Islamophobia in Canada | Islamic Relief Canada

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In Their Words Untold Stories of Islamophobia in Canada

IN THEIR WORDS: UNTOLD STORIES OF ISL AMOPHOBIA IN CANADA

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Acknowledgements Islamic Relief Canada would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the individuals who shared their personal experiences with our researchers. Recounting Islamophobic incidents and experiences of discrimination can be very difficult, and we truly appreciate each and every individual for having the strength to share their stories.

Lead Researcher and Author Miranda Gallo | Policy, Research and Advocacy Advisor Contributing Writers/Editors Mashaal Saeed | Communications Specialist Sanam Islam | Communications Manager Reyhana Patel | Head of Communications and Government Relations

© Islamic Relief Canada, 2022

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Table of Contents 4

Introduction

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Islamophobia FAQs

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Stories/Summaries Sanaa Aysha Saleha Aymen Noura Hamza Nabil Zahra Sonia Sara Sukaina

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Postscript

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Manifestations of Islamophobia in Canada & The Government’s Response

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What Can You Do to Respond to Islamophobia?

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Conclusion

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Appendix - IRC Recommendations to the Emergency National Summit on Islamophobia (2021)

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We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return

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As we release this report ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque attack, we would like to dedicate this piece to honour the memories of those who were killed, their loved ones and children surviving them, and the many others who have lost their lives and continue to be impacted by Islamophobia in Canada and around the world. In Islam, the concept of death is not considered the end of one’s life but rather the beginning of the final phase of one’s true journey. Though our physical bodies may perish, our spirits continue to to live on and are destined to return to their Creator in the hereafter. This belief is what holds us together in times of devastation, and the above prayer is most commonly used when someone passes away or at times of distress and calamity to bring peace and understanding. Through every trial, we must remind ourselves of the power of community and the strength in healing we can bring for one another when we stand together proud of our identity. We must also remember the power in our duas (prayers) and simultaneously be vocal and take action for positive change. Islamic Relief Canada will continue to pray for those who have been impacted by racism and discrimination, and work toward creating a safe world for everyone, inshallah (God willing).

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Introduction In June 2021, just weeks after celebrations marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a Muslim Canadian family was out for an evening stroll when they were targeted in a hate-motivated terrorist attack. Tragically, four family members were killed, leaving the youngest son as the lone survivor. Unfortunately, this was not the first violent Islamophobic attack to take place on Canadian soil. On January 29th, 2017, six Muslim men were killed and 19 more injured in a terrorist attack at a Quebec City mosque. In response to both these attacks, Islamic Relief Canada immediately dispatched teams on the ground to provide support for survivors, widows and orphans who lost loved ones. Since then, we have consistently been calling on federal and

Photo Credit: The Montreal Gazette

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provincial governments to immediately implement concrete measures to address and eradicate Islamophobia in Canada. In the wake of the London attack and increasing levels of Islamophobia in Canada, Islamic Relief Canada embarked upon “In Their Own Words: Untold Stories of Islamophobia in Canada” to hear from Canadians about their experiences with Islamophobia in an effort to better understand how this form of hatred manifests itself in Canada, to learn more about response and coping mechanisms, and to gauge opinion on governmental responses. Each story has its own unique set of circumstances and shows the various ways Islamophobia manifests itself in

Canada, ranging from discrimination at work and casual racism at the dinner table to discriminatory legislation and even physical attacks. Despite confronting overwhelming challenges as a result of Islamophobia, each person we spoke to showed resilience — often through a renewed devotion to their faith — as well as compassion, even in the face of ignorance. There is a strong sense amongst those we spoke to that human beings are intrinsically good, with an accompanying hope that through education, social action and government legislation, universal human values of love, peace and harmony will triumph over hatred and intolerance.


Islamophobia FAQs +

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Although there have been negative tropes in Western society surrounding Islam and Muslims since the Middle Ages — especially when used to justify the Crusades — the specific term “Islamophobia” dates from around the start of this century. However, the meaning and our understanding of the term continues to evolve over time. Our modern use of the term “Islamophobia” was first developed in a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report (UK), which defined it as an “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

Yes. While Muslims are not a race, Islamophobia is racism. Scientifically, no population is a race; Races are created by bundling together common features and mapping them onto a population. Resulting racial hierarchies treat outsiders as an inferior “Other.” As with racism — Muslims are conceptualized collectively as a distinctive and “other” group of people who are considered to have uniform and inherent characteristics that are perceived as backward, hostile and a threat to mainstream society.

No. Rational discourse and criticism is a very important tradition both within the Muslim faith, and has often been encouraged. The Quran itself says, “Do not debate with the People of Scripture except in the best manner…”

When did the term Islamophobia develop?

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What is a good working definition of Islamophobia? As defined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Islamophobia can be described as stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia leads to viewing Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

Is Islamophobia a type of racism?

As a form of racism, Islamophobia is closely linked to white supremacy, which seeks to maintain white dominance and privilege over other races and beliefs. Islamophobia is therefore related to other forms of racism and discrimination including antisemitism, anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-Indigenous racisms.

Does this mean any criticism of Islam is Islamophobic?

Rational discourse differs from Islamophobic expression in its terminology, manner and — most importantly — in its intention. The purpose of Islamophobic expression is to villify, discriminate and create hostility towards the Muslim community.

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Why do we need the term “Islamophobia?” Just as with antisemitism, sexism or racism, we need a term that gives a name to the broad spectrum of expressions given to Islamophobic feelings and behaviour. This is not only for the purposes of legislation and definition, but it is also to help people identify, analyze and change thought and response patterns that may have previously gone unnoticed even to oneself.

SOURCES https://bridge.georgetown.edu/about-us/what-is-islamophobia/ http://partnershipfornewamericans.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FAQ-on-Islamophobia-and-Muslim-Communities_2.2.17.pdf https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/myths-and-facts-about-muslim-people-and-islam https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/islamophobia-europe https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Islamophobia%20Report%202018%20FINAL.pdf https://mcb.org.uk//islamophobia/ https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf https://www.islamophobia-definition.com/ https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/human-rights-and-rental-housing-ontario-background-paper/appendix-glossary-terms

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In Their Own Words

Untold Stories of Islamophobia in Canada

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“We are resilient. We should be really proud of ourselves. People should know our stories and our history. We shouldn’t hide. It’s taken me my whole life to come to this conclusion.” SUKAINA


Sanaa* MONTREAL, QUEBEC In her mid-20s, Sanaa is a vibrant and outgoing young woman who has a passion for teaching both inside and outside the classroom. When you speak with Sanaa, you can see the sparkle in her eyes when she starts to get excited about teaching you something new or challenging your way of thinking. As a fairly new teacher who wears hijab in Quebec, life has not been easy for Sanaa, but she has bravely faced each day that comes her way with gratitude and thanksgiving. When asked about her experiences with Islamophobia, Sanaa firmly stated that she believes Islamophobia is getting worse in Quebec. “I’ve never felt so much Islamophobia in my life as in the past three years — and I was sitting at home during Covid — so that should say something. You realize there’s Islamophobia when people start to say they aren’t racist to preface a racist comment, harass you in public, ask you if you have any hair under your hijab, or when your coworker tells you they don’t want their daughter to wear the hijab because they don’t want her to experience the discrimination they see happening.” While Sanaa has had to endure many trials and tribulations related to Islamophobia, the most profound challenge she has had to face occurred this past year as a result of Bill 21. “I got hit by Bill 21 really hard. At the beginning of this year, I lost my job. I got called into the office, and was told that I had to remove my hijab to comply with Bill 21 regulations. I was outraged and so were the majority of my students, who vocally expressed their opposition to my removal. I tried in every way to negotiate with them, even explaining that I just like to wear a scarf on my head for fashion reasons — that it is not necessarily religious but just something I like to wear — but I was told it didn’t matter and that I was being fired for my beliefs.”

