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Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Since the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, I’ve been increasingly self-conscious when I’m walking down the street in my hometown of Ottawa wearing my hijab. Like many members of the Muslim community in Canada, I’ve been feeling anguish watching Israel’s brutal military response in Gaza, while also grappling with the disturbing rise in Islamophobia that is making Muslims feel unsafe.

Last month, a Toronto man was arrested for a series of Islamophobic attacks, including allegedly assaulting and cursing at mosque worshippers, and spraying an unknown substance in the face of a Muslim cab driver and a woman wearing a hijab, who required hospital treatment. In Ottawa, the entrance of a Muslim centre was smeared with feces, while hateful, Islamophobic messages were posted on public property in a suburb. Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, has received death threats and has been put under security protection. Another Toronto man was recently charged for allegedly assaulting and pepper-spraying an individual who was wearing a keffiyeh – a Palestinian scarf – after a verbal altercation.

South of the border, the Muslim community is also being targeted. Three students wearing Palestinian keffiyeh scarves were shot in Vermont last month. Hisham Awartani, paralyzed from the chest down, has vowed to resume his studies at Brown University next semester.

Caseworkers at the National Council of Canadian Muslims received a more than 1,300-per-cent spike in Islamophobic reports between Oct. 7 and Oct. 24, including mosque vandalisms, the message “Kill all Muslims” scrawled on apartments in London, Ont., where a significant number of Muslims live, and instances of harassment and spitting on Muslim women wearing hijab. In Toronto, the police have said the city is experiencing a staggering increase in hate crimes, with 17 reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian hate crimes and 38 reports of antisemitic hate crimes during the period. There are surely many more incidents that are never reported.

A recent Senate report on Islamophobia found that many Muslims in Canada experience Islamophobia on a daily basis, and called for urgent action to reverse the rising growth in hate. According to the report, “Islamophobia is rooted in stereotypes and misinformation,” which is exacerbated by generalizing the negative actions of a few Muslims to the entire community. Misinformation is often perpetuated by the media, while online hate grows unchecked. The problem has only grown worse since Oct. 7, with more people equating all Muslims and Arabs with Hamas’s terrorism. It’s as if it’s 9/11 all over again, as an entire community is unfairly burdened with negative assumptions.

The spate of physical attacks have only added to the deep psychological burden carried by so many. First and foremost has been the grief of watching the inhumane bombardment of Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 15,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 children, at a pace described as having “few precedents in this century” by a New York Times analysis. The devastation has left many worrying for the safety of loved ones, while a number of Canadian families have been grieving the loss of relatives in Gaza. In one instance, a Canadian family lost 21 close relatives during an aerial strike. In some Canadian cities, mosques have been holding weekly azzas, or bereavement circles, for families mourning the passing of loved ones in Gaza. Community members are encouraged to participate, whether or not they personally know the affected family, as a way to offer condolences, support and empathy.

People are also worried about being reprimanded professionally for expressing pro-Palestinian opinions, even if they don’t advocate violence. Many feel that Palestinians are being dehumanized in contemporary discourse, or that Israeli lives are valued higher than Palestinian lives. People worry they will be accused of antisemitism or supporting terrorism for simply advocating for the rights of Palestinians to live a life of basic dignity.

Palestinian Canadian Dalia El Farra told CBC Radio that she moved to Canada to ensure that her children are raised “in a country that gave them dignity and respected human rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression.” She has been dismayed, and wonders, “Why is it in this day and age, do I have to prove my humanity and the humanity of my people?”

Clearly, people are hurting, and will need time to heal. In the meantime, we should allow people to express their deep pain and loss in a humane way. Perhaps this will open a window for Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis to recognize their common humanity, thus forging bonds of mutual respect here. Finding meaning in adversity is the foundation of resilience, which all communities will need going forward.

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