British Columbia

Outrage and solidarity are new — but Islamophobia isn't, says Muslim scholar

A Muslim scholar explains why expressions of solidarity are stressing her out.

Rabia Mir explains why she penned a letter to her liberal friends

U.S. President Trump's executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries has drawn public protests across North America. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"Dear liberal friends," UBC graduate student Rabia Mir's open letter begins.

"I have been increasingly confused and overwhelmed by the variety of emails that I am getting. Countless people around the world are standing alongside Muslims, sympathizing with their situation and voicing their outrage," she writes.

"Maybe the tide is turning, so why am I stressing out reading 'well-meaning' messages?"

Expressions of solidarity for Muslims communities have poured in from around the world after the announcement of Trump's executive order on immigration and an attack on a Quebec city mosque.

Mir said that while she's heartened by the expressions of support, she wonders why such extreme actions were needed to elicit empathy for people who experience hate crimes because of their religion.

"I faced backlash and discrimination before the ban and the Quebec mosque attack. But I feel it took those two things to validate my experience," she said.

Nuanced conversations needed

Mir has experienced violent Islamophobia first hand.

She previously wore a hijab — but stopped after she was physically attacked while in the U.S.

"I felt that I was wearing a neon sign on my head that said 'target,'" she said.

Mir researches the roles of women in Pakistani religious schools, and is a project consultant for the Global Reporting Centre. (Courtesy of Rabia Mir)

She said well-meaning friends who want to be allies may eventually contribute to the problem they wish to solve if they don't take the time to learn the complex history behind the events of the past month.

"It's easy to talk about the Muslim ban, but we never had conversations about the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System," she said, referring to a program that registered more than 80,000 men from 24 Muslim countries and North Korea after the 9/11 attacks.

Mir said that while she expressed frustration in her letter, it was not intended to disregard the efforts of activists, lawmakers, and communities working to make Muslims feel safe. 

However she does believe that more nuanced conversations are required to make real progress.

"If they only focus on the events and not the underlying systems that lead to such hatred and discrimination, the resistance would be misguided," she said.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast