Manitoba·Opinion

A Muslim father struggles to explain hate crime to his young son

My dearest son Yousuf, Being human, you will face many challenges in your life. But being a Muslim and a person of colour, I am afraid you’ll face more than many.

'Muslim or not, this will scare all of us,' says dad's letter to son after New Zealand attack

Rehman Abdulrehman says writing a letter to his five-year-old son about the Christchurch mosque shootings was very difficult. (Submitted by Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman)

My dearest son Yousuf,

Being human, you will face many challenges in your life. But being a Muslim and a person of colour, I am afraid you'll face more than many.

And to lighten a burden on your heart (at least for now), I chose not to tell you about the Christchurch terrorist attack against people like us.

Though I intellectually know why it happened, I worry I would be at a loss for words to make emotional sense of it all for you.

I worry about you seeing me distressed. I worry I may not be able to reassure you that all is safe.

I worry about you seeing me distressed. I worry I may not be able to reassure you that all is safe, because frankly, I'm concerned this will happen again.

How could you (or I for that matter) manage all this when you're only five? So when you do find out, ideally much, much later, I'll at least offer you this letter.

What I have to offer you is not about traditional trauma, where things may happen just once.

What I have to say to you about this trauma, about it being ongoing, will be different. What you will need to do to cope will also need to be ongoing as a result.

I realize that you, yourself, won't be able to change the world or calm your fears. It will need to be done as a group, with the people around you — both whom you know and whom you don't.

Hours after the fatal shootings at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, people gather for prayers at Winnipeg Grand Mosque. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The most important thing is for you to find a community who will care for you like their equal. A community who will see your interests, your way of life, to be just as important as theirs.

There will be many who will not understand your lived experience, and you may not even have opportunities to talk about your worries or your perspective.

That may make you feel like you're alone.

But I assure you, there are many others out there (even those who are not Muslim) who will share a bridge of experience. They may be people of colour. They may be minorities. But there will also be those who are the least like you who will make efforts to understand.

In all these people, you'll find protection. But only when you speak about your experience, will others find the strength to share their experiences too.

And there you'll find that bridge — and the comfort of crossing it to find others on it with you.

When you find out about what happened at Christchurch … I know your sense of safety in the world will be broken.

When you find out about what happened at Christchurch — or in cities around the world over the past many years — I know your sense of safety in the world will be broken.

If this happens again in the future, I know your sense of safety will be broken.

I know that even in the smallest way, you'll doubt your ability to live your life the way you want to.

Even though I may seem strong to you as an adult, as your parent, know that I have these fears and doubts too. Knowing that others, including adults, have fears will make you realize you're not weak, but just human like me.

Young or old, brown or beige, Muslim or not, this will scare all of us. And it is OK to be scared.

What will be the least healthy for you, my son, will be if you let being scared consume you and restrict your life.

If we avoid, our fears grow, and we become the victims of not just what hurt us, but of fear itself.

Live your life fully, despite the fear, and that fear itself will gradually subside. You'll find bravery and strength in the mundane everyday tasks of just living. So be boring and maintain a routine, despite anything else.

This atrocity will make you feel like you've lost a voice and a sense of control in the world.

This atrocity will make you feel like you've lost a voice and a sense of control in the world. You'll feel small, like so many of us do.

But gradually, find your voice.

Find even a small thing to do that makes a change for the better; a small thing that will potentially impact your world.

When it seems daunting, look for just the corner of the page you can lift, and the entire page will follow you. Page by page you'll finish a book, and take back what fear took away from you.

You'll see people speak ill of you and people like us.

Don't believe them; believe your actions.

Create your own identity in your own view, and not the view of what others want or expect you to be.

Always remain your true shining self, because I could not stand to see you any other way.

Your loving father,

Abdulrehman.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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About the Author

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman is a clinical psychologist, the director of Clinic Psychology Manitoba, a speaker and a consultant with LeadWithDiversity.com, where he maintains a blog. He is a specialist in resolving anxiety and trauma and on issues of diversity and inclusion. More importantly, he is a father, a Muslim, a Canadian of Zanzibari descent and a global citizen.