For me, this is me; I just happen to be a Muslim woman, I love my religion and am not planning on changing it on anybody’s terms. After months of being suspended and threatening to take the school board to court, I managed to find a loophole in my contract that enabled me to recently return to my position. But it was an extremely close call and I’ve learned that I can’t stay here. Canada is constantly telling us we can be ourselves as Muslims but then doesn’t do anything to protect us or defend us. Because of Bill 21, I am now taking foreign teaching exams and am even thinking about leaving Canada next year to teach abroad. It sucks that this happened and I’m scared — not for myself, because I managed to conquer this — but for others because not everyone can.” While Sanaa acknowledges that the federal government has offered many ostensibly kind words to the Muslim community, she sees these statements as formalities lacking any substance. “They are actively letting us suffer. So many organizations are trying to contest Bill 21, yet our government still refuses to intervene, saying it is not affecting anyone’s human rights when in reality there is so much mental, emotional, physical and financial damage being levied upon people for simply being who they want to be. It just sucks to know there is no one out there defending us. You feel as though you are walking alone because no one can understand what you are going through. But ultimately, I don’t want someone to feel bad for me. I want them to fight with me and for me.” Despite facing the prospect of being permanently unable to teach in the province in which she grew up, Sanaa exudes strength and courage that comes from her faith in God and the support she has received from her friends, colleagues and students. “You thank God for everything you go through. Even that which you hate,

because it can be good for you. This situation has taught me so much and I am so thankful for it.” Being thankful to God doesn’t, of course, mean that the perpetrators aren’t 100 percent in the wrong. Sanaa encourages anyone else who is facing similar challenges related to Bill 21 to use all their energy to fight back against this discrimination. She emphasizes the need to practice consistency, persistence and determination. “Be consistent with the fact that you are not backing down or letting go of this situation that has happened to you; be persistent in the fact that you are insisting this will not keep on happening, especially to those you care about; and practice determination, knowing you will get this done and you will overcome.”

*Note: Sanaa is a pseudonym given to protect the identity of the participant.

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“I got hit by Bill 21 really hard. At the beginning of this year, I lost my job. I got called into the office, and was told that I had to remove my hijab to comply with Bill 21 regulations. I was outraged and so were the majority of my students, who vocally expressed their opposition to my removal. I tried in every way to negotiate with them, even explaining that I just like to wear a scarf on my head for fashion reasons — that it is not necessarily religious but just something I like to wear — but I was told it didn’t matter and that I was being fired for my beliefs.” SANAA

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Aysha CALGARY, ALBERTA Aysha has lived in Calgary for over 20 years. While she doesn’t feel that Islamophobia has been a major driving force in her life, since coming to Canada she has experienced several incidents of Islamophobia, many of which are directly related to her decision to wear the hijab. “I started wearing the hijab in 2018. At my job, most of my co-workers were indifferent that I started it, but there was one woman in my department who gave me so much trouble over it. For months she made fun of me, telling me I was ‘backward’ and ‘oldfashioned.’ She kept asking if my family was forcing me to wear it, which wasn’t the case at all. It was my choice to start wearing it. She once went so far as trying to physically grab my hijab off my head. I pushed her away, and she told me I looked ugly in a hijab. The entire saga of Islamophobic abuse from her went on for months.” While Canada prides itself on being a multicultural country that welcomes everyone, Aysha recognizes that the government has not done enough to protect the Muslim community against Islamophobia. She believes everyone — regardless of race or religion — should be able to feel safe here, but unfortunately this is not always the case. “In 2021, for a few months we saw so many attacks on hijabi women —most of them being in my home province of Alberta. During that time, a lot of hijabis, as well as Muslims in general, felt very unsafe in certain situations, and it shouldn’t ever have to be that way.”

Even in the face of these incidents, Aysha believes that most people in Canada are friendly and welcoming. She believes it is important to always make an effort to get to know people from other faiths and backgrounds. “Some people can be hesitant to talk to Muslims if they don’t know us. Once they see how friendly and approachable you are, you might be able to change someone’s view of Muslims from a negative one to a positive one.” Despite her experiences, Aysha has not allowed discrimination to put her faith into question. “While people will try to put me down, these experiences actually made me stronger in my faith. I started to pray more regularly, I started to learn more about Islam and dive deeper into my Islam. I feel proud of being a Muslim and try my best to follow Islamic teachings. As for the hijab, it took me a very long time to come to that decision and I feel so proud wearing it now. It makes me feel complete.”

AYSHA | CALGARY, ALBERTA

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Saleha ABBOTSFORD, BRITISH COLUMBIA Saleha is a student majoring in Global Development Studies while working with a local Fraser Valley not-for-profit that focuses on youth services. Saleha’s commitment to helping her community, devotion to her religion and passion for educating others about Islam shines throughout her conversations. In her spare time, Saleha can be found giving back to the community or planning programs and teaching the Quran to young kids at her local mosque. As Saleha says herself, “My Muslim identity means everything to me.” However, she has not always been able to express this identity without difficulty. “My town has diversified so much more in the past 20 years, but as a child I felt like a black sheep. We were one of only two Bengali families. Growing up, I didn’t feel Canadian enough and I also didn’t feel Bengali enough. I saw many brown people around me but I wasn’t their kind of brown ... I am a Muslim.” “As early as kindergarten, I felt the difference. In my scrapbook at school we were asked to write a note to ourselves using crayons and I wrote, ‘It is okay to be a different colour.’ Even today I know that I am different, but by the Grace of God, I am okay with that.” Saleha believes that Islamophobia has definitely had an impact on her life. While Saleha wanted to be the first in her family to wear hijab, her father urged her to wait, worried about her status as a minority living in an area with a historical Ku Klux Klan presence, especially in the wake of 9/11. “High school was especially difficult when I started wearing hijab. I remember walking into the computer lab one morning in Grade 10. There weren’t a lot of people there; I just went to print an assignment I needed to hand in. Out of nowhere a group of boys grabbed my hijab from the back. I was stunned.

At first I was scared and wondered if they were going to beat me up, but they just started laughing and left. I was furious and ran after them. They turned around and I yelled, ‘Do you know what you just did? This is my identity as a Muslim woman — this is important to me.’ “I even used the Arabic phrases and said, ‘Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) I am not afraid of you. I am stronger than this. Alhamdulillah, this will not impact me. Had you done this to anyone else, that is what I’m afraid of. Never do this to anyone else because it really hurts them. This is their identity. This is not something you play around with.’ They were scared, realized this was not a joke and started stuttering apologies. I still went to the bathroom and cried, but I was proud I stood up to them and taught them to know better.” Saleha has faced other Islamophobic incidents in public spaces. She has experienced people yelling at her and her friends in the street, calling them ‘terrorists’ or ‘filthy.’ She recalls being on a public bus with her little brother and her niece — both of whom were young children — while being subjected to an array of misogynistic obscenities being screamed at her because she wears a hijab.

for those who are ignorant. “In this society, people can search what they want on the internet about Islam and find all sorts of things. We live in our own bubbles. At the end of the day, in Islam we believe human beings are intrinsically good. This is what I try to keep in mind to give the benefit of the doubt. A lot of these people are good and as a Muslim, I don’t judge individuals — I judge their actions. Hatred is an exhausting emotion and I feel a lot of sadness and pity for those who harbour these feelings.” When asked if she would like to send a message to Canadian politicians, Saleha’s answer was simple: “At this point we are just asking not to be killed.” While Saleha recognizes that the government has a lot on their plate, she believes that politicians need to make an effort to immerse themselves into the community and really understand what their constituents are going through in order to make impactful changes. “It takes a human perspective and a human connection for people to realize the truth and be better.”

