A campus perspective on misunderstanding Muslims

Political rhetoric, media and online trolling are building up Islamophobia

Muslim students at TRU come together six days a week to celebrate and reflect on the teachings of their religions with an hour of prayer. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

Muslim students at TRU come together six days a week to celebrate and reflect on the teachings of their religions with an hour of prayer. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

As long as international conflicts in predominantly Muslim areas of the world are making the headlines, and Donald Trump is misinforming American citizens, there is a good chance the growing Islamophobic sentiment in western cultures will only become stronger.

Even in a country as liberally thinking and multicultural as Canada, there are still individuals who hold on to their ignorance and prejudice and contribute to the Islamophobic rhetoric around the world.

Earlier this month, the University of Calgary made headlines for a series of posters pasted throughout campus that were filled with anti-Muslim statements and harsh language.

The best attempt at living equally as a Muslim in the west is to educate others and avoid getting sucked into the anti-Islamic discourse, according to Mohammed Saiful Islam, who is a devout Muslim and president of the TRU Bangladesh club.

Incidents like the one in Calgary last week do hit home for Muslim students here at TRU, as well, Saiful said. They will often get together and discuss issues that may influence how people are viewing them on campus.

Saiful believes the large international student population on campus brings a lot of diversity, and with that a general acceptance of different cultures and religions.

In Saiful’s experience, there has not been any trouble or feeling of prejudice with regards to his religion since he has been at the university, and he thinks that can be said for the Muslim community here as a whole. They meet often to discuss these issues, and encourage each other to speak up, if and when there is a problem.

This is where the mosque plays a key role in reinforcing the Muslim community, Saiful said. Since there are so many misconceptions about Islam, teachings at the mosque help Muslims with the pressure of political labelling.

Before he came to Canada he was somewhat concerned about how he would be treated. In Bangladesh, he said, people often think that people here in Canada and the U.S. will not like them.

“We hear rumours that people are judged based on their name,” Saiful said.

Saiful said he carefully considered how he chose to write his name when filling out his documentation to enter the country, hearing from friends that some have been denied entry, suspecting something small like including the name “Mohammed” in their names to be the cause.

“Sometimes, based on the situations that are happening around the world, they might feel hesitant that other people are [judging them],” Saiful said.

Though, when he finally arrived in Canada and came to TRU, Saiful said he was pleased to realize he would not be facing the same prejudices and opposition that his friends and others have faced.

The advice that Saiful says many people in the Muslim community at TRU abide by is to avoid arguments and confrontation.

“It is frustrating not being able to argue and defend your religion, due to the chance you may make it worse,” Saiful said, adding that it is probably the most difficult part of being in a culture with a tainted perspective of Muslim people.

People at the university are much more accepting than people in the rest of the community, Saiful said. While looking through social media comments on different pages he can see there are those individuals with a misconception or prejudice even here in Kamloops.

Six days a week, Muslim students here at TRU meet to pray and celebrate their religion. Seven days a week those same students live with the pressure that, as a whole, they are living in a part of the world that associates their religion with the latest conflict, making headlines or the latest anti-Muslim rhetoric, being used as political fodder for campaigns.

The first step to breaking down this wall of misconceptions around Islam as a religion, is education. But when the fight is against the media, which is used as a first source of information for many every single day, it is hard to make any real change. And so it is only the media, Saiful believes, that can change the conversation.

TRUSU has tentative plans for an event on Islamophobia, to take place around International Days in the spring.