Muslim leaders say not enough is being done to help youth, under the age of 10 in Hamilton deal with and understand a recent spate of attacks against Muslims and rising incidents of Islamophobia.
"Young children are finding it difficult in these kinds of instances," said Affaf Ahtisham, secretary of the Muslim Association of Hamilton. "They're questioning, 'Can this happen to me? Why is this happening to us?' for example."
Over the past year, attacks targeting Muslims and hate crimes have rattled Hamilton's tight-knit Muslim community.
Here are some examples of hate crimes and instances of Islamophobia that have impacted youth:
- A shooting at a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29 that killed 6 and injured several more.
- U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order targeting refugees and travellers from Muslim-majority countries, banning entry from seven majority Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on Jan. 25.
- An anti-Muslim rally outside a Toronto mosque on Feb. 17.
- A hate crime attack on Feb. 14 against a Muslim doctor at St. Joseph's Healthcare Centre.
- An arson attempt on the Ibrahim Jame Mosque on Sept. 14, 2016.
- The brutal beating of a Hamilton teen with a baseball bat that fractured his skull on Nov. 30, 2016.
"The elementary school kids are the ones who are most affected," said Kamran Bhatti, a Muslim community activist. "The older kids kind of understand. They're like, 'you know we've been around her awhile, we've been victims of racism, we've been victims of this type of xenophobia,' but they don't feel like anyone is going to come and shoot them.
"Some of these kids are internalizing it and they're saying, well it this is happening to ordinary Muslims then what about me," he added.
'Young people are vulnerable'
Imam Sayed Tora, leader of the Hamilton Downtown Mosque was listening to details about the Quebec City attack while he took three of his five children to school.
His 12-year-old daughter was shocked, he recalled.
"The only thing that she would say was that she can't believe that this is happening here [in Canada]," he told CBC News.
But the personal impact of these attacks on children don't just have an immediate effect, they also show up long-term through fear and anxiety, says Imam Ayman Al-Taher, who always notices a shift in youth between age four and 10 at Ibrahim Jame Mosque following an event.
"Young people are vulnerable and in a state of developing their perceptions," said Al-Taher.
Teachers and parents are usually the first to encounter this shift in behaviour, Bhatti added.
"Overall on the surface they might find if you spend just a few hours with them, they're fine, but I think it's those people that are interacting with these kids at a much more significant time period, who are definitely seeing a difference," he explained.
'It's very important for all of us to help support young people when they're in their pre-teenage years.' - Kamran Bhatti, advocate
"When you see a normal kid playing and being very friendly with their classmates, you see this event happen and all of a sudden that same kid after a little while becomes a bit agitated and is starting to pick fights — lashing out, yelling, screaming some times."
According to Bhatti, this takes its toll on children, "leaving effects that last into adulhood."
"It's very important for all of us to help support young people when they're in their pre-teenage years because that's when these grievances get planted then and they grow and blossom," he said.
Community needs to do more, Imam says
But not enough is being done by parents and the Muslim community to address these issues.
Last month, Al-Taher tried to form a support network to help youth deal with their fear and anxiety. He says his initiative was met with resistance because of stigma surrounding mental health.
"Mental health is normally a taboo issue and we don't like to talk about it," he explained. "There is the perception that I don't want my children, especially when it comes to dealing with mental health issues, to be looked after by someone from outside the faith and the culture because this might be affecting their understanding of the culture and the faith."
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Batti also encountered this.
"Parents don't want their kids to be considered as having a mental health issue," he told CBC News. "If the parents aren't bringing those kids to these sessions or bringing them out to participate it becomes quite difficult."
'Active and contributing members of society'
This is why they both say a support network needs to be the responsibility of the mosque to educate parents who aren't aware of the long-term impact this will have on their child's emotional well-being.
In order to "strengthen the spirit and strengthen the spirit amongst young Muslims," Batti says more work needs to be invested in civic engagement opportunities and service within the community.
"When we interact with Hamiltonians and Canadians, our Muslim youth are going to feel more secure in their neighbourhoods and it's going to give them a sense of citizenship," he stated.
"We want to have our young people be active and contributing members of society."