Hundreds and hundreds of people came out to support Guelph’s Muslim community by talking part in a walk and vigil on Thursday. In the aftermath of the death of four family members in London, and the injury of one other, all in an apparent hate-driven attack, Muslims across Canada have expressed shock, but not surprise, as the ugly face of Islamophobia has claimed more lives and left local leaders demanding action.
“The call of action this afternoon is for everyone to recognize that there needs to be change, and productive change, and change starts in our homes,” said Imam Mubeen Bhatt, who shared a story about his daughter being called a racial slur at school, and have to take it all the way to the Ministry of Education to get someone to take action.
“The reason why I share this story is that these issues we face today are real. They’re a reality,” Bhatt said. “Who is teaching the children who are using bigotry or racial slurs in the class? We need to ask ourselves in our homes, in our churches, and in our mosques, what are we teaching: intolerance or tolerance?”
Bhatt also challenged institutions to do better saying that politicians need to go beyond photo ops, the media needs to go beyond stereotypes, and that law enforcement needs to stop regarding Muslims with suspicion. It all contributes to bigotry against Muslims, Bhatt explained, and all the members of his mosque want to do is be comfortable in their own skins and comfortable in their own communities.
“I’ve already had calls coming in saying, ‘We’re afraid to walk on the street’, ‘We’re afraid to go for a walk’, people are making those phone calls and asking, ‘Should we change our attire so we blend in and make ourselves like everybody else?'” Bhatt said. “Recognize every single person has a place here, every race has a place here. All land is God’s land, and and nobody lives on this land forever.”
Dr. Jibran Khokar, a neuroscientist at the Ontario Veterinary College, said that the attack in London, and all acts of violence against marginalized groups, are often very predictable. Anti-Asian racism is spurned by a pandemic that begins in China, a terrorist attack like the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 tars all Muslims, and there are noticeable differences in language used to describe Black Lives Matter protests versus anti-mask rallies.
“All of us have our own definitions of Islamophobia, we know what it is, it’s this unfounded fear and hatred of Islam. But what I want to is tell you how Islamophobia manifests itself,” Khokar said.
He explained that Islamophobia is gendered, portraying Muslim men as violent and Muslim women as subjugated. He also said that Islamophobia is intersectional considering that believers in the Muslim faith come from from all races and backgrounds, and how Black Muslims sometimes end up doubly persecuted for their race and their religion.
“What we need to realize is that this has layers, and these layers are not just impacting the lives of Muslims and the four people that died, but all of us,” Khokar said. “This effects the fundamental health of the entire Muslim population, and are possibly just as insidious as the deaths and the violent acts themselves.”
Earlier this week, a 20-year old man was charged with murdering four members of a Muslim family, and injuring a fifth, a 9-year-old boy, while they were out for an evening walk in London, Ontario. The attack, which saw the accused mount the curb in a pick-up truck in order to run over the family, was described as a hate crime almost immediately after it happened by the London Police Service.
After speeches in the yard behind the Guelph Muslim Society’s Water Street location, the crowd took part in a march down Water Street to Royal City Park, closing the road to traffic including the very busy intersection at Edinburgh Road. Physical distance was observed where possible, and the Guelph Muslim Society asked all participants to wear masks.