A community consultation on Islamophobia was held in The Family Centre on Nov. 7, as Ontarians joined to discuss key issues and recommended next steps to take in order to spread awareness. Dozens of Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as representatives from a host of agencies, attended.
There were guests who spoke on the issue: Jasmin Zine, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University; Karen Spencer, executive director of Family Children Services in Waterloo; Christiane Sadeler, executive director of Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council; and Fauzia Mazhar, chair and founder of the Coalition for Muslim Women of Kitchener Waterloo.
Sarah Shafiq, coordinator of Islamophobia project, says Islamophobia is the irrational fear of Islam or Muslims. It exists at the individual level, as people develop negative stereotypes resulting in hate crimes; at the policy level in our legislatures; and at the cultural level in movies, literature and video games.
“Safety is a right of every Canadian and many Muslims don’t feel safe. One in five Muslims have been discriminated against in the past five years,” according to an Environics report on Canadian Muslims. “The impact of Islamophobia is very similar to that of homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism.”
The number of police-reported hate crimes which target Muslims increased between 2015 and 2016, as did the number of reports by police officers about incidents being motivated by race, hatred and ethnicity, according to Statistics Canada data.
Shafiq encourages people to have sincere knowledge of different religions and not be influenced by propaganda. Biased coverage and selective coverage of Muslims in the media and cultural industries have given rise to the stereotypes.
“We really have to work at the systems level to combat anti-Muslim hate,” she said. “We have seen examples already in the Balkans, where Christian and Muslims were married and lived like brothers and sisters. But when propaganda started, those relations were severed and friends became enemies.”
Shafiq advises that Muslim students or residents who become victims of bullying or hate crimes should not confront their attacker. Rather, they should first seek a safe place. Try to take as many pictures and details as possible and write them down or voice record as soon as possible. Licence plates and descriptions of attackers are important information for police. Victims should also get information of witnesses. They should report incidents to the police and get a confirmation number. They should ask that the reports be filed under hate-related crimes.
Those who are curious about the religion are encouraged to attend events to gain knowledge — and if they want to ask Muslims questions, they should not be afraid, Shafiq says.
“Muslims are no different than any other faith community. Just like we don’t claim that all Christians support the KKK, similarly, we should avoid generalization for Muslims. Ask questions directly to a Muslim. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most Muslims will be happy to answer a sincerely asked question.”