“Because of these experiences, growing up I was very anxious … I was afraid and uncomfortable, thinking I may be attacked … especially after seeing people verbally attack my parents at a young age, being amongst people in general became extremely frightening. I can’t lie; sometimes that fear is still there but I try to look at it through an Islamic perspective and remember the lessons of the Prophet ‫ ﷺ‬who faced so many trials and tribulations. We can take so many of those lessons into our lives. At the end of the day, everything comes from God. That’s how I deal with it.” Despite these circumstances, Saleha is full of mercy, compassion and understanding SALEHA | ABBOTSFORD, BRITISH COLUMBIA

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Aymen Derbali QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC Aymen is a Quebec City terrorist attack (2017) survivor. He has two MBA degrees and is the father of three children. He was severely wounded during the terror attack — surviving more than seven bullets — and is now paralyzed from the chest down. He understandably describes what happened as, “a very hard experience.” Aymen was in a coma for two months after the terror attack, and goes on to say: “[It is] now almost five years after this tragedy … I’m struggling in order to gain some physical abilities so…it’s really difficult, but I try to keep my faith strong and to remain with my brothers — remain near the mosque.” “Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God) those things helped me a lot to pass through this tragedy and its results — [the] emotional, physical and psychological results of this tragedy.” Before the terrorist attack on the mosque, Aymen recalls how members of the congregation noticed Islamophobic actions and hate crimes around the mosque. For example, during the month of Ramadan before the attack, congregants found a pig’s head wrapped as a present with the words “bon appetit.” On another occasion they found a Christian cross on the walls of the mosque and some graffiti on the back of the mosque in the parking lot. Then, of course, came the horrific terror attack on the mosque where six people were killed and five others severely injured, including Aymen. Aymen acknowledges many direct impacts of Islamophobia upon his life, including his physical health, personal and familial wellbeing, and his career. “I was shot seven times so I used to suffer from pain all the time. Twenty-four hours of pain all the time. I [have] a lot of medicine to take three times a day every day since the beginning … so in every moment I cannot

forget about this tragedy. I see [it] all the time.” “My physical paralysis, not being able to play a role as a father [is difficult.] I have three kids, the oldest one is 13 years old and my daughter is five… I also have a son with autism and not being able to help my wife look after my children is very difficult. So, the main impact of islamophobia was the impact on myself, our family, our balance.” In addition, due to these challenges, Aymen is no longer able to work and provide for his family. “Alhamdullillah (thanks be to God) there are two most important things in my life — having my heart functioning correctly and being able to breathe. I had a lot of breathing problems when I was in the coma. Even though I lost the use of my legs and ability to walk, I still focus on those two main things as the biggest rewards from God for me.” When asked how he finds relief and manages to cope through all he has been through, Aymen cites his work in the humanitarian field. “My main relief comes from working in the humanitarian field … and [doing] my best in order to help many people all around the world. For me it’s a way to honour the memory of our brothers who fell that night, to honour our wounded brothers and to honour the Muslim community all around the world. Alhamdullillah, this work in the humanitarian field makes me stronger and stronger, and it has helped me to strengthen my faith.”

When Aymen received a bravery award in 2018 from the Quebec Parliament, he responded to the Premier’s denial that there was any Islamophobia in Quebec by saying, “You are in front of a live person who is a victim of Islamophobia. How do you qualify the attack on the mosque? [That] it wasn’t an Islamophobic attack? [The terrorist] was targeting Muslims in the mosque.” Aymen ended this interview by declaring, “Canada is a huge multicultural country — we Canadians are from all over the world. We are all immigrants and we need to live with each other in peace and harmony. We are human beings and we need to build our country by helping each other and, you know, loving each other. Our children go to the same schools … We need to teach them real human values.” “[We need] to have more open-minded children in the future, a more openminded generation; not having killers and murderers in our society because of Islamophobia.”

Reflecting upon the smaller incidents on their mosque prior to the major terror attack, Aymen’s advice for those encountering Islamophobia is to “stay calm but to report everything.” He is in favour of the National Day of Remembrance and Action, and pays short shrift to those who play politics by either denying Islamophobia’s existence or by demonizing a minority community for votes. AYMEN DERBALI | QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC Photo Credit: The Toronto Star

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Noura* CALGARY, ALBERTA In addition to raising three adult children as a single mom, Noura works with the government, holds a second job as a private driving instructor, and is also involved with Palestinian community activities in her local area. Sadly, Noura encounters Islamophobia in all her different activities and jobs.

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is also just as real. She feels she has been passed over for many promotions unfairly and without proper explanations given, and that there is generally a lot of ignorance towards Islam amongst her coworkers and even superiors.

Even though Noura is not visibly Muslim and doesn’t wear a hijab, she sees the different malicious ways that many drivers react to her students who wear hijab during driving lessons. “I notice a difference in the behaviour of drivers on the street when I have a student who wears hijab. There is more road rage directed towards them, from harassment to tailgating to getting the middle finger. I’ve had so many close calls that; for one student who wears the niqab, I actually purposely tried to avoid certain neighbourhoods because I knew I would be placing her in danger if she were to drive through there.”

Rather than asking her to explain things, Noura’s coworkers usually place her on the defensive and hold her responsible for anything a Muslim does anywhere in the world. For example, a few years ago there were public information advertisements on buses against domestic violence, and the victim pictured was a hijab-clad woman. Noura says her coworkers seemed to agree with the campaign and kept saying things like, “Look at these women … all this abuse happens to them,” to which Noura’s response was that the same happens to white women if one cares to look — meaning that domestic violence is primarily a cultural problem and not a religious one, wherever it occurs.

At her government job, the Islamophobia she faces may be a bit more subtle, but it

Politically, Noura feels the government always just waits for something to happen

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and only then reacts. “What makes people mad is the reaction of the government to Islamophobic attacks. The government is always more reactive than proactive. They wait for the disaster and then quickly work to act against it, versus being proactive and trying to prevent the disaster in the first place.” She asks how it can be that a parent can have her very own children removed by the state for any sort of abuse — and yet, nothing happens when a stranger on the street hurls insults and gestures towards a passerby. Noura says that all her community asks for is to live in peace, and even though she always feels on the defensive, at the same time she believes that she needs to be an open book and ready to have uncomfortable conversations to help build greater mutual understanding.

*Note: Noura is a pseudonym given to protect the identity of the participant.


Hamza ABBOTSFORD, BRITISH COLUMBIA At only 21 years old, Hamza owns and operates his own marketing business while studying for a dual degree in business and psychology. Hamza has lived in British Columbia nearly his entire life. Growing up in what he describes as a primarily conservative Christian community with little to no Muslim presence was difficult for Hamza, as he spent most of his life feeling like an outsider. Hamza acknowledges that he has had to deal with a lot of emotional trauma from these experiences, but that they have also shaped him to be the person he is today.

When 9/11 anniversaries would come around they would point to me and say ‘Muslim.’”

“From kindergarten to Grade 6 I went to a Christian school where I was the only Muslim in the entire school. I felt like an outsider, but it wasn’t to do with my skin colour. There were a lot of other South Asian kids there — Sikhs, Hindus or even Christians — who all had a sense of community, but I was a Muslim and I was alone. Even the idea of eating halal, I felt different. From field trips to the lunch I was bringing or going to the canteen, I always had to opt for the cheese pizza or say ‘no’ to pepperoni. People would ask me a million questions as to why I was bringing in meat today when yesterday I said ‘no’ to the meat. Whether it was the food, prayer or Ramadan, these three things played a significant role to me being an outsider on the playground, in project groups — you name it.”

While Hamza initially expressed that he is blessed Islamophobia hasn’t had such a pronounced impact on his life as with others, later into the discussion he realized that Islamophobia has actually impacted him in a profound way, but is so normalized it can be difficult to identify.

Unable to cope with emotional difficulties stemming from feeling like an outsider, in middle school Hamza switched schools and began to attend a public school. While his situation improved —having two other Muslim friends to rely upon — he still faced an array of verbal confrontations. “We were living in a time when Osama bin Laden was killed. People assumed because I was Muslim I should know all about bin Laden. I guess one of his family members was named ‘Hamza’ so I had to deal with a bombardment of comments like, ‘Are you Osama bin Laden’s cousin, brother, etc.?’

“I honestly believe that these comments were just a reflection of what kids were hearing at home. It’s so clear that the wider community was not exposed to Islamic culture or religion. I think it’s less people hating on Muslims and more a lack of knowledge and exposure to our community. We need more exposure, to show that Muslims are not any different from you. We are human beings who make the same mistakes and do the same good, just like anyone else.”

“At the end of the day we all feel it in some way. I feel like Islamophobia happens so much on a daily basis to the point where we just say, ‘okay, this is normal.’ Even thinking about our parents’ generation, they went through so much and just repressed it. People were being physically and verbally attacked with no support from authorities. Muslims felt so vulnerable because they couldn’t do anything; they thought people could get away with saying whatever they want and that nothing would change. So when it came to our generation, our parents told us to brush it off. It is what they have to tell themselves to keep surviving and moving forward. There is a saying of the Prophet ‫ﷺ‬: ‘speak good or remain silent.’ As Muslims, we always want to treat people with respect and goodness, but this is a systemic crisis and we have to do something about it.”

a community in pain to bleed, it will only make things worse for that community and everyone around them. Because when you let them bleed, you are letting others know it’s okay to walk into a mosque with a gun, or drive over a family, or say things verbally that should be condemned.” Despite all that he had had to endure, Hamza has kept his faith close to his heart. As a business student, Hamza offered a pertinent analogy to describe the impact of Islamophobia on his faith and identity. “Our iman (faith) levels fluctuate like the stock market, going up and down. The reason they go up or down is because of experiences that we go through in life, whether it’s work, school, family or things related to Islamophobia. Allah (God) will test you so much in difficult times to show you that you can get through it. The dark moments, as much as they can drive you away, they pull you in just as fast and closer to God.” Hamza has relied on his faith in God to get him through the difficult times and is dedicated to teaching people about Islam through giving back to the community. “We have to continue to teach, raise awareness and share more about Islam in ways that others can relate to.”

When asked about Canada’s response to Islamophobia, Hamza described the problem of Islamophobia as a cut that will continue to bleed. “If we don’t support our communities, they will bleed. If you leave

HAMZA | ABBOTSFORD, BRITISH COLUMBIA

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Nabil EDMONTON, ALBERTA Nabil is a dedicated business professional who was born and raised in Edmonton. Just like any other kid growing up in Canada, Nabil played an array of sports including basketball and hockey as a child. Even up until today, at the age of 35, Nabil continues to participate in team sports as a hobby to help him get through the daily stresses of life. Despite his passion for sports, racism and Islamophobia have made it difficult and even unbearable at times to participate in the sports that bring him ease in life.

“There were times that teammates would call us [Muslims] ‘sand*******’ or ‘pakis,’” he says. This impacted Nabil so deeply that he completely stopped playing with these organized leagues for two or three years, traumatized by the ugly and hurtful things people would say. Instead, Nabil opted to play in leagues that were created by his community — people who looked like him and understood where he was coming from — so he wouldn’t be subjected to racist or islamophobic remarks.

In the past two years of the pandemic, Nabil has been taking a lot of time to reflect on his life, his faith and his purpose. In his reflections, he recalls moments growing up where he was faced with people and communities that didn’t accept him for who he is and what he believes in.

“I’m someone who grew up playing sports my entire life. It’s something that is kind of a release for me; it gets my mind off everything. But after these incidents, it became too much, whether it was Islamophobic slurs or racist slurs, I stopped playing for two or three years because of it. The referees would hear it and not do anything about it … you weren’t really protected. You felt you were going there to be made fun of … Because I love sports, this really affected me mentally.”

Growing up, Nabil and his family lived in a predominantly white neighborhood where they were the only people of colour. “I used to have neighbours that were all Caucasian. All the kids [from the neighborhood] used to play at this one neighbour’s house who had swing sets and a trampoline. All the kids in my neighbourhood wanted to be there. I remember everyone was allowed to go into the house to grab water and whatnot, but me and my sister weren’t allowed inside based on the colour of our skin.”

“When I was a kid, I tried to fit in and move forward, but as I get older, I realize that [Islamophobia] has made me reflect more

on my faith and has actually made me closer with my faith for sure. Turning back to faith gave me more of a sense of peace [and] a sense of calm. Faith has made me calmer; I’ve been able to let things go because I believe in something greater.” Politically, Nabil feels that Islamophobia is still prevalent and that change must come from the top through policy changes. Nabil is particularly frustrated by Canada’s ban on adoptions from predominantly Muslim countries — an ongoing issue that has been raised by Canadian media outlets over the past several years1. More broadly, Nabil believes there need to be programs to educate and provide more understanding to the general public about what Islam really is about and what Muslims stand for, and how we are not at all different from one another. Despite everything, Nabil also places strong faith in the new generation and their power to make the world a better place for everyone. “It’s a different generation. It’s their world soon and I think they can make a big change for the community.”

As Nabil began to get more involved with sports, he also began to experience similar feelings of being othered. “I remember we had a [basketball] playoff game on a Saturday and I told my coach that I had something religious on Friday with my family and I wouldn’t be able to make it to practice ahead of the game. The next game I was benched for the entire game and I didn’t get to play — [all] for choosing my religion … but if it was Christmas and I was Christian it would have been completely fine.” The situation only worsened as Nabil began to take part in more organized sports.

1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/adoptions-kafalah-pakistan-canada-ban-muslim-1.4855852; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMelKs7OlS8

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Zahra TORONTO, ONTARIO As a Black Muslim woman who expresses her faith in different ways, Zahra feels that her experience of Islamophobia has been something of a variable in her life. “I feel like I’ve had very layered experiences of Islamophobia because I can be quite a chameleon with different expressions of my faith. There have been times I wore the hijab more traditionally, and the way people respond is different than if I wrap my head in a more ambiguous way. In those cases, the response is always a bit more exoticized like, ‘Oh this is interesting, tell me more,’ whereas when I wear a full hijab, what would be assumed about me is different. Sometimes people are surprised that I can even speak English.” Reflecting upon her position as a female who is racially ambiguous, and the perceptions of those around her, Zahra says: “Even the sexual violence is interesting to me. I found I was hit on a lot more by Caucasian men when I’m more fully conservative looking,so I do feel like it’s also Orientalism at play. Ultimately, it’s what people feel they have the license to say to you depending on how you look [and] how you present yourself.” Zahra feels that the microaggressions of everyday Islamophobia have not gone away, even if the problem is recognized a bit more nowadays. “[I remember] being called ‘towelhead’ and at times, ‘Pakistani’ — there are so many slurs and it’s treated like it’s okay. This was in the 90’s but things are no different today and it’s sad. [But at least] in the 90’s, in a way there was more openness to Islam. Even in hip-hop culture — I remember being able to relate to my identity as a Muslim through artists like Mos Def — but this generation now doesn’t have that anymore. It’s constantly those violent assumptions around Islam.” Politically, Zahra has powerful words about the stance politicians and those in

positions of authority should be taking: “We are seeing Islamophobia playing out in these institutions of power [and] we should be scared. If our leaders are afraid to align with Muslims when they are in these positions of power it’s scary, because this has a very real impact on the lived experience of the everyday Muslim trying to teach, or trying to be of service to community, or even just access resources in the community.” “[Politicians] will acknowledge things when the violence happens through nice talking points, but when it comes to any real policy initiatives or even real positions, they are so empty.” In the context of many morally wrong practices, such as slavery and antisemitism, being legal for many years in many countries, Zahra says: “You can say Bill 21 is constitutional — but then the very laws that are created to embody these principles, you are using [these laws] to deny the rights of specific communities —you [can] say that yes, what Quebec is doing with Bill 21 is lawful, but in principle, it’s just wrong.”

commanded us to know all the different nations and tribes. It is our duty to know each other in ways that are liberating. It is a very important part of our faith.” For those who are struggling to overcome everyday Islamophobia, Zahra says it’s important to find ways to prioritize joy. She recognizes it can be overwhelming, daunting and hopeless at times, but maintains that the world is still joyful and abundant. “The simplest charity you can give is a smile to someone. Maybe you’re not ready to use your voice yet — we are all at different stages in the process —we need to allow ourselves and others that grace. But do the work and stay committed to the work.”

But, in spite of the ongoing frustrations and political ambiguity, Zahra’s overall message is optimistic and incredibly uplifting: “Islamophobia presents opportunities to reaffirm my faith. It forced me to confront my own values about where I stand in my faith. Islamophobia clarifies things for myself and to explore Islam’s stance on certain issues.” Zahra says Islamophobia has also affirmed her commitment to her community, explaining that now she sees justice as a form of worship. She feels it is a duty of hers as a Muslim to stand for oppressed communities regardless of whether they identify as Muslim or not. “We do the work of justice as part of being Muslim. That’s how we submit —Allah (God) ZAHRA | TRONTO, ONTARIO

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“We do the work of justice as part of being Muslim. That’s how we submit —Allah (God) commanded us to know all the different nations and tribes. It is our duty to know each other in ways that are liberating. It is a very important part of our faith.” ZAHRA

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“The simplest charity you can give is a smile to someone. Maybe you’re not ready to use your voice yet — we are all at different stages in the process —we need to allow ourselves and others that grace. But do the work and stay committed to the work.” ZAHRA

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Sonia* MONTREAL, QUEBEC Sonia is a full-time worker with three children. She has been married to a Muslim convert from an Italian-Canadian family for around 30 years. Food and religious celebrations seem to have always been an issue with Sonia’s in-laws in that not only do they not show respect for her traditions, but they also actively try to introduce pork and other forbidden foods into her family’s diet. “When I was a student at Concordia [University], I had friends from all walks of life and when I was fasting, they were very respectful and they would wait for me to eat. But when I got married, it wasn’t like this — just two weeks ago my brother-in-law came over and brought a bunch of pizzas with pork pepperoni and gave it to my kids.” Sonia recounts some of her experiences around this: “Twenty years ago we had a barbecue at my house and my kids were small. I was raising them Muslim … but my brother-in-law brought over pork sausages and snuck them onto the barbecue. I didn’t say anything —he was treating it like a joke behind my back, laughing at how sneaky he was putting the pork on my barbecue, but I found it so disgusting and rude.” “I’m bringing this up because the worst part is, my brother-in-law just reminded me of this last month in a very rude way ... it was offensive. His wife doesn’t eat fish and we all love fish and seafood, but whenever I am invited to her house, I never bring fish or lamb … it’s a form of respect. But when it comes to my house, because I am brown and Muslim it’s complete contempt and there’s no respect.” Sonia says she doesn’t want to isolate her in-laws or cut them off. On the contrary, she tries to make constant efforts to appease them. “I try my best to host dinners that will blow my extended family away. I always buy the most expensive meats so they

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won’t say something because otherwise they will say something.” Nevertheless, the insults and provocations extend beyond the table. “My father-in-law makes all these comments like, ‘All terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists’ [or] ‘we don’t want Muslims coming to this country — they are just a bunch of trouble.’[All of this is happening] at the table in front of my kids. And after 30 years, me and my husband still can’t convince them otherwise, and every time we try, it just erupts in a fight.” Sonia says even her neighbours and local priest have insulted her in the past. When Sonia, who is not visibly Muslim, moved to a new part of the city, her neighbour met her outside and told her, “Welcome to the neighborhood! I knew the previous owner really well and I told her make sure you sell the house to good people — I’m so happy because I didn’t want her to sell the house to a Muslim.” The same neighbour had also made a gesture of the hijab on another occasion and said, “I’m sick and tired of seeing people like this,” which subsequently led to an argument. “[Another time I was at a wedding] and the priest said, ‘Parishioners, you have to come to the church! It’s very important that we keep our faith as most of our people are converting to Islam and the next thing you know … Islam is going to take away all of our provisions!” While Sonia has never tried to exclude her in-laws from her family, she did try to raise her children Muslim and introduce her children to an Islamic way of life and the mosque. For the moment, however, it seems that her children have chosen not to develop their Islamic faith. Despite Sonia’s best efforts, her extended family constantly tempted her children

with pork meat, made fun of their halal food, and mocked them for their prayers. “I believe it is because of all this prejudice that my kids didn’t keep their [Islamic faith]. I tried my best to raise them as Muslims, have them eat properly [and] pray. I even made an Islamic Christmas and it didn’t work … my inlaws would still bring their wine and distract from [what I was trying to do.] “I used to take my kids every Friday to ‘Jummah’ [the Friday congregational prayer], but they didn’t understand anything. We have to re-educate our imams as well — the khutbahs [sermons] can’t just be in Arabic.” “The government has to do something, but the mosques also need to be more inclusive to keep the youth. I would stop bringing my kids to the mosques because it was reinforcing their prejudice. My kids felt a lot of barriers that were just reinforcing what my in-laws were saying.” But, looking forward, Sonia has these words of encouragement and resolve: “In the Quran it says we made you into different tribes so that we can know one another. There is a huge benefit in knowing one another.” “My message for people going through Islamophobia is that you have to speak up! I was quiet for 30 years and I regret allowing them to sideline me and marginalize me. We have to know how to speak up and address the situation with respect. It’s not okay to be treated like that.” *Note: Sonia is a pseudonym given to protect the identity of the participant.


Sara EDMONTON, ALBERTA Sara is a hard-working woman who is happily married with a six-year-old son. She is raising him to be proud of his culture and religion so that he can stand up for himself and his community. While Sara has lived most of her adult life in Canada without experiencing any direct Islamophobia, around 2017 she began to experience a significant amount of Islamophobia after taking a job with the Alberta government. Whether it’s the lack of diversity in her office or the noninclusive mentality of her coworkers, Sara has struggled to carry out her job without hearing Islamophobic comments. “People just casually bring up these comments in workplace small talk or even email exchanges. At first, I didn’t want to jump into many of these discussions since I was new at the job and still looking for fulltime work and I didn’t want to jeopardize my career. But these comments are constantly raised, right in front of me, even though they know I am from Pakistan and that I am a Muslim. I think because of my name and the way I look they thought I wasn’t that religious and I would be okay with their comments or critiques. They tell me not to take their comments personally, but if you know who I am and where I come from, you should know that of course I’m going to take it personally.”

“They especially like to cherry-pick some parts of the religion to spread hate and show Islam is not very inclusive for women. These are just some of the xenophobic and Islamophobic comments I have heard at work: “Muslim women from Pakistan and Afghanistan aren’t allowed to study or get educated.” “Muslim women have no rights.” “What are you going to tell your child about Christmas or Halloween? You’re not going to celebrate? He is going to feel left out.” “When you move to Canada you have to adapt to how we live here.” “Muslim women wear hijab and want to be allowed to go like that to swimming pools, but we aren’t changing our customs for you.” “What drives me crazy is that some of the people making these comments are immigrants themselves … and while there was anti-oppression training at work after I brought up the issue to management, many didn’t attend the training. Honestly, even if they aren’t making the comments as much

anymore, they are still in their minds and that is still bothersome. Things haven’t changed.” In order to feel safe, Sara says she needs the government to take steps to ensure there are regulations for hate speech that actually have real-world consequences so that people will be afraid to speak out of line in their social circles. “Right now people know there are no consequences and that they can say whatever they want and get away with it … even if it is brought up to HR there won’t be any real results. We can have positive and healthy discussion, but there need to be laws and regulations that hold people accountable if they engage in hate speech.” For those who are experiencing Islamophobia, especially in a work environment, Sara has a word of encouragement: “Keep doing what you are doing and don’t get discouraged by people like this. We have to try to have healthy discussions and respond in a positive rather than negative way. We should smother their hate with kindness. That’s the only way to break through some of the personalities that are being divisive.”

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Sukaina TORONTO, ONTARIO Sukaina, which she pronounces Sakina, is an occupational therapist and founder of an organization called SMILE. The nonprofit stands at the intersection between ableism and Islamophobia and exists to help families get help for services that they were otherwise uniformed about. In her field of work, Sakina could see that Muslim families with kids who have Downs Syndrome or cerebral palsy were not only being kept uninformed about available services, they would often get asked prejudicial questions such as whether the mother and father of the child were related — an issue which had little to do with the above conditions. Sakina and her husband moved back to Canada in 2016 when Trump got elected in the States — hoping to avoid the increasing racism during his tenure — only for the Quebec mosque shooting to happen. While she had been telling her husband how much more tolerant and accepting Canada was, Sakina was startled by the volume and frequency of anti-Muslim hatred brewing in Canadian society. Since returning to Canada, Sakina has been trying to assess how the expression of Islamophobia might have changed and also the different ways minorities now respond to the overt or structural racism they encounter. Brought up in Southwestern Ontario, Sakina’s parents had immigrated to Canada from Tanzania. As first generation Muslim immigrants — the overall survival and coping strategy was “heads down” and “fit in” at all costs.

