A recent discussion about my dietary preferences reminded me that I’m a member of a group that provokes strong opinions and even stronger emotions.
It’s certainly an interesting time to be a Muslim in North America.
I was at a television shoot in Sherwood Park for a story I was working on, eating a vegan sandwich wrap, when a cast member asked me if I didn’t eat pork because I’m Muslim. Although the real reason is a bit more nuanced (I grew up not eating it and never developed a taste for it), I said yes to make things simpler.
And while I truly believe this was not his intention, his question subtly reminded me that yes, I’m a Muslim, and yes, that makes me different. But his question didn’t make me uncomfortable. In fact, I welcomed it.
I don’t usually like to discuss religion, but my column on what it’s like being a Muslim during Christmas got more feedback than any other column I’ve written, so I figure it’s a topic local residents are interested in. And in a day and age where acts of Islamophobia are at their highest since 9/11, and we have a candidate with a very real chance of becoming president of the United States proposing to temporarily ban Muslim immigration, I often find myself reflecting upon my faith and how it factors into my life in Western society.
Every time an act of terrorism is carried out, I mourn the victims, but I can’t deny the next thought that enters my head: “Oh God, please don’t let it be another Muslim perpetrator”. Inevitably, it usually is. And then I find myself torn between having to justify my faith while also being expected to denounce radical Islam.
The reason I even have the ability to question aspects of my faith is because I live in a country that affords me the privilege to do so. To be a Muslim in the Western world allows me to pick and choose what particular elements of the faith I follow and how I interpret them, and allows me to hold those beliefs without needing to force them upon others.
President Barack Obama has been criticized by Donald Trump and some conservatives for refusing to utter the words “radical Islam” until recently, with the implication being that those on the left refuse to acknowledge that jihadist, Islamist, radical Islamic or whatever you want to call it terrorism has roots in the religion and theology itself.
It would be disingenuous at best to say that beliefs found in many Islamic countries such as homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia are strictly cultural. But it’s important to note that Islam is not a monolith — the religion has 1.6 billion adherents and many different sects and branches, some of which are more compatible with western society than others.
As Muslims in the Western world, we have a responsibility to denounce acts of terrorism as well as the twisted beliefs advocating violence that sustain them. But I believe Canadians of all faiths also have an important role to play in the discussion.
Take for example the question about my dietary preference. In our politically correct society, religion and politics are topics we’re not supposed to bring up with strangers or in casual conversation. But we’re never going to progress as a diverse, multicultural society if we don’t bring these issues out in the open and have honest discussions and debate. It’s better to have an awkward, even tense, but meaningful conversation, than to perpetuate a phony form of acceptance where we nod and smile at each other’s beliefs but then tell our neighbour how nonsensical or harmful we think those beliefs really are.
On June 25, Fort Saskatchewan celebrates Multicultural Day. Let’s use it as an opportunity to remember that multiculturalism is not just about exotic dances and dishes: It’s about celebrating our differences while building a more peaceful society — one person and one conversation at a time.