Donna Akbari, News Reporter
For English instructor Prasad Bidaye, Islamophobia is complicated and it is about much more than just religion.
“I came in knowing that Islamophobia is a huge social problem which is tied to political events such as 9/11 and the war in the Middle East,” Bidaye said in an interview with Et Cetera during the Diversity and Inclusion Dialogue talk at Lakeshore on Nov. 15.
“It has less to do with religion and more to do with prejudice and racism,” he said. “Also, about oil on a more political note.
“I always knew there was an element of racism but it’s crystal clear now,” Bidaye said.
As a teacher, he wants to talk to students about any crisis that impacts the Muslim community and encourage them to resist easy conclusions.
“I feel as a teacher, I want to have more discussions, for example, if there was a crisis event, a mosque shooting or an event like 9/11,” he said. “I want to talk about it and try to get students to think about the complexity of the matter rather than try to take a black-and-white stance on things.”
He also seeks to explore the difference between free speech and hateful, incendiary comments.
“First of all, hate speech is prohibited and there are consequences” for those who engage in it, he said.
He seeks to understand “where this hatred is coming from, and I want them to reflect on the hate speech that they are making.”
The workshop’s facilitator Hiren Mistry, a doctoral student at the Ontario Institute in Studies and
Education specializing in religion, pluralism and leadership, led the lecture on Islamophobia at the Lakeshore campus.
His parents were immigrants to Canada from India, and identity is usually a lifelong issue for those who see themselves as belonging to two worlds.
“Throughout the course of my life I’ve been figuring out who I am as Canadian, who I am as Indian, and eventually question what is the background of being Indian because Indian is a broad category,” said Mistry, who studied Hindu philosophy.
Muslim colleagues have told him that those of other faiths and all citizens should be involved in discussions about Islamophobia.
“So, I am not speaking as someone who is Muslim but as an educator. I believe Islamophobia affects everyone, not just Muslims,” he said.
“One thing I learnt was from their experiences as Saudi Muslim, as Pakistani Muslim, as Afghan Muslim, people tend to put all Muslims in one pile even though there are variations on how Islam is practiced depending on which part of the country and how liberal or fundamental they are,” Mistry said.
He recalled an Afghan Ismaili student who had said he had practiced Sunni prayer and pretended to be a Sunni just so that he could be safe. There has been sectarian violence around the world between Ismailis, a subsect of Shia Muslims, and Sunnis.
“I would have never picked that up unless I had an open relationship with my students,” Mistry said. “Over the course of 10 years, I learned a lot about Islam by learning with Muslim families and their concerns, knowledge and experience.”
He said students are very curious about identity, politics and ethnicity.
“School is a fundamental place to explore their questions and their frustrations, their curiosity, what they think they know,” Mistry said.
“What would happen if students left public education or college without ever once talking about Islamophobia, without once talking about religious identity that’s a part of our commitment and we need to make sure we do it.”
In addition to teachers, there were also representatives of several offices in the college, one of which was Lindsay Walker, vice-president of sustainability.
“I hoped to broaden my knowledge on the topic knowing that this is a part of the conversation, this event deepened my understanding realizing that there is more to learn,” she said.