'I don't want hope to be lost': How this man became the unofficial crisis manager for Muslim Canadians
Mohammed Hashim has helped families cope with Islamophobia when they face negative media attention
When the Muslim community is thrust into the media spotlight by a negative news story, the hate can become particularly intense — especially for those in the centre of it all.
That's where Mohammed Hashim — known to some as the Toronto Muslim community's crisis manager — comes in.
"I have no idea how this has happened over the years, but I kept on getting calls," he told Tapestry.
Hashim, 41, says his role in helping someone in need often begins when a friend of someone in crisis reaches out to him.
"Eventually, I get in touch with the person directly, and I say, this is who I am. This is what I've done. And if you need any assistance, I'm here to help."
Hashim, whose day job is a senior organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, says he didn't have much experience with the media when he started in 2015, but he began simply by connecting people with journalists who already interviewed him.
Since then, he has been involved in a number of cases where Muslims found themselves in the headlines, like the Danforth shooting and the Quebec City mosque attack. Much of this work he does pro bono.
When Hashim gets involved, it's usually when things are quite difficult.
"It's a confusing day. Lots of people are telling them lots of advice. Their emotions are running all over the place."
'They didn't know who to call'
Last fall, Hashim showed up the day Husam Al-Soufi, the owner of Toronto Syrian restaurant Soufi's, announced that he was going to shutter his doors due to death threats and other hateful messages.
The closure came after Al-Soufi's son was involved in an incident outside of a Maxime Bernier event in Hamilton.
Alaa Al Soufi faced a number of charges, including two counts of intimidation, two counts of wearing a disguise with intent and causing a disturbance, after he was arrested for allegedly blocking the path of an elderly woman with a walker.
Hashim says the family had no idea what to do when the death threats came in because they arrived only a few years earlier.
"They didn't know who to call. They didn't know how to call the police. They weren't sure if they should file a report on this, but their reaction was to shut it down."
At the time, Al-Soufi said there was zero chance Soufi's would reopen. But then he spoke with Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamad Fakih and Hashim. Fakih offered to help the family reopen the restaurant.
"I said, 'Your story is not just your story. Your story is of hope. It's hope for immigrants. It's hope for Canadians and how we treat immigrants," Hashim told Tapestry. "If you pack it in and give up, all of us will feel a little lost and a little as though maybe we can't dream as much. And I don't want hope to be lost."
With some assistance from the two men, Al-Soufi changed his mind.
"It was complicated for him because, here is his son and his story that he wants it to all go away," Hashim said. "And I'm saying here, 'We're going to organize a press conference in your restaurant with 45 journalists stuck in a room.'"
Hashim says his job can often be a difficult one, but he's mindful of how he presents himself, as well as how he can build trust, hear someone's pain and reflect that accurately.
Rooted in humility
Despite helping many families deal with the spotlight, Hashim remains quite humble himself, often shying away from media attention when he can. It's something he attributes to his faith. Hashim tells Tapestry that balancing the two sometimes creates tension.
But the reason he spoke to The Globe and Mail recently was due to some negative attention he received himself. Hashim says he was the victim of a Toronto Sun "hit piece," which called him a "spin doctor" in 2018 for his involvement in crafting a statement for the family of the Danforth shooter.
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"I thought participating in this story here, I was being able tell my side of the story," he explained. "The only reason I did that is to counterbalance the negative hysteria that was out about me."
However, faith has also given him tools and perspectives he has used to help others. He often refers to a passage in the Qur'an that teaches to do good even to those who show enmity.
"God doesn't say take revenge, he doesn't say be mean," he said. "He says do better, do good."
Written by Dexter Brown with files from CBC News. Produced by Arman Aghbali.