SHAFAQNA – A multi-faith, multicultural gathering in Nathan Phillips Square on Thursday was meant to show that, despite hate crimes against Muslims, the best way to respond was with love.
For Farheen Khan, Christmas Eve this year was about defiance.
Or, in her words, about “spreading joy.”
Khan organized a multi-faith, multicultural gathering in Nathan Phillips Square on Thursday in the wake of recent hate crimes committed against Muslims, following the Paris attacks.
“This is our opportunity to show that love is what we’re going to respond with,” she told the crowd of about 30, huddled in a circle in front of the Christmas tree in front of City Hall. “Hatred is not an option.”
The small gathering included members of the Sikh, Jamaican, Muslim and First Nations communities, among others. Its goal was to rectify misconceptions about Muslims and join different communities in the face of what they say are groups creating divides.
In the wake of the attacks and recent hate crimes against Muslims across the world, Khan, a writer and anti-Islamophobia activist, created a blog and hashtag called #MuslimsActually, which shared positive stories about Muslims.
Christmas Eve, she said, was symbolic “to bring the point home that Muslims are already part of the Canadian fabric,” noting she had also experienced gender-based Islamophobia.
Hafsa Siddiqui, 13, made 16 scarves out of fleece fabric with her sister and mother, Farina Siddiqui, who was the event’s master of ceremonies, to hand out to participants and homeless people.
“Me and my sisters stayed up all night,” she said with a hint of excitement, adding that she couldn’t wait to hand them out. “We’re all very passionate about this.”
Her mother, Farina, addressed the group a little later, listing Muslim values and noting that “taking away a life is like taking the life out of humanity.”
Seven people, including Khan, addressed the small crowd, saying they wished for unity and stood against “politics of fear,” as one of them, peace activist Jesse-Blue Forrest, said.
Assia Maameri, who was the last one to speak, said she wanted to share her personal story.
When she came to Canada in 2002, she said, many of her friends urged her to stop wearing her hijab, that it would be easier for her to find a job that way. “I said, ‘Why? I am a good Muslim and I didn’t,” Maameri said, adding that she went on to get a job, teaching French to diplomats and politicians. She faced verbal physical attacks for her faith outside of work, “but I never wanted to take my scarf off,” she told the Star after her talk.
The circle broke off after the speeches with a “Merry Christmas” cheer.
One woman, who had joined halfway through, said she’d been curious as she walked by.
“This is just what I needed,” she told the group.