, a grade 12 student at Vic High and one of the event organizers, the idea came from the Syrian Refugee Support Group, a group of five to 10 students raising $8,000 to help bring a Syrian refugee family to Victoria.
“This day was to stand with Muslim communities around the world who were persecuted for their religion because people are scared because of growing Islamophobia because of what’s going on in the Middle East,” Douglas said. “If you’re in someone’s shoes who is being looked down on, then we get to see why we shouldn’t look down on them.”
Ibro-Ali was overwhelmed by the support on the walk, adding she only expected a handful of people to show up.
Vice principal Gillian Braun said the event helped generate discussion around religious tolerance and acceptance within the school.