Living with negative perceptions of Islam

“As a Muslim living in Southern Ontario, what have been some of the greatest challenges and moments of hope in the last ten years?” was the question posed to panellists by discussion moderator Gavin Brockett, an associate professor of Middle East and Islamic history. The panel, hosted in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Paul Martin Centre on Saturday evening, explored how societal changes impacted Muslim citizens after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

A common theme amongst panellists was the recognition of the greater scrutiny faced by Muslims on a personal and professional level, a problem furthered by media-propelled stereotypes and coverage.

“To always feel like you’re under surveillance, to always feel that you have to explain yourself or conduct yourself in a manner that doesn’t create more suspicion is a huge challenge, because you’re always monitoring yourself,” commented Ali Zaidi, a professor of global studies at WLU.

Ali Albarghouthi, a PhD candidate at Wilfrid Laurier, was in agreement. He added, “You’re not always only aware of yourself, your own desires, your own limitations, but you’re also aware of the others’ perception of you and both of these things fight within you.”

Also prevalent was an identification of the greatly increased role Muslims had to undertake as educators about Islam, something which had both negative and positive implications.

Basheer Habib, a management consultant, explained, “The whole education role that I had to play was really challenging, because I really found that people were really ignorant, massively ignorant in Kitchener-Waterloo about what Islam was, the different traditions within Islam.”

For Humera Javed, a Laurier graduate and current employee of the Diversity and Equity Office, “It has been difficult to talk about Islam without sounding apologetic.”

However, the difficulties of being forced into an educator role to mollify irrational fears and satisfy curious minds were also met with increased understanding and unity in some situations. In spite of the many negative implications of 9/11, most of the panellists had reason to express hope.

Nevine El Gendy, who is a board member at the K-W Counselling Center, expressed similar positive sentiments.

“Maybe that’s the positive thing that came out, that’s people now starting to move toward each other and get to know each other,” she speculated.

The insightful dialogue was an opportunity to further understanding through the primary experiences of Muslims in Canada, whose voices are not often as prominently heard.

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