Several Muslim students had just finished up a focus group at Wilfrid Laurier University campus on Sunday when they were approached by a woman who inquired if she could ask them a few questions, warning they may be “ignorant.”
Shama Saleh told Global News on Wednesday that she and five of her friends were catching up after ironically attending a focus group entitled “Exploring better ways to celebrate and empower Muslim women” when the woman stopped and stared at them before sparking the conversation.
Saleh said the interaction lasted 10 minutes and was very one-sided with the woman questioning her and her friends whether it was Canadian to be wearing black clothing and hijabs.
In one of several videos posted to Facebook by Saleh, the woman appears to say, “The long black clothes and the scarfs … it doesn’t make you appear Canadian.”
“So there is a set Canadian look?” asked one of the friends. “What is a set Canada look? And what makes it? Who says it’s Canadian?”
To which the woman responded, “The ripped jeans and the jean jacket and the running shoes. They don’t wear scarves and they don’t wear black.”
When one of the girls tells the woman they are all born and raised in Canada, the woman responded, “Yeah, but we don’t know that.”
The conversation continued much in the same way for the duration of the four separate videos.
Salah said it isn’t the first time she and her friends have had to face such type of questioning.
“In the beginning, it seems like she was just curious and genuine about our outfits and our religion. But that quickly turned into something else,” she said. “It was a very uncomfortable situation especially with the responses that she followed up a lot of her questions with and how one-sided the conversation really was for the most part.
“She wasn’t really there to listen to us and understand that we’re just as Canadian as she was.”
Saleh said she doesn’t mind being asked questions like the woman asked, but that there is a more respectful way to go about it.
“We actually really love these sorts of questions because it opens up the space to have dialogues and productive conversations, because, for the most part, us as Muslims, we want to learn about the different religions that people have.”
She said it’s important to keep an open mind in regard to conversations of this nature but that people need to keep in mind the need to be appropriate.
“I think the difference with the incident that happened on Sunday was that she followed up a lot of her questions with a lot of very inappropriate responses,” she said.
Global News has not been able to independently identify or contact the woman in the videos, however Wilfrid Laurier University confirmed she did not work for the school.
In a statement, the university also said it reached out to the students involved to offer support.
“This incident is incongruent with the values of equity, diversity and inclusion that we strive to foster at Laurier,” the statement continued.
Saleh confirmed someone from the university did indeed reach out.
She said the conversation ended once it appeared the woman got her answers and she simply just walked.
As for future conversations on the topic, Saleh said she’s definitely still open.
“As long as you frame it in a way that’s respectful and that’s considering the other person’s feelings and thoughts, I’m more than happy to answer the questions that they have.”