Students and Muslims in Durham Region, and across the country are devastated after an act of Islamophobia at a local school.
It happened in Courtice, Ont., where community leaders say a group of boys contributed in disrespecting and destroying a Qur’an during an education class about the religion.
The act is being condemned across the board. Gumaa Gumaa, the Imam at the Al Rayan Islamic Centre in Courtice, says it doesn’t just impact the students.
“It is not hurting Muslims only in Clarington and Durham, it’s hurting Muslims all over Canada,” he said.
This comes after students at Courtice Secondary School say the Qur’an, their central religious text of Islam, was desecrated by other peers last Friday. Grade 11 students Alaa Gehani and Ayesha Iqbal were in disbelief.
“They took the copies of the Qur’an and they disrespected it in so many ways,” said Gehani.
“They put it in the back of their pants and ripped it and tore it apart. It was basically damaged.”
Perhaps what was most upsetting to them was the pair helped put together an education session for their fellow students about the religion following acts of Islamophobia at the school.
After getting frustrated at the lack of knowledge about their beliefs, they took it upon themselves to gather several Qur’an texts to explain to peers its importance.
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“They took a video of it, they were smiling and laughing in the video,” said Iqbal.
“I feel like they knew the importance of the Qur’an. But they still did that, in spite of that.”
Gehani says roughly two to three students took part in the act, even after they explained the relevance of the book.
“Seeing how people were proudly damaging that book, something that’s important to us, it broke our hearts,” said Gehani.
What’s worrisome for the two is the fact this isn’t the first time they’ve dealt with issues, either. Gehani claims teachers are also misinforming students about the faith.
“We also had teachers showing false information about Islam, showing ISIS and claiming this is the Muslim faith,” she says.
Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board, which the school falls under, has also condemned the acts. Although they won’t detail how the students involved were punished, superintendent of education, Jamila Maliha, says they are working towards solutions to repair relationships.
“We have been working very closely with the principal and the Muslim Students Association to repair the harm that was caused,” she says.
The superintendent is also responsible for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion for the school board.
“We value all identities and are resolute in our commitment to ensure a safe and caring learning and teaching environment,” she says.
Gehani and Iqbal say at least one student was suspended from the incident, but they found out because they claim he was bragging about doing it.
“My friends who were in one of his classes say he proudly announced that he was suspended, that he got suspended,” Gehani says.
Maliha says they are taking the incident very seriously and do not tolerate acts of discrimination of any kind. Shafin Shah, president of the Muslim Student Association at the school, says it’s disappointing — but they will forge ahead.
“It’s not something that we’re going to let stop us,” says Shah. “We’re going to use this as a chance to educate people. Because often times people are afraid of what they don’t know of.”
The Muslim community has come together to support the students, but members of the local mosque say it’s actions like this that set back years of progress.
“Some individual incidents like this. It just brings things backwards,” says Ahmad Mokheamer with the Al Rayan Islamic Centre.
“The school board has work to do there. Not only Muslims, but all minorities. They need to feel like they are included,” he says.
The school board says they have scheduled meetings to engage with community leaders and repair the harm done.
The students involved say it just pushes them more to educate their peers about the religion and rise above the hate.