The Cure For Islamophobia

Although Islamophobia is a real concern in Canada, there are also many instances of
acceptance and integration.

By Ibrahim Parkar | Featured image via iStock

Bouquets of flowers and tealight candles dressed the concrete sidewalk of a street in London,
Ontario following the June 2020 killing of four members of a Muslim family. The perpetrator of the attack was “motivated by anti-Muslim hate” according to London police. Their lives were
stolen from them when a 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman drove his pickup truck into the Afzaal-Salman family who were out for a walk in the evening. Veltman then drove off the sidewalk
leaving only nine-year-old Fayez as the injured, sole survivor.

According to Gallup (an American analytics and advisory company), Canada is rated the best
country in the world for welcoming immigrants. But is the country only welcoming on paper?
What other violent events have occurred based around Islamophobia? Where does this hatred of
Islam and Muslims stem from? The experiences of the Muslims living in this country vary
regarding this topic. There is both good and bad of course, with some communities and
individuals becoming victims of hatred. But there is also support, unity and meaningful
connections between Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada.

Unfortunately, Islamophobia in Canada is not a rare occurrence. Every few months, a headline
takes the news about an attack fueled by hatred.

In January 2017, a gunman named Alexandre Bissonnette entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural
Centre and opened fire on worshippers in the mosque. The attack left six dead, and five injured.
One survivor, Aymen Darbali, had rushed the attacker, and was shot seven times in the process
as he tried to protect the other worshippers. The attack has left him paralyzed in a wheelchair due
to a bullet entering his spine.

In an Al Jazeera article five years after the attack, Darbali says he still fears that he may be
targeted again. “I can’t even close my fingers. If someone attacks us, I can’t act, I can’t do
anything. I can’t protect myself. I can’t protect my family,” says Darbali.

Fear of being a victim of violence runs through the minds of Muslims often. This fear is
significantly increased when they have been personally affected by it before.

In a search warrant by London Police, hate-related material was found on Veltman’s electronic
devices. Additionally, it was discovered that Veltman was regularly accessing the dark web, a
side of the internet that is notorious for extremist or illegal content and communication.

York University Professor Thabit Abdullah teaches Islamic history. He believes an
Islamophobe’s strongest argument against the Muslim community is that they “do not want to
integrate into Canadian society.” Abdullah believes that if you show an Islamophobe that
Muslims are indeed integrated into society, their entire argument falls apart.

“Muslims are eager to be seen as Canadian and embrace the country,” he says. “If you could
show an Islamophobe how alike you truly are to other Canadians, and how much you care for
your community, then their hate would lose its purpose, wouldn’t you agree?”

In May 2015, the St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mississauga was a victim of what was then
assumed to be a hate crime in which its statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized by a young Muslim
man. This charge was later dropped as a hate crime as the perpetrator of the crime was revealed
to be a schizophrenic patient. However, his crimes led to an inspiring local story of how Dr.
Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre acted upon the principles of his religion: Islam.

“When I heard the news of [the church] I felt bad because you know that could happen to our
mosque,” he says. “So I went and visited them. Then I went back to our community and said
‘Let’s do something.’ So on Jummah (Friday prayer, a day of congregation for Muslims) people
gave [money] and I signed the cheque and I took it to the church.”

Slimi had raised $5,000. But his charitable work had not begun there. He has been serving the
Muslim community in Canada for the last 25 years. From a variety of interfaith work, to simply
serving the community in which he lives, Slimi is constantly working to help others. “We help
anybody who needs help,” he says.

The Sayeda Khadija Centre is also part of a larger organization, both founded by Slimi. The
Faith of Life Network is the road through which Slimi does all his community work, events and
fundraisers. He says, “There is a strong relationship with Catholics in general, including bishops,
rabbis, Jewish communities, Christians from different churches. We have a very strong
relationship with many faith groups.”

In addition to interfaith work, Slimi also works with the Mississauga Food Bank through this
network. The Centre has just raised 11,000 pounds of food for them this past November, as well
as $5,000. “We do this every year,” he says.

“We raise money, cook food, we give back. We’re a part of this society. We can’t just take. We
take and give. It’s not about ‘what is my religion?’ It’s ‘what can I do for my fellow human?’
Give charity. Feed the hungry.”

Shelita Roopchan is the community partnerships coordinator at the Mississauga Food Bank. She
is “responsible for managing [their] community partnerships portfolio, that includes working
with local state organization, service class community, and really helping them with contracts or
fundraisers,” she says, “[and] for developing a community engagement strategy.”

Roopchan has worked with Slimi for the past two years at the food bank. She says that the
earliest dates she has for the Faith of Life Network is 2015 and that they have donated thousands
of pounds of food over the years. Additionally, Roopchan says her experiences with Muslim
faith groups and mosques “counteract” Islamophobia.

“I feel like [Islamophobia] is baseless. [Islamophobes] look at the actions of a few individuals
that are not reflective of an entire community. The interactions I’ve had with our Muslim
community have shown me that they are so compassionate, kind and loving. This xenophobic
narrative is counteracting to this.”

Many Integrated Muslim Communities

Shalimar Islamic Centre, located in Mississauga, is a housing complex with a mosque centered
as the communal ground for its residents. Huzaifah Patel, a resident of this community has lived
there his 22 years.

