Muslims Reflect On Racism, Islamophobia And Safety In Canada

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SHAFAQNA – It’s been a week since the tragic terror attack at a Quebec City mosque, which took the lives of six innocent Muslim men. And as Muslims all over the country continue to grasp the current state of Islamophobia in Canada, many are also reflecting on what it means to be a Muslim today.

As issues of safety rise to the forefront, Muslim Canadians are not only more aware of how they feel on Canadian soil, but they stress one act of violence is not reflective of what it means to be a follower of Islam.

“Please do not draw conclusions on the majority of Muslims based on what a group of criminals who proclaim to be Muslims are doing,” 29-year-old Mostafa El-Diwany tells The Huffington Post Canada.

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“I think the most important thing is to be pro-active, not reactive, in seeking knowledge in general. One pro-active initiative can be visiting a mosque (#VisitMyMosque) [or] talking to trustworthy Muslims who we know.”

Below, Canadians share their experiences of racism, Islamophobia, fears and also their messages of hope of how all Canadians can live in unity.

Ramsha Khan
A 20-year-old student at Ryerson University from Toronto.
reshma khan

Have you ever experienced any racist comments, insults or remarks because of your religion?
I have never been discriminated against for my religion. Perhaps it’s because I don’t carry any physical traits that a stereotypical Muslim would have. If I wore a hijab or a burqa, without a doubt, something would happen. All I have to show is my name. However, this doesn’t dismiss the fact that discrimination, indirect or not, is happening to fellow Muslims in Toronto.

Do you feel safe as a Muslim in Canada?
It isn’t that I don’t feel safe in Canada, it’s just that I suddenly became more conscious of the fact that there are people out there in this country that are Islamophobic to a terrorist’s extent.

Mostafa El-Diwany
A 29-year-old family medicine resident doctor from Montreal.
mostafa eldiwany

Why do you think Islamophobia exists in Canada?
Canada is open and welcoming; the recent events have confirmed that through the outpouring of empathetic gestures from all communities. However, even our loving Canadian society is not immune to what fear can provoke in the hearts of people. I think a phobia is a response to the unknown. I do not blame the person who may feel threatened. It takes a great level of intellectual curiosity and open mindedness to go beyond what the media feeds, and to question the discourse of calculated political figures.

How can we as Canadians tackle Islamophobia?
To me, the strongest instrument of change in facing these very real and important challenges, such as tackling Islamophobia or questions pertaining to ethnic or religious identity, is to return to our humanity; to realize that we are all made of the same fabric and have common traits and aspirations towards love and growth; that we flee pain and seek comfort; that we share universal values and principles; that our commonalities supersede our peculiarities; that we need to be comforted when scared and that dialogue holds the key to the solution.

Aniqah Zowmi
A 21-year-old student from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
aniqah zowmi

How long have you identified as a Muslim?
I was born Muslim and continue to identify as Muslim. I particularly remember shaping my identity in the wake of 9/11. I was five when 9/11 happened and it was the dichotomy between media sensationalism around “Islamic terrorism” and my internal compass as a Muslim that put me in a position to define my identity by my own experiences and beliefs.

Do you feel safe as a Muslim in Canada today?
This past week has been immensely eye-opening, and I would say that despite the less-than-ideal circumstances leading up to the past week, the support and solidarity from the world has been incredible.

I have seen candlelight vigils for the victims of the Quebec terrorist, witnessed signs of protest that claim that “Muslims are our own,” had people reach out to me personally to express their outrage and offers to stand in solidarity with me, and friends let me know they will continue to fight to ensure I feel safe in this country.

Lali Mohamed
A 29-year-old event manager from Toronto.
lali mohamed

Have you ever experienced any acts of racism?
Unfortunately, my life has been underscored with sustained moments of anti-black Islamophobia. As a Somali, I come from a community that is constantly reeling from the humiliation and harassment that young people encounter simply accessing public services; the contemptible routine carding of black people; the deadly practice of shooting the mentally ill instead of de-escalating situations; and the ever-increasing surveillance of our communities.

Why do you think Islamophobia exists in Canada?
It’s imperative to speak back to the myth that Canada is a country that is “open and welcoming.” I mean, you only have to look to our history to displace this lie: slavery, residential schools, the Chinese Head Tax, the Journey Stipulation Act; the refusal to take in Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany; and the destruction of indigenous and black communities. Islamophobia exists in this country because it’s a country that hasn’t worked through its very long history of racist and genocidal violence.

Sania Ahmed
A 24-year-old from Burnaby, B.C.
sania ahmed

What are some of the biggest frustrations you have after seeing attacks on Muslims?
It’s just tough and painful. Things like that situate Muslims as “others,” as not belonging here even though it is our home.

How do you think Canadians can educate themselves to understand what the religion means?
Canadians can educate themselves by engaging in discussions with Muslims, visiting a mosque, to talk to actual Muslims. We are happy to talk to you and educate you about what Islam means! I would rather someone ask me a question than hold onto a faulty assumption.

Atifa Rasoul
Rasoul works in student affairs for an Ontario post-secondary institution. She is from Mississauga, Ont.
atifa rasoul

What are some of the biggest frustrations you have after seeing attacks on Muslims?
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Quebec Mosque shooting an act of terrorism, I was pleasantly surprised. Finally, a politician calling a spade a spade.

Do you feel safe as a Muslim in Canada today?
The details of the attack are terrifying: in a mosque, during prayers. This could have happened at any mosque that I attend. But I know that Alexandre Bissonnette’s actions are not reflective of Canada. Yes, Islamophobia exists, but by no means do I think that these attacks are indicative of the future.

But I am certainly more careful of my surroundings. I began taking notice and being vigilant in 2015, when more and more hijabis were being harassed and attacked. My sincere hope is that in these situations, someone will intervene.

Areej Haj
A 27-year-old case coordinator at Deloitte from Toronto.
areej haj

Have you ever experienced any racist comments, insults or remarks because of your religion? If so, what happened?
There was just one incident that took place mid-last year in a Toronto subway. I was waiting for the train and I was standing near a man that appeared to look mentally distraught. He came towards me and shouted, “Why are you dressed like that? What are you doing here?” then spat on my face. I froze for a second then the train door opened and I just entered the train.

To be honest, at first I was more disgusted that there was spit on my face and I was more concerned about wiping it off. Then when I sat down, I noticed a few people staring and that was it. I told my sister about it and she said I should’ve reported it, but I never did.

How do you think Canadians can educate themselves to understand what the religion means?
Don’t believe everything you read online. If you have any questions or concerns about Islam in general, don’t hesitate in visiting a mosque or Islamic centre.

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