On Sunday afternoon, a trailer was parked on Queen Street in downtown Fredericton with a slogan printed on all sides: “I am Muslim. Ask me anything.”
The trailer is part of a roving installation called Islam in Motion that gives Canadians a chance to interact with and ask questions about Islam in order to fight misconceptions about the faith.
“We wanted to meet and give the opportunity for Canadians to actually meet up with us and ask us any questions that they have,” said Imam Nabil Mirza.
It’s part of a cross-country program, with about 10 or so youth spending three days in New Brunswick.
Mirza said the group is trying to fight Islamophobia through education.
“The main objective of this campaign is to educate people. I think fear, hesitation, comes when you are ignorant about someone or something,” Mirza said.
Most of the participants travelling with the trailer are university students and are part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association.
Athar Tahir, 23, is about to start his last year of kinesiology at York University. He says he wanted to get involved with the program in response to Islamophobia he’s witnessed in Canada.
“It’s not all what you see on the other side of the world,” Tahir said.
“We’re very peaceful human beings, we’re very peaceful Muslims and we just want to showcase that.”
Just a week ago, Mohammed Benyoussef was attacked in a road rage incident in the Moncton area. Earlier this year a family of five was killed in London, Ont., when a man ran hit them with his truck. Police believe the attack to have been racially motivated.
Tahir says the reception in New Brunswick has been extremely welcoming, even though he wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
“The conversations that we’ve had, everybody was genuinely interested, and really happy that we’re spreading awareness,” he said.
“I think everybody realizes that Islamophobia is on the rise so they were really interested that we are out here spreading awareness and just trying to educate people about our message.”
It’s that face-to-face interaction that makes the program so special, Mirza says, and allows them to dispel misconceptions carried by people who have never met a Muslim person.
“Some people, whatever they know about Islam is what they hear,” Mirza said.
“When people come to us, they can read our facial expressions and what we say and it gives very positive feedback.”