What it's like to be a Muslim living in Canada: 'People act as if I'm the spokesperson for ISIS' (National Post)

“Stay the hell where you came from.”
That was a Conservative MP’s comment this week about Muslim women who insist on wearing a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. It was quickly followed by an apology, but it wasn’t totally off-message: The Prime Minister himself insists that Muslim face-coverings are “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”
The niqab, of course, is just one example of the climate of suspicion that’s emerged around Canada’s more than one million Muslims. The acts of extremists – bomb threats, shootings and stories of one radicalized youth after another slipping across the border to fight with ISIS – have shaken many Canadians. It has also spurred the government’s proposed anti-terror bill, which would allow for increased scrutiny of Muslim-Canadians, among others.
So what does all that mean for the everyday lives of Muslims in this country? The National Post asked a few people across Canada for their thoughts.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Mohsin Masood.

Mohsin Masood, Markham, Ont.
Originally from Pakistan, he is a controller for a food distribution company and volunteers at the Islamic Society of Markham.
Every time there’s news about Muslims joining ISIS, I just turn off the TV. It’s too much for me to bear. I have three kids – 4, 10 and 12 – and I don’t want them to think this is what Islam represents.
There are over one million Muslims in Canada and so far the information we’ve got from the media is about 100 Muslims – mostly the new converts. That’s only .001%.
At my mosque we used to talk about morality issues – now, it’s more on how to downplay the appeal of ISIS. It’s unfortunate.
Sometimes people approach me as if I’m the spokesperson for ISIS, as if I know what’s going on in their minds. I don’t know. I’m a very proud Canadian and I don’t think of myself as a misfit. But you know, I have a beard. One of my reports asked me just yesterday if I’m OK if he keeps a beard. I said, “It’s your personal choice, but just make sure you know the risks involved.”
Soon after 9/11, I was in the Haliburton area and stopped by a Tim Hortons. Out of nowhere, a big, strong white guy and his wife came up to my family – they used abusive language and threatened to punch my face if I didn’t leave. I was so embarrassed. Now, I tend not to travel outside of the GTA.
Thankfully most Canadians have been very warm and I don’t have too many negative experiences. But I was excited when I heard the speech by Mr. Trudeau this month in favour of freedom of expression for Muslims.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Kiran Malik-Khan.

Kiran Malik-Khan, Fort McMurray, Alta.
Born in Pakistan, she is director of stakeholder relations at the Fort McMurray United Way and the committee president for World Hijab Day Fort McMurray, a day to promote cultural awareness.
Stop calling Muslims terrorists. Muslims are not terrorists. Islam is a religion of peace. We believe killing a person is killing humanity. ISIS fighters are not getting heaven, or their 72 virgins, because that’s not what the religion says.
And when someone maligns Islam, I will stand up and say “You’re wrong, this is what Islam’s about.” It strengthens my conviction to continue to speak about this. If lies are being said to you by people hiding their faces, then I’m not hiding my face and I’m telling you this that this is what we do, this is what Islam is – it’s about community, peace, love.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Zunera Ishaq.

Analysis: The debate over the niqab is clearly a proxy for larger anxieties about Muslims in Canada
I have no great affinity for the niqab.
It’s an outgrowth of an ultraconservative iteration of Islam that I am uncomfortable with – and that precipitated my family’s immigration from Afghanistan. My mother was a reformer who fought for decades against such oppressive religious conservatism and I have never seen her wear anything heavier than a loose headscarf, and even then on only a handful of occasions.
But the niqab, as a symbol, is something I will defend.
Read more …

Zunera Ishaq, Mississauga, Ont.
This Pakistani newcomer’s insistence on her right to wear her niqab at her Canadian citizenship ceremony has sparked a national debate, and a court challenge by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
There are much more important tasks – why is Mr. Harper taking time out of his job to talk about this? This issue is really personal. Mr. Harper is representing the state. It’s nonsense.
It is my religious obligation, from my point of view, to cover myself as much as possible. It makes me feel more comfortable, protected. I feel more dignity wearing the niqab.
I know there is difference of opinion on the niqab. And that difference is OK. This is the basis of Islam – and all religions have some differences.
But for me, the niqab is part of my identity. If Mr. Harper wants to know if I’m oppressed, I’m open to meeting him and will show him I’m not. I took niqab at a very young age, 15, and I was not married. This was my decision.
And for the past seven years, I’ve been very much a part of my community. Nobody was saying, “If you are in this kind of dress we are not comfortable with you.” They have given me the chance to integrate and work with them. And I feel I can do whatever I want in whatever veiled dress I want. The public is not on the same page as the prime minister.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Tarek Fatah.

