Muslim teenage sisters call out racist attack in St. John's

·3 min read
Asmahan and Malak Al Salloum watch a video that Asmahan took of an attack on May 6. CBC News has agreed not to show their faces for their security. (Peter Cowan/CBC News - image credit)
Asmahan and Malak Al Salloum watch a video that Asmahan took of an attack on May 6. CBC News has agreed not to show their faces for their security. (Peter Cowan/CBC News - image credit)

Two teenage sisters say a man yelled racial slurs and slapped one of them outside the fast-food restaurant in St. John's where they work.

Asmahan and Malak Al Salloum say they were on a break from their part-time jobs at the Mary's Diner on Torbay Road around 9 p.m. on May 6 when a man started yelling at them.

"He was telling us, 'I don't know what you're up to' and 'Why are you here?'" said Malak, who is in Grade 9. Asmahan is graduating from high school this year.

The sisters say they were targeted because they're Muslim. They, and a friend who was with them at the time, wear hijabs.

"He told me … 'Shut up, you Black,' and then said the n-word, and that's when I got mad," said Malak.

Peter Cowan/CBC News
Peter Cowan/CBC News

Malak says she started yelling back, worried that he might attack the other two girls.

A video taken by one of the girls shows the man getting up close to Malak's face and slapping her. She says she then threw her iced coffee at him.

Submitted by Asmahan Al Salloum
Submitted by Asmahan Al Salloum

"He came over to hit me again, so I punched, because I had no idea what's going on," said Malak.

After that he backed off and walked away, say the girls, who then called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. The girls say officers took a statement but haven't been able to identify the man or lay charges.

CBC News has asked the RNC about the case but have not received a response with information about the case.

Peter Cowan/CBC
Peter Cowan/CBC

Sobia Shaikh, chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, says her group has seen an increase of such incidents

"We've been hearing more and more of these racist acts of violence towards racialized women and girls," said Shaikh, a professor of social work. Muslim women and girls like the Al Salloum sisters have been a particular target, she said, because they wear hijabs.

"They're often seen as meek and quiet and, you know, sexism allows women to be better targets," said Shaikh

She says she applauds the women for being willing to share their story publicly. Incidents like theirs often aren't even reported to the police, she said.

Shaikh estimated she hears about similar incidents ever six weeks or so — an increase in frequency since the start of the pandemic. She says it could be because people feel insecure and are exposed to more online hate.

"It's becoming normalized in ways that I'm really concerned [about]," she said.

Peter Cowan/CBC
Peter Cowan/CBC

Malak and Asmahan, who came to Canada from Syria in 2015, say the attack hasn't changed their view of Newfoundland and Labrador. The support from friends, coworkers and other Newfoundlanders since the attack has been heartening, they said.

But they hope the man will be found and charged.

"I just want to ask him why he did this. Was he drunk? Like, why? Did he have a bad day to do this?" said Asmahan. "I really want to know why he did this."

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