Muslim students feeling effects of ISIS conflict

Serge Halytsky
International Affairs Reporter

The situation with the militant group ISIS in Iraq and Syria has clearly captured the world’s attention.

After three gruesome beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, Western leaders have been telling their nations that they can’t avoid the issue. What’s going on in the Middle East, they say, also poses a threat to the democratic world.

France and the U.S. intend to lead a multi-national force, including some Arab states, to battle ISIS.

And that crisis half a world away is having an impact on Humber College students.

The college hosts large Muslim communities for whom that fight in Iraq is important, as it is close to home.

They are worried about their relatives; they are supportive of their countries; they wait for the crisis to be resolved.

But no one is sure that the steps taken by the American and other governments will be enough to combat ISIS, also known as Islamic State, a militant group which seeks to reassert a Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East.

“In the Canadian Muslim community there might be some people who support ISIS,” Humber College Chaplain Len Thomas said. “And there are also many who will not. Moderate Muslims would say that it doesn’t represent them.”

Thomas thinks some Muslims might be supportive, maybe not of terrorists’ methods, but of their cause — to restore a traditional Muslim state across many present national boundaries.

“There are some who are connected to terrorist organizations, even some people who do the recruiting on ISIS’s behalf, and there are those who strongly oppose that kind of development. But it might be extremely difficult for some to express their opinion, especially if they still have family members there,” Thomas said.

“They may receive threats,” he added.

Thomas said there are many different groups of Muslims, some very strict, others more secular and Western in outlook, so it comes down to individuals to choose what side they support.

However, a number of Humber Muslim students spoke out assertively against the actions of ISIS.

“I think ISIS is a misrepresentation from a Muslim perspective, as well as from a media prospective,” said Taha Ali, 20, a second year Justice student at the University of Guelph–Humber.

“Media portrays it as mainstream Islam, and they don’t come out to talk to Muslims in general,” Ali says. “A lot of issues in the Middle East are more to do with tribalism and politics, but it’s all being simplified as a Muslim issue.”

Ali thinks that creates a negative image for Muslims in Canada and obstructs the real picture of what is happening in the Middle East.

“They (ISIS) misrepresent all Muslims in the world,” says Zahra Farahmand, 24, a first year student in the Accelerated Developmental Service Worker program. “They are a small fraction with extreme and radical thinking.

“Unfortunately a lot of people, and, I’m sure, many students in Humber… all they know about Muslims they get from the media, so I’m sure when they see us they think like, ‘Oh, ISIS, Muslims, that’s what they are,’” she says.

Ali Alavi, 23, a third-year Sustainable Energy and Construction student, thinks ISIS is scary.

”The things they’re doing,” he says. “History repeats itself.

“Some group comes out and does something, and these people are claiming to represent the message of Islam and they are giving us a really bad image,” Alavi says.

“How does it affect us? Pretty much most of it started from 9/11 and there was a lot of racism towards Muslims in an indirect way and sometimes direct, too,” he says.

“I personally just (have been a victim of) name-calling,” Alavi says. “But I know for sure there are other places that are worse for people.

“So hopefully whatever is happening there people get more educated and learn the difference between what is a Muslim and who is misinterpreting Islam,” Alavi says.

Ali thinks all this just comes down to being human and humane.