Arslaan Khokhar, Student of Medical Physics at Ryerson University, Canada
On Monday, 9 June 2021, a Muslim family was attacked in a targeted anti-Islamic hate crime. Four people were killed and one person was severely injured.
This act of terror is not the first of its kind in Canada. In 2017, a shooter attacked a mosque in Quebec City, Quebec. This incident left six dead and 19 wounded. In 2015, a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario was deliberately set ablaze.
These overt and brazen acts of violence are horrific. The incidents are motivated by a misguided and false fear of the Muslim community. In a report sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the following statistics were noted:
• 46% of Canadians have an unfavourable view of Islam – more than for any other religious tradition
• Fewer than half of Canadians would find it “acceptable” for one of their children to marry a Muslim – lower than for any other religious group
• 56% of Canadians believe that Islam suppresses women’s rights
• More than half of people living in Ontario feel mainstream Muslim doctrines promote violence
• 47% of Canadians support banning headscarves in public (compared with 30% of Americans)
• 51% support government surveillance of mosques (as compared to 46% of Americans) (www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/Islamophobia-AntiMuslim/Civil%20Society%20or%20Individuals/Noor-ICLMG-ISSA.pdf)
The same report states that “Islam and Muslims receive disproportionately negative coverage.” Violent crimes with a seemingly Muslim perpetrator are much more likely to receive coverage than the same story without a Muslim perpetrator. Further, a Muslim perpetrator is more likely to be described as a “terrorist”, linked without evidence to a larger terror network and defined by their racial or religious background. These characterisations are even more likely when the perpetrator is black, indigenous or a person of colour.
This does not include other forms of discrimination including racial profiling by local police, intrusive CSIS data collection and dehumanising treatment at border crossings.
All this evidence points to a pattern of islamophobia and racism.
Prophet Muhammadsa said, “Love of your country is part of your faith.” The family members who lost their lives in the recent terror attacks in Ontario were known for their commitment to the community.
The daughter, Yumna Afzaal – aged 15 – had painted a mural in the basement of her brother’s elementary school and “was set to be asked to be a grade-10 representative on the Muslim Students Association”. The father, Salman Afzaal, was someone who was “deeply involved in projects at the mosque”. The mother, Mahida Salman, had a goal of getting a job as a junior engineer so she could work on geo-environmental issues and contribute towards the reclamation of our natural environment. In spite of the deep misrepresentation of Muslims, this family continued to help their community.
This begs the question of what should be done to prevent these attacks. The easy answer would be harsher sentences for those who perform hate-motivated crimes. However, I believe this solution is not supported by an Islamic way of thinking, nor is it supported by the evidence presented in the above UN report. The rhetoric that leads to such horrific actions comes from a place of fear.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community holds free interfaith and open-mosque events such as these quite regularly. An interfaith symposium is an event where a panel made up of different faith leaders are given a stage to present the true image of their faith. These events remove misconceptions about Islam. They aim to educate. And come from a place of love and tolerance.
Through dialogue, education and getting to know Muslims, the strong tide of anti-Muslim sentiments can calm.
It is through these events that we can reduce the fear of “the other” and prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.