This week a family was murdered in London, Ontario. They were murdered for the “crime” of being Muslim. A stranger intentionally drove his truck into them killing a mom, dad, grandma, and a daughter. The youngest child, a 9-year-old boy has survived, though the life he had known has not.
Every time there is another example of Islamophobia in the news I think of my Muslim friends in Toronto at different mosques and how kind, generous and welcoming they are to the students and adults I take there. It is just gutting to think of what they’re going through, knowing that someone might target them or their loved ones on the basis of their faith alone.
We know that Islamophobia is a growing menace in Canada. Consider:
- Four years ago, six men were gunned down in a Quebec mosque while at prayer.
- Last September, a caretaker was killed outside a mosque while handing out disinfectant by someone who came simply to kill a Muslim.
- Several Muslim women in Alberta were attacked in separate incidents over just a few months, being yelled at, pushed, kicked, knocked down, and having their head covering ripped off (Black Muslim women are especially being targeted). Muslims are unique for having hate crimes disproportionately target women.
- This poll shows 4 in 10 Canadians think immigrants are “stealing” white people’s jobs while 3 in 10 think Muslims follow shariah instead of local laws.
- Quebec has the most religiously discriminatory law in North America which prohibits people with visible religious apparel from working for the government in any capacity – as a nurse, a teacher, a judge, policewoman, or daycare worker. The law is popular in Quebec.
- Hate crimes against Muslims across Canada, which were at 45 incidents in 2012 and 65 in 2013, have surged in recent years, crossing the 100 barrier and each year getting closer to 200 per year (181 in 2019; note the spike of 349 in 2017).
What can we do?
First, we need to acknowledge that Canada has a problem. Hate crimes have been going up in recent years, most notably against Muslims and Jews. For all the multicultural and pluralism language (and to be clear, that language does matter), we must not let it paper over the problems that rob people of safety, their jobs, and sometimes their lives.
Second, we can speak out. If you know a Muslim, reach out. Let them know you’re thinking about them and their loved ones, and that they are an important part of your community. If you’re inclined, write the leaders of federal parties to tell them they must speak up against Quebec’s Bill 21. If you reside in Quebec, write the premier. If you are a community or business leader, don’t let this opportunity to denounce Islamophobia pass.
Third, we need to educate. Fear thrives on the unknown. We fear what we don’t know. We need as a society to become more religiously literate. We can learn through classes and readings, but it is also really valuable – important even – to learn through experiences and relationships. We get so much from entering a mosque, from meeting an imam, from asking a co-worker how they’re doing or if their family celebrates Eid. Learning is beautiful. It not only imparts knowledge, it imparts curiosity. And curiosity is the tonic to hate and stereotypes.
If you’re looking for ways to educate yourself, here are three good books I can recommend (in no particular order):
- Reza Aslan’s No God But God gives a succinct but also insightful overview of the religion. This is the Islam 101 book, well written and an easy read.
- The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth is more personal, with 21 Canadian Muslim women writing short pieces on their personal experience of their faith, of their mosque, and of living in Canada. What I love best is that the women are incredibly diverse because – surprise – not every Muslim woman agrees with every other. The women range from being veiled or not, straight or queer, racialized or white, an immigrant, a convert, etc. Chapters are very short at eight to ten pages each, giving you a really accessible look into the varied lives of Canadian Muslim women.
- Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. This is the most academic book, written by Harvard’s Leila Ahmed. It’s excellent – she starts with pre-Islamic Arabia, looks at how Islam changed women’s lives in several ways, and traces up to modern issues and the range of voices. A classic that received rave reviews in major newspapers.
But don’t stop there. Share books about the Muslim faith with kids in your life. Here’s several suggestions that might get you started and your local library likely has more. Choose a story featuring Muslim characters for your next book club or family movie night. And reach out and talk to folks in your house of worship, at work, or in your community, about what we can do right now to create a more educated, compassionate society in the hopes that this was the last time we will see a family destroyed by hate.