This was an encounter that took place only 2 nights ago by a sister, in the West-End of Toronto who was taking the bus back home. Like with many other incidents of Islamophobic nature (that for some reason always tend to take place on public transport), this had all the elements that makes one wonder how the minds of the larger society have been conformed to think and behave a certain way. Pretty much no one on the bus spoke out to defend her (typical illustration of the bystander effect), essentially implying that either this is normal or they diminish their responsibility of speaking out when another individual is being bullied.
Below is the encounter in her own words:
After an amazing evening out with my friends filled with good food and laughter on a Friday night I hopped on bus 26E at 10:02 pm to head on home. A drunk lady also came on the bus and sat on the three-seater seat in front of me. She lied down in such a way where her dirty shoes would be facing me. Little did I know that this was the start to an interesting bus ride with this woman. Me, laughing to myself, ignored this because I knew she wasn’t in the right state of mind. The lady sitting across from me gave me a glance and laughed at how ridiculous she looked.
A couple of minutes later, she got up and kept staring at me. Meanwhile, I had my earphones in my ear and ignored her. Then she started talking, but I didn’t clue in that she was talking about me until I saw her talking and staring at me along with other passengers looking at me as well. That’s when I put my volume down and I realized that it was about me.
I’m not sure what she said before but she was definitely loud. She was pointing at my hijab calling me a “towel head” and commented about how ugly it looked. Then for some odd reason, she commented about my glasses. She was saying all sorts of racist things like “you crazy Muslims coming into my country” and “ you’re a beige piece of trash”. (She actually used more vulgar and profane words to describe my skin colour). Others on the bus were watching and I guess waiting for some sort of reaction from me so I started to say “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it at all.” I didn’t even get a chance to finish that sentence before she told me to “shut the f-up you piece of —-. You have no right to talk at all.” As I started to repeat again what I initially wanted to say she cut me off again saying, “don’t even think about f—– speaking in your barbaric language.” I’m guessing she assumed that I was going to talk in some foreign language in response to what she was yelling at me for. She then commented on how Muslims are coming here trying to take over, using the Canadian system and trying to get their ways and how Islam wants to dominate the entire world. She talked about how us women are oppressed in our religion, acting like slaves with “an ugly piece of s— on our heads”. She called me a crazy Muslim aswell. Meanwhile, everyone on the bus was quiet, including the bus driver who didn’t even glance back once to see what ruckus was going on even though we were both sitting in the back of the bus.
She then moved to the back of the bus to continue her racial remarks to the others, and on top of all that, she was talking so loud that I even heard her from the front of the bus. I looked back at her in disgust and in the meantime, glanced at other people who were just giving me pity smiles and shook their heads in remorse. A black guy talking on his phone looked at me and shook his head apologetically giving me a sad smile and that same lady who laughed with me in the beginning of the ride now smiled at me and mouthed that I should just ignore her.
I continued to sit there thinking what I should do. I could hear her talking about a visit to York University she made and how it was infested with Muslims all over and how it will all spread. Most of her speech contained really profane and hurtful words with either Islam or Muslim in the same sentence. A wave of different emotions swept threw me. I was scared, angry and humiliated. I was wondering to my self what I should do next? I had two choices really. I could either get off my stop through the front doors or I could go to the back door and give her a piece of my mind. I decided the latter, because I was not going to let a low-life woman like herself humiliate me and my religion infront of the entire bus. Just because she was drunk and not in the right state of mind, it didn’t give her any right to say such discriminatory things to me. I wanted to come out as the better person, but at the same time, I wanted to come out strong. I wanted to show her that even though I was a Muslim woman dressed in the hijab, I wouldn’t stay quiet and accept all the hatred she was throwing at me, contrary to her initial perceptions of us.
