Nfld. & Labrador

Memorial University event showcases Muslim diversity on campus

People got to try on a hijab, get their hands painted with henna and sample international cuisine as part of a a public event held on campus this week.
There was a lot of traffic to try on a hijab, at the Cultural Diversity in Islam fair. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

People got to try on a hijab, get their hands painted with henna and sample international cuisine at a public event at Memorial University in St. John's this week, to highlight the range of backgrounds of its Muslim students.

The Cultural Diversity in Islam fair on Dec. 3 was part of Islamic Awareness Week, organized by the university's Muslim Student Association.

"This is an event that we do just to get the public to learn about Islam, and what Islam really is," said Ahmed Khawer, the group's vice president.

Henna demonstrations were popular at the fair. (CBC)

Student Zoe Costello made a beeline to the henna booth.

"I just really admire it, it's really pretty," said Costello.

Khawer said Muslim students at MUN come from 32 different countries, with 10 of them represented at the fair.

"Germany, Palestine, Jordan, you name it," said Khawer.

Rocking the hijab

​One popular booth let people try on a hijab, and get their picture taken wearing it.

Students pose for a picture after putting on hijabs. (CBC)

"This is just to spread awareness, and to show it's not something that we're doing because we're oppressed. It's something that represents our identity and represents who we are," said Mona Shannir, who helped run the booth.

"People think we are forced to wear it. But I say if people have a little bit of common sense, we are now in a very free country, which is Canada. If we were forced to wear it, we would probably take it off when we came here, but we choose to keep it on."

Dialogue on diversity

Shannir said she's been explaining her hijab since coming to St. John's in 2007 from Lebanon.

"It was tough," Shannir said, remembering her first experiences in Newfoundland. "There wasn't much diversity."

"In my junior high, I was the only girl, ever, who attended that junior high with a headscarf. So I did get a little bit of scrutiny, a little bit of discrimination from my peers," said Shannir, who added those questions eventually opened up into a conversation.

People streamed in and out of the fair all afternoon on Dec. 3. (CBC)

"I was able to get them past that, explain to them why I wear it. And then at the end of the year, when I finished junior high, everyone knew why I wore it, and respected it."

Shannir said since then, the Muslim population has grown by leaps and bounds in St. John's, and along with it, an accepting attitude from all walks of life.

With files from Todd O'Brien

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