This time of year finds us in a lull between the frenetic pace of the holidays and moving forward with our new aspirations. For Muslims in Quebec, it is also a period of remembrance and reflection. Since the tragic attack of Jan. 29, 2017 at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, we have been haunted by perennial questions of security and belonging.
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Muslim Awareness Week, which starts Wednesday, is one step toward a better, more inclusive future.
Western Islamophobia has extremely deep historical roots, originating well before the Crusades and the colonial conquest and administration of Muslim-majority populations. The legacy of these conflicts, which lasted centuries, has been a web of prejudices against us. In particular, during the past few decades, the fear of Islam and distrust of Muslims were dramatically boosted by the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war on terror.
Our religion is all too often misrepresented and misinterpreted, giving rise to political narratives used to justify pushing us to the margins of society.
Our blanket designation as “immigrants” — which two-thirds of us are — compounds our predicament. Being a Muslim and an immigrant leaves us doubly “the other.”
Not only do we find ourselves faced with misconceptions about Muslims, many of us also face them as immigrants. During the latest provincial election campaign, outgoing immigration minister Jean Boulet declared that “80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French, and don’t adhere to the values of Quebec society.” Really?
Those of us who have arrived as immigrants go through a stringent, lengthy selection process. We ask that other Quebecers get to know us, our successes, aspirations and concerns.
Muslim immigrants come from all parts of the world, adding richness to the culture, most noticeably gastronomy.
We come from rich cultural heritages often unknown to many, if not misunderstood.
And we are adjusting in many ways, large and small. We are called by our first name by perfect strangers and young people. The respect for elders, that we have rightfully earned for our experience and resilience, has dissolved in a culture that glorifies youth. Our social status in our countries of origin does not carry over here, where we and our families are unknown.
Immigrants have to work harder than anyone else and many are compelled to accept jobs well below their qualifications. We hope that the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) guidelines will improve significantly our employment opportunities.
The pandemic has taught us that we are all in it together. It is united that we can counter the challenges of our time; from proliferating environmental issues to shortages of labour, from the rising cost of living to increasing crime rates.
We remain optimistic.
The public sympathy shown for Fatemeh Anvari, a popular Grade 3 teacher who was reassigned to another role because she wears a hijab, showed that many Quebecers don’t agree with the prohibitions in Bill 21.
And while the odds still seem stacked against us, here comes incredible news: For years, the town of Hérouxville was synonymous with deep hostility toward (and ignorance about) Muslims. That has changed. Recently, its mayor, Bernard Thompson, was awarded the Prix Ulrick-Chérubin for 2022. This distinction highlights the contribution of municipal organizations and non-profit organizations in the implementation of good practices in the welcoming, integration and inclusion of immigrants throughout Quebec. It was devised by the Ministry of Immigration, Francization, and Integration (MIFI) and the Quebec Federation of Municipalities (FQM). Such a heart-warming development! Our sincere congratulations to him.
During Muslim Awareness Week, now in its fifth edition, we look forward to expanding our work for rapprochement among all people, building on our successes of the past four years and banking on the new initiatives. We invite you to participate in this human venture and adventure.
Samaa Elibyari is a board member of Muslim Awareness Week 2023. She lives in Montreal. A schedule for the event is available at ssm-maw.com
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