In light of the rising Islamophobia in Canada and around the world, Queen’s University Muslim Students Association (QUMSA) decided to open the conversation about what it means to be a Muslim.
Malak Elbatarny, one of QUMSA’s executive members, led the discussion with panelists Yasin Dwyer, Queen’s imam; Meri Macleod, human rights education advisor for the Limestone District School Board; Kate Johnson, Queen’s interfaith chaplain; Irfan Tahiri, 2013-14 ASUS vice president; and Mohamed Bayoumi, of the Islamic Society of Kingston and Queen’s professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering.
The events under discussion included the Oct. 22 shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France.
There was unanimous agreement by the panelists that the violent acts were inconsistent with Muslim values. Dwyer denied any possibility that these events were a result of a misunderstanding of Muslim scripture.
“These events have been looked upon as a deep tragedy for Muslims around the world,” he said.
“The idea of projecting the best of your image is important to any group of people. Terrorist acts done in the name of Islam are very hurtful to the Muslim community.”
Dwyer said the extremist narrative has nothing to do with tradition, but is the result of individuals reading their own insecurities into the text of the religion.
“These people feel they have been done an injustice — any victim of oppression and injustice would react in some way,” he said, adding that the key issues are the extent of violence and using Islam as justification for violence.
Elbaterny presented a statistic that 52 per cent of Canadians have become Islamophobic in light of recent events. Dwyer, Bayoumi and Tahiri credited this to the angles projected by mainstream media. All panelists agreed that individuals must educate themselves in order to understand and develop opinions on their own.
“We need to recognize the similarities between people and at the same time the differences between cultures, countries and contexts,” Bayoumi said.
Bayoumi added that he tried to put things in perspective so that people could understand the different experiences of Muslims in different countries. He said he believes members of the Muslim community in Kingston feel they are both Canadian and Muslims, and are comfortable identifying themselves as Canadian Muslims.
These Muslims are an integral part of the community, he said, which is what Muslims in other countries, such as in France, are lacking. He added that a community’s race relations have proven to be a proactive solution for what could otherwise be a divided community.
Tahiri agreed, saying that Canada has made itself “very comfortable” for Canadian Muslims.
“However, the result is that it is just as easy for Muslim Canadians to condemn the Parliament Hill shooter as it is for non-Muslim Canadians to be Islamophobic,” he said.
“National unity will be undermined the more Muslims are put in the spotlight,” Tahiri added in his closing statement.
The predominant topic of conversation surrounded the idea that mainstream media is to blame for spreading Islamophobia.
“It is not the job of the media to give us all the information,” Tahiri said, “their job is to write about sensational stories.”
Tahiri commended the CBC for choosing not to print the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that many other news sources reprinted. He said this choice to use free speech in a reserved manner is the mark of a “truly civilized society”.
“They knew they had the right to publish these photos, but they didn’t,” he said.
“Canadians stand together.”
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