Over the years, Islamophobia has increased to alarming levels as Muslims face the potential threat of religious persecution.
It was no surprise when my mother mentioned, “Today, a woman at work looked at me and said ‘You’re ISIS. You’re all ISIS.’” Hearing my mother considering exchanging her hijab for a hat was equally unsurprising. I don’t think I’ve experienced an ounce of shock in response to growing anti-Muslim sentiments throughout the continent.
However, what has surprised me is the sheer number of people that still have no idea what Islamophobia is. How can something that I, along with millions of other Muslims, have experienced throughout life, still be unknown to some people?
The Oxford English dictionary defines Islamophobia as the “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” It is clear that this phenomenon has risen dangerously in recent years; the Huffington Post reports that 73 Islamophobic incidents have taken place in North America since the November Paris attacks.
Unfortunately, bearing the Muslim identity in North America can also mean carrying crushing amounts of fear and anxiety. It can be terrifying to utter the words “I am Muslim”, especially when you don’t know how the person listening might react.
A lot of concern and worry is expressed when it comes to Islamophobia. Through dialogues I’ve observed amongst Muslims in my community, it appears that there are some that look forward with hope and others who believe that things will only go downhill.
Although it may be easier to do nothing and allow Islamophobia to run its course, it’s more important to stand up and talk about this issue. While many may believe protesting will get us nowhere, it is more effective than waiting for the storm to pass. This is no ordinary storm; Islamophobia is rising drastically, leaving Muslims ostracized and alone in its wake.
Sarah Boumedda is an 18 year old student in Montreal who feels that Islamophobia has truly affected her life. “It’s just sad to think that all that hate is founded on ignorance and I often wish I could just educate everyone all at once, but at the same time I know that not everyone will listen because not everyone enjoys being wrong.”
She continues, “It’s left me so frustrated, and it really hurts. When I was younger there was a time when I was questioning my own faith—not because I didn’t believe in God, or because I wasn’t following Islam, but because I was sick of being associated with that stigma that sticks to Islam. I’ve grown since and I’m now proud to say that I’m Muslim, and I suppose all those hateful comments do still hurt…but instead of seeing them as something to keep quiet about I just speak up about it.”
Boumedda feels extremely concerned about the rise of Islamophobia. “I have no idea if it’ll get better or worse; at times I feel like people are realizing that it doesn’t make sense, that the hate that keeps spreading is ridiculous and senseless, which gives me hope…but other times it feels like it’s getting worse, and that no matter how hard I or thousands of other people try to let people know that we’re just people.”
Although Canada is considered less inclined to being an Islamophobic nation, the recent attacks and threats suggest otherwise. Just a few months ago in Montreal, a man wearing a joker mask posted a video of himself threatening to “kill one Arab a week.” He was arrested almost a day later, and Muslims around Montreal released a huge sigh of relief.
Despite the first refugees arriving in Canada a few weeks ago, Syrian refugees still face horrendous circumstances and aren’t receiving support because of anti-Muslim sentiments. The media is playing a large part in forcing people to turn their backs on Muslims in a time where solidarity is crucial. It’s sad to see that systematic racism and oppression remain in this world. Muslims are living in a constant state of terror. We are left yearning for a future where Islamophobia is a thing of the past and the words “I am Muslim” carry no unwanted burden and fear.