A self-defense class was the idea the mosque leaders at the Islamic Center of Aurora Colorado came up with to provide a space for women to feel empowered against anti-Muslim sentiment, threats against women, and crime in general.
The class, held in December, was attended by about a dozen women, many of them wearing hijab.
“I really appreciate everything (the instructor) gave us, the knowledge,” said Zaituna Gishu, whose son is training for the US Taekwondo Olympic Team, The Denver Post reported.
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“And I got a lot of knowledge on how to defend myself from this class. I hope everyone listens and tries to protect themselves.”
In addition to training provided by Onyx Jiu Jitsu Coach Jesse Wright, class participants also listened to a presentation by Aurora police officers, including a Muslim officer, on tips for protecting themselves in precarious situations.
“We need to be self-aware for our own safety and the safety of others around us. … Having these classes and trying to educate the community in general, it doesn’t matter what faith or place of origin they come from, I think it’s just their safety,” said Officer Abdul Syidi in an interview.
“At the end of the day, we just want them to be able to help themselves and ultimately help another human being,” he added.
Two officers also provided women with general safety tips such as keep cars locked, don’t leave valuables visible, and be aware of surroundings.
Hirah Sheikh, a 23-year-old board member at the Aurora mosque, was excited to attend the event.
“I definitely have felt a change (over the years) and I feel like I’m definitely more self-aware. And like the instructor was saying to have your guard up, I think I definitely do that more now, even if I’m in a different city as well,” Sheikh said.
In 2020, more than 70,000 people in Colorado identified as Muslim. Aurora, known as the most diverse city in the state, is home to several mosques and Muslim communities.
Due to concerns about Islamophobia, many women are making their mission to empower Muslim women to defend themselves against anti-Muslim terrorism and harassment — on the street and in the workplace.
These classes help fill an important need for Muslim women who may feel especially vulnerable in the current political and social climate.
Muslims across the country have reported heightened Islamophobia in recent years.
In April, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report, noting a 28% increase in hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents against Muslims in 2021.