Inspirit-organized roundtable between GTA Muslim change leaders and the Toronto Star

BEYOND SENTIMENTS OF HOPE

Like most of you, members of Inspirit Foundation’s board and staff have been deeply grieved by the chaos following the executive ban prohibiting Muslims from various nations from entering the United States, and closer to home, the tragic shooting within our own borders. The only reprieve has been witnessing the outpouring of support for Muslim communities. Sentiments of solidarity and hope are filling social media feeds and are palpable at public vigils. It’s understandable to be warmed by this spirit of compassion. However, sentiments of hope are not enough; we must initiate and increase actions to address Islamophobia daily.

As many of you know, Inspirit Foundation identified addressing Islamophobia as one of its priority issue areas within a broader mission of creating social inclusion. Our Strategic Plan outlines how we’re addressing this issue, among others, over the next few years. When I met with the senior leadership team two weeks ago to discuss increased efforts in this area, I had no inkling of the horror that lay ahead, or how quickly the urgency of our work would escalate.

Last week I reflected on what the foundation could add to this conversation. Rather than speaking immediately, I’ve taken some time to do what we typically do as an organization—listen. In addition to having difficult conversations with our staff and board teams, we sought the advice of Muslim change leaders. With the leadership of our Stakeholder Engagement department, we were able to learn about how to best support Muslims.

Here’s what they said:

Learn more about Islamophobia.

Banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and this weekend’s shooting are indisputable examples of Islamophobia. However, nuanced and complex forms of Islamophobia are often ignored or dismissed. These lesser recognized forms of Islamophobia include: assuming that visibly religious Muslim women are oppressed, overlooking Muslims for professional opportunities, excluding Muslims from social events, and negating the contribution of Muslim communities across Canada. Islamophobia is both interpersonal and systemic; it’s important to make an effort to learn more about Islamophobia and its many forms. A great place to begin your learning journey is reading articles by Muslim thought-leaders like Wajahat Aliand Dalia Mogahed.

Use your influence to create positive change.

All of us possess some degree of influence. Take a moment to assess the kind of the influence you have based on your professional role, access to financial resources, networks, and talents. Then identify three ways that you can use your influence to positively address the issue of Islamophobia. Before taking action, you may want to discuss your planned actions with a Muslim friend, colleague, or organization already doing work on this issue.

Listen to the diverse needs of Muslims.

Oftentimes Muslims are referred to as one large monolithic group. In actuality there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide and 1 million Muslims in Canada. Within this population, there are numerous expressions of the religion practiced by Sunni, Shia, Ismaili, Ahmadiyya and numerous other subgroups within the religion. This wonderful diversity of Muslims is further enhanced and complicated by various social locations informed by class, race, and sexual orientation. Visibility is very rarely given to Black, LGBTQ+, and Shia Muslims. In order to provide support to Muslim communities at this time—and also push past narrow stereotypes— it’s important to consider these various aspects of Muslim identities.

Confront your unconscious biases.

Although difficult to acknowledge, all of us harbour implicit biases, which are judgements and/or behaviours resulting from cognitive processes that we are unaware of. These judgements and behaviours often contravene our stated values. None of us are immune from biases pertaining to race, class, gender, physical ability, faith, and even body size. We encourage you to explore your implicit biases by taking this reputable implicit bias test, developed by scientists almost two decades ago. This TEDx Talk andPsychology Today article may also be good resources for beginning your exploration.

Continue the conversation.

Many people have spoken out during the past week through social media, attending vigils, and leaving beautiful letters at Muslim places of worship. However, as with most tragedies, this issue will soon fade into the background. We can’t allow that to happen. It’s important to continue speaking out when you witness instances of Islamophobia. It’s equally important to include Muslims when we have general conversations about inclusion, community-building, and our collective well-being.

We recognize that so many of you are doing great work within your organizations and local communities. We’ll continue to prioritize supporting Muslims in our work. Given the recent tragedy and the urgency of the moment, we intend to scale up our efforts by implementing several initiatives, including supporting Muslims to gather and heal over dinner, providing platforms for Muslims to share their insights, and providing wrap-around supports for Muslim change leaders in Quebec. We will also host a national gathering for Muslim and non-Muslim change leaders to exchange ideas and develop relationships this coming fall. If you’d like to learn more about contributing as a co-funder please contact me.

In closing, I'd like us all to take a moment to remember the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting:

Mamadou Barry | Abdelkrim Hassane | Ibrahima Barry
Khaled Belkacemi | Azzeddine Soufiane | Aboubaker Thabti


I'd like us to also remember all Muslims deeply effected by this tragedy. Given the foundation's mission and the fact that I am a mother, I'm particularly concerned about the next generation of Muslims struggling to make sense of this—striving to feel a sense of safety and belonging in Canada. Let's not let them down.

Sincerely,

Andrea Nemtin
President and CEO

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