Jan. 29, 2024

Campus comes together on National Day of Remembrance of Québec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia

UCalgary community reflects on devastating attack 7 years ago and action moving forward
Three monuments that stand in Quebec City to honour the victims of the Quebec mosque attack
Memorial constructed in memory of the six victims of the Quebec City Mosque attack on January 29, 2017 Courtesy of Quebec City

Today marks the seventh National Day of Remembrance of the Québec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia. Islamophobia is fear, prejudice and hatred of Islam and Muslims, which often manifests in everyday acts of discrimination, hate crimes, and violence.  

As we remember the tragic day that saw six men killed and 19 injured, Saïd Akjour, a survivor of the 2017 Québec City Mosque Attack, continues to speak bravely about the need to find hope despite the hate.   

Despite the personal losses he suffered, Akjour urges Canadians to build connections, get to know each other better, and learn to live well together. Today, as an integral dimension of our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and pluralism, we are inviting the UCalgary community to do the same. 

“In honouring the memory of those impacted by the Québec City Mosque attack, the University of Calgary reaffirms its commitment to tackling global challenges such as social polarization, racism and Islamophobia, and to promoting inter-cultural understanding,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor.  

While it's necessary to encourage citizens to come together, the question arises, “What does coming together look like in a world in which Islamophobia, hate and xenophobia are on the rise?”  

How can we follow Akjour’s wise advice?  

Dr. Abdie Kazemipur, PhD, professor of sociology and Chair of Ethnic Studies, points to social psychology and contact theory hypothesis. This theory highlights the societal benefit of prolonged social interactions, eliminating prejudices, and creating shared understanding.  

Kazemipur adds, “The responsibility for creating such initiatives and ensuring their successes falls on the shoulders of both groups, the minority and the majority, not just one of them. This is not a solo task; it is more like a ‘tango’ that requires two people in perfect co-ordination with one another.”  

In a world where social isolation and polarization are a growing concern, the idea of finding common ground is more important than ever. These genuine social interactions not only improve knowledge, but also contribute to personal well-being, and they can help us work toward our common goals as a community.  

Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, associate professor, Cumming School of Medicine, believes high-level supports are needed when addressing social divides: “We desperately need structures, tools, and willingness to learn about each other, to understand each other’s perspectives, experiences and histories even if we do not agree, to find a shared sense of reality, and perhaps even arrive at a place of admiration for one another.” 

Our UCalgary community has a shared reality built in — we are all here to learn from one another, to share knowledge, and we all strive to harness this knowledge to make our world a better place.  

Ripple effects of discrimination   

As one of the co-founders of UCalgary’s Pluralism Initiative, Bharwani shares how this initiative emerged from a “belief that we can combat polarization, extremism, and misunderstanding by creating skills, spaces, and levers that help us understand each other, live well together, create and innovate together — without erasure, cancellation, or muting.”  

Bharwani notes that in the current environment, students, faculty, and staff from both Jewish and Muslim backgrounds have faced discrimination on campus and prefer to avoid spaces where they feel unsafe.  

“The consequence of us being nudged ‘back’ (and then us retreating) into our own communities is that we reinforce the silos being imposed upon us when we remove ourselves from spaces where we might begin to inspire seeds of shared understanding,” says Bharwani. 

Discrimination leads to exclusion. Exclusion leads to a lack of a shared realty, and a lack of shared reality fuels further discrimination. This cycle of hate is evident in Calgary and across Canada, with a 44 per cent rise in hate-motivated crimes in the city in 2021. The worrying trend continues to today with 31 per cent of Canadians saying they have “no interest” in being an ally to Muslims.  

Khadija Tariq Rana, vice-president communications of the Muslim Students Association at UCalgary, believes all forms of Islamophobia are harmful, and have no place within our campus or the wider society. “Such incidents occur because bystanders remain indifferent, thinking it doesn’t concern them,” says Rana. “However, Islamophobia should be a concern for everyone, as it undermines the values of society.” 

“We must confront the challenges of polarization, and combat Islamophobia and any hatred that makes a member of our campus community feel fear, unsafe, or force them to hide their identity,” says Dr. Malinda S. Smith, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (EDI). 

“It is a collective responsibility to cultivate a culture of respect and promote human rights and human dignity of all who live, learn and work on our campus. This means that we must be proactive in working together to combat Islamophobia and advance practices of pluralism in which we live well together.” 

Breaking the cycle of hate 

In a recent book chapter, From the Jewish Question to the Muslim Question, Kazemipur highlights the “need to incorporate the principles of ‘fairness’ and ‘empathy,’” to facilitate interactions between communities are also urgently needed.  

To put it simply, we must all get to know our neighbours, learn more about our Muslim classmates, recognize the contributions they have made to society, and spend time with people outside of our regular social circles.  

Faezeh Izadi, a doctoral candidate and sessional instructor for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims course at UCalgary, points to the need to recognize and celebrate the contributions from Muslims that have enriched our society. “Education about Islam can also highlight Muslims' contributions to society, culture, arts, science, and diverse fields. This makes it easier for individuals to relate to these aspects and humanize the experiences of Muslims.”  

The more we understand one another, the more we realize how our diverse identities overlap and can create bridges for connection.  

As a Muslim student, Rana wants the campus community to know that “combating hatred requires more than just talking about us; it involves talking to us. By recognizing that we share the same human emotions, aspirations, and dreams, we can prevent Muslim students from being seen as ‘the other.’"  

These interactions can also support a greater knowledge of Islam and Muslims which can also help us understand one another. According to Izadi, learning more about different religions and cultures is beneficial when approached critically: “Education around Islam (and indeed any other religion) has the potential to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions that often contribute to Islamophobia or broader religious intolerance.”  

Research shows that Canadians do want further education and learning opportunities. Forty-six per cent of non-Muslim Canadians said they would benefit from resources or support on how to be a better ally. For those wanting to learn more about the Islamic community, Calgary offers range of opportunities that are open to non-Muslims including open houses at local mosques.  

“Our commitment, as the University of Calgary, to education will help dispel ignorance and build intercultural understanding,” says Dr. Penny Werthner, interim provost and vice-president (academic)“As an institution, we set a positive example for our campus and the wider community and we will continue to ensure that UCalgary is a safe and caring campus.” 

Become an ally for your Muslim community members, and additional resources 

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