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Move to set up network of safe places for Muslim women in Dublin

Several incidents of intimidation and abuse directed against Muslim women recorded

Floral tributes have been arriving at the Mosque on Dublin’s South Circular Road after the atrocity in New Zealand. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Abusive and threatening behaviour towards Muslim women has prompted a group of them to try to set up a network of safe places in Dublin where women can seek immediate refuge if they are being harassed.

Taking their cue from a similar and successful scheme in Scotland, the women, who are all associated with the Dublin Mosque on the city’s South Circular Road, hope to launch their initiative by the end of this month.

It has been prompted by several incidents of intimidation and abuse directed against Muslim women, many of whom are identifiable by wearing either the hijab, the head and neck scarf favoured by many women of teenage and adult years, or the niqab, the full face black veil with a narrow slit for the eyes, favoured by others.

“It is a very bad day indeed,” the initiative co-ordinator, Shanaya Ahmad, said on Friday, reflecting a collective sense of vulnerability in the Muslim community caused by the atrocity in New Zealand.

Reacting to that event, she said: “We don’t want to spread any irresponsible hate messages.”

While on a wholly lesser scale to the outrage in Christchurch, Muslim women in Ireland are not infrequently the recipients of unprovoked public abuse and threatening behaviour from others, almost invariably men.

Ms Ahmad and colleagues, all of whom are connected to the Amal Women Association attached to the Dublin Mosque, are designing a sign – a large yellow sticker – with the message “Ask For Help” which they hope participating premises will display prominently.

This week, Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D Higgins, showed support for Amal by visiting the mosque for the association’s get together marking International Woman’s Day.

The safe space idea, which is known in Amal as the Yellow Sticker Project, is that participating retail outlets and community groups with walk-in facilities would have the sticker in their window or door, signalling to anyone feeling vulnerable that this was a safe place to which they could retreat for protection, support and comfort in a moment of vulnerability.

The yellow sticker safe spaces would be for women who “just need a little relief at that moment, maybe a glass of water and some comforting support, and maybe also someone to call the police”, said Ms Ahmad.

Incidents

Ms Ahmad, who was born in India and is a banker with a Masters degree in strategy management from Dublin City University, illustrated the sort of incidents that have prompted the self-help initiative.

“I have a friend living in Dublin 8 and she was walking along the footpath one day, with three or four men behind her. One snatched off her hijab and threw it down. She was alone and tried to take the matter to the police. They took her complaint down but nothing much else was done about it,” she said.

Another example concerned an Irish-born woman, a convert to Islam, who was walking in a Dublin city centre park when she was confronted by some men.

“They said to her, ‘What are you?’” They shouted at her that they would rape her daughter. “She had a baby in a pram with her,” said Ms Ahmad. “This was in a public park.”

A colleague in Amal Women Association, Noor Nasib, has had personal experience of anti-Muslim harassment. Attending night classes in Aungier Street, Ms Nasib has been subjected to unwanted attention in the area around Cuffe Street, Mercers Street and Digges Street.

“Young boys and girls like to tease us,” she said. “They throw eggs or stones and such and we’ve been advised not to go there.” Ms Nasib said traditional clothing appeared to be the factor in prompting such abuse.

“The hijab is attracting them as if we . . .” her voice trails off. “I don’t know what they are thinking. It’s Islamophobia, I would say, and racism.”

The Scottish Keep Safe scheme was designed to help disabled people who felt vulnerable, or victims of hate crimes, who need a safe space and assistance. According to its website: “Keep Safe places are checked and approved by Police Scotland and staff within are trained.”