By Nina Badwal – October 2021 – 

Each year since 2007, Canada has officially recognized the month of October as Islamic History Month.  It’s a time where all Canadians can learn more about the culture, contributions and achievements of the Muslim community.  

“During this month I want people to know that Islam is a beautiful religion and that not every Muslim is a spokesperson for the religion as a whole,” said Munira Yusuf, Caseworker for Health Access St. James Town.  

Munira Yusuf says the hate-motivated attacks against Muslims in Canada come from ignorance.

Yusuf said the hate-motivated attacks against Muslims in this country come from ignorance.  “It is ignorance that not many people are willing to confront. It takes work from the inside to be accepting of others – to address our own biases, prejudice, and continuing to learn. Those with hatred for Muslims see our existence as a threat to their own and their own core beliefs.”

Abdullah Hakim Quick is an Imam and lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto in Scarborough. He agrees that ignorance and the fear of Muslims and Islam are to blame for the hate crimes.  He also believes misinformation in the form of propaganda has played a huge part in fuelling Islamophobia.  

Quick referred to “American-style movies” in which the villain is portrayed as a foreigner.  “If you follow movies over the past decades, you’ll see that at one point it was Germans, another point it was Russians during the Cold War.  It was also Japanese and Chinese drug cartels.  But in the past few decades, it’s been terrorists – especially Arab terrorists or Afghan or Muslim so-called terrorists.”

Despite condemnation from Canadian politicians and leaders against Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to plague Canada.  On June 6th of this year, four members of a family were run down and killed by a male driver in London, Ontario.  Police said the attack was planned and premeditated and the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith.  

On June 23rd in Edmonton, two sisters wearing hijabs were attacked by a man with a knife, as they were walking on a pathway.  Both sustained non-life threatening injuries.  Other attacks targeting Muslim women in that city this year have also been reported.  

This year in Quebec City, the Muslim community marked the 4th anniversary of the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre.  On January 29, 2017, a man entered the mosque and shot and killed six men during evening prayers.  

“When something like that happens, I’m in denial – is this really happening? It’s traumatic when you see [the violent attacks] against Muslims,” said Alaa Mohamed, Client Engagement Worker at the St. James Town Community Corner.  

Alaa Mohamed says she wants people to learn about the contributions Muslims have made to society.  

Mohamed said she wants people to learn about Muslims who have contributed to society like the scientist Ibn Sina, instead of adhering to stereotypes.  “I think people have stereotyped [the hijab].  They think if you’re Hijabi that means you’re forced by your parents [to wear the hijab], you don’t have the choice to do a lot of things – and that’s the opposite of my life to be honest.  My parents give me the choice to study, to do everything that I want.”

Quick said a lack of knowledge about Muslims has its roots in Eurocentrism which is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “reflecting a tendency to interpret the world in terms of European or Anglo-American values and experiences.”  Quick said, “Eurocentrism is the basis of the education system…it focuses on Europe and United States and Canada – the Western countries.  That’s the basic history and culture that you learn.  You don’t learn much about the First Nations people, you don’t learn much about the Middle East or about Africa or Asia.  These are all side type of studies.”

He said although the world is changing and people of different nationalities are making their voices heard, society still has to deal with racism and Islamophobia. “This is why our theme this year [at the Islamic Institute of Toronto] is Discover the World of Islam.  Discover is a positive word. It’s not a debate, it’s not an argument – it’s a discovery; to show Islam, the cultures, the heritage of Muslim peoples.  We will be making some displays about that.” 

Islamic Institute of Toronto (Photo: www.islam.ca)

During Islamic History Month, Mohamed said she wants to revisit a hobby that she enjoyed in the past.  “I love the Arabic calligraphy – it identifies a lot with the Islamic culture and its art as well.  It’s beautiful actually.  I want to practice it again.  I think this is a great opportunity to return back to this.”

For more information about events and activities during Islamic History Month, visit: https://islam.ca/ or attend in person at: Islamic Institute of Toronto, 1630 Neilson Rd., Scarborough.