I was 6 or 7 years old the first time I witnessed my mother being abused by a complete stranger.
I was scared, confused and powerless as this man yelled obscenities at my mum, shaking his fist in the air, getting in her face. She held her ground, yelled back, and took the verbal onslaught like a champ, all the while people walked by, staring and doing nothing.
Once it was over, she got into the car and cried. I watched the strongest woman I have ever known fall to a million little pieces in front of me as she tried to hide her tears. It has taken me more than 25 years to realise that this was my first encounter with racism in Australia.
The piece of cloth, her hijab, that so fashionably covered my mother’s head, gave her away as a Muslim.
It didn’t matter that she had accomplished so much in her life, or done so much for her community in the short time that she had been in Australia; the cloth on her head offended this person and he just had to ‘let her have it’.
Sadly, nothing much has changed, and the trauma I experienced back then has been relived again and again throughout the years in various other forms.
My mother, now numb to the hate, some 30-plus years later, has learned to live on, move on with her life through the important community work she has so carefully cultivated. Founding the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland in 1992 (now the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia) she has helped provide important services for the Muslim (and non-Muslim) community.
But her achievements mean nothing to the bigots, racists and haters. They see a Muslim woman and assume she is oppressed by her husband, weak and uneducated. They think that they can yell and swear the Muslim out of her - that maybe telling her to “go back to your F’ing country” will free her from her oppression.