A Toronto Woman Wearing A Niqab Was Attacked In Front Of Her Kids

    Safira Merriman says the veil makes her feel "liberated."

    Safira Merriman, a 30-year-old Toronto woman who wears a niqab while in public, says she was assaulted by a stranger last week.

    Safira Merriman / Via Facebook

    Merriman says she was on her way to a Shoppers Drug Mart in Fairview Mall in the city's north end with her two daughters last Thursday when a "taller Caucasian guy" leaving the store blocked her path and elbowed her.

    In a Facebook post about the incident, Merriman said she tried to move aside repeatedly, only to have him readjust to get back in her way. Finally, when she got close, the man "braced himself" and drove his elbow into her shoulder, right below her collarbone.

    "Since deciding to wear the hijab I have encountered individuals who very openly disagree with my decision," she wrote. "Since wearing niqab I have encountered even more of these people."

    Facebook: safiratm

    Merriman told BuzzFeed Canada that she reported the incident to police, who are investigating. Her Facebook post has been shared hundreds of times and she has seen an outpouring of support online.

    "A lot of people are appalled something like that would happen here," Merriman said.

    Her four- and nine-year-old daughters were also shaken up, with the older of the two especially disturbed by what she saw.

    "She was upset," Merriman said. "Like, 'Mommy why would someone do that to you?'"

    Although she said her attacker didn't utter any specific threats, Merriman is convinced it was her attire that spurred the attack.

    Safira Merriman / Via Facebook

    Last week a pregnant woman in Montreal fell to the ground when two teenagers tried to rip her hijab from her head. The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a civil rights group that tracks anti-Muslim incidents, has called on both incidents to be investigated as potential hate crimes.

    "It is time for our political leaders to put aside the divisive, and potentially dangerous, rhetoric that has created an unnecessary climate of fear and anxiety among Canadians," Ihsaan Gardee, NCCM's executive director, said in a statement Monday.

    The federal election campaign has been dominated by discussions about the niqab, immigration and citizenship, and "barbaric cultural practices," which critics say is a thinly-veiled reference to Muslim Canadians.

    The Conservative Party, which has been driving the debate on these hot-button cultural issues, says it is standing up for the rights of women and girls.

    Mark Blinch / Reuters

    Merriman, who was born in Winnipeg, converted to Islam a decade ago after being raised by Christian parents. She says there are many misconceptions about Muslim Canadians.

    "People are assuming that every Muslim is a terrorist," she said.

    She and her friends who wear head or face coverings have felt more watched when they go out in public lately. She started wearing a hijab two years ago and transitioned to a niqab, which only leaves her eyes visible, about a year ago.

    Merriman used to be a part-time model and says wearing her niqab makes her feel "liberated" from public pressure.

    "I feel comfortable, like I'm finally in my own skin," she said. Now, when people speak with her, she says she's more certain it's because of who she is and not because of "how I might look under here."

    "My confidence has actually gone up since I started wearing the niqab because I don't feel the necessity to do that. I don't feel like I need to display myself in order to garner any sort of praise."

    Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

    Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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