Sakina’s mom had the beautiful name of Zaibun, but everyone just called her ‘Z’. Her father’s name was Essak, which got changed to Issac for everyone’s convenience. For school, Sakina’s mom used to give them only Western food for lunches, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so that they didn’t stand out amongst the others.

However, this dress and clear expression of her religious identity meant that, back home, Sakina was much more of a target than before. Following the 2005 Charlie Hebdo cartoon furore and terror attack in France, Sakina and a friend were attacked in the women’s bathrooms at Hart House at the University of Toronto, by someone screaming and grabbing at their clothing3.

“My parents always told us to do our best to fit in,” Sakina says. “My parents always told us to put our heads down if someone was racist and just smile because they had this idea that we were in their space as immigrants. My parents grew up in poverty and really struggled to come to Canada, but me and my sister didn’t have the same experiences and didn’t share their philosophy.”

Remembering the incident vividly, Sakina said: “This individual and group of friends were swearing, saying, ‘Go back to the f*** to where you came from’ —but the part that hurt the most is that no one said anything. We were in [the foyer,] where everyone congregated; there were people eating and drinking and no one said anything. We felt so humiliated we put our heads down and went to campus police, but campus police didn’t say anything.”

One expression of this different and more assertive approach is that Sakina’s son is called Hamza, and if anyone mispronounces it, he has been taught to correct the mispronunciation. And when her son’s teacher said she didn’t understand the Muslim festival of Eid, Sakina and her son made sure to teach her. With a desire to teach her kids pride in who they are, Sakina and her sister Akila even took the initiative to write a representative prayer book for children2. Part of Sakina’s process of rediscovering her Muslim identity was taking a trip back to her parents’ country of origin, Tanzania, where she started wearing the long black gown (‘abaya’) common to many Muslim cultures. “The abaya is a really beautiful thing. It’s just the look. I started wearing it … it wasn’t a religious thing. It was just a cultural thing.”

2. https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/a-bedtime-prayer-for-peace/9780615902432-item.html 3. Read more here: https://iqna.ir/en/news/1482633/racist-attacks-targets-canadian-muslims-

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“To be honest, the part I remember most was that they said something about the [Charlie Hebdo] cartoon. I knew what the person was talking about but I didn’t understand what I had to do with it.” Continuing her train of thought, Sakina said: “I had another racist incident on the plane. I had my Quran out and somebody made a racist comment [about being a terrorist,] and I wasn’t even phased. I was just like cool, cool… and I just kept reading. But it seems like it’s all getting worse.” Sakina also recounts how through her work at SMILE, she encountered a teacher berating a young disabled child for wearing a long gown because it was supposedly oppressive and that she would “stand out more.” The little girl was very upset because she enjoyed wearing the gown as it reminded her of her home in Syria. “I said


to my colleague, we have Bill 21, and then we are expecting to have good conversations with a teacher. The problem is we are fighting a fight knowing full well that politicians have been silent on this. The teacher herself quoted Bill 21 — what do you say to that?” Her message to political leaders is: “We need action. We really don’t need to hear ‘our thoughts and prayers’ one more time. We need to feel safe and secure. There have been a ton of false promises. We need action to change this.” All this adversity, however, has done nothing but build Sakina’s faith. “Islamophobia has made me want to speak up about my faith since nothing in my faith is responsible for this. We held onto faith and this is how we get through these incidents,” she says. Addressing her community, Sakina says: “To our community I would say we are a strong community — any difference that we have we need to put aside and stand up united because this impacts all of us. It doesn’t matter what community we are a part of — it impacts all of us, including our children and our parents. We are resilient. We should be really proud of ourselves. People should know our stories and our histories. We shouldn’t hide. It’s taken me my whole life to come to this conclusion.”

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Postscript +

+

Almost half of those we interviewed wished to retain their anonymity in the report. When our researcher probed as to why they preferred to keep their identity confidential, it was immediately obvious that in the majority of cases, these participants were afraid of potential employment and community repercussions arising from the information they were sharing.

It has been said that Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobia. While Islamophobia operates based on “perceived Muslimness,” targeting all genders and even non-Muslims who “look Muslim,” women are disproportionately victimized by this phenomenon. In Canada, we have several laws that have been accused of being discriminatory, including the federal Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act (2015), Quebec’s Bill 62 (2017), and more recently, Bill 21 (2019)4.

Anonymity due to Fear of Repercussions

Participants expressed that they were not only afraid to share their experiences publicly for this report, but also afraid to share their employment discrimination experiences with their bosses or human resources departments. Sara describes her situation as one where, “Right now people know there are no consequences … even if it is brought up to HR there won’t be any real results.” And, in the case of Noura, she feels unable to report her government coworkers’ remarks since there is a tension between herself and her line manager who has also singled her out for her religion in the past. A denial and lack of any recognition of the problem — let alone any HR support structures to help victims deal with issues — is reminiscent and very similar to the harassment women workers in offices and workplaces have faced for decades. And the fact that many participants opted to retain their anonymity in this report also indicates that they are likewise feeling pressured to keep private their experiences of Islamophobia in their work and in their public lives. As such, these incidents —like many others — are failing to be reported and will remain unchallenged. This speaks to the insidious, and often unspoken, nature of Islamophobia, which in many cases forces its victims into silence. It also highlights the need for better reporting mechanisms that take into account the emotional, financial and physical safety of those reporting anti-Muslim hate crimes.

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Islamophobia is Gendered

All of these laws fixate upon Muslim women as their primary target, perpetuating Orientalist imaginations of Muslim women as ‘oppressed’ and in need of ‘saving’ from the State. These laws and their related discussions5 are obsessive about the prohibition of the hijab and/or the niqab. As a result, many visibly Muslim women in Canada — those that wear the hijab and/or niqab — are disproprortionately experiencing anti-Muslim violence.

This trend of gendered Islamophobia can be seen in our report, as the majority of those who responded to our call for research participants were women rather than men. Many of these women’s encounters with Islamophobia revolved around their choice to wear the hijab. We hear from Saleha, Aysha and Sukaina, who were all physically attacked for wearing hijab. We hear from Sanaa whose teaching career is in jeopardy simply for wearing her hijab. Noura, who is a driving instructor in Edmonton, admits “I notice a difference in the behaviour of drivers on the street when I have a student who wears hijab. There is more road rage directed towards them, from harassment to tailgating to getting the middle finger. I’ve had so many close calls that for one student who wears the niqab, I actually purposely tried to avoid certain neighbourhoods because I knew I would be placing her in danger if she were to drive through there.” These incidents are a direct consequence of gendered Islamophobia in Canadian society.

4. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/Islamophobia-AntiMuslim/Civil%20Society%20or%20Individuals/Noor-ICLMG-ISSA.pdf 5. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118


Postscript Cont’d +

+

+

Notably, nearly every single person we interviewed for this report prefaced the discussion with statements like, “I’m not that much of a victim,” or, “I haven’t experienced that much discrimination compared to others.” While much of this could be a demonstration of humility, it became clear from the interviews that hatred and discrimination has become so routine in Canada that many victims felt these experiences are simply to be expected when living as a minority in Canadian society.

The interviews we conducted have once again proven that Islamophobia is a form of systemic racism. The data sample we received demonstrates that it is not isolated to one realm or level of society. Anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination is occurring amongst all age groups at schools and universities, places of employment, grocery stores, backyards, in airport security, on sports teams, and at the dinner table. The media has a symbiotic relationship with the Islamophobic side of society with each one feeding and fuelling the other. Many participants articulated how they felt the media plays a huge role in being a driving force that dramatizes negative stereotypes of Muslims, which then seep into everyday life and institutions.

