By Carissa Dickinson
Everyone knows the feeling of getting ready to go out with someone. It feels like there’s millions of thoughts going through your head, but one always stands out the most. “I hope they like me”. See at the end of the day that’s really what we all want, to be accepted, to belong. Personally, I can relate to this more than I honestly want to. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel completely overwhelmed with anxiety. Constantly worried about what people will think about me and the judgements they’re going to pass. The sad reality of our society, one that people may want to ignore or deny, is that people face this judgement every day. On a way, bigger scale than what I have to deal with. People need to fear for their lives because of the judgements other pass on them all for practicing something that they have a right to believe in. This is called religious discrimination. Over 1 million people within Canada identify as Muslim with a population upwards of 400,000 in Toronto alone ("Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada." 2016). Almost 5% of Canadas population is being forced to make a choice between their beliefs and their safety ("Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada." 2016). Whether or not we want to believe it, the fact of the matter is, it’s our fault.
I’m Carissa Dickinson. Sorry I’m bad at introducing myself. But I thought explaining my situation to you would make it easier to relate to the rest of the show. See, People try to give me advice all the time when it comes to my anxiety. The problem is, they don’t really understand what anxiety is or what I go through. Where the relation comes in is that the same can be said for this discrimination. People are so ready to act out on opinions that they honestly have no real understanding of. This is where the problem stems from.
It’s hard to believe that something as awful as religion discrimination could occur within a county like Canada. Probably because when people think about Canada one of the first phrases that comes to mind is freedom. It is embedded in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for people to be able to live how they choose. But maybe this ideology of freedom for all, is just a front. Section 2 of our charter, lays out our fundamental freedoms (“Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982.” 2016). Everyone’s heard of freedom of speech and expression, but it doesn’t end there. Canadians are protected under (a) freedom of conscience and religion, (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, (c) freedom of peaceful assembly and (d) freedom of association (“Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982.” 2016). All of these freedoms have been broken in acts of discrimination against Muslim Canadians. I read in a CBC News article about a Muslim woman who was picking her child up from school. She was waiting for her son when two men started to beat her and call her a terrorist (News, CBC 2015). She was just a mother waiting for her child. These men honestly believed that because of her religion, she must be a part of a terrorist organization, right? These negative images are held by so many people and where the real problem lies is that they are acted on.
These terrible acts aren’t committed by people because all Canadians have a hatred towards Muslims. What it really boils down to is education or in this case a lack there of. An article written by Meena Sharify- Funk explains this perfectly. The article explains how the media plays a role in the creation and the solution of conflicts within Canada’s Muslim Community (Sharify-Funk 2009). Today’s media has the power to manipulate information (Sharify-Funk 2009). We see it all the time in magazines. Big head lines saying “Kim Kardashian Pregnant again!”. And when you really think about it, how many of those front-page stories were actually true? The media works in one way, they give the people what they want (Sharify-Funk 2009). Now don’t get me wrong the media isn’t totally bad but it definitely has negative impacts on our views, especially in this era where people are constantly turning to some form of social media (Sharify-Funk 2009). I mean the media can do great things too. It’s a way to teach people and spread information (Sharify-Funk 2009). Where the problem occurs is how they choose to share their information (Sharify-Funk 2009). A great example is what happened after 9/11. For those of you who don’t know the September 11 attacks were carried out by several members of alcada. These members flew planes into buildings all over the county but the most remembered is the planes that destroyed the Twin Towers, leaving an unspeakable amount of people dead. After 9/11 the medias representation of Muslims changed (Sharify-Funk 2009). The media began scrutinizing every action taken by Muslims (Sharify-Funk 2009). They started feeding into images of majority culture disapproval (Sharify-Funk 2009). In plain terms, they started showing people negative images in order to match the growing negativity towards Muslims. This information that they were teaching, just simply wasn’t true. The media has the ability to spread and teach stereotypical thought (Sharify-Funk 2009). This is where many people get the information that they use to create their opinions of Muslims (Sharify-Funk 2009). If people were properly educated on this religion, they wouldn’t have the opinions, or act on them the way they do now.
One of the most common stereotypes spread by the media, one that I’m sure you guys have all heard, is about the practice of veiling. Now for those of you who don’t know, veiling is something practiced by Muslim Women; if they choose to take part in it, a more common term for veil is the hijab (Atazoy 2003). Now there are actually several different kinds of hijabs, which is something most people probably don’t know (Atazoy 2003). Wearing a hijab is a personal choice, however a lot of people don’t recognize it as that (Atazoy 2003). In the Muslim religion, wearing the hijab is meant to represent a women’s devotion to God (Atazoy 2003). They choose to wear it as symbol of their belief and love. Unfortunately, since many people are unaware of the background on it, it has started to mean something entirely different. People think that the Muslim religion itself is oppressing towards women and so when they choose to physically represent this religion they are seen as being oppressed themselves (Atazoy 2003). It’s as if any form of religion is seen as bad in the eyes of people who don’t practice it. But never fear, the MSA is here to answer all questions about veiling and much more.
