VANCOUVER (CityNews) — In the wake of a fatal, hate-motivated attack against a Muslim family in London, Ontario, a B.C. non-profit says education plays a crucial role in tackling the root causes of Islamophobia.
On Sunday, four family members of one family were killed in London Ont. while out for a walk. They were at a red light when a large, black truck came up behind the family and struck them at a high speed.
A nine-year-old boy remains in hospital but his father, Salman Afzaal, 46, his mother, Madiha Salman, 44, his sister 15-year-old Yumna Afzaal and his 74-year-old grandmother (Salman’s mother) were killed.
Adnan Akiel is the President of the Bridging Gaps Foundation, which seeks to bridge the gap between Muslims and Non-Muslims. They’ve started programs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland like the Meet-a-Muslim program and Open Mosques.
Their newest education program is called RECLAIM, which helps education staff and students address and respond to Islamophobia.
“Education is at the core of what we do, and we believe education is a core solution to curbing the impact of Islamophobia and tackling Islamophobia at its roots,” Akiel explains.
“One of the best places to tackle this issue is in our schools because school districts schools, public educational facilities, universities, colleges — these are areas where minds are shaped where ideas are formed, where education is being ingrained.”
The program offers resources, training, and a framework for responding to anti-Muslim discrimination and attacks.
“What we do at this program is we work with public and private educational facilities to help them address Islamophobia at its root by creating and sharing resources, training materials and content that is grounded in a framework of exploring identity, and exploring stories to understand Islam, and the Muslim world.”
Akiel says the attack in London Ont. is one horrific example of how harmful and pervasive Islamohpbia remains in Canada.
“What we have seen is that Canada has an Islamophobia problem, Canada has a problem with anti-Muslim bigotry and there is a huge gap that needs to be addressed at multiple levels — at a grassroots level, at the federal, provincial level,” he says.
“The problem of Islamophobia [is], it’s in our streets, it’s in our schools, it’s everywhere, everywhere in Canada. We’ve seen these issues in every single province. We’ve had incidents in Quebec, in Alberta, we’ve had incidents in B.C. and in Ontario consistently.”
Underpinning Islamophobia is a failure to recognize Muslims as fully human, something Akiel says is made worse by reducing people to harmful stereotypes.
“Media has played a huge role in shaping narratives around Islam and Muslims which are factually incorrect, which are biassed and which are incomplete,” he says.
“There’s been a lack of a nuanced approach in educating individuals and communities about what Islam entails and what the Muslim world is all about. So using a single brush to paint the entire Muslim world without understanding its intricacies and without allowing Muslims to be empowered and share and create their own narratives and stories.”
Saying the number of police-reported incidents targetting Muslims has increased, Akiel also notes that those statistics don’t actually capture the extent of what Muslim people experience.
“This does not include the incidences of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry that do not get labelled as a hate crime, or do not get reported to the authorities. We know the problem is much more severe.”
Currently, RECLAIM works with educators and students from Grade 6 to 12, but Akiel says his organization is available and willing to work with anyone in the community who reached out.
“As an organization, [we] are here to serve the people,” he explains.
“If anyone has any questions about what’s happening now, or about the Muslim world in general — we would love for them to contact us.”