“I wanted to share a few short things about what being a Muslim on UBC campus can look like,” said Jamiu Abdsalami, the student moderator of the seminar on Radical Islam Honesty at UBC.
“You’re in the bathroom, doing your usual washing up for prayers and … your foot is in the sink, and then you see someone walk into the washroom and you’re like a deer in headlights,” he joked.
Abdsalami moderated the fourth lecture for United Islam Awareness Week (UIAW) being held at UBC. UIAW, a week-long event from January 20 to 24 put on by the Muslim Student Association (MSA), took place as a series of seminars and lectures at the UBC Chemistry building to raise awareness about Islam and Muslim culture.
While the lecture started off with quips about sink foot washing, it quickly morphed into a serious discussion about racism and Islamophobia in Mohamed Yaffa’s talk that followed. The session’s speaker, also a Black Muslim immigrant, did not shy away from the more difficult and nuanced topics surrounding identity.
Entitled “Triple Threat: Black, Immigrant and Muslim,” the seminar examined the history of Islam in West Africa as well as the experiences of what it’s like to be Black and Muslim in Canada today.
Yaffa’s seminar looked at questions like “How do we deal with unconscious bias?” and “How do we address racism within the Muslim community?”
He also spoke about common anti-Muslim imagery in the media and how Canada's claims of being an inclusive and integrated country often fall short.
“As a Muslim only your vote is wanted at the ballot box,” said Yaffa. “Your voice is killed. Integration is a claim we have not achieved yet.”
The lecturer spoke about some of his own experiences with Islamophobia, as well as a particular brand of intersectional racism Yaffa says is frequently experienced by Black Muslims today. He argued that the intersections of race, Muslim identity and immigration are important and nuanced, but seldom discussed.
“To be Black in Canada is not easy” said Yaffa. “To be Black and Muslim is even harder.”
While he denounced the prejudice experienced by Muslim communities in Canada and particularly against racialized Muslim communities, he said he remains hopeful that Canada will continue to become a more inclusive country for different identities. He said he also believes that UIAW is a great way to begin to cultivate acceptance and inclusivity here at UBC.
“We must never give up and we must treat each other with love,” said Yaffa. “Events like this and conversations [are] very important for starting to deal with prejudice.”
This was a sentiment echoed among many of those in attendance. Audience members said that these types of events were a crucial first step to addressing issues like Islamophobia and to create a culture of tolerance within the UBC community.
Mena Hessein-Hassona, a Muslim first-year engineering student said that she felt the event was a great way for people to come to meet and learn more about what it means to be Muslim.
“There’s a lot of stigma around Islam and Muslim identity in general,” said Hessein-Hassona. “In the media there’s always a Muslim being pinned as the bad guy. There’s a lot of negative perceptions in people’s heads.”
Yuki Fujiwara, a fifth-year math major, also spoke about community-building, saying that he attended because he was interested in learning more about the experiences of other groups.
“I thought that [with] UBC being such a diverse place like it is, it would be a good opportunity to hear different mixed race experiences across continents,” Fujiwara said. “I’m interested in … these themes of integration and race relations.”