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Islamophobia on the rise in Canada

Dr. Mukarram Ali Zaidi addresses guests at the Unity Conference at the University of Calgary. (Photo by Katerina Masyk/SAIT)

Dr. Mukarram Ali Zaidi addresses guests at the Unity Conference at the University of Calgary. (Photo by Katerina Masyk/SAIT)

A national academic research study, conducted by a group of eight universities from across the country, indicated that Canada has experienced a rise in Islamophobia.

“I’m hoping that the findings are interesting, and that they are surprising as well,” said Kashmala Qasim, York University doctoral student, who helped with the study.

The study was commissioned by the Calgary non-profit organization, Think for Actions, and used a mass-survey to reach more than 1,000 Canadians.

“I think [as a researcher] we’re now studying things like Islamophobia, homophobia, systemic racism and discrimination from a scientific, empirical and evidence based perspective. It’s not just our opinions,” said Qasim.

The results of the study were presented at the Unity Conference at the University of Calgary on Saturday, Sept. 16.

“Most surprising to me, as someone who’s in social psychology, is the difference between attitudes and beliefs,” said Qasim.

Nine researchers, 11 advisors and 19 students from eight Canadian universities conducted the study.

The research study was completed in March 2017, and used social media, community out reach and civil liberty groups to reach participants in religious and non-religious communities.

“We just essentially asked some questions regarding Islamophobia and what the average Canadian thinks,” said Qasim.

Participants were asked questions that explored Islamophobia, systemic racism, their importance and what actions they believe they can take.

The results of the study indicated that 78 per cent of Canadians believe Muslims have the right to practice their religion and culture, and 88 per cent believe that Muslims should be treated the same as all other Canadians.

What was an “alarming result” of the study was that 72 per cent of participants believed that Muslims are experiencing an increasing climate of hatred that will continue to grow.

“The study we took was to access the communication gap between Muslims and fellow Canadians, and understand where this fear is coming from,” said Think For Actions Chariman Dr. Mukarram Ali Zaidi.

One of the positive results to come out of the research, was the discovery that if non-Muslims had a Muslim friend or acquaintance they had a better perspective of Islam, in comparison to those who did not.

“Basically it’s about how media portrays [Muslims]. We figured out that Muslims have carried out 12.4 per cent of attacks on U.S. soil, but they received 41 per cent of the coverage,” said Zaidi.

The doctor said that some of the effective ways that this climate of hatred could be rectified is through neutral reporting by the media, and a move away from blatantly negative portrayals of Muslims.

“Report it properly. The media needs to really take things into perspective. [The] KKK is never deemed as a Christian organization, but when it comes to ISIS, Al Qaeda and Al Sheba, any of these terrorist groups, are called Islamic,” said Zaidi, describing the divide the media has in covering Christian and Muslim terrorist organizations.

The Unity Conference was designed to share the results of the study and encourage Canadians to start a conversation about racism and bigotry in the country.

Another contributing factor to the rise of Islamophobia in Canada has been internal issues in Muslim communities, said Zaidi.

The doctor wants to see community leaders, including Imams, better integrated into Canadian culture in an effort to appeal to, and include, younger and first generation Muslim Canadians.

“The leadership has no clue what the community wants from them. They [the communities] want the leaders to be united and have good communication inside and outside. We don’t have that,” said Zaidi.

The Imams had a 51 per cent approval rating, based on the study results.

The Unity Conference panellist’s goal was to address the trends suggested by Zaidi’s study to create an “antidote” to Islamophobia through meaningful conversations.

Guest speakers encouraged education through social media, online stories and community building in the hopes that it would help to alleviate the “alarming statistics” presented in the study’s results.

A research study is planned next year to dig deeper into Islamophobia by using focus groups to explore personal experiences of participants, and bridge the gap minorities experience in academic research.

The goal is to have more than 5,000 participants in next year’s study.

“I think it was interesting. I didn’t know what to expect going in,” said Unity Conference guest Yumna Maan.

Maan said she was impressed by the research presented at the Unity Conference, her only regret was that there was not a larger audience to hear the results.

“These are things our community needs to hear,” said Maan.

 

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