I’m Muslim, and I hope you’ll understand.

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In the last week, I have seen, heard and read a lot. Many people have expressed their views and opinions in response to the recent attacks that took place in Paris and Beirut and several other countries. It has taken me time to finally express my feelings, because I was trying to understand and make sense of what was happening in the world, and I’m still trying. In the past week, I have seen people of different faiths and ethnicities express their deep sorrow about the 130 individuals that were killed on Nov. 13. I have seen social media posts targeting certain faiths and ethnicities for being responsible for the attacks. I have seen people question the admissibility of Syrian refugees into Canada because they think they pose a threat to our nation (even though they are trying to escape the same crazy nut heads who killed people in Paris). I have heard about a mosque, a place where Muslims pray, getting burnt down in Peterborough; a woman getting verbally attacked and pushed at a Toronto subway station; a woman getting punched and having her hijab, a headscarf, ripped off while trying to pick up her children from school; and various other occurrences of innocent individuals getting blamed for things they have not done. I have stood next to a man reading an article about ‘ISIS’, and glancing over at me, and wondered, what might be going through his mind? I’ve received a text from my sister saying: Carry pepper spray with you for your own safety. I’ve received a text from an editor saying, “I sincerely hope you haven’t personally experienced any negativity over the situation.” I’ve gotten on the subway and received all kinds of looks. In my head, I’m thinking, wow I must look really good today, that’s probably why they’re staring at me right, but that’s probably not the case. But who knows?

Each of these incidents has left me shocked, and wondering why humanity is failing. When the #ParisAttacks occurred, I was shocked and sad to hear what had happened, just as much as I was sad to hear what happened in Beirut a day earlier, or what happened in Mali a few days ago, or Ankara last month, or maybe the earthquake in Afghanistan, and all the other countries where people die, suffer and struggle every day.

It aches me that because of these attacks, suddenly, a large population of the Muslim community both here in Toronto, and abroad is being pressured to apologize time and time again for what happened, when really, they had nothing to do with any of it. That lady who was picking up her children from school, for what reason did she have to experience a personal attack? I’m sorry, but there is no reason for people to have to apologize for what they haven’t done. And I’m sorry, but how can you assume something about me or my sisters who also wear a headscarf, without knowing a single thing about us? We are not accountable for the actions of some crazy group of people who “claim” to be Muslims.

What I hope people will understand is that Islam is a religion of peace. It teaches us that acting unjustly towards one person is equivalent to acting unjustly towards all human beings. The Islam I grew up with teaches me to greet strangers with a smile, help the less fortunate, to be forgiving even when we’re hurt, to seek and promote justice, and spread love and peace in our homes, our communities and our world. This is the Islam that I try to achieve and practice every day.

For someone who’s been in Canada for 15 years, I identify myself as a Canadian-Muslim. I keep up with my prayers and strive to understand and apply the beautiful message of the Qur’an every day, but I also buy breakfast sandwiches from Tim Horton’s, I cheered for the Blue Jays when they made it to ALCS; and of course, I also dread taking the snow off my car before I commute with hundreds of other Canadians to study journalism in the heart of my favourite city: Toronto.  This is who I am, yet as I write this, I feel disappointed, because it almost sounds like I am trying to “prove” myself innocent or something, and I shouldn’t have to do that. So I wonder, just because I wear a headscarf or am clearly easy to point out as a Muslim, why do people think it’s okay to associate me with some unjust and horrible individuals? Why, when getting onto the subway, should I feel afraid because there’s a slight chance I’ll get verbally or physically attacked because I wear a symbol of faith in a country where freedom of conscience and religion is an accepted fundamental freedom? Why should I apologize for something I condemn? All my life, I’ve felt safe in Canada, and for the most part, I still feel safe, but I know there are people who have experienced discrimination, and this is a problem that something needs to be done about.

Like many other Muslim friends and relatives of mine, I too am stuck trying to make sense of everything. I could go on forever, but I want to offer some practical ways that we can respond to the current state of the world.

For my Muslim friends and family,

  1. Firstly, push yourself to be a better Muslim, each and every day. Learn the beauty of Islam, and spread it in your homes, your schools and your communities. Greet people with a bigger smile on your commute to work or hold the door open for a few seconds longer for the person walking behind you. A simple act can come a long way. Show what it means to be a Muslim, don’t tell.
  2. People will say things, on social media or in real life, and what they say might hurt and you may want to speak up. Always look at the situation and ask yourself, whether stepping in and speaking up will be worth it and useful or whether you should just leave it because not everyone will understand. Make a judgment call.
  3. I hope that every person stays safe always, but for those of you who feel unsafe, especially at night, travel with a friend or take advantage of the #illridewithyou hashtag to travel with kind people who are willing to help out.
  4. Speaking from a journalism student’s perspective, I understand that the media isn’t always fair, and the media’s coverage of mass shootings and killings isn’t always balanced. But you have to remember, that the media reports on what the public finds interesting. While it may seem that there news isn’t reported fairly, it’s probably out there, many people just haven’t picked it up. Do your research first, and if it’s not out there, speak up. But on that note, be sceptical of the media and don’t believe everything you hear. Verify the facts and be critical of what you read, and form your opinions logically and reasonably.
  5. Be patient, and make dua (a prayer). I know it’s a tough time, but praying to Allah s.w.t. will undoubtedly bring comfort to your hearts. Hold on to your Deen and let your courage be seen.

And to my non-Muslim friends,

Don’t feel sorry for me, or the other 1.6 billion Muslims that live around the world. The point of all this isn’t to ask for your pity. Instead, I hope that you will understand the situation appropriately. I hope that you will understand what real Muslims truly stand for. I hope you will understand and love us for who we are. I hope that you will advocate for what is just and what is right. I hope that you’ll understand, that the majority of Muslims condemn the violent acts that are taking place around the world. If you have questions or curiosities about my faith, don’t be afraid to ask me or any other Muslim you encounter. It is better to know, than to assume. I hope that you’ll understand that hijabs do not symbolize terrorism. Terrorism has no religion. I hope that next time, when you get on the subway, you won’t judge a person before you get to know them, but rather greet them with a warm smile and make them feel accepted in a country that they too consider theirs.

Because next time, when I’m walking down Yonge St. or getting off the subway at Dundas Station, I will greet you too, my non-Muslim friend, with a warm-loveable smile. Why? Because I appreciate you, regardless of our differences.