LONDON — Walking down London streets, women abusers might mistaken Mahmuda Mazid for an easy prey. They should think twice because the 31-year-old mother is one of many Muslim women seeking self-defense in martial arts.
"In the classes I saw protection and self defense. That's what I needed," hijab-clad Mazid told Reuters on Thursday, May 3.
Like several veiled women who gather in a community centre in east London every week, she is learning how to defend herself through the ancient Japanese recipe for self-defense.
Mazid joined the classes, named Ninjapi after old Japanese Ninja warriors, after a gang tried to rob her teenage brother while she stood watching in a local park.
"There was this sheer feeling of helplessness that I couldn't help myself or my brother... and there was absolute rage," she recalled.
"I knew I had to do something to equip myself."
The course, organized by the Islamic Circles organization, aims to give women the tools to protect themselves from different kinds of attacks.
During the classes, over 30 Muslim women learn how to perform proper strikes and punches whenever needed.
"The ladies love the Ninjabi thing. It gives them a good giggle," said trainer Dee Terry, who also teaches Judo, Jujitsu and Kickboxing.
She believes that the women's Islamic dressing neither hinders their learning nor makes them any easier target for attackers.
"An attacker can pull your headscarf but they can also pull your hair, so Islamic clothes don't make that much of a difference."
Organizers insist the classes were a must given the recent surge in racist attacks targeting Muslim women.
"We had heard of increasing Islamophobia and other sorts of attacks on Muslim women," said Mizan Raja, a coordinator of the London-based Islamic Circles.
"Women were coming and asking for self-defense classes. It was a need."
Raja added that the Ninjapi courses are becoming popular.
"We could fill a class a day. It's totally oversubscribed," she said.
"It's about empowering Muslim women... We could do it throughout the country."
Attacks on Muslims in London, and across Britain, soared in the days after the 7/7 attacks in 2005.
Figures collated by London's Metropolitan Police, and presented in a report by the Muslim Safety Forum, showed 303 attacks in London in July 2005, up from 82 the previous month.
The attacks ranged from verbal abuse and vandalism of mosques to physical attacks, said Azad Ali, chairman of the forum.
He believes the real number is likely much higher due to the lack of agreed-upon criteria among the country's police forces for what constitutes an Islamophobic attack.
British Muslims, estimated at nearly two million, have been in the eye of storm since the 7/7 attacks, which killed 56 people, including four British Muslim bombers.
A Guardian/ICM poll has showed that one in five of those interviewed said they or a family member have faced abuse or hostility.
Fi Amani Allah