When asked if Islamophobia has had any impact on their faith, participants responded that the hatred and discrimination they have faced only brought them closer to God.

Islamophobia is Being Normalized

This normalization is evident as participants often did not consider incidents such as discrimination at work, microaggressions at school or racist remarks at the dinner table as being worthy of being mentioned alongside the physicial attacks we hear about in the media. Islamophobia, however, is a continuum of aggression and hatred with every incident — big or ostensibly small — emboldening the next. As Aymen Derbali pointed out in his interview, we need to be aware of the gravity of all incidents. “Before the terrorist attack on the mosque, we noticed some hate crimes at the mosque … for example, the month of Ramadan right before the attack, after the prayer we found a pig head … another time we found graffiti at the back of the mosque … it was like a sign of what was to come.”

Islamophobia is a Form of Systemic Racism

Islamophobia Brings Muslims Closer to their Faith

As Saleha told us, “Whenever someone challenges my faith, I see it as an opportunity for me to learn.” This general sentiment was echoed by all the participants, who when faced with hurtful remarks about their religion felt compelled to do more research to better understand their faith. Many, when faced with discrimination, turned back for inspiration to the stories around Prophet Muhammad ‫ ﷺ‬and the trials he overcame. Through each individual’s articulation of their personal experiences and their Muslim identity, we see that Islamophobia is not breaking down survivors, but, on the contrary, serves to increase their resilience and move them towards a deeper understanding of their faith.

Accepting any form of hatred or intolerance — no matter how small one might think it is — legitimizes Islamophobia and gives a space for this hatred to foster and grow.

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Manifestations of Islamophobia in Canada & The Government’s Response Islamophobic attacks in Canada and around the world continue to rise. Despite increasing levels of anti-Muslim hatred and heartbreaking domestic terrorist attacks against Muslim Canadian citizens, Islamic Relief Canada believes this issue has still not yet received proper attention from our political leaders. This position was expressed almost universally by those we interviewed for this report. When asked if the government has done enough to combat Islamophobia in Canada, the answer from our participants was a unanimous and unfortunate, “No.”

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The Pervasive Problem of Rising Islamophobia in Canada Currently, Canada leads the world in publishing far-right, white supremacist online content —surpassing even the U.K. and the US in spreading extremism online6. According to Statistics Canada, while the number of faith-motivated hate crimes reported to police in 2019 decreased overall by 7 percent compared to the year before, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by 9 percent from 166 to 181 incidents. StatCan acknowledges that the true figure is a significantly higher number, as over two-thirds of incidents go unreported7. In fact, the majority of the hate crimes mentioned by participants in this report were not reported due to a lack of confidence in authorities, a belief that victims would not be taken seriously, and fear of retaliation or repercussions. Many of those we interviewed remarked that they noticed the uptick in Islamophobia in recent years. They spoke to a variety of ways this hatred is manifesting in Canada and may not be captured in Statistics Canada data, including through online

bullying, casual racism at the dinner table or in the schoolyard, verbal abuse and harassment, property vandalizations, employment discrimination, systemic discrimination, physical assault and near loss of life. Notably, as seen in Sanaa’s story, Islamophobia has manifested itself as institutionalized discrimination in the province of Quebec, where Muslim women who wear the hijab are unable to work in government positions, including as teachers, doctors or lawyers due to Bill 21. Many of those we interviewed expressed their frustration with the religious discrimination enshrined in Bill 21. They are not alone, as a number of human rights groups and civil liberty associations have condemned Bill 21 as discriminatory. In fact, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) in partnership with the World Sikh Organization and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, are currently contesting the legality of this legislation in court.

Though understanding of the political sensitivities, research participants felt strongly that the federal government needs to do more to address Bill 21; they felt that, at a minimum, the government should condemn the law as unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is growing support amongst Canadians for this position. Already, many local municipalities in Ontario — including Brampton, Toronto, and London — have all passed motions condemning Quebec’s law against religious symbols and have provided financial support for the legal battle against this legislation8. Victoria recently joined these Ontario municipalities in financing the legal challenge to Bill 21. As of January 2021, Calgary and Winnipeg are likewise considering donating amounts in the tens of thousands for the legal case9.

“Currently, Canada leads the world in publishing far-right, white supremacist online content...” 6. https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/canadian-right-wing-extremism-online-1.5617710 7. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00002-eng.htm 8. https://globalnews.ca/news/8456407/brampton-toronto-fight-quebec-bill-21/ 9. https://www.vicnews.com/news/victoria-joins-canadian-cities-financing-legal-challenge-of-quebecs-religious-symbols-ban/

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Canada’s Response to the Challenge of Islamophobia While over the past five years, the Canadian government has taken a series of key symbolic steps toward combating Islamophobia (see figure 1), much remains to be done in order to uproot this discrimination from Canadian society and institutions. To date, the most recent state action has been the federal government’s decision to appoint a Special Representative on Islamophobia (Dec. 2021). This was initiated in response to the National Emergency Summit on Islamophobia (July 2021), and is consistent with recommendations from Islamic Relief Canada and the NCCM.

These recommendations include: 1. The establishment of a national reporting hotline on Islamophobia and other hate crimes; 2. Strengthening of existing race and hate crime legislation; 3. Partnerships with universities and local community organizations to establish a national research lab on Islamophobia and; 4. Improving public awareness through education and launching public awareness campaigns about Islam and Muslims through radio, television, and social media.

Throughout our research interviews in this report, we not only asked participants about their experiences with Islamophobia, but also their opinion on the government’s response and any future policy changes to address Islamophobia. Their responses indicated a general discontent with what they perceive to be government inaction on the Islamophobia file. Participants also expressed support for Islamic Relief Canada’s recommendations throughout their personal articulations of the various formulations of policy changes they would like to see the federal government enact.

Alongside the NCCM and other prominent Muslim organizations, Islamic Relief Canada was invited to attend the Summit and submit our recommendations for cross-party review (see appendix).

FIGURE 1

Timeline of the Canadian Government’s Response to Islamophobia in Canada OCTOBER

JANUARY

JULY

The House of Commons passes a unanimous consent motion condemning Islamophobia introduced by Former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair

The federal government declares January 29th, the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque massacre, as a National Day of Remembrance and Action against Islamophobia

The federal government holds a private emergency crossparty national summit on Islamophobia

2016

2021

FEBRUARY

JUNE

DECEMBER

Following the Quebec City mosque massacre, the House of Commons passes Liberal Motion 103 condemning Islamophobia and commissioning report on Islamophobia, and all forms of systemic racism and discrimination

Following the London attack, the House of Commons passes an NDP motion to hold a national emergency summit on Islamophobia

The federal government commits to appointing a Special Envoy on Islamophobia

2017

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ISL AMIC RELIEF CANADA

2021

2021

2021


Canada’s Response to the Challenge of Islamophobia Cont’d +

The establishment of a national reporting hotline on Islamophobia and other hate crimes In speaking with Aymen Derbali, survivor of the Quebec City mosque attack, he reiterated the need to report each and every hate crime when it occurs. Recognizing that this can be a difficult task, he believes we need concrete mechanisms and reporting tools such as a “national hotline or phone number” so that citizens can actually help the government fight against Islamophobia by easily reporting its occurrences.

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Strengthening of existing race and hate crime legislation As mentioned above, many we spoke to were apprehensive to report any of their experiences to authorities — even if they were violent attacks — because they felt that there is no legal recourse or realworld consequences attached to the crimes committed against them. Participants repeatedly emphasized the need for penalties in order to prevent people from actively engaging in hate crimes and encouraging Islamophobic hate speech.

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Establish a national research lab on Islamophobia Many of those we interviewed emphasized their desire to see more government resources allocated to understanding the phenomenon of Islamophobia in working toward developing more proactive prevention policies. Establishing a national research lab would enable the government to collect evidence-based data on the root causes of Islamophobia in order to produce effective counter-programming and create lasting systemic change.

