Toronto woman speaks out after Islamophobic verbal attack in busy mall

A Toronto woman says she took the brunt of some ugly Islamophobic hate speech Tuesday afternoon in a busy downtown mall.

Farah N. Mawani was at the Eaton Centre browsing in Roots Canada store when she says she overheard a man “ranting about Muslims” to one of the salespeople.

“I said to him, ‘I’m Muslim, just so you know, and you’re talking stereotypes, none of the things you’re saying are true about me,'” said Mawani.

Then the man, who she said was roughly 60 years old, covered his face with his hand “to indicate a niqab” while making an action as if he was shooting a machine gun, according to Mawani.

Mawani, who does not wear a niqab, said she felt so uncomfortable she left the store as the man continued “yelling.”

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“It struck me as hateful, and extremely directly related to the rhetoric coming from our country’s government.”

In a statement to Global News, Roots Canada said the company works to make their stores a safe, tolerant and welcoming environment for all, and condemns “any type of racial abuse.”

After a “lengthy and highly constructive” conversation with Mawani Wednesday, Roots Canada said it is reviewing the situation to see if anything can be learned from the incident.

Roots Canada said mall security was alerted by staff at the time of the incident, and it has since discussed the matter with the mall’s manager.

The niqab, a veil that covers the face worn by some Muslim women, has become a hot button election issue.

READ MORE: Muslims wish religious freedoms weren’t an election issue

Back in March, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons that the wearing of a niqab is a practice “rooted in a culture that is anti-women” and that it was “offensive” for someone to cover their face during a citizenship ceremony.

The Liberal and NDP leaders have made it clear they do not agree.

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Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau has urged Harper to drop the niqab issue, while NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has accused him of using the niqab as a “weapon of mass distraction.”

READ MORE: Unpacking the politics: the political power of the niqab

There have been two reports in recent weeks of women being physically attacked with wearing a niqab: one in Toronto at Fairview Mall, and another of a pregnant woman in Quebec, as reported by the Globe and Mail.

Mawani, a policy researcher and the founder of a program that promotes inclusion, says she feels there’s been uptick in anti-Islam sentiment since the niqab became an election buzzword.

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“You hear the prime minister of your country on TV and in the newspapers saying things,” said Mawani. “You know, he has authority, and he claims to be basing his ideas on evidence. And if you don’t know that those are false claims, you could believe it.”

Mawani, who has a large Twitter following, spoke out about her experience online.

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She said she got an “amazing response” of support from both friends and strangers alike.

“And I really, really appreciate that, but the main reason I communicated about it was not to say, hey I went through something hard and I want people to know about it.”

“It was really wanting people to understand that this is the extent of impact it has,” said Mawani.

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