As my stop was approaching, I walked to the back of the bus and started telling her that I was going to be “the better woman here and not snoop down to your level by using such rude and racist words.” I didn’t even get a chance to finish that the first time before she started yelling at me in front of the entire bus again to “shut the f—up and go back to where I came from.” She made a lot more racist remarks about Islam and my “towel” and people were just staring at me and telling me to ignore her. This one guy sitting in front of the doors told me “you see that she’s drunk and has a problem, don’t listen to what she is saying. “ I told him “I’m not going to let her humiliate me and my religion in front of the entire bus like this. Just because she doesn’t believe in the same thing as I do and doesn’t accept it, it doesn’t mean that she has to go off like this.” I then looked around at everyone on the bus and asked “Why isn’t anyone speaking out against what she’s saying to me? This is racism. If it was a black or Mexican (I was trying to refer to some incidents from history) action would have been taken, someone would have spoken up against this injustice. Just because I look different from you (referring to my hijab) it doesn’t mean that I should be attacked this way in front of everyone. ” I was shaking and scared but I knew I had to defend myself. Anyone who knows my personality and me knows that I’m not the kind of person to outwardly go talk in front of a crowd on the spot, let alone infront bunch of strangers. However, I knew that I would firstly never see these people again and secondly, I needed to leave the bus without the regret of not keeping my head up high and talking back.
I held onto the doors of the bus to push it open and looked towards her and told her “at least go get yourself a proper life and get educated on your ignorance rather than living a miserable, drunk life like this”.
As I walked on the street, one man who the racist lady was speaking to about Muslims walked next to me and told me that I should have just ignored her. I told him that “if I just kept quiet on there, she would have won. She would have seen that I accept what she’s saying to me. It would also reinforce the perceptions she has on women like myself in a scarf in the sense that we won’t speak up for ourselves. I knew that she wasn’t taking in anything I was saying but I was trying to prove a point to the rest of the bus as well who were busy listening to all the racist remarks she was throwing at me.” The man then told me “well, I’m proud of you and don’t let anyone ever influence you to stop believing in your faith and wearing your headscarf.” This made me smile behind my tears.
The experience was overwhelming to say the least. There was a mixture of anger and tears but I tried to stay strong and hold back my tears until I got off the bus. It really is disheartening to see our society in the 21st Century have such people roaming the streets thinking that they can say whatever they like to those who may not share the same belief system as they do. I’m not asking anyone to sit there and accept my beliefs, I’m just asking you to respect our differences. And I also ask you to read on your own about certain things and to not base your knowledge on anything, whether it is about religion or a robbery. Do you research before making judgement on a group of people.
It was also extremely disappointing to see no one speak up against what she was saying the entire time she was going on with her rant about myself wearing the hijab and Muslims. No one bothered to tell her to stop what she was saying or to leave me alone and leave her prejudices and ignorance aside.
It’s only after an incident like this happens when you realize a couple things. Firstly, I should have approached the bus driver. If he refused to do anything, I should have called the police and report that I’m feeling threatened on the bus that I was on. I really do pity this lady for her lack of education when it comes to certain faiths. I also thank her. Why? Because she made me stronger. She made me want to get up and speak up to defend myself and my faith. She made me single out the other passengers on the bus for not taking a stand to support me while I fought my own battle.
The bus driver is the one responsible for the entire bus and the fact that he didn’t bother to even ask if anything was alright makes me question them as public service employees. As a Muslim, hijabi woman, it is important that we speak up against injustices that happen to others and ourselves. We should be active, not passive. We also shouldn’t let our emotions get before us. We must stay strong and set them straight to show the perpetrators and those witnessing that we won’t tolerate such behaviour at all.
I hope that this lady is guided the right way and I really pray that no other person, whether it is in regards to their religion, ethnicity, colour or gender, experiences the same situation I did. It scares me to think that if someone who was insecure about the hijab or even their religion went through what I did for 10 minutes, they’d think again about who they are and their identity as a Muslim. We should love ourselves and be thankful all the time because this was all just a test from God, the Almighty. I pray that humanity takes a step forward and learn to accept differences amongst people rather than continuing to spread hatred based on our differences. Education can really help solve all problems.