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FEATURE: GTA Muslims concerned about growing Islamophobia

Federal NDP candidate Farheen Khan is seen in Toronto on March 12, 2015. CITYNEWS

Muslims in Canada are concerned their religion has increasingly become a lightning rod for fear and anger, and some believe anti-Muslim sentiment is at levels not seen since 9/11.

This week in the news, a Canadian resident from Pakistan was arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up the U.S. consulate and buildings in the Toronto’s financial district, and a jury is weighing the fate of two men accused of conspiring to derail a Via passenger train.

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper made controversial comments earlier this week about women wearing niqabs during their Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

“Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women,” Harper said in the House of Commons.

Farheen Khan, the federal NDP candidate for Mississauga Centre, helped organize a National Day of Action against Bill C-51, Harper’s controversial Anti-terrorism Act, and said she’s troubled by the bill and the heated language surrounding it.

“The fact that Stephen Harper is very specifically mentioning Muslims as jihadis and problematizing the entire community is very concerning,” she said.

“His language … (is) creating fear, or he is trying really hard to create fear. And I think it’s definitely something that, as a Muslim, would be of concern because (it’s) creating the same type of fear that we had post 9/11.”

But even within Muslims, the niqab and burka — which cover a woman’s face — and the hijab, or headscarf, are a divisive matter.

“I really don’t feel opposed in any way,” said Wedad Gilani of the Al Huda Institute, which offers diplomas in Islamic education.

“We live in Canada and have the choice, and this is our choice — to wear the niqab. I chose to wear it because I thought it would help me come closer to my faith.”

But women’s rights activist Farzana Hasan has openly criticized the niqab and other aspects of Islam.

“I’m a Muslim woman. I don’t find wearing a niqab, or even wearing the hijab … an expression of equality,” she said.

“It’s being touted as something that women choose to do, and even western liberal feminists have jumped on the bandwagon.”

The growing presence of the niqab in the GTA, Hasan said, is a sign of increasing Islamic conservatism in the area. She told CityNews while most Muslims won’t go off to join ISIL, many secretly sympathize.

Hasan has also spoken out about polygamy, honour killings and segregation even though she feels it has put her life at risk.

Muslim in Canada, Part 1: Muslim experience in Canada

Muslim in Canada, Part 2: Opposition to anti-terror bill

Muslim in Canada, Part 3: Extended look at the niqab

Muslim in Canada, Part 4: Anti-Muslim Muslim

Tell us about your experiences as a Muslim in Canada in the comments section below. Use the hashtag #MuslimInCanada on Twitter.