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Toronto group pushes back against rising Islamophobia

Effort comes as Parliament debates motion on ending Islamophobia and discrimination.

Sandra Noe (left), Farheen Khan (centre) and J. Khawja, are part of the group of organizers behind 'Evening of Solidarity' events against Islamophobia. They are also members of Uniting Muslims and Allies for Humanity.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Sandra Noe (left), Farheen Khan (centre) and J. Khawja, are part of the group of organizers behind 'Evening of Solidarity' events against Islamophobia. They are also members of Uniting Muslims and Allies for Humanity.

A recent string of hateful incidents targeting Muslims has prompted a local movement aimed at quashing the growing aversion and divisive politics.

The group, Uniting Muslims and Allies for Humanity (UMAH), has formed in light of last month’s terrorist attack that killed six people who were attending prayers at a mosque in Quebec. Organizers say they’ve seen a “troubling” trend of Islamophobic incidents since then, and it needs to stop now.

“These heinous acts are unwelcome in Canada and in any other country and we must come together as a community to end this,” said Farheen Khan, one of the people behind the effort.

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UMAH organized the Evening of Solidarity on Family Day in Toronto and in Peel Region, both to mark World Social Justice Day and remember victims of the Quebec attack. Similar events will be organized in the future across the country to educate people about the importance of diversity and the dangers of Islamophobia, she said.

The effort comes at the heels of an anti-Islam rally that took place in Toronto last week, with protesters carrying signs and shouting catchphrases to ban Islam as a religion. Many people, including mayor John Tory, denounced the protest and called for the unity of all religions.

Tory also condemned the Sunday incident in which anti-Semitic notes were found outside Jewish homes in North York, saying in a statement “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto.”

Tensions have been mounting since Mississauga MP Iqra Khalid introduced Motion 103 asking the House of Commons to condemn religious discrimination and Islamophobia.

The motion will be debated at Parliament this week, but Khan said it’s disconcerting to hear some parliamentarians are opposed to it.

“These are individuals among our elected officials, and they are opposed to the idea of challenging rules of discrimination. That’s troubling,” she said. “It speaks to the kind of administration we’ve had in the last decade and the seeds planted during that time.”

Neda Maghbouleh, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Toronto, referred to leading researcher Abdie Kazemipur to note there has been a shift on how issues of Islam and Muslims are discussed.

20 years ago the talk was about how Canada can become a receptive place for Muslim communities, but now the discussion is on “how exceptional and potentially incompatible” these communities might be for Canada, she said.

“This reflects an overall increase and mainstreaming of Islamophobic thinking,” she added.

The best way to address the growing trend of Islamophobia would be to ensure diversity and increase social interactions, Maghbouleh noted. Non-Muslims who regularly interact with Muslims have a more positive impression of Islam than those who don’t, she said.

“Real experiences and personal connections are key,” she added.

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