Muslims in Saskatoon look to counter Islamophobic media portrayals

If you don't like what you're hearing, change the conversation: that was a key message at the Saturday workshop hosted by the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan.

Islamic Association of Saskatchewan encourages Muslims to foster their own positive images

Hanan Elbardouh, a board member of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan, hosted a workshop on recognizing and challenging Muslim stereotypes contained and repeated in the media. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Hanan Elbardouh answers immediately when I ask her how she defines Islamophobia.

"Fear of Islam," she said.

Elbardouh, a board member of the Islamic Association of Saskatchwan's Saskatoon chapter, was hosting a workshop Saturday focused on helping Muslim community members — as well as non-Muslims and the media — recognize and hit back at negative, Islamophobic depictions of Muslims in the mainstream media.

Fair treatment

She pointed specifically to instances in which the religion of a person reported to have committed a crime is mentioned, and how that reinforces a negative stereotype.

"That is an indication that, 'Be aware. The Muslims are doing this,'" she said.

"My advice is to say the name, don't mention the religion, and if you were to mention the religion, do it for everybody else who you are reporting about."

Muslims as 'the other'

The workshop was delivered by National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), thanks to a grant from the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan.

Amira Elghawaby, NCCM's director of communications, said the workshop was meant to help "identify when we are being sold a particular narrative about any community at all that may not truly reflect the diversity of that community and all that it is doing in our society."

She mentioned one particular magazine cover as a "classic" example of treating Muslims as "the other."

"A young woman swathed in black surrounded by all these anonymous images of women in black —  it was a very ominous magazine cover," she said.

"When I showed it last night in Regina, people's expressions were one of fear and shock at seeing that."

'Start writing those stories'

Zarqa Nawaz, the creator and co-writer of Little Mosque on the Prairie and one of two featured speakers Saturday, had some practical advice for how to counter those depictions.

"I think that Muslims have to stop thinking, 'Oh, we're always victims and people are always oppressing us or trying to make us fit into this box,'" she said.

"If we want to change it, then… start writing those stories, go into journalism, go into novel-writing, write op-eds in the newspaper."

Pat Nostbakken, an english-as-an-additional-language (EAL) teacher working in the Saskatoon public school system, attended the workshop to learn more about the culture of some of her pupils.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"That is who so many of my children are, is from this community. The more I know and understand, the better I can work with my kids and families."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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