By Declan Keogh
The problem of Islamophobia here in Toronto and in surrounding areas has resulted in new community initiatives.
Arij Elmi, Wen-Do instructor, came to Ryerson on Nov. 30 to teach a two-hour self-defence class for female Muslim students.
“We want to ensure that they have resources, should they be interested, to protect themselves if necessary,” Elmi said.
Farrah Khan, Ryerson’s co-ordinator for sexual violence education and support, said the class was in high demand and filled up within 24 hours of its announcement.
Although this was the only class that was scheduled on campus, Elmi said she “would love to come back to Ryerson.”
“We encourage them to believe in their self-worth, because women and girls already have the tools they need to get out of dangerous and uncomfortable situations,” Elmi said.
Wen-Do is accessible and designed for any woman, regardless of athletic ability or age. Khan said that this particular class was “run by Muslim women, for Muslim women.”
Another initiative, which is still growing in popularity, is the closed Facebook group BuddyUpTO.
The group has been around since Nov. 19 and current has just over 1,300 members.
It is a place where people post their travel plans for the day to see if someone else has a similar route. People then meet up with their travel buddy so they do not have to commute alone.
“Muslim Canadians are Canadians just like the rest of society and they should feel safe walking in the streets of their own country,” said Mona El-Falou, a third-year electric engineering student and a vice-president of the Ryerson Muslim Students Association (RMSA).
El-Falou said that while she personally feels safe on the Ryerson campus, many of her friends do not.
“It’s an open campus, it’s the heart of downtown and it’s not like it’s restricted to students only, anyone can come in,” she said.
BuddyUpTO was started by Kanwar Saini and Mita Hans, both residents of Toronto.
Saini, who is a speech language pathologist and a DJ, said that as a queer person of colour he understands what it feels like to experience bigotry in Toronto.
“It just brings about the dream world that a lot of people want to live in, that Canada and Toronto are these safe havens for everyone, when they’re really not,” he said. “We’re not exempt from danger.”
Saini also said the program is “for anyone who feels unsafe in any situation.”
El-Falou said that although BuddyUpTO is not perfect, the general idea is great. “There is a lot of us that feel scared walking alone, so why not make groups? It just makes sense.”
The Facebook group has a platform of self-moderation, meaning that the members themselves are responsible to vet people who want to join as well as for their own personal safety.
A pinned disclaimer on the group states that: “Just because a person is a member, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re 100 per cent cool. If you’re meeting up with someone, don’t rely solely on us and please do your own checks.”
There are also a number of general safety tips being posted throughout the page such as texting friends or family before, during and after a meet up.
It’s a community based initiative and only time will tell how successful it is, but Saini said there were dozens of success stories and zero bad ones.