Muslim youth learn to tell their own stories at media literacy workshop

A group of Muslim youth spent their Saturday at a workshop learning about Islamophobia and the media. The event was organized by the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Organizers hope youth will learn to push back against negative cultural stereotypes

Amira Elghawaby (centre) works with the National Council of Canadian Muslims. (CBC)

A group of Muslim youth spent their Saturday at a workshop learning about Islamophobia and the media.

The event, organized by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, is meant to help young Muslims push back against negative stereotypes.

"I feel like there is a really one-dimensional perception of Muslims: they're all really conservative, they're very insular, they keep to themselves." said Rudayna Bahubeshi.

Rudayna Bahubeshi (left) and Shazlin Rahman (right) are both Muslim women working with the InSpirit Foundation.

A Muslim herself, Bahubeshi works with the InSpirit Foundation, one of the groups that partnered in hosting the workshop.

She describes herself as "a non-visibly Muslim woman," meaning that since she isn't veiled, her religion isn't immediately identifiable at first glance. 

"I don't necessarily come into spaces and receive those same reactions as perhaps the veiled women in my family do, and that's also really troubling because we have very similar politics," she said.

Shazlin Rahman, who also works with InSpirit, says that teaching young people about stereotypes and how Muslims are portrayed in the media is an important part of the national conversation.

"We are always put in a position of defending ourselves," she said. "The diversity is really vast in Canada and I'm a part of that diversity."

Death threats for speaking out

Haroun Bouazzi, co-president of Muslim and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, was invited to speak at the workshop.

He's been vocal in the media for several years addressing issues of Islamophobia, but speaking out isn't without its own set of risks.

Bouazzi says he receives thousands of hateful messages online, including death threats. 

Haroun Bouazzi is the co-president of Muslim and Arabs for a Secular Quebec. (CBC)

"I went three times to the police for very specific and clear death threats like, you know, 'a bullet between your eyes' or people who would like to stone me to death or hang me."

"And in all these cases, so far, no one has been convicted for any crime."

Reacting to Trump's election

Many say they're concerned Donald Trump's victory in the recent U.S. presidential election could re-kindle identity politics north of the border.

"Our politics are echoing a lot of the same hate and the same troubling ideas, whether it's Kelly Leitch's discussions of wanting to one-on-one interview all immigrants, to ensure everyone has Canadian values," said Bahubeshi.

Nadia Naqvi is a high school science teacher and second generation Canadian. She says she chooses to stay positive, and embody the change she wants to see:

"I use my tools as a mom, as a teacher, as a productive member of society who wants to move forward and continue to live in Canada that is my home — not make it my home, it is my home."

With files from Simon Nakonechny