Muslim misconceptions: The everyday Islamophobia facing Canadians
The accused gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, had a reputation for expressing support for far right and nationalist ideologies on social media. The shooting that left six dead may be an extreme version, but there are everyday occurrences of discrimination that Muslim Canadians face.
Mariam Nouser’s daily commute turned nasty one day in 2014, when a stranger demanded to know why she was wearing a hijab.
The Ryerson University student said she was on Toronto’s public transit system when a woman told her to go home, pulled her hijab, and spat on her.
“I was scared because I had never experienced that,” said Nouser.
“She was telling me to go back to where I came from when she was doing that — I was born and raised in Toronto.”
The engineering student was so shocked, she didn’t talk about it for weeks. She also stopped wearing the hijab.
“The fact that I was attacked in that situation made me question, am I ready to wear the hijab?” said Nouser.
“I took it off for about six months to really collect my thoughts and practice my faith again and find strength in myself in a way that I didn’t have to be scared, and found strength in myself to wear it again.”
Nouser, who is president of the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association, said that while the discrimination isn’t always so glaring, she deals with misconceptions and stereotypes on a near-daily basis.
“Microaggressions come into play. How people look at me, how people can dismiss me just because I’m a Muslim woman. It’s the way I’m living.”
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That Muslim women are meek is the No. 1 assumption faced by Mona Ismaeil, who runs her online store and blog, Modern Hijab, from Edmonton.
“She’s going to be timid, not open, not confident to ask for what she wants,” said Ismaeil.
“This stigma that we have to ask our husbands for permission for everything, that we’re sort of submissive.”
Born and raised in Canada, Ismaeil said it’s often assumed she’s an immigrant.
Misunderstanding surrounding the wearing of hijabs and other traditional coverings is another constant battle. It’s a woman’s choice, Ismaeil said, and that includes not wearing any coverings at all.
“Lots of people judge stuff like that based on the culture they grew up in, too. Your freedom is to expose as much of your body as you want, my freedom is to cover as much of my body as I want.”
The association of Islam with terrorism is the most alarming misconception for Kazi Rahman, president of Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association in Halifax.
“One of the biggest is that Islam promotes terrorism,” said Rahman. “It simply doesn’t, it’s a religion of love.”
“Islam says that killing an innocent human is like killing the whole mankind … Islam at any point doesn’t promote any terrorism.”
Muslims live their lives pretty much like everyone else, Ismaeil and Rahman agree.
“We like shopping, we like going to movies, we like being active, we like doing things with our kids, we like to travel, we like to try different things, eat different foods,” Ismaeil said.
And if you’re curious about the culture, just ask.
“We are a loving and compassionate people just like everybody else. There is nothing to be afraid [of.] If you have any questions about Islam, just ask us,” said Rahman.
‘Islam means peace’
There are more than a million Muslims in Canada, and according to Pew Research more than 1.6 billion around the world. Islam is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity. Pew Research expects Canada’s Muslim population to nearly triple by 2030.
“Islam means peace. So that’s a big part of our — the essence of — our faith,” said Ismaeil. “The other thing is really just being respectful of people. No matter what, who they are, where they come from, that we treat them with respect. That nobody is better than another.”
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While the Muslim population grows, acceptance has wavered. A 2013 poll found that more than half (54 per cent) of Canadians viewed Islam “unfavourably.” A 2016 poll also found that 54 per cent of Canadians held an unfavourable opinion of Muslims.
Hate crimes against Muslim-Canadians more than doubled over a three-year span, statistics revealed last year.
Then on Friday, a telltale sign of a swiftly shifting political landscape: U.S. President Donald Trump introduced a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.
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Sunday’s attack in Quebec City has prompted vigils across the country.
But it’s not enough to mourn. It’s time to face the reality that Islamophobia is thriving, said Samer Majzoub, Canadian Muslim Forum president.
“We have to be honest about this. Islamophobia is rising and has been rising for so long,” Majzoub told Global News Monday.
“We don’t have to hide this. We have been screaming loudly to say, ‘Islamophobia exists.’ It should not be denied.”
— With files from Rachel Lau, Alexa Maclean and Nicole Bogart
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.