Opinion: Hurt and healing—a response to anti-Muslim hate
Anti-Muslim hate has been steadily increasing in Canada, with incidents such as the attack on a London, Ont. family that left four dead and one seriously injured or the attack on two women in St. Albert, Alta. that police are treating as “hate motivated.” We asked Salima Versi, Athabasca University (AU) tutor and a PhD candidate in religious studies focusing on Islamic studies, to share insight on how incidents like these are affecting the Muslim community, how to lend support for all racialized communities experiencing violence or injustice, and how we can heal—together.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I’m doing, how my community is doing. Most days, I don’t have enough words, the right words, to describe what we’re going through, but the first word that often comes out is “exhausted.” It has been an incredibly long and difficult year for racialized folx, and that exhaustion has only been compounded by the increasing violence Muslims, particularly racialized Muslim women, are experiencing. The word that comes almost immediately after is anger. Amongst the Muslim women I know, with my clients and friends, there is a particular kind of rage that has taken hold—the anger of having to curtail our lives, of having to be constantly vigilant, of having to take self-defence classes, or carry bear spray just to walk down the street. There is also fear and horror and shock.
And beneath it all, there is deep pain and a sadness that wears us to the bone. It hurts to know that, despite the Muslim community being part of the fabric of this country for so long—to have sacrificed so much to be here, to have given everything we can to make it better—in many eyes we still do not belong. It does not seem to matter that there have been Muslims on this land as far back as 1851, perhaps even longer, that the oldest mosque in Canada was built and opened here in Edmonton in 1938, or that there are more than a million of us in this country, making Islam one of the largest religions in Canada, second only to Christianity. To still not belong hurts in ways we cannot fully articulate, even to one another. The grief is so heavy it is almost tangible, and it weighs on us constantly.
“We have come to a moment of reckoning in this country, a crossroads we must collectively confront.”
And in the face of all this grief and anger and heartache, people inevitably ask how they can help. And that’s a complicated question. We have come to a moment of reckoning in this country, a crossroads we must collectively confront. Anti-Muslim violence is not separate from anti-Black racism and violence, or from the violence that continues to be perpetrated against Indigenous people whose land we occupy. So when we think about how we help Muslim communities, we also need to ask how we help every community that is facing injustice.
First and foremost, we need to build stronger communities and that means building solidarity. Knowing these issues are interconnected means we need to work together to create safer spaces for ourselves and one another. We also need to create policy that focuses on investing in communities. That means housing-first initiatives, access to quality mental health care, harm reduction approaches to addictions, and school curricula that reflect the lived realities of all our communities, rather than just some. Systemic change is essential, and it will take real courage and political will to make that happen.
But there is also personal work that we can all do. I encourage everyone to start in your own life. Look at your circle of friends and figure out whose voices and perspectives are missing. If you don’t have Muslim friends, Indigenous friends, and friends of different races and ethnicities, ask yourself why. Then challenge yourself to do better. Read and learn about what’s going on, ask questions, and then leverage that knowledge to educate others. This is especially potent when done at your own kitchen table, with your own friends and family, because you have access to those spaces in a way that those most affected often do not. Don’t let the little things slide because all those little things are part of an arc that results in the kind of violence we’re seeing. And this applies to me, too, as a Muslim who is not Black and does not wear the hijab. I know what I know only because of the patient labour and education of hijabi sisters and Black and Indigenous folx; writing pieces like this is part of how I pay that forward
“Look at your circle of friends and figure out whose voices and perspectives are missing. If you don’t have Muslim friends, Indigenous friends, and friends of different races and ethnicities, ask yourself why.”
The final question people tend to ask is whether I still have hope. And to be honest, these days, I’m not sure. Hope is a beautiful thing, but it is fragile. It needs to be loved and nurtured and protected. And while I still believe we can change and become better, I need your help in nurturing that belief. Please prove to us that you are who you say you are, that you care about us and our pain; show us you mean it through your actions and your commitment to growing as you learn to shoulder the heavy truths we are all facing right now. Keep showing up, even when it’s hard, because it’s going to take all of us to really heal this hurt.
The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Athabasca University.