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Improving public awareness through education and launching public awareness campaigns Perhaps the most common issue that was raised by all participants, was the need for greater public awareness. Individuals felt that our governments and communities need to promote better understanding about Islam and Muslims so that Canadians will learn that Muslims share universal human values and are deserving of the same respect and consideration afforded to other communities. In order to achieve this, participants called for more exposure to the Muslim community, for politicians to be more present in Muslim settings, and for investment into public awareness initiatives and educational reforms. These would be key to a long-term proactive approach that would seek to make Islamophobia an unacceptable form of racism within all sectors of society.

“I think fighting Islamophobia is not only a task for Muslims, it should be seen as a national task for all citizens to fight against this — Islamophobia and all forms of racism and discrimination.”

“We don’t need to hear ‘our thoughts and prayers’ one more time. We need to feel safe and secure.”

“The government needs to do something right now; they need to make a difference and make the Muslim community feel like we have their support.”

“People change — we just need to make the effort to educate them.”

IN THEIR WORDS: UNTOLD STORIES OF ISL AMOPHOBIA IN CANADA

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What Can You Do to Respond to Islamophobia? “We have a great duty on our backs. [It is] not only the duty of the government but us as citizens. It is our duty as citizens to help the government … If we witness a hate crime … we have to report it … We need to protect each other from any kind of discrimination or Islamophobia.” Aymen Derbali, Quebec City survivor

Islamophobia is not just a “Muslim” issue — it is a Canadian problem of injustice, inequality and discrimination facing Canadian citizens of all backgrounds. While government legislation is an important starting point to address this problem, as Aymen articulated in his interview, we all have a responsibility as individuals and communities to challenge this form of racism and discrimination wherever it is encountered. So what can we do as individuals and communities to respond to Islamophobia? Based on what we heard from participants, here are just a few examples of steps we can take:

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Shut down dinner table racism. Anti-Muslim narratives are often perpetuated casually in conversations at the dinner table, at the office, or online. While these forms of Islamophobia may seem the least harmful, they are the most insidious and lead to the normalization of Islamophobia in mainstream society.

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Hold the media and public figures accountable for promoting Islamophobic tropes.

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Urge the government to take immediate action on Islamophobia and repeal legislation that unfairly targets or singles out the Muslim community.

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Encourage educators to incorporate the experiences, perspectives and words of Muslim people into their curriculum.

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Encourage your workplaces to provide diversity training.

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Get to know your Muslim neighbours and make an effort to understand more about Islam.

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Report hate crimes when you witness them taking place.


Conclusion Although the federal government made a series of commitments towards fighting Islamophobia at the National Summit (July 2021), only two of over a dozen participants interviewed had any knowledge that this summit had even taken place. Those that had heard about the summit lacked information around the outcomes and commitments that were made, which shows a worrying disconnect between the government and the community. As our report indicates, many Canadians across the country still do not feel at liberty to truly express themselves, nor do they feel safe within their own communities. While many are pleased by the preliminary steps taken by the government, they lack confidence in the government implementing the concrete measures necessary to practically address the issue on the ground.

On this 2nd National Day of Remembrance and Action against Islamophobia and the 5th anniversary of the Quebec City mosque attack, Islamic Relief Canada calls on the government to reflect upon the gravity of Islamophobia in Canada and immediately take all necessary actions to tackle Islamophobia and its root causes — through both practice and policy. The government can begin by honouring the commitments made at the National Summit on Islamophobia, and partnering with relevant stakeholders and community organizations to establish a national research lab on Islamophobia.

learn from each other’s similarities and differences. This commitment remains despite all that they have been through; each individual we spoke to was hopeful that with more education, proper legislation and more public engagement, attitudes will change and we will build a better country together based upon universal values of love, peace and harmony. Islamic Relief Canada shares this hope and believes that with consistency, persistence and determination, God willing, this can be our Canada.

Throughout our interviews, participants repeated their commitment towards building a better Canada, largely because it is a country where multiculturalism thrives and citizens from all backgrounds have the opportunity to know one another and

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Appendix Islamic Relief Canada’s Recommendations to the Federal Government re: National Action Summit on Islamophobia (July 2021)

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1.

Establish a working definition of Islamophobia through a six-month consultative process with key community stakeholders and town hall meetings. We need a unified broad-based definition of Islamophobia supported by universities, political parties, civil society, and Muslim organizations. In this context, all such measures should be adopted with the perspective of not protecting a religion — but, rather, protecting believers and others associated with a religion. Any definition should relate to the protections afforded by the legal definition of racism — but here extended to apply to the racialization of a community associated with Muslims and Islam.

2.

The federal government must initiate a plan to strengthen race and hate crime legislation under the criminal code.

3.

The federal government should establish a national reporting hotline on Islamophobia and other hate crimes. In our discussions, many individuals told us that there is a lack of know-how on reporting antiMuslim hate, and there is a fear that reports would not be acted upon or taken seriously by relevant parties. Any such hotline should be inclusive of all hate crimes and should be heavily advertised and accessible. It should respect anonymity and work with the necessary public safety bodies across the country. All data should be disaggregated and presented monthly by this body to analyze trends and patterns — including information on non-Muslims affected by Islamophobia. (It might be preferable for the hotline to be managed by an NGO, Muslim or non-Muslim so that people are not intimidated in any way — but with adequate government funding).

4.

The federal government should immediately launch an independent investigation into the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) unfair profiling of Islamic charities for audits. A report released by the National Council of Canadian Muslims/University of Toronto and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group shows evidence of the CRA targeting Muslim charities in audits. As one of the world’s most prominent Muslim NGOs, we consider the findings of this report very concerning and feel that it undermines the intentions and commitment of Canadian Muslims to humanitarian causes both here and overseas. The reports by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group together provide vital recommendations that the government must act upon immediately to remove the practical targeting and social stigmatization of Muslim charities.

5.

In partnership with universities and local community organizations, the federal government should establish a national research lab on Islamophobia. The purpose of the lab would be to collect evidencebased research and data on Islamophobia, conduct extensive research into root causes, and provide recommendations on effective counter-programming.

ISL AMIC RELIEF CANADA


Appendix Cont’d Islamic Relief Canada’s Recommendations to the Federal Government re: National Action Summit on Islamophobia (July 2021)

6.

In partnership with media institutions and local governments, the federal government should commit to working with community organizations to launch public awareness campaigns about Islam and Muslims through radio, television, and social media. Local governments should pave the way to outfit public transport and other public venues with decals that raise awareness of Islam and Canadian Muslims. Such campaigns have been successful in the United Kingdom in bridging gaps and educating communities on Muslims, as well as in raising awareness about hate crimes and how to report them.

7.

Federal, provincial, and municipal governments should implement systemic changes to eliminate Islamophobia in police services and national security agencies. In our conversations, many individuals told us that when they reported incidents in the past, they have often been dismissed and not taken seriously. All hate and anti-Muslim hate incidents should be actioned by police, with the relevant authorities being held accountable for failures to act on reports. Authorities should also be working closely with the national hotline (mentioned in point 3).

8.

Provincial governments should include anti-Islamophobia awareness and basic learning on religions/ religious communities in Canada in education curriculums.

9.

The federal government should allocate funding to an organization (such as the National Council of Canadian Muslims) specializing in handling Islamophobia and diversity to devise and roll out a training program for faith-based and other community organizations. The training should cover all forms of hate, such as islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia and should include education around relevant legislation and language. All organizations that receive government funding for programs should be mandated to undergo training as part of their contractual agreements.

10. We need a revision of the national security threat assessment and stricter controls on countering, preventing and banning white supremacy in Canada. Currently, Canada is among the top producers of online hate content from white supremacist groups. Governments should be clear on where Canada stands on white supremacy. We need more security, better preventative measures, and a crackdown on groups and individuals promoting white supremacist ideology. This includes continuing to add more white supremacist groups to the terrorist entities list. Currently, the terrorist threat disproportionately and inaccurately primarily focuses on Muslim and racialized communities.

IN THEIR WORDS: UNTOLD STORIES OF ISL AMOPHOBIA IN CANADA

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