Calgary

Calgary Muslims unite to launch anti-racism task force

Calgary’s Muslim community is joining forces to establish a new task force that will work to address racism and hate in the city and beyond.

New Zealand attacks along with political climate spurred groups and associations into action

Representatives of more than 20 organizations and groups attend the launch of the new task force at the Akram Joma Islamic Centre in northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Calgary's Muslim community is joining forces to establish a new task force that will work to address racism and hate in the city and beyond.

Organizers say the Calgarians Against Racism, Violence and Hate (CARVH) task force, established by the Muslim Council of Calgary, is being driven by incidents like the New Zealand mosque terror attack and a changing political climate in Canada.

They also point to Quebec's controversial Bill 21, which would ban public employees from wearing symbols of faith, like hijabs, headscarves and turbans.

A changing climate across the country and around the world have shaken Calgary's Muslim community into action with what organisers call a heightened level of urgency.

"To be honest I've never walked into the Masjid (Mosque) and felt so scared like I do now," said Suzan Najmeddine, with the Calgary Islamic Centre.

Suzan Najmeddine says it’s become a scary time to be a Muslim in Calgary, which is what makes forming a task force to address hate so important. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"When I get a call now I think 'there's a shooter.' It's terrible to think we can't just go to our Mosques and pray," said Najmeddine. "People mistake our worship."

The forming of the task force has brought together Muslims in Calgary from different organisations and sects, which organisers say was no small feat.

The list is a long one including around 22 groups involved, so far.

"Coming together now is for our children, our community and our nation," said Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, chair of the Calgary non-profit group Think For Action. 

"As with any religious group, the divisions and the differences are significant but I think the cause is bigger than the differences," said Zaidi.

Zaidi says the community had to put its differences aside and come together to form a cohesive voice to fight hate and improve things like religious literacy. 

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, chairman of Calgary-based non-profit Think For Action, one the core working group, says Muslims need a cohesive voice to fight hate with love and education. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

It also wants to increase dialogue with Canadians outside of their own religious circles and better understand where hate and intolerance comes from.

"By doing this research we're trying to get to the genesis of hate," said Zaidi.

The task force will conduct research across different groups, including a national study.

"Our first part of research is to bring everyone together and ask the Jews, Christians, Hindus, First Nations, LGBTQ, Muslim community and ask what are the issues you face in your community?," said Zaidi. 

There will also be a national study followed by a conference built around the results and recommendations.

President of the Islamic Centre of South Calgary, Junaid Mahoon, says terror attacks like the New Zealand mosque shootings in March 2019 and the Quebec mass shooting in 2017 have galvanized the community into taking real action. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The task force will work towards both long and short term goals under five guiding principles: collaboration, education and research, community engagement, political activism and effective communication.

The task force will also work with law enforcement and different levels of government. 

"We have to listen to everybody and it takes time," said Junaid Mahoon, president of the Islamic Centre of South Calgary.

Mahoon says people have worked in smaller groups and even individually to tackle racism and hate in the past but it's now time to pool those efforts and tackle the problem as a larger group.

"My family is here, my kids were born here and I want them to live in an accepting society that believes in peace, love and harmony," said Mahoon.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey

now