The Cohort was introduced to the concepts of narratives, deep narratives, stories, and messages, and was asked to identify these elements in Mustafa the Poet’s performance of “Stay Alive,” as well as his acceptance speech for Alternative Album of the Year at the 2022 Juno Awards.
Below are some examples of each element, identified by the Cohort:
- Community and family
- Living your truth and being authentic
- Physical and systemic violence is a part of Canada
- Equity for all
- Nothing about us without us (i.e. taking the power back of sharing our stories ourselves)
- Universality and the power of sharing stories in community
- Black men die, and they die early
- Gun violence is often linked to and derivative of systemic oppression
- People from Black communities are misrepresented in media
- Lack of representation (i.e. “being the first one of anything is something to critique not to celebrate”)
- Dismantling of systems that perpetuate harmful representations of Regent Park
- Black and Indigenous communities are systematically neglected and attacked
- Ali’s story
- Mustafa’s friend was gunned down by police
- Bringing his crew, friends, and family on stage in an unapologetic, authentic, and honest way
- Stay alive
- Muslim Lives Matter
- Land Back (i.e. Indigenous-led movements for self-determination and access to land and resources)
- Symbolism behind clothing (e.g. bullet proof vest with “poet” instead of “police,” thobe, necklace etc.)
The Importance of Narrative Systems
The Cohort was asked to think about why we need narrative systems. These are some of their answers:
- There is an assumption that Canadian multiculturalism means all existences are equal, and that they should be celebrated simply as a result of globalization. Yet, if a specific community does not affirm its stories or is not allowed room for that, they become more marginalized
- Some Muslim communities are misrepresenting Muslims
- It is important for Muslims to identify themselves outside the non-Muslim gaze (i.e. not just outside the white gaze)
A few members of the Cohort feel the Lab is too abstract, and that they need something more concrete and actionable. Other people expressed confusion while also understanding there may be value for vagueness at the beginning.
Among the people who mentioned the need for a definitive outcome, one participant suggested creating a pledge or manifesto, either as a group or individually, on how the Cohort wants to engage these values and ideas in the work of the Cohort.
What Does it Mean to be Muslim?
The Cohort was given two texts for discussion Text Messages (or How I Found Myself Time Travelling), and Halal If You Hear Me.
One participant felt the concept of hyphenated identities was not new and a dominant discourse; being hyphenated means occupying a space between two worlds. This participant suggested an alternative definition; belonging to multiple places and belonging to them wholeheartedly. Individuals who have more than one identity belong to all these identities/communities and are not limited to taking a small piece of each or to belonging to a space in between. Many people appreciated this perspective, and some said that they felt this way too, but always thought they were the only ones who did.
Later, the group discussed the following questions in small groups.
1. When did being Muslim become a big part of your identity? In what context did it happen, and what factors played a role in it?
Some members identified their Muslimness in the context of the non-Muslim perspective, such as bullying, and the consequences of 9/11 on Muslims in North America.
“Understood who we are based on being shown who we are not.”
Others said that this was not a conscious decision. They were born into being Muslim or experienced it as a culture more than a religion.
“[I] was born ‘culturally Muslim’ but my parents did not practice whatsoever. They have always performed Muslimness without belief and dissuaded me from being Muslim.”
And others mentioned being Muslim became a big part of their identity through a conscious choice later in life.
“Born Muslim, not feeling a sense of belonging, then decades later in my 30s reconciling my thoughts with my background and accepting that because I have liberal ideas, it doesn’t make me a bad Muslim and that there is a diverse range of what a Muslim is.”
“I did my own research, asked lots of questions, making Muslim friends helped. My curiosity played a huge factor.”
2. People do not identify with just one group, but with several groups at varying degrees. What are some values or identities that you think intersect or conflict with being Muslim?
People who do not fit the stereotypical image of Muslims, or whose identities are in contradiction with mainstream Muslim discourse, may choose not to identify with being Muslim. Some of the identities that were mentioned are women, LGBTQ individuals, and Black people.
“When doing creative work involving the LGBTQ community, I felt the reaction from fellow Muslims to be quite unaccepting and I do have a fear of the reaction of it to my work. I don’t believe that Islam and liberal thinking should be at odds, but it’s the reaction of some members of the community that makes it a bit challenging.”
Those who associate Islam with trauma and conflict may have conflicting identities.
“A lot of Afghans don’t want to be near Muslim-ness because of trauma and violence associated with Islam.”
“Culturally, a lot of folks in my ethnic community, because of history, do not like Muslimness as extremists had killed their family members.”
3. Dominant, colonial, or “mainstream” voices often impose what we should think or how we should behave. This can be done by voices outside of the Muslim community, as well as voices within. What can “Muslim” look like without having other perceptions imposed on us?
Most of these imposed views of what Muslims are and should be, come from within Muslim communities (e.g. community aunties, “religious police” etc.).
“Racism within the community.”
“More freedom, less anxiety if voices outside and inside of community were imposing what we should think and how we should behave.”
“I’ll be creating art more freely, unencumbered by the reaction in my community and country of origin [and] friends and family.”
“I believe my work would be more legitimized if aunties or religious police, often men, were out of the picture.”
4. Identifying as a Muslim can be different than identifying with Muslims. Specifically, identifying as a member of a religious group does not necessarily imply that one identifies with that group. What are some ways that you identify as AND with Muslims, and what are some ways that you identify as BUT NOT with Muslims?
Some Cohort members choose to Identify with people with the same worldview, rather than religion.
“Not identifying with Muslims because they are not a monolith.”
“I identify with people who have the same type of mentality I have rather than a specific religious group.”
Cohort members mentioned identifying, yet challenging the Muslim discourse.
“Identifying with Muslims doesn’t mean identifying with the entirety of that group. Also, I think you can identify, yet still challenge that group.”
One person suggested that it may even be counter to Islam for Muslims to fit in a Western, capitalist society. Many people resonated with this idea.
Notes compiled by Rime El Jadidi | August 3, 2022