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'She was so close to where my baby was'; Mom fears for safety of all women in hijabs after alleged attack

Hala Ghonaim

By Hala Ghonaim, The London Free Press

A Muslim mom said she was at a London grocery store with her four-month-old when she was attacked by a woman who spat at her, punched her and tried to pull off her hijab. She did not want to be identified. (Morris Lamont, The London Free Press)

A Muslim mom said she was at a London grocery store with her four-month-old when she was attacked by a woman who spat at her, punched her and tried to pull off her hijab. She did not want to be identified. (Morris Lamont, The London Free Press)

LONDON, Ont. - What started off as a hunt for cheese and mushrooms at a London grocery store left a young Muslim mother with a black eye, chipped teeth and heightened fears about the safety of women who wear hijabs.

The 25-year-old mother, who was accosted by a woman who spat on her and pulled her hijab, talked Wednesday with The Free Press about the attack that became a national story.

“I do worry about the safety of all Muslim women who wear hijab,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified.

“Before I thought it was just a statistic that I would see happen to people, but now I know it’s real and it happened to me.”

London police said Wednesday a 38-year-old woman was arrested late Tuesday and is charged with assault.

The Muslim woman is a graduate of Fanshawe College and is on maternity leave from her job as a pharmacy technician.

She was shopping Monday at about 5 p.m. at the Superking Supermarket on Wonderland Road South when she noticed a woman glaring at her and mumbling in a foreign language.

The mother said she asked the woman what her problem was.

The woman then approached the mother who was tending to her four-month-old in a stroller. As five bystanders looked on, the woman began cussing loudly in English, the mother said.

As one of the onlookers tried to help the mother, the attacker spat at the mother.

The mother said she slapped the attacker with the back of her hand as a natural reflex, something she hadn’t done since arriving to Canada from Bangkok at the age of seven.

The attacker yanked the mother by the head and dragged her away from her son who was left unattended. The mother said she was pinned to the wall and punched up to three times in the face.

The mother’s hijab, a religious head covering, fell to her shoulders, revealing her hair that had been covered for 16 years.

“If she was more angry, she might have pushed my baby,” the mother said. “She was so close to where my baby was, she could have done anything. She could’ve pushed the stroller and he would’ve crashed and died.”

As the mother was being assaulted, two more shoppers joined the group watching the attack but no one tried to help her, the mother said.

“I felt embarrassed because at that point everybody was looking at me...I was standing, alone, by myself, in shock.”

Running toward her child, the mother, whose hair remained exposed, called police while watching the attacker walk toward the check out.

The mother said she took a few steps towards the woman and took a picture on her cellphone. The photo of an angry woman wearing a Canada shirt and pointing a finger wildly spread across social media Tuesday morning after the mother’s brother-in-law posted it on Twitter.

Nursing chipped teeth and a black eye, the mother said she agreed with local Muslim leaders who said the attack was hate-motivated.

The grocery store attack comes shortly after another attack on an Iranian Western University student in London late last month.

The international student was punched by two men, who reportedly called him an Arab and told him to go back to his country, while he was spending the afternoon with his girlfriend

The mother said she is seeking comfort from her family and five siblings, three of whom also wear the hijab.

She suggests that the act of aggression toward her was motivated by false representations of Muslims on the news, which she believes inspired the attacker.

Despite feeling marginalized, the mother said she’s a fourth-generation Canadian whose great grandparents moved to Canada from England before laying the foundation to start a life in London.

“I am from here, I am Canadian, you can’t tell me to go home (because) this is my country, too.”