My mother converted to Islam. Raised in a Catholic family from Panama, she knew that this religion would make her a better person, a better mother and a better citizen. I was only three years old at the time of her conversion, a time when she was a single mother of two young girls.
My mother told us us stories of why she was so drawn to the religion, citing Islam’s high regard of women (“Heaven lies at the feet of the mother,” a saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad), the way in which we’re told to treat our neighbours (“Kind words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury.” -Qur’an, 2:263), and how to deal with those who have angered us (“Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression” -Qur’an, 5:2).
She always encouraged us to learn more about Islam, to ask questions and not to follow the religion blindly but rather to choose our own faith. I chose Islam.
My mother is an immigrant to Canada. I was only a year old when she decided to call this beautiful country home. She knew that Canada valued her freedom of speech, protected her basic human rights and offered her children the opportunity to succeed. She knew that like every other Canadian, we would have the right to live without discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or disability. I feel so fortunate she decided to make Canada our home.
I am a Muslim and I am a Canadian. I have been instilled with the values of both these identities from an early age. I was told I could be a successful career woman like Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Khadija. I was told I could thrive in this country regardless of the colour of my skin, or the scarf on my head. I had learned that these identities were not at odds with each other. They were both a part of me.
Last week, my home was assaulted and my religion was hijacked.
When a lone gunman opened fire in the nation’s capital, I watched the news in horror. I was shocked and outraged that anyone could be so vile. And like every other Canadian, I was scared. I worried about friends in Ottawa. I prayed for the families of those affected. And I prayed: “Please God, don’t let the shooter be Muslim.”
As I scrolled through my social media accounts, there was a persistent theme from my Muslim friends that echoed that voice in the back of my head. We were all hoping and wishing that this heinous act hadn’t been committed by someone calling themselves a Muslim. As details emerged about the man who carried out these violent attacks, I began to feel doubly victimized.
On my subway ride the next morning I flipped through the newspaper, reading more details about the tragedy. Page after page, I saw images of the victims, heroes, innocent bystanders, and the shooter himself. It was hard not to get emotional. I thought about how awful it must have been for the family of the young corporal to learn about his tragic end. I thought about how scared the citizens of Ottawa must have been to be terrorized in this way.
But when I looked up at the faces of the riders around me, I wondered what went through their minds as they looked at me. Did they see me as their fellow Canadian mourning the victims of this tragedy? Or had they put me in the same category as this awful and misguided man who had committed these terrible acts?
I am Muslim and I am Canadian. These two identities do not contradict one another.
Ginella Massa is a Toronto-based journalist, producer and media trainer. She frequently comments on issues affecting Muslims in North America. Her blog “Thoughts From a Headscarf” can be found athttp://www.ginellamassa.com.
Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick
Historian, Lecturer, Consultant