Ahead of Ramadan 2017, Canada Post issued its first ever Eid stamp honouring Islam’s important holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
An explanation accompanied the ten-stamp booklet:
Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are two of the most important festivals celebrated by Muslims worldwide. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Ramadan fast. Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God and marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Both celebrations can include special ritual prayers, lavish meals, visits with friends and family, gift-giving and acts of charity.
To some it may seem like a token of tolerance and respect, but to many Muslim Canadians it exhibits how valued diversity and multiculturalism are in Canada.
Over a million Muslims live in Canada, accounting for 3.2 percent of the population and making Islam the second largest religion after Christianity. Over 90 mosques are spread over the vast country, mainly in urban hubs. And since Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of religion, belief and peaceful assembly, faithful Muslims practice the pillars of Islam undisturbed.
However, as brazen terrorist attacks occur worldwide by those who claim they are Muslims, it is important to see how concerned Muslim Canadians are about hate crimes stemming from a backlash after terrorist attacks: Islamophobia, discrimination, stereotyping, and fear for own safety.
The Islamophobic frenzy that swarms the US and Europe does not exist in Canada. Of course, Canada has not experienced a 9/11 or its aftermath. Only one case stands out: a series of shootings on Parliament Hill in 2014, by a deranged person of Libyan descent that left one soldier dead. The incident was not followed by any reported hate crimes.
As it does everywhere in the Western world, the hijab remains the most visible of Muslim traits, and the cause of much friction. One case was quite controversial in Canada.
In March, 2015, a Quebec judge refused to hear the case of a Muslim woman unless she removed her hijab. The judge compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, which are not allowed in court.
The judge’s comments were condemned by Canadians, including then prime-minister-to-be Justin Trudeau. A Quebec Superior Court justice later criticised the judge’s actions and considered the premise she adopted, comparing the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, to have no force of law in Canada.
Feeling safe, a Syrian refugee wears a headscarf in Downtown Vancouver despite the odd first glance by onlookers. Veiled Saudi students are treated similarly to others at universities. Muslim Iranian students, veiled and not, lead ordinary lives on Canadian campuses.
In Ontario, Muslim students pray as a group on Fridays. This has been going on for years. Lately, however, some have protested the 20-minute group prayer and called for the “Jummah’s" ban, calling it inappropriate exposure to religion in a secular school system.
Ultimately the Province of Ontario determined that the Friday prayer was in full compliance with human rights codes and guidelines for religious accommodation.
The niqab is a different matter altogether. Many non-Muslim Canadians see it as an infringement on rights, feeling uncomfortable with a woman covering her face in public. However, even the requirement for a woman to show her face has been ruled unconstitutional.
Zenera Ishaq, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, took the oath of Canadian citizenship while wearing a niqab. Originally, she was denied the opportunity to participate in a citizenship ceremony unless she uncovered her face. Ishaq took the issue to court and won the case.
Although hate crimes have increased in recent years, they remain minor and not deadly, with the exception of a tragedy that occurred in early 2017.
An assault on a Quebec City mosque took the lives of six Muslim worshippers and injured nineteen others. Unnerving the whole country, the assault left Canadians reeling in shock and was condemned as a terrorist attack by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Condemning the assault, Trudeau said “More than one million Canadian Muslims coming to grips with a bloody terrorist attack at a Quebec City mosque must know they are loved and not alone in their pain…. Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours.”
Clearly Trudeau celebrates multiculturalism in all its forms. In June 2016, the prime minister spoke on multiculturalism as the long and proud tradition of inclusion and diversity.
"As the first country in the world to adopt a policy of multiculturalism 45 years ago, Canada has shown time and time again that a country can be stronger not in spite of its differences, but because of them.
"Our roots reach out to every corner of the globe. We are from far and wide, and speak over 200 languages. Our national fabric is vibrant and varied, woven together by many cultures and heritages, and underlined by a core value of respect.
"Multiculturalism is our strength, as synonymous with Canada as the Maple Leaf," Trudeau said.
Personally, I stand out only slightly in Canadian society. I have a dark complexion; I have a slight though some may say thick accent and I spend months out of the year in my birthplace: Egypt. However, I don’t wear a headscarf; I am loud and outspoken; and my gender and age are not that of a stereotypical terrorist. In all fairness, I cannot represent the Muslim multitudes.
So how have I been treated in Canada? I have never been intimidated, harassed, or discriminated against verbally or physically. I enjoy the same freedoms bestowed on everyone else. While still teaching, I was often recognised as “the Egyptian prof,” if someone couldn’t recall who I was exactly, but that’s about it.
Among other ethnicities and spiritual diversities, such as Sikhs, Asians, Latinos, and Africans, everyone is an immigrant in Canada with equal rights and freedoms.
I don’t know how non-Muslim Canadians would react if Canada was suddenly hit by a slew of horrendous, bloodthirsty attacks as seen elsewhere around the world. Will life in Canada as Muslims know it change?
I hope nothing of this sort happens, so that Canada may remain as inviting and as peaceful as it has always been.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.