I have been on Facebook for less than a year. It is interesting-you learn all sorts of things you may not have known about people who are on your friends list . You see who really likes their pets (or their cocktails), their favourite sports teams, music and what TV shows they’re addicted to. You learn about their sense of humour and what they love.
You also learn a lot about people’s political and religious beliefs. Personally, although I am rabid about politics and very spiritual, Facebook is not a place I often share this side of me. So, I imagine that many people don’t know what I actually believe. Many may assume that most people just agree with their point-of-view on various issues of the day.
Earlier this year my father challenged me to make a list of my Top 25 Priorities in Life (getting 25 is more challenging than you think). My #1 priority is living with integrity, #14 is being a kind and supportive friend in my friendships. It occurred to me this morning that as I read, scroll past and ignore some of the posts and memes in my Facebook feed perhaps my silence can be interpreted as acceptance. It occurred to me that I may not be living up to my own self-determined list of life priorities. Does my silence mean I am not living with integrity and that I am not being kind and supportive in my friendships?
Today in Canada, and much of the western world there is much debate, hostility and even hatred for Muslims. It has become acceptable to generalize, stereotype and say hateful things about an entire group of people based solely on something like their religion. And I have remained quiet…….even though I have friends, who happen to be Muslim.
There is no debate that ISIS is evil and need to be stopped. My Muslim friends agree. Yet, I find that some people equate all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world with ISIS. This is simply insane. My best friend is a Baptist, we wouldn’t then automatically assume her beliefs are therefore the same as Westboro Baptist Church (which they definitely aren’t). Why then is it okay to generalize about over a billion people based on the actions of a small percentage?
Now of course, I do not know all Muslim people in the world, so I can not speak on what all Muslims are like, but I do know some Muslims and I would like to share what I know about them.
My Muslim friends are all women-they are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters. They all live in Canada. Some of my Muslim friends were born in Canada, some are from Southeast Asia, while others are from Africa. My Muslim friends have all different colours of skin. Some are wealthy, while others came to Canada as refugees and just starting to make a new life here. Some have privileged backgrounds and are highly educated, while others have not had the opportunity to be educated and have had to flee from one war-torn area to another before being lucky to get a chance to come to Canada. Some work outside the home while others have the opportunity to be stay-at-home moms because their husbands have good jobs. They are a diverse group-some are boisterous, spunky, feisty, outgoing and silly while others are quieter, shy, reserved and serious. All are kind, cheerful and good friends. All put a high priority on education for all of their children. All love Canada.
I have heard people lament about how refugees come to our country, get benefits and leech off our system. That has not been my experience. Yes, when people come to Canada as refugees they need some help at first. However, in my experience their goal is always to get a job as soon as possible. Not speaking English can be a hindrance to employment so my friends have enrolled in English classes, they ask me thousands of questions on pronunciation, grammar and spelling because perfecting English is very important to them and they find jobs they can work with minimum English skills. My friends have scrubbed toilets in office buildings at night, washed dishes in restaurants, and started baking and selling foods from their country of origin to customers who enjoy trying different foods. They did these jobs as soon as they could, before they could even speak English because contributing to society was so important to them, and they found a way to do so not matter what obstacles they faced.
Another criticism I hear is that Muslims are coming to our country and wanting change our country. The recent Supreme Court case over wearing a niqab at citizenship ceremonies has been used as an example for people who claim this. However, these people are simply mistaken. Zunera Ishaq never tried to change the law. She simply said ‘I think Canadian law allows me to wear the niqab’. Our government disagreed with her and banned her from wearing it. She challenged their decision in court and our Supreme Court agreed that banning her from wearing it violated current Canadian law. Some may not like the look of a niqab…..but Canadian law was always on her side.
In my personal experience I have never felt that my Muslims friends want to change Canada or Canadians. I have found they are interested in learning about our differences. One lady loved the architecture of our old churches and wanted to visit one. Their children love our television shows, music…..and of course hockey. Another lady was fasting during Ramadan while I was visiting her. She did not expect me to honour her fast (although I personally would not have eaten during our visit). Instead, not only did she make and serve me tea, she had made some home baked treats specially for me which she served to me while she fasted. Most of my Muslim friends have given me Christmas cards, although I admit I have never been thoughtful enough to give them any kind of holiday card.
So if you find yourself getting riled up by Muslims even though you don’t really know any, if you find yourself feeling anger, hostility and hatred for an entire group of people- may I suggest that maybe take some time and get to know some diverse people. Talk to some new people. Ask them questions on things that have you fearful or angry. Ask them what they think about Canada, their religion and other religions. You may find that you actually have more in common with them than you might think. You may find that it is a rewarding experience that adds richness and friendship to your life.
One way to learn about diverse people is through one of my favourite activities-reading. A few of my favourite books with Muslim characters are Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel, and Summer Snow by William T. Hathaway
Many of my Muslim friends I have met from volunteering with an organization that helps people new to Canada adjust to their new life in Canada. I have had people sneer at me for this and ask ‘Can’t you volunteer somewhere that helps Canadians?’ Well…..my answer to that is ‘Yes’ #1 I do also volunteer with various organizations that help seniors, children, animals and people with intellectual disabilities and #2 I am helping Canadians. I am helping new Canadians. I am helping them learn about our beautiful country, our language, our differences and our culture. By helping them learn our language and about our society, by helping them get to know people and avoid isolation I am helping them transition quicker into our society and the workforce so they can become the hard-working, tax-paying citizens they desperately want to be, and that my friend, benefits all Canadians