“I am proud to be Canadian.” I am sure that you have heard this statement multiple times, particularly since Trump’s inauguration, as we Canadians sighed with relief at being on this side of the border. As social media gets bombarded with comments such as, “Is there any way America could import Trudeau?” it gives Canadians an opportunity to reflect on what makes us so different from our neighbours.
For decades, Canadians have been given a stereotype–Canadians are really nice people. We are seen as a polite people with “so-rry” as the number one most frequently used word in our vocabulary. We supposedly respect our differences and understand that our strength lies in our diversity.
But, are we really that great?
We call ourselves a mosaic, and the world seems to know just how different we are from the melting pot next door—
—But, are we really that different?
Yes, racism, bigotry and hatred of the other are rampant next door, but it is important to recognize that these are not only American problems — Canadians have their share of these issues as well. The attack on Supninder Singh Khehra, a Sikh man wearing a turban, in Québec City last year, is one example of the harassment that exists against Canadians of minority faiths. Does religious pluralism truly exist in Canada, when a man feels he needs to say, “I’m really worried about the safety and wellbeing of young kids of my community who wear turbans”? Moreover, what does it mean for Canada when a woman wearing a headscarf is attacked in a grocery store in London, Ontario? A fellow Canadian citizen spat on her, punched her and attempted to yank off her symbol of her devotion to the Creator. How does this affect the place of faith in public life in Canada? Like Khehra said, you begin to fear some of the consequences of expressing your faith in public.
It is not only hateful Canadian citizens that target minority faiths – a few of our leaders have been at the forefront of this game. Why was there so much talk about what a Muslim woman chooses to wear on her face during the 2015 federal election? There were far more serious issues, such as the government’s failures in its relationship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, that needed to be addressed. Even if wearing the niqab was allegedly deemed a serious topic to discuss, why did we not hear the perspectives of Muslim women who wear the niqab? Scared that we were going to hear that she is not oppressed and is wearing the niqab out of free will? I thought so. Either way, why should anyone be placed in a situation where they have to explain to the public why they wear what they do? If a person is expected to defend their decision to wear their religious garments, can Canada really call itself a champion of religious freedom?
Muslim women who cover, and many others, saw these debates as a failure for Canada — a failure to uphold the rights of Canadian citizens to freely express their faith in public. However, we cannot forget that where there have been failures, there have also been victories. In 2015, Zunera Ishaq challenged the ban on wearing the niqab while taking the Oath of Citizenship, and she succeeded, enabling herself and all Muslim women who cover to have this opportunity. This was indeed a victory for Canada, and indicated that we may be more than another melting pot.
However, overtly hateful and discriminatory acts are not the only issues people of faith face in Canada; there is an unspoken belief ingrained into our society that looks down upon and effectively silences the public practice of faith. You may have noticed arrogant comments regarding world issues on social media such as, “It’s not only Islam to blame, it’s all religions.” With North America becoming increasingly secular, more Canadians are deeming it “uncool” to lead one’s public life with faith. From these beliefs arise issues, such as those that Peel District School Board’s Muslim students are facing with regards to praying at school. Through the demonization of religion in Western culture, Canadians of faith are becoming increasingly wary and uncomfortable publicly expressing their faith.
This year, Canada caught a glimpse of a very terrifying reflection of itself, when a terror attack was carried out on the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec City, resulting in the death of six Muslims and several injuries. Canada shook that day. We were distraught because, how could something like this happen in Canada? The attack on a place of worship and on a people of faith sent a serious message to Canadians: there is still a lot of work we have left to do.
On celebrating Canada’s 150th, I ask myself, Are we really that great? The answer to this question is not black or white, but instead comes in many shades of grey. There are moments that make Canada victorious, but there are also elements that reflect our failures. So, let us look within ourselves when deciding if we are really that great. Let us strive to be the best versions of ourselves and let us not lose hope. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves [Qur’an, 13:11]. I have hope for a land that secures the rights of all people and ensures religious freedom and genuine pluralism. I hope to see Canada become greater as we work together to form a more beautiful mosaic.
Read Maclean’s, “The Canada Most People Don’t See”: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-canada-most-people-dont-see/