After the vigil: How to support Muslims everyday

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SHAFAQNA – A mosque shooting, anti-Muslim protests, arson, vandalism and, recently, a bomb threat.

The past two months has seen unprecedented levels of verbal and physical attacks on Muslims across Canada. Now that the vigils and rallies have subsided, how do you continue supporting Muslims?

Strengthen your relationships with Muslims now; don’t wait for another tragedy — that was my key message during my talk at the Parkdale Against Islamophobia and the U.S. Travel Ban town hall.

My fellow panellists — an immigration lawyer, a community legal worker and MPP Cheri DiNovo — called for changes to our immigration and refugee policies.

While systemic change is critical, I work in community engagement and I’ve observed many Canadians grappling with how to show support beyond attending vigils and rallies. I opted to share simple relation-building actions people can take with that room full of Muslims and non-Muslims at the Parkdale Library.

Here are the five actions I shared:

1. Offer a ride to a Muslim woman.

When the shooting happened, I imposed a curfew on myself and I would take a cab instead of public transit at night. I was protecting myself from the spate of anti-Muslim assaults that inevitably follow incidents targeting Muslims. Women are inherently vulnerable in public spaces; imagine the increased lack of safety visible Muslim women experience when Islamophobic sentiments are high. Offer a ride to a female Muslim neighbour, colleague or friend to help them travel safely.

2. Continue and deepen the conversation.

I was invited to tea at a friend’s place last weekend. I was apprehensive about going but I was soon in deep conversation with three other people I had never met. We talked about living in Canada as a Muslim, as a young person facing precarious employment, and as an educator in a marginalized neighbourhood. It was a beautiful moment of bridge-building on a deep interpersonal level, and it restored the sense safety I had lost since the Quebec mosque shooting. I observed many beautiful conversations this past month at rallies, vigils, on Facebook and Twitter. Now think about the Muslims with whom you’ve had brief exchanges and invite them to tea and deepen that connection.

3. Share a meal.

When I co-organized Toronto’s first Open Iftar last summer, I witnessed something beautiful: how sharing a meal bonded Muslim and non-Muslim community members in my neighbourhood. Food is a universal language and eating together is a powerful catalyst for healing conversations. Even though some guests arrived feeling nervous, they were soon chatting and laughing alongside one another once the food was served. Invite a Muslim colleague, friend or neighbour to breakfast or lunch if you already have a relationship with them. Or, to help take the pressure off of them, invite a group of together for a block party or potluck.

4. Organize a play date.

Children are usually the ones to take the first step across a divide. I learned this from simply watching my young nieces interact with other children; the adults around them often follow suit by letting their guards down and starting a conversation. If you feel nervous about getting to know someone, let the children take the lead. Invite a Muslim mom or dad — or both — to an afternoon play date at your house or at the park. I’ve also observed how every adult in the room will instinctively jump to their feet to help the moment a child falls down. As parents, your shared desire to raise your family in a safe and healthy environment can be the common ground from which deep and meaningful conversations will start.

5. Ask: “What do you need?”

If you are in doubt on how to support Muslims, ask them what they need. I have been inundated with people asking me how they feel, and responding each time is emotionally daunting. I appreciate people who ask me what I need instead. For example, a good friend of mine regularly asks if I needed to talk. As a result, I was able to give her a call whenever I feel overwhelmed. Similar to any community that is grieving, there are no prescriptive ways to support Muslims. They are diverse, they have varied needs and they heal in different ways. Find out what they need to heal.

Making friends across differences shouldn’t be hinged upon tragedies, but non-Muslim Canadians can leverage these moments to undo the ignorance at the root of Islamophobia. Don’t wait for another tragedy to act.

Shazlin Rahman is a Malaysian-born and Toronto-based writer, social justice advocate and stakeholder engagement specialist at the Inspirit Foundation.

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