“Shalimar is an Islamic community which welcomes everyone. Considering we have a mosque
in the middle, we see a lot of Muslims,” says Patel. “However, we also have non-Muslims of all
other religions that are happy living with us.”

About 25% of the population is non-Muslim. Patel says he’s always felt there were no conflicts
in identity with his neighbours. “Our families are not necessarily close, but me as well as some
of their kids back [when I was young], we’d always play together. There was pretty much no
difference between us.” Patel also says that “during Ramadan (the month of fasting from sunrise
to sunset for Muslims) we always send food for our neighbours even though they do not
participate in Ramadan. They also send food to us when it is time to break our fasts.”

Although he was born into an immigrant Muslim family in Canada, Patel is well integrated into
Canadian society and culture. He checks off many of the things which may label someone
“Canadian.”

“I love doing the typical Canadian sports, I’m a huge Toronto Raptors fan, huge Maple Leafs
fan, and a baseball fan for the Blue Jays. I also love the food in Canada,” says Patel. “[This
country] is a melting pot of all types of regions, countries and ethnicities. I love going down to
the Square One area and getting all types of food, which is what Canada is all about.”

Professor Abdullah’s thoughts on Muslim integration to Canadian society come into play as we
can tell there are examples that support it.

Patel says “I’m no different than [a non-Muslim is.] We all enjoy our things; I just have a
different religion than you. That’s pretty much it. Like everything you do as a Canadian, that you
love about Canada, I, as a Muslim Canadian, love pretty much the exact same stuff. There is no
real difference between us.”

Unfortunately, not every Muslim has had a positive experience with non-Muslims as a child.
Ahmad, 22, whose last name he requested not to be mentioned, faced discrimination in a
majority white school in Ontario.

“I faced discrimination because I had a different name. I was often called Ahmad the terrorist, I
was poked fun of for having an Islamic name because the school was majority Christian.”
The name “Ahmad the terrorist” may have stemmed from a ventriloquist character called
“Achmed the Dead Terrorist” created by comedian Jeffrey Dunham in which he would use a
puppet skeleton with bushy eyebrows and a Turban to mock fighters in conflicts in the Middle
East.

Ahmad moved to Canada from Syria in 2006 when he was six. He says a lot of the hate he
received was because of the stereotype that all Muslims were terrorists because of 9/11. He also
says that his family was discriminated against. “My sisters were harassed for wearing the hijab
and dressing modestly during university,” he says.

Ahmad believes that Islamophobia exists in “homogenous communities where the immigrant
population is really low and diversity isn’t as common.”

But the division in this country is not as strong as its unity. Nearly a million dollars were raised
for the Azfaal family, specifically for the boy who was left without his parents, grandmother and
sister. Evidently, Canadians of all backgrounds and faiths came together to try and give this boy
a brighter future.

Additionally, Derbali, the man who rushed the attacker in Quebec was given $310,000 for his
heroic actions on that frightening day. In 2018, a year after the attack, donations from people in
Quebec, across Canada and the world were given to him in a ceremony to commemorate his
bravery.

“I am proof that when we show love, the world will show love in return,” said Derbali.

However, Islamophobia still runs in a chunk of Canadians and it creates an outrage when violent
actions result from it. Just this March, a mosque in Mississauga was the target of another would-be attack.

On March 19, around seven in the morning, Mohammad Omar entered the Dar Al-Tawheed
Islamic Centre with a can of bear spray while brandishing a hatchet. He attempted to use the bear
spray but was quickly pinned down by the worshippers in the mosque. The worshippers had
minor injuries but thankfully nobody was seriously harmed. The attacker had other weapons and
rope packed in his bag. Peel Police believe that his attack was a “hate-motivated incident.”

With headlines like these becoming more frequent over the years, Muslims fear congregating
together to avoid being the victim of an attack. Angie Hindy, who is the mosque’s administrator,
mentioned in a CBC article that the members of the mosque were “shocked and saddened.” She
also says that “it is also upsetting because Ramadan is coming up and that is a high season for
mosques,” fearing that attacks like this may discourage Muslims from coming to the centre.

Slimi believes Islamophobia is a “big issue in our society, no doubt.” But he also believes that it
is propagated by the “ignorant ones.”

“The cure to Islamophobia is compassion and spreading knowledge and patience. Patience is the
key. Everything takes time to grow. Knowledge needs to be communicated and acts of kindness
can change the world. People don’t want to do that because it takes too long. But they don’t
realize that things that take too long, cook better.”

Hatred for Muslims and Islam may not always be acts of violence. It can be a dirty look to a
woman wearing a hijab. It could be exclusion or bullying of a child with a non-Christian name.
A snarky comment, a small mistreatment. The alienation of a man with brown skin and a beard.
But all of this stems from a way of thinking through ignorant eyes.

Slimi says “Do to others as you would like them to do to you. We are all brothers and sisters in
humanity. We should never in the name of religion look down upon another.”

A Muslim should act on the principles of their religion, with kindness and helping their
community in any which way they can. Through actions, the Muslim community in Canada may
find a way to win over ignorant minds. From there one can hope that overtime, slowly but surely,
Islamophobia will be a term of the past so that we as Canadians can truly say that Islamophobia
has been cured.

Freelance writer Ibrahim Parker can be reached at ibrahimparkar1999@gmail.com

One thought on “The Cure For Islamophobia

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