Addressing the stereotypes and misconceptions of Islam

Local Imam holds open discussion following Ottawa shooting and what followed

Roughly 80 TRU students, faculty and Kamloopsians gathered on the afternoon of Nov. 12 to hear local Imam Mazhar Mahmood speak on the “(Mis)Representations of Islam.” The presentation discussed the politics of reporting on terrorism in Canada, specifically in response to the shooting in Ottawa that occurred in October.

Mahmood called for understanding and urged the public and media not to link actions of crime, justice and terrorism to any religion.

“This is an injustice to the beautiful pristine not only of Islam, of Christianity, of Judaism, and of any divine religion,” Mahmood said.

He suggested that Canadians look at the recent shooting, not as an act of religion, but an act of crime.

Imam Mazhar Mahmood, answers discussion questions after his presentation. (Ashley Wadhwani/ TRU Omega)

Imam Mazhar Mahmood, answers discussion questions after his presentation. (Ashley Wadhwani/ TRU Omega)

“In the case of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, this person had nothing to do with Islam since day one. He had a history of crime, drugs, even presenting evil acts to his own local [mosque],” Mahmood said. “The actions that he executed were not the actions of Islam.”

As some mosques were vandalized after the Ottawa shooting, Mahmood said he received negative letters from people who “didn’t understand the reality of what happened.”

The message Mahmood continued to present to the crowd was a logical one: being educated, and understanding the religions around us will allow Canadians to coexist among other religions.

This presentation was sponsored by the TRU Faculty Association equity committee and intended to begin dialogue at TRU and identify the social tension that minorities face being a part of their own religions within Canadian culture.

“The stereotyping by the media and some Canadians of all Muslims, and there are millions of them all over the world, as terrorists or radicalized people is unfair, illogical and only serves to instill fear in the minds of some Canadians,” said Gail Morong, equity committee co-chair and moderator of the presentation.

In a later interview with The Omega, Mahmood said that events like this are important for TRU students, and for all religions, not just Muslims.

“Many of us will start seeing the common factors and the common practices which are found in all religions. This will be the standing point to help our community and help the students make a foundation of unity amongst one another,” Mahmood said.

The TRU Intercultural Council focuses on the coexistence of all TRU students through events like the campus leaders social that was held last year, intended to talk about inclusiveness on campus.

“My faith believes something else, and maybe you don’t even have a faith or another person is a part of a different faith and when they come together there is bound to be conflict,” said Idah Msiska, TRU student and member of TRU’s Intercultural Council. “But if you respect that this person is coming from a different background where you don’t know what they know or how they’ve been brought up then you are better able to understand.”

The atmosphere on campus is welcoming, according to Fahad Alfaraj, a third-year business student.

“I have lived here in Kamloops for three years…I’ve never faced a racism experience in my life. Everyone’s been very good here in Kamloops. But what I think is that people need to learn more about Islam so that they can understand what our goals [are], and what we want to achieve in our lives. We are not about violence or fighting.”

Mohammed Alotaibi, second-year computer science student, agrees that Canadians should learn more about Islam, but hasn’t had a negative experience at TRU.

“Even in my country, Canada has a good reputation about respecting other cultures,” he said.

“There were a few times but it was at a minimal level where a student portrayed a negative behavior to them so they came to get some good-heartedness…If [students] do come with such queries to present what Islam is in its bold form…clarify what Islam is to them,” Mahmood said.

“I don’t think it ever happens where it has to be taken to the legal authorities, because people are very understanding over here.”