Muslims across Canada are marking the second Ramadan during the pandemic.
The month is considered a time to practice kindness and patience. Muslims are asking the same of every other Canadian. The past year has been a frightening one for many victims of racist remarks and violent attacks.
Since December 2020, there have been a number of physical attacks against Muslim women in Edmonton and Calgary.
Last month, an Edmonton, Alta., family was the target of road rage. Edmonton police said a male driver made profane gestures to a woman wearing a hijab who was in the front passenger seat of a different vehicle.
“The accused male then began speeding up and slowing down erratically next to the complainant’s van, before eventually causing a minor collision between the two vehicles,” police said in a news release.
Police said it was alleged religious slurs were uttered to the family.
“I still can’t believe that is the Alberta I grew up in,” said Dany Assaf, a Toronto lawyer and author who was raised in Edmonton, “because the Alberta I grew up in was one where if you worked hard and gave back, you were an Albertan. Period.
“It profoundly disturbs me because of how un-Canadian it is.”
Assaf, 51, said like many other Canadian kids, he grew up playing hockey and learned to “say please and thank you and stand in line“– the title of Assaf’s newly published book.
The biography unfolds four generations of a Muslim family in Canada and “one man’s story of what makes Canada special and how to keep it that way.”
Assaf’s great-grandparents immigrated to Alberta in the 1920s from Lebanon. They helped establish the first mosque in Canada, the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton.
“How can people who have been here for over 100 years be the other? It’s illogical, it doesn’t make sense!
“People think the west is like redneck land. I said, ‘No it isn’t. It is the place of opportunity.'”
It’s not just Alberta. Other parts of the country have recounted disturbing stories of racism.
Last month, in Surrey, BC, a family said their daughter was called a terrorist while in a grocery store.
In January, a group of Muslim students in Saskatoon, SK, were victims of a racist attack during an online ceremony to remember the 2017 Quebec mosque shootings.
Irfan Chaudhry, a hate crimes researcher and director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity at MacEwan University, said it’s difficult to say if the pandemic has spurred more hate. He does think the incubation of ideas online and personal “filter bubbles” during COVID has had an impact.
Chaudhry pointed to the heightened awareness surrounding racial discrimination after George Floyd was killed, but said Canada historically swept “racism and racial bias and racial discrimination under the rug and always saying, ‘Well it’s happening in the States, it’s not that bad here.'”
Chaudhry said it’s critical for Canadians to come to terms with bigotry and racism in our own communities, and to learn how to react.
“When no one intervenes, that silence almost gets perceived as approval.”
Personal safety should always be considered before you step in, but Chaudhry said an immediate reaction isn’t the only option.
Nor is calling the police.
“If the crime is there, absolutely,” said Chaudhry, “but if it’s not crime-related we can’t just download it on to police because that’s where you get that disconnect in terms of police doing everything and the community is feeling like the police did nothing. I think that’s a little bit unfair in that context because, what can those outside of a policing context do to address hate and bigotry and discrimination in our communities?”
Chaudhry implored the public to learn how and where to report racism.
For example, if you’re on transit, tell the bus driver. If you’re in a store, send an email to head office and question how the company is committed to training staff to deal with certain situations.
For families, Chaudhry recommended age-appropriate conversations.
“You may not have all the answers at that time but I think at least acknowledging it is the first step in addressing it in a meaningful way,” Chaudhry said.
“So you as the parent, that’s your teaching moment.”
Assaf, who also founded the annual Fast in the 6 event in Toronto, ON, with his wife, Lisa, to share in the tradition of an Iftar dinner during Ramadan, urged all Canadians to resist extremist voices filled with hate, whether in person or hiding behind social media.
“It gives everybody a megaphone, but is every voice really defining Canada?
“Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean it’s meaningful.”