ISNA Canada’s Elaaf Siddiqui shares her perspective on Islamophobia today and the inspiration she gets from Muslim youth
On Jan. 29, 2017, a gunman killed six men and injured many more in a hateful attack at The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. The National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia on Jan. 29 honours the victims and shows solidarity with the survivors. It is also a reminder of the work we must do to combat Islamophobia.
We spoke with Elaaf Siddiqui, Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator with United Way-supported ISNA Canada, to get her perspective on Islamophobia today and what gives her hope.
Please describe what ISNA Canada does.
ISNA Canada is a not-for-profit charity that has been delivering high-quality programs and services to the surrounding community for over 40 years. These initiatives serve a variety of populations, including adults, youth, seniors and at-risk populations (e.g. economically disadvantaged families, immigrants, refugees, ethnic and racial minorities, people with disabilities). ISNA Canada is one of the largest Muslim organizations in North America and provides prayer services, a community food bank, counselling services, financial literacy programs, sporting events, seniors fitness programs, Arabic classes, countless youth initiatives and more.
Islamophobia is the fear of, hatred of, or prejudice against Islam or Muslims in general. How are you and/or members of your community impacted by Islamophobia?
One of the greatest impacts we have seen is the response from the community in inquiring about safety measures to be prioritized in places of worship and Muslim community centres. Although the purpose of our institutions is to be open and welcoming at all times, we have had no choice but to take precautions for the safety of the community. A place designed to bring peace has slowly harboured fear amongst the Muslim community.
What do you wish non-Muslim Canadians better understood about Islam or Muslims?
Islam is the second largest religion in the world with more than 1.8 billion practicing Muslims worldwide. With exponential growth amidst an expanding population, what it means to be Muslim can look very different across the board. Diversity exists in every sense — whether in terms of ethnicity, race, political leaning or physical appearance. With such diversity comes an array of challenges when it comes to Islam being understood by non-Muslim Canadians. We can only hope to reach a point where Muslims are no longer perceived as foreigners to Canada. Muslim Canadians share the same passions and concerns as non-Muslim Canadians regarding issues such as climate change, treatment of and upholding of the rights of Indigenous communities, as well as foreign policy and Islamophobia. We wish to be embraced and seen as no different than what is perceived to be “Canadian.”
What gives you hope or inspiration?
At ISNA Canada, we are moved by the unapologetic presence of Muslim youth in our society. As a community powered by youth, when malicious tragedy strikes, the resilience and solidarity exhibited by the Muslim community is overwhelming. We belong to a religion of peace and continue to serve with powerful values of justice. There is an abundance of hope in the vibrance of Muslim communities despite facing significant harm and tragedies. We have seen countless examples of community members starting their own initiatives both within and outside of the Muslim community despite the repercussions associated with open Muslim representation. They strive to better the society we live in even though they have not always been met with kindness. We as a Muslim community have been embraced beautifully by the majority of the population and we are endlessly grateful for the welcoming and inclusive environment in most spaces. We are inspired to continue existing in this space as a whole, and to one day to be perceived as synonymous with what it means to be Canadian.