Sarah (she / her) shares her experiences of growing up in Montreal while wearing the hijab and navigating being a Muslim young person in Canada.
Important note: Kids Help Phone knows that conversations about culture, racism and discrimination can vary in provinces and territories. We think it’s important to publish stories that reflect experiences across Canada. We’ve encouraged the writer of this piece to share their voice authentically and use the language that makes the most sense for them. We also want to let you know that this story includes serious subject matter — particularly derogatory and racial slurs — that may be upsetting. You can use our e-mental health services if you need support at any time.
The first time I remember being told that I didn’t belong here was when I was 12.
My experiences with discrimination as a Muslim young person in Canada
The first time I remember being told that I didn’t belong here was when I was 12. I’d recently started wearing the hijab (video from CBC Kids News), a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women. I was doing a mock parliamentary session in Quebec City. I’d earned the right to attend after winning our regional young-politicians’ competition. I was proud to be representing my school and neighbourhood.
I left that day feeling like the place I called home didn’t have room for me.
On the first day, someone came up to me and said, “What are you doing here?” I was confused. I told them about the competition and how my project won. They frowned and told me, “No, people who look like you don’t belong here.” At first, as a teen interested in politics, I started to argue back. I told them that I was a citizen here, and that I had every right to be there and represent my peers. They responded again. This time, they threatened to call security. They said that people wearing the hijab were not welcome. I left that day feeling like the place I called home didn’t have room for me.
When I was in high school, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission around reasonable accommodations for cultural minorities in Quebec was in full swing. It seemed like everywhere I went, people were talking about “immigrants taking over.” It was a constant reminder that I would never be considered “really Canadian.”
When this happened, I’d go home to sit in my room crying about how I would never be able to succeed because of who I was.
One evening in early November that year, I was walking to the city bus stop. I did this every day after school to get to sports practice at the local arena. That’s when a car pulled up next to me. The driver shouted, “Go back to your country!” The next year, at that same bus stop, someone spat at me. They also whispered xenophobic slurs as they walked by. When this happened, I’d go home to sit in my room crying about how I would never be able to succeed because of who I was.
How I navigated being a Muslim young person in Canada and got support
Discovering strength within myself and my community took a lot of courage and determination. Finding my voice and identity as a Muslim young person in Canada came through activism and speaking up about my experiences of discrimination. I volunteered at local events at my mosque and in my community. I supported young Muslims and helped them find their voice through writing and social media. I spent time mentoring the younger generation of Muslim girls in sports and recreation.
While I don’t wear the hijab anymore, giving back to the community that helped me through difficult moments allowed me to find peace in my experience.
When I got older, I began volunteering on the Board of Directors for a charity supporting Muslim women in Montreal. While I don’t wear the hijab anymore, giving back to the community that helped me through difficult moments allowed me to find peace in my experience. It also helped me believe that change is possible to create a Canada where everyone feels safe and included.
My journey also included reaching out for wellness support. Being told repeatedly that I didn’t belong here and that I wouldn’t succeed if I “looked foreign” took a significant toll on my mental health. With the help of some incredible teachers at my high school, I was able to get support through our school’s social worker, and eventually, with a psychologist.
But I believe, now more than ever, that this generation has the power to write an inclusive story for all of our futures.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather of strength. I’m still learning and repairing some of the wounds caused by the words and actions that others have imposed on me. But I believe, now more than ever, that this generation has the power to write an inclusive story for all of our futures.
Kids Help Phone would like to thank Sarah for sharing her story about being a Muslim young person in Canada with youth from coast to coast to coast.