Muslims are Canadians and vice versa


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If we're not being pummelled on one side with the endless barrage of loathsome quotes and videos from the Islamic State, then we're being slapped in the face by the insidiously anti-Muslim rhetoric from our very own prime minister, Stephen Harper.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2015 (2938 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If we’re not being pummelled on one side with the endless barrage of loathsome quotes and videos from the Islamic State, then we’re being slapped in the face by the insidiously anti-Muslim rhetoric from our very own prime minister, Stephen Harper.

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed or paralyzed when day after day, you are being bombarded with alarming images, news interviews, analyses and debates about radicalism, violent extremism and the most vague and problematic term of all — “terrorism.” The debates around the proposed Bill C-51 and Harper’s recent comments in Parliament about the niqab being “from a culture that is anti-women” are just recent examples of how increasingly polarized the political landscape has become.

As a visible Muslim woman of the post-9/11 generation, born and raised in the U.K. and now settled in Winnipeg, all my adult life has been largely monopolized by the increasingly popular narrative that Muslims are a group to be suspicious of; a group to mistrust and fear.

That is why — now more than ever — we as Winnipeggers need to challenge this narrative. We need to remind people there is an alternative to the world view that is being presented by some politicians, pundits and those intent on creating a divisive and dichotomous paradigm.

This week, Canadian Mennonite University is providing opportunities to counter the dominant narrative by hosting seven Iranian students from the International Institute of Islamic Studies (IIIS) in Qom, Iran. They are here to take an intensive course with CMU faculty in Christian systematic theology.

This unlikely partnership is the brainchild of CMU director of the international and inter-faith theological initiative, Harry Huebner and Muhammad Ali Shomali, founding director of the International Institute of Islamic Studies in Iran. But it is not the first time Winnipeg, of all places, has hosted delegations from Iran. Since 2002, CMU has organized six different exchanges with male and female students and academics from Iran.

Speaking only for myself, as a fairly engaged (Sunni) Muslim Winnipegger, I am embarrassed to say my knowledge and interaction with my Shia brothers and sisters in Winnipeg has been limited. The never-ending crises caused by international geopolitical events — but always with a local impact — have led me to dedicate most of my free energy to building bridges of understanding and dialogue with communities and groups from outside of the Muslim community. Never in my 11 years in Winnipeg has it even been on my radar to make a concerted effort to meaningfully engage with all members from within the Muslim community.

It is ironic, therefore, that my eyes were opened to this fact by someone from the Mennonite faith, Huebner. Though a lot of my work is about challenging stereotypes and misconceptions, I am not immune from forming my own. That students from a religious institute in Iran are willing to overcome and jump through substantial financial and visa-related hoops to fly across the world to learn about Christian theology certainly challenges a lot of what I thought I knew.

The friendship, acceptance, dialogue and willingness to welcome and engage with the so-called other that has been developed between Huebner and Shomali and between their respective students over the years reminds us of the very best of Canadian and Islamic values, coming together in a perfect symbiosis.

So at a time when some politicians or violent extremists depend on creating and maintaining a world where there is a definitive “us” and “them” — a “you’re either with us or against us” mentality — we must absolutely and unapologetically refuse to buy into that prepackaged model of the world.

I have been asked in interviews if Canadians are becoming more anti-Muslim. I refuse to characterize this debate as something between Canadians and Muslims. Canadians are Muslims and vice versa. In my years in Winnipeg, I have seen how every day Winnipeggers are doing amazing things to better their own communities and to build partnerships and friendships with the Muslim communities and beyond.

Clearly not everything on the ground is perfect or fair. But we must remember that we, as individuals and as a society, have the choice of whether or not we buy into this particularly black-and-white mindset that is being thrown at us.

If we want a world that is moving toward understanding, respect and inclusion, then the decision has already been made. It’s time we act on it.


Winnipegger Nadia Kidwai is originally from Wales and is a freelance journalist and writer.

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