A Book that Helped Me with My Anger (On Reading The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah)

 

The first time I read a novel with Muslim characters, I was 21, and the book was “Does My Head Look Big in This?” by Randa Abdel-Fattah. The main character was sixteen years old, and even though the drama of being in high school and being the only person in a hijab was something I had experienced several years previously and had largely processed by then, it was affirming to read about a character who looked like me.

It was a lesson that women in hijab have stories worth telling.
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On Creating Environments Where Islamophobia Cannot Grow

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Spaces of light

Today, six humans, six Muslims, were killed in a mosque in Quebec while praying their evening prayers. Many more were injured.

And in learning that news, my heart broke.

It broke thinking of families losing loved ones, thinking of people leaving their home to peacefully pray, and then never coming home again. It broke knowing that for those who lost loved ones tonight, and for Canadian Muslims who heard about these murders tonight,  Islamophobia is a part of their lives. Islamophobia has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been visibly Muslim. In the seventeen years of wearing a headscarf, there have been countless unwelcome conversations about my background, countless questions laced with gender stereotyping and assumptions of oppression, many incidents of being called a terrorist at random.

I am lucky.

When I was fifteen, our local mosque burned to the ground through an arson attack. Yesterday, a mosque burned down in Southern Texas. Today, lives were cut short in Quebec. In the US, people from predominately Muslim countries are being banned from entering the country, and across the country, people are organizing.

Organizing, because Islamophobia is enabled by everyday environments, by government policy, by unchallenged moments. Islamophobia is emboldened by moments when harassment takes place, and nobody stands up to challenge aggression. Islamophobia is emboldened by organizational environments and workplaces in which faith is tolerated, but no resources are devoted to making the workplace a faith friendly place. Islamophobia festers when Islam is treated as a dirty word and faith is a solely private affair that holds no relation to the overall operations of an organization, neighbourhood or city. Organizational and institutional indifference and/or Islamophobia sends a message that faith, and those who hold faith identities do not matter. In such a context, hate is allowed to grow.

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Take Aways from the National Council of Canadian Muslims Vancouver Leadership Training

Science World, Vancouver BC

Ramadan is a time of re-centering oneself, of getting re-energised spiritually so you have the capacity to create change with yourself and the world beyond during the rest of the year. Yesterday, as I spent some time reflecting on the things I want to work on in the next several months, I came across my notes from a day-long leadership and media relations course the National Council of Canadian Muslims (at that time known as CAIR-CAN ) did in Vancouver called Rise to the Challenge in February 2013. There was much I took away from the day, and I thought I’d share some thoughts and key points here.

Firstly, the training was a reminder that there is so much work that needs to be done in Canada to protect our civil liberties and human rights. As we discussed security certificates, changes to laws that are alarming from a civil liberties perspective, incidents of Islamophobia and much more, we were reminded that apathy and inaction is not an option. It is not enough to simply passively consume news, one must develop the knowledge and skills needed to engage productively in conversations occuring in the public sphere.

And on a personal note, I was surprised to learn during training about the frequency of conflicts in Canada around the development of mosques. Emphasizing that point, the day of the course there was a talk in scheduled in Ottawa by a planning lawyer who had written a book about how to use planning legislation to stop your local mosque from getting planning approval. My Masters research at the University of Toronto was about deconstructing racist and Islamophobic discourse that surrounds the development of mosques, and this course was a reminder that though my project is over, stereotypes about mosques are being continually produced. For me, this means that I need to keep working in this area of research and make practical contributions.

Below, some of my take-aways from the training.

1)  Know yourself. Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses and know what you need to work on, and how you can best contribute.

2) Know your challenger. Be prepared to counter Islamophobia. Knowledge = power.

3) Remember the words of our green teacher: “No! Try not! Do or do not! There is no try!” ~Yoda.

4) From an Islamic standpoint, when doing a task, any knowledge required to do that task is obligatory.

5) Important to act with justice. If asking others for fair treatment of Muslims, need to extend treatment to others.

6)Important to have tawakkul (reliance on Allah). You have to pray, but you have to tie your camel as well.

7) In 1997, the Runnymede Trust (in the UK) defined Islamophobia. In part, Islamophobia is when Islam and Muslims are seen as hermetically sealed, separate, not able to borrow from other traditions and contributions of others. Other components of that definition of Islamophobia are detailed by the Runnymede Trust.

8) Often you’ll see statements made that are thinly veiled Islamophoba, where someone will say: “Not all Muslims are like this, but…” (and then proceed with an Islamophobic statement)

9) Also will see that many people reject criticisms of liberalism and modernity that come from Muslims. We’re in a moment at present when Islamophobia is almost deemed to be normal, natural, and unproblematic. Often subtle and coded and taken for granted as part of normal discourse.

10) Islamophobia can be physical assault and/or verbal assault which has emotional and psychological impacts.

11) Events in the US have Canadian implications.  US-CAN border is very porous, and along with the flow of goods, ideas and concepts flow as well. There is a cross pollination of ideas in public discourse.

12) Often see Islamophobia in certain messages: Examples of this include:

  • Where are the moderate Muslims?
  • Muslims are embracing a victim mentality
  • Stealth jihad -Muslims are building a mosque!
  • Attempts to label a group as foreign

Reminders:

1) Be hopeful! Some of the sahabas (Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) who were initially most vociferous opponents of Islam became its most staunch supporters

2) Important to develop good media relations skills and recognise that your faith calls you to care about issues that extend beyond yourself. Islam calls Muslims to speak out against many forms of injustice. On animal rights. On issues related to other religious communities. Have in the Islamic tradition stories of Prophets caring about the wellbeing of ants.

3) Have patience. There are examples in the seerah (life of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) standing up to speak to his community, and his uncle mocking him. And the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t say anything. He was the most eloquent of people, he had the best speech, and he understood Islam the most, and yet he didn’t say anything. So there are times when it is better to stay silent and not react. We too often have a knee – jerk reaction.

4. Don’t forget about humour and satire. There are great examples of this being used. (The MyJihad hashtag for example, the MuslimRage hashtag). Something that should be explored more often.

5. Build coalitions. Valuable to engage in coalition building when there is an issue that intersects with many different groups. When we stand up for rights of someone else, we stand up for our collective rights. We need to stand up for rights that matter to all of us as Canadians.

6. Need to be aware of all the media in your neighbourhood. Don’t be a media spokesperson who never follows the news.

7. Have a communications plan. Be prepared. If disaster strikes, no time to prepare a communications strategy then.

Don’t:

1) Forget to get back to people
2) Avoid the issues. That’s failing to respond when response is warranted.
3) If you’re not a scholar, don’t be a scholar. Be a citizen.

Take home point:. Have to reclaim your narrative. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. You need to write your book. You need to write your articles, your blog posts.

Resources

  1. Fear Inc by Wajahat Ali
  2. Gallup Study: Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think
  3. Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders
  4. Hope and Despair by Mona Mazigh
  5. Tower of Babble by Richard Stursberg
  6. The Media Gaze: Representations of Diversities in Canada by Augie Fleras