News / Calgary

'Not all negative:' Alberta Muslims proudly don hijab while hate crime reports trend down

Calgary's hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise since 2012, but calls to the Islamophobia hotline have gone down significantly.

Huzoor Azizi, a nursing student at Mount Royal University, stopped by the booth celebrating World Hijab Day on Thursday, saying that even though she’s experienced discrimination for wearing a hijab, she wants to turn a negative into a positive by helping others learn about the custom.

Jennifer Friesen / for Metro

Huzoor Azizi, a nursing student at Mount Royal University, stopped by the booth celebrating World Hijab Day on Thursday, saying that even though she’s experienced discrimination for wearing a hijab, she wants to turn a negative into a positive by helping others learn about the custom.

Despite harassment and discrimination, Huzoor Azizi wears her hijab proudly, by her choice.

The Mount Royal University nursing student wears a hijab, something she chose, she explains, because of the “beautiful religion” she was raised in. “This religion tells us that you should hide your beauty,” she said.

“I want people to know that it’s not all negative.”

Azizi was on one of the participants in World Hijab Day at Mount Royal Thursday, where people passing by were invited to try on a hijab, and women who wear one regularly were on hand to speak about their experiences.

It’s not easy being visibly Muslim though, Azizi says. People look at her on the street, and one time someone tried to rip it off — she said she hasn’t been on a CTrain since.

“It broke my heart,” she said.

Azizi says these events are important as Islamophobia continues to be a problem.

Irfan Chaudhry, a criminology instructor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said women who wear a hijab, or those who wear their religion visibly, are more likely to face hate crimes.

“There’s no stereotypes, there’s no negative connection to someone who wears and practises hijab, it’s something someone wants to do and everyone should be empowered to be who they are in the public space,” said Chaudhry, who also sits on the Alberta Hate Crime Committee.

According to a recent Statistics Canada release, hate crimes in general in Alberta jumped 39 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

Here in Calgary, police data shows that Muslim-motivated hate crimes have marginally increased from one reported case in 2012, to six in 2016.

But Chaudhry added that people may not report religious or culturally-directed hate as a crime because they aren’t aware, or are concerned police might not be able to do anything to help.

“Often what we’re seeing captured in official stats isn’t reflecting what the real picture is,” Chaudhry said.

Still, there are signs that progress is being made against Islamophobia, Chaudhry said.

For example, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council says they’re starting to see a decrease in calls to their hotline.

“We have seen a general decline in the number of calls to the Islamophobia Help Hotline from Calgary,” read an AMPAC statement sent to Metro. “We are cautiously optimistic that continued work against Islamophobia is starting to have real effects on real Albertans.”

Events like the one at Mount Royal University, where many women stopped by to try the hijab for the first time.

And the effects of the cloth pinned neatly to frame the face were immediately noticeable.

“I noticed when I was getting the hijab tied on, people were staring a lot, just the looks I was getting,” said MRU student Aisha Butler.

“I think there’s a stigma in society with the rise in racism nowadays just with everything going on in the States. I think it would be good to have more awareness.”

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