Racist attack on Ballarat woman using scarf to keep dry

A recent attack on a Ballarat woman wearing a scarf on her head brought back a flood of painful memories for Aisha Aboulfadil.
PICTURE: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

A recent attack on a Ballarat woman wearing a scarf on her head brought back a flood of painful memories for Aisha Aboulfadil. PICTURE: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

AN ISLAMIC leader has condemned a vicious and racist attack on a woman who was crossing a road in central Ballarat.

The woman was berated by a man driving a ute on October 3 as she crossed the intersection of Dana Street and Armstrong Street just before 7.30am.

The woman, who spoke to The Courier on the condition of anonymity, said she had wrapped her scarf around her head to protect herself from the rain before crossing the road.

But as she was making her away across the intersection, the driver of the car stuck his head out the window and yelled out a series of profanities and racist slurs.

He then sped off as he yelled at her to “go home”.

“This bewildered me initially as I am not a Muslim,” the woman said.

“But then it dawned on me that the scarf was on my head and that this man was referring to me.”

Former Ballarat Islamic Society president Ibrahim Sultan said he was disgusted and saddened by the rampant attack.

Dr Sultan said racist attacks on Muslim men and women had been heightened by the conflicts being fuelled by Sunni jihadist extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. 

He said women were targeted more than men because their clothing made their religion more obvious.

“There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about our religion,” Dr Sultan said.

“Our religion is about peace, mercy and tolerance. To be closer to God you are kind to people, you help people and that is the way the majority of Muslims see the world.

“They love living in Australia and the community and democracy that brings.”

Dr Sultan said more education was needed to teach people about the conflict in the Middle East and to separate terrorist attacks from the resounding majority of Muslims who did not condone their practices.

“Something has to happen,” he said.

The woman described the attack as “vile”. 

She said she had been left disturbed by the incident and feared for the Muslim women of Ballarat. 

“I understand that that type of anger must come from a fear and lack of understanding from what is going on, which is just horrendous,” she said.

“But blanket hatred of religion is not the answer. Not all Muslims are terrorists, just like not all Christians are part of the Ku Klux Klan.

“I feel extremely sad for our Muslim women as they must be subjected to this disgusting hatred and abuse fairly often.”

The woman said Australia was a cultural melting pot and at the heart of the issue was a need for more cultural and religious understanding. 

“We all come to Australia with our own thoughts and religions,” she said.

“They should be equally respected.”

She called for the Ballarat community to get behind the World Hijab Day initiative on February 1. The day is an invitation for both Muslims and non-Muslims to wear the hijab for a day to create awareness, unity, understanding and harmony.

Dr Sultan said it was a concept he would support. 

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Attack brings back painful memories

Concern: Aisha Aboulfadil says there is a pressing need for more Muslim women to speak out against racial vilification. 
PICTURE: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

Concern: Aisha Aboulfadil says there is a pressing need for more Muslim women to speak out against racial vilification. PICTURE: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

AISHA Aboulfadil knows all too well the fear of being the victim of a hate attack.

A recent attack on a Ballarat woman wearing a scarf on her head brought back a flood of painful memories.

It was in 2003 that the City of Ballarat multicultural ambassador and Muslim leader made the difficult decision to stop wearing her white hijab.

At just 17 and on her way home from school, Ms Aboulfadil was standing on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne waiting for a bus when she was verbally and physically attacked in a racist tirade.

Ms Aboulfadil was approached by a man in his 20s who began racially taunting her before unleashing a physical attack. 

But what haunted her more than the attack itself was the silence that surrounded it.

“There were about 10 to 15 people there and nobody said or did anything,” she said.

“They all just stood around and watched as he began verbally attacking me then physically assaulting me.”

Ms Aboulfadil now only wears her hijab on religious occasions or in private when she prays.

“I was fearful of wearing the hijab in public,” she said.

“At times I feared for my life and felt like it made me a target for many misconceptions about my religion.”

For Ms Aboulfadil the hijab represents her spirituality and her relationship to God. 

“It identifies that I am a Muslim person, just like a crucifix shows a person is a Christian or a Jewish person wearing a kippah,” she said.

“For some women it is simply a way of expressing who they are and it is about keeping modest and saving a part of themselves for their family. 

“We all have our homebodies and different elements to ourselves that we share with different people in our lives and this is no different. 

“It doesn’t define the person who they are.”

Ms Aboulfadil said there was a pressing need for more Muslim women to speak out against racial vilification because they were all too often the victims of the attacks.

“They are the ones who are walking down the street and going to the shops with their children and being vilified,” she said.

 “They are more obvious because their clothing identifies their religion, but all too often it is the men who are speaking out. 

“There needs to be more women standing up and talking on their own behalf.”