Hana Assafiri: fighting hostility through social justice

Hana Assafiri, founder of Speed Date a Muslim, is building bridges through social justice platforms.

Speed Date a Muslim is Hana Assafiri’s way of responding to the hostility of social injustice. Her platforms and forums are built on the “principle of social justice and practical application, enabling, employing and empowering women,” she says.

Hana Assafiri was born in Melbourne and relocated to Morocco when she was four. She then went to Lebanon, her mother’s home country.

“Are you of Moroccan background?” I ask her.

“I am somebody who dances around categories,” she responds.

Assafiri doesn’t appreciate it when people “put you in a box. I am mindful and aware [however] I reject all categories.”

“My heritage is Moroccan,” she eventually says, explaining that her mum is a mix of Lebanese and Syrian heritage.

“We are a hybrid.”

At the age of 12, she came back to Melbourne with her family. Leaving Lebanon for Australia in her teenage years was difficult, but it was unavoidable due to the outbreak of the civil war.

When asked how it was growing up with an ethnic back ground, she replies, “I felt the difference [growing up], it can be cruel.”

“[Getting] made fun of [as a kid] and what makes you different became something you get teased about.”

Assafiri had difficulty speaking English as a teenager so she stopped speaking at school.

“My teacher thought I was mute,” she says with a smile.

Not wanting to be made fun of and be targeted by other kids at school, Assafiri would go home and practice English in the mirror.

“When we learn English like that [it is easy] to impersonate,” she expresses.

Assafiri explains that the hostility or racism coming from children is almost innocent and “now fast forward, that hostility is inside the system,” she says poking fun at the differences.

“[We have a] Prime Minister speaking about multi-culture diversely,” she says.

Her forum, Speed Date a Muslim is a way of responding to the hostility.

“This is a social justice platform.”

Assafiri’s day is busy left, right and centre, filled with work at two places all week. In addition to releasing a cookbook, she is the owner of the Moroccan Soup Bar in North Fitzroy and the Moroccan Deli-Cacy in Brunswick.

Photo: Zathia Bazeer

Speed Date a Muslim has been operating for the past year and allows Muslims and non-Muslims to have a chat with each other and break down barriers.

Assafiri stresses the importance of being aware of what is going on in the community, whether it’s social or political hostility.

“We became aware of the hostility and plurality [and so] our strategy is unconventional. Offering an opportunity to engage with [Muslims at] Speed Date a Muslim.”

Assafiri explains that the platform is not a chance for people to speak on Islamophobia, but instead a space for conversation, to talk out our differences and learn about each other. Speed Date a Muslim allows people of a community to be humanised when it has been separated and made to feel scared by the media or government.

“Women find empowerment inside Islam,” she says and this is a chance for everyone to speak on common ground. Speed Date a Muslim is a place where women can feel safe – and strong.

Assafiri has found purpose and meaning based in her platforms and events of social justice.

“Each person has something to do, some discover [their purpose] earlier. For me, my thing is social justice, [that is where] I find life’s meaning.”

When asked why that was her answer, “the why is … is [because] it is inevitable [but it’s] where I find passion and meaning,” she responds.

Written by Zathia Bazeer.

Zathia Bazeer

Zathia Bazeer is a 'Melburnian' currently studying Public Relations at RMIT University. She is passionate about issues related to race, religion and women's rights.

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