 Tarek Fatah, Toronto
Born in Pakistan, he is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and an activist for Muslim secularization.
Ten years I’ve been riding the same bus and I’ve never seen a woman get on with a child’s carriage and not be given a seat – whether they are black, white, whatever. But in the last six months I’ve noticed that nobody gives their seat to a woman in hijab. No one. They just look away because she represents an insult to our way of life.
I’ve never voted Conservative, but I also support Mr. Harper’s challenge to wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony. If he doesn’t do that, he’s giving sanction to a form of apartheid, to the oppression of Muslim women. If Justin Trudeau genuinely believes that the niqab ban is like Jews being expelled by Mackenzie King, then he is unstable.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Shahad Salman.

Shahad Salman, Montreal
Iraqi-born lawyer working in research in health law and policy at McGill University.
It’s become more challenging for Canadians of Muslim faith on many issues, I think especially in Quebec.
It’s been escalating since the charter of values was introduced. There is a fear within the community: It’s niqab, it’s ISIS, it’s right-extremists coming to Montreal from Europe. And the charter of values, I think, really gave more power to those who fear the other to express themselves publicly. We’ve had incidents of Muslims being directly targeted in the streets. That’s where it becomes really dangerous.
This year, the Charlie Hebdo incident and ISIS, and those youth leaving for Syria – I think certainly that’s made it even worse. There are so many people who directly relate terrorists to Muslims, especially on social media.
What we need, on all levels of government is a clear statement on unity and to stand firm against Islamaphobia. Again, especially in Quebec. We are not heading in the proper direction.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Omair Khan.

Omair Khan, Toronto
Born in Saudi Arabia, he has been in the military for the last eight years. Currently he is a Corporal, Paratrooper, in The Queens Own Rifles of Canada. He was also chief security officer for the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.
I’m still very much a minority in the military. And in any workplace there are times when people are not as well informed about who you are and what’s going on around the world. Sometimes I do have to say, “I’m just like you, I wear the Canadian flag on my left shoulder.”
But Muslim soldiers are taken care of – I’m allowed to grow my beard, I can pray five times a day, I get halal meals.  After the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill one of my colleagues reached out to me. He’s Caucasian and is a different faith than me but he was worried about any backlash against me. “Hey, it’s messed up man, but don’t let anyone put you down,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s all your fault.”
Being a soldier, I’m sure some people are going to look at me the wrong way, especially because I have a beard. But no one’s really bothered me.
Chloe Cushman for National Post Safwan Choudhry.

Safwan Choudhry, Toronto
Born in Pakistan, he is a spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada – an “international revival movement” within Islam – and the recent “Meet a Muslim Family” campaign.
If Canadians are concerned about radical Muslims, I understand. I think we share the exact same concerns: ISIS has killed far more Muslims within Syria and Iraq than anyone else – and they pose a huge threat to peace-loving Muslims.
A sentiment we frequently hear about extremism is that “Muslims aren’t doing enough. They say one thing in media when they condemn it, but they don’t really mean it – deep down they have ulterior motives.” I don’t think we can go any deeper than to show you the inside of our homes, to invite you in.
This is not the first time a religious minority in Canada had to really work hard to fit in and really to prove that they’re Canadians. The Catholics went through it, the Jewish community went through it, the Japanese community went through it.
I think the timing of the “Meet a Muslim” campaign is pretty important, though, given everything we’re going through as a nation. We have more requests to meet a Muslim family than we can currently accommodate.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
National Post
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