One of the many hats I wear is that of religious education instructor for Muslim youth aged 15-17. In addition to discussing the historical aspects of Islam, the overarching goal of the program is to instill a sense of pride and help Muslim youth feel a sense of comfort in articulating their faith to others. So, what happens when we try to cultivate this goal in a world that is increasingly hostile to Islam?
Last week, in the midst of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, one of my students remarked at the beginning of class- “It’s not a good time to be Muslim, Miss.” His classmates all solemnly nodded their agreement. As Canadians, we are still reeling from the 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill, in which an unarmed Canadian soldier was shot dead while on duty. The media immediately deemed this a terrorist attack, focusing on the shooter’s Middle Eastern nationality and recent conversion to Islam. Only two months later, and the Charlie Hedbo attacks bring a new wave of Islamaphobia and xenophobic discourses. Samuel P. Huntington’s now dated thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations” is still being used as a framework to prove that such conflict is inevitable. Everywhere students are confronted with this; in Quebec especially, given our ties to France based on linguistic commonality, the main topic of conversation has been around the attacks and the attackers. Most if not all French newspapers in Quebec re-printed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as a sign of “solidarity” with their French counterparts while all English newspapers chose to abstain from such provocations.
“It’s not a good time to be Muslim, miss” is heartbreaking to hear as a teacher. What’s even harder is that I cannot help but sympathize with the young student. Reflecting on this critical classroom incident I find that Muslim youth are presented with two equally detrimental options- either hiding their identity (‘Muslim? Change your name like me’) or veering towards apologetics (Mayor Naheed Nenshi should condemn terrorism because he’s Muslim; Rupert Murdoch tweet ). As educators we are taught to turn critical incidents into teachable moments, yet there are those moments wherein we cannot help but take pause and think about how we balance our hopes and desires for our students (our desire that they find strength in their identity, our hopes that they feel like a part of their society), while validating their lived experiences outside of the classroom. So, how does one respond to a young adolescent who reads the world and decides that their faith is a detriment? Admittedly, I don’t have a response to this question. I bring it up here in this forum in hopes of soliciting discussion around this statement. So, what are your thoughts?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.