How I Choose to Battle Islamophobia in the West

What is Islamophobia? It is a dislike or fear of Muslims. Kind like any other phobia I guess. Arachnophobia; fear of spiders, xenophobia; fear of people from other countries, etc. The thing is I can't fully understand why anyone would have any of these phobias. Fears, concerns, prejudices, misconceptions; those I can understand but a phobia, not so much.

As Muslims in the West this term has been on everyone's tongue. It is something we have in the back of our minds with every interaction we have. We ask ourselves questions like "is the teller at the bank just in a bad mood or are they Islamophobic?". I've said time and time again how grateful I am to have not really faced anything I would consider Islamophobia but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Perhaps I just wasn't really looking for it. For my own sanity I try to chalk up rudeness or aggressiveness (as long as not physical) to their own personality or they just had a bad day.

There are many ways to battle Islamophobia and we all take different approaches based on who we are, and mostly our own personal experiences. Islamophobia, like racism, sexism or even ageism do not just affect the targeted group. On the contrary they are all diseases that slowly break down our communities. This attack on the community forces us to build up defences in order to fight them. As a result, we develop scars that can be very difficult to heal.

So how do I choose to battle Islamophobia? As many of you know I am a teacher by profession. I am also the Director of External Affairs for the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC). A big part of what I get to do is talks about Islamophobia and bridge building projects. During our talks we do an introduction to Islam. What is Islam? What is it not? What are misconceptions about Muslims? Muslims love Jesus too! Then we open it up to questions. This is my very favourite part!

I have noticed that when given the opportunity to ask questions the guests sort through the files upon files of questions in their minds. I encourage the to ASK anything but still there is always hesitation. I tell them that as long as questions come from a sincere place of wanting to learn, then no matter what they ask it could never be offensive. Still they hesitate. You can see them literally sorting through their questions. Group 1: Questions I know I can ask ie. Can you drink water during Ramadan?

Group 2: Questions that are probably ok, but could cause her to be offended ie why do Muslims wear hijab?

Group 3: Questions that will for sure cause offence ie. Does Islam promote terrorism?

When someone finally gets up the nerve to ask their question they start with "I have a question but just not sure how to ask it." JUST ASK PEOPLE!

That wasn't even the hard part! Now I need to answer. There are 2 ways I can answer the question:

Question: Why do you wear hijab?

1. Defensive- "It's none of your business! I am free to wear what I want! Obviously I am a Muslim! Haven't you ever seen a Muslim before?"

2. Positive/Inviting - "Great question! Well hijab is one of many ways that Muslim women worship God. For me it is also my identity, my liberation..."

Which way would be better?

I guess my way of battling Islamophobia is to put yourself out there. It's about being open and willing to have positive and sometimes uncmfortable dialogue with others. Positive interactions will help people to better understand Muslims. We can not have a Us vs Them mentality. We definitely can not and should not distance ourselves from our fellow Canadians, American, Europeans. We also want to show that we are relatable. We have he same struggles and the same joys as everyone else. We are members of the community because we want to be.

Now all that is lovely and let's be honest a bit idealistic. We do have to be realistic about the fact that this proactive approach may not always work and people may not stop at just asking why you wear hijab but it may end with pulling off that hijab to free you from your oppression. Now what? If it gets to the point where things have escalated we need to equip ourselves with the tools to react and protect ourselves.

This means knowing how to verbally respond if being targeted verbally. It's about knowing how to react physically if you are targeted physically. This includes Safety Classes (self defence). Also, it's about knowing what to do after the fact. Who to contact? How to move forward. We are soldiers who always need to be ready.

How do you choose to battle Islamophobia? Have you been faced with it? How does this all make you feel?