Canadian Muslims need new narrative

Author: Zaib Shaikh

Source: Toronto Star

Last Sunday, about 15 million Canadians tuned into the CBC to watch the Canadian men’s hockey team win the gold medal in Sochi. That’s almost half the country. During the game, CBC broadcast live shots of towns and meeting places where Canadians had congregated in the early hours of the morning to cheer on our team.

Among those meeting places, mostly pubs and restaurants across the country, one stood out: the CBC was also broadcasting from the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Maple, Ont. From the mosque came the sights and sounds of everyday Canadian families cheering on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty and Carey Price as they battled Team Sweden. These families, like those in the pubs and restaurants, were united in that moment. And as I watched the game, I was proud: proud of Canadians, proud of Team Canada and proud of those Muslims in Maple.

You see, whether we’re watching TV, a movie or reading newspapers, we’re more accustomed to seeing Muslims associated with negative, often horrific images of “Islamic fundamentalists.” We’re also used to seeing Muslim commentators, hired by news channels and publications, defending or attacking what goes on in countries that have the word “Islamic” attached to them. What we are not used to seeing are images like the one from that gold medal hockey game — ordinary Canadian Muslims congregated at their local mosque rooting for their national team.

One might fault the media for this and one might have a point, but for the most part, that’s not where we should be heaping the blame. Apparently, if you’re like the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Maple, all you need to do is organize an event where Muslims can gather and show their Canadian pride, put out the word, and quick as you know it, a reporter might appear.

We need to create more opportunities like this; we need to broadcast the voices of the many Muslims woven into the fabric of Canadian life.

Shows like Little Mosque on the Prairie can do this. It showed life in a community where Muslims who happened to be doctors and carpenters were neighbours to other Canadians who were doctors and carpenters — an idealized world maybe, but not very much unlike the one in which many Canadian Muslims find themselves in cities and towns across Canada. But that show is no longer.

Right now, the images most seen or reports most heard are either of the small minority of loud, angry Muslims doing atrocious things or the small minority of loud, angry Muslim experts arguing about those atrocious things. Contrast that to the vast and large majority of Muslims in Canada who consider themselves everyday proud Canadians — and proud Muslims, too.

So where are these people? Mostly we’re out there fulfilling our duties and responsibilities as ordinary and, in some cases, extraordinary citizens of this great country. But what we’re not good at doing is making our voices heard.

Canadians need to see and hear from ordinary Canadian Muslims on a daily basis — not just on bad days when some politician has made an ignorant blanket statement about Muslims or Islam, or when a violent crime happens within a Muslim-Canadian family and the media want answers rooted in cultural differences. We don’t want to be marginalized, generalized or lumped into one negative definition anymore. Canada is a multicultural, diverse nation and Islam, too, has a diverse array of followers, of many colours and cultures and with a multitude of traditions and beliefs.

We Canadian Muslims need our own narrative, not the script of the extremes on either side. What we are not doing regularly enough is expressing our voice publicly as everyday Muslim Canadians — or Canadian Muslims — celebrating our Canadian pride collectively, unabashedly and vigorously.

It’s time to show that pride. Let’s be like the congregants of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Maple. Let’s organize and be a part of events that are about Canadian pride, not just those focused solely on Muslim issues or holidays. Let’s show that Canadian pride to each other and show it to our neighbours. If you’re a Canadian Muslim, some true patriot love is what’s needed right now — and remember to share it loud, and share it true, strong and free.

 Zaib Shaikh is an actor, writer and director. He was born in Toronto and travels the world working on projects such as Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation of Midnight’s Children and the acclaimed comedy series Little Mosque on the Prairie.

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