You may be asking who the MSA is. Well, The Muslim Students Association or the MSA is an organization implemented into schools that creates a safe place for Muslim Students (Home- York MSA 2016). MSA’s all have goals of creating a community as well as providing programs easily accessible for students. York University, which is actually where I go to school, has an MSA of their own. Here at York the MSA provides many programs, the most popular of which being their prayer services but it doesn’t stop there (Home- York MSA 2016). I actually got the chance to talk to the president and vice president of York’s MSA. They’re both super cool fourth year students who wanted to be involved. Noor Tabassum and Ashfaq Abdullah have both been involved with the MSA since they were in first year (Abdullah 2016). Their most popular program is Friday Prayer (Abdullah 2016). While talking with them they told me that there’s around 350 people that participate (Abdullah 2016). The MSA is able to create a safe environment where friendships are forged (Abdullah 2016). “Till 10 o’clock youll see someone here”, that’s what Ashfaq told me during our interview (Abdullah 2016). People love the sense of community so much, that they don’t want to leave. This caring and loving nature is the side of Muslims that the media doesn’t want to show. The MSA is trying to help with that. While there are many goals that the MSA are trying to reach, their main goal is something that we as Canadians desperately need. Their goal is to spread awareness (Home- York MSA 2016). They hold many advocacy events that are open to everyone (Home- York MSA 2016). Some people might think that The Muslim Students Association would be open to only Muslims, but that’s not the case here. The MSA wants to ensure that everyone is included. The point of their advocacy events is to well advocate. They want to share information about their religion as well as answer questions (Abdullah 2016). Making sure that the truth about their religion is told and that people are able to clarify any questions they have is their main goal (Abdullah 2016). Going to these events are actually what got the now president and vice president involved (Abdullah 2016). Seeing the community that was created by this organization was too hard to resist. Why would anyone want to resist this sense of friendship anyway?
York University is full of openminded and caring people that make things like the MSA possible. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same opportunity. A study conducted by Jasmine Zine follows seven Muslim students and three parents within Toronto schools (2011). It looks at how these students deal with maintaining their religious beliefs while at the same time trying to create an identity for themselves. One of the participants spoke about the treatment she faced within her school. She says that while she was treated fairly she was also patronized constantly (Zine 2011). It’s her belief that the treatment she faced came from a lack of education about what being Muslim means (Zine 2011). If only the people within her school had taken the time to learn, the way she was treated would have been so different. She would have been treated the way she deserved, like everyone else. During my interview with the MSA here at York, Noor told me that during advocacy events people will come with questions and concerns (Abdullah 2016). The students involved will then do their best to answer them and clear up anything that’s been misinterpreted (Abdullah 2016). Could you imagine the difference that would have made for the student in the study?
I know I’m making it seem like everything about the way Canada treats others is bad, but it’s not all bad. In 2013 the creation of a Canadian Office of Religious Freedom was announced (Wallace & Wiseman 2013). This office was going to monitor and promote religious freedom (Wallace & Wiseman 2013). Finally, people no longer have to worry about how they’ll be treated for practicing their religion. So how perfect, an office within one of the most multicultural countries in the world, meant to protect these multiple cultures – right? The citizens of Canada didn’t think so. People felt that money shouldn’t be devoted to things such as promoting religion (Wallace & Wiseman 2013). People thought very strongly that Canada is a secularist country and it should stay that way (Wallace & Wiseman 2013). This may seem negative to a lot of people. But in my eyes, it was a positive. Because despite the fact that there was so much controversy around it, it was still thought of. People recognized the amount of discrimination within this country enough to make a change or at least push for it. We are making progress, in more ways than just one.
I know I might sound like a broken record by now but I want to make it clear just how much this discrimination is being recognized. Other organizations are even doing their part to stop the spread of hate. One example is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This organization is working to implement different educational policies that will fight hatred and prejudice (“Countering Discrimination against Muslims.”2016). Another way, that I think is amazing, is by training organizations on how to deal with hate crimes(“Countering Discrimination against Muslims.”2016). I know these ideas aren’t exactly like MSA’s. But, regardless of how they choose to get there they still want the same things. To make people feel safe, and to stop hate.
Noor told me during our interview that she sees the impact the MSA is making on people. Through the friendships people make but in so many more ways. She told me that she thinks the MSA is a place that teaches people. Which is perfect considering what the topic of this podcast is about. She believes that people learn what it really means to be Muslim. And that’s to be kind and caring of others. When she told me that I was honestly really happy. The fact that this small organization can actually make a difference is really amazing. But, she also told me that it wasn’t having the impact she first thought it would. She wishes that more people would take part and participate. I agree with her. I think being involved with this organization will make such a big difference when it comes to how we not only view but treat others.
I know there was a lot of information thrown at you in this podcast so let’s see if we can summarize the main points here. So obviously, we know that religious discrimination is bad and its extremely common within Canada. We also know that the lack of education about it is what leads to this discrimination. And that’s because the media chooses to present stereotypical images and thoughts. But, organizations like the MSA are working to stop it. Advocacy is the key to peace. I think that was a pretty good summarization. As hard as it may be, we can’t lose hope. The images of discrimination make it easy to give up and say that the problem will never be solved but I see a chance. I see hope that one day this discrimination will end. One day people will no longer have to worry about practicing what they choose. I know it seems like a long shot. But look at the facts, its already starting.
Abdullah & Tabassum. Personal Interview. October 2016.
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