Humber College’s Muslim community is taking action to ensure that its members are safe following a recent incident of discrimination in which a Muslim student in a hijab was insulted and had a newspaper snatched from her hands on a Toronto subway.
“Since last week’s horrific attacks in Paris, individuals around the world and Muslims specifically have been unfairly targeted,” said Humber President and CEO Chris Whitaker in a statement released last week.
“I am disappointed to say that our institution has also been affected. We are aware that at least one of our students has been harassed based on their religion, and racist graffiti was also discovered on campus,” he stated.
After attacks in Paris and around the world, many Muslims have been unfairly associated with Islamic extremists. Humber has not been free of such expressions of intolerance.
In a second-floor L-building bathroom of Humber’s North campus, students will find this remark: Muslim=Terrorist. It is scratched into the toilet paper dispenser, and is a constant reminder to Muslim students of ignorance.
“There is a sense of anger that comes with (seeing that graffiti), it’s such a generalized statement and such an ignorant statement in and of itself, but you don’t know who wrote it so you there’s nothing you can say to that person to dispel that,” said Muslim Student Association (MSA) President Taha Ali.
For Muslim students at Humber, it’s a matter of personal safety. The MSA is striving to provide ways to make it easier for Muslim students to participate in the Humber community without fear.
“One of the biggest things for the safety of Muslims on campus is utilizing campus services that are already offered to them,” said Ali. “The buddy system that the MSA has set up is also very important. If you look onto our Facebook page we actually allow for people to email us and let us know if they feel unsafe walking to and from campus or taking public transit so we can set them up with someone who will be going the same way,” he said.
Ali is no stranger to feeling unwanted because of his religious beliefs, but it’s something he something that he says he didn’t expect in Toronto.
“For a lot of Muslims like myself who are first generation Canadians, we were born and raised here and are just as Canadian as anyone around us. So to be labeled and to be isolated as different from others because of the religion we believe in, it does bring on a sense of disappointment,” said Ali.
“I had a janitor tell me once that I need to go back home. At that point I just responded with I was born in the hospital across the street, I’m as close to home as I can possibly get.”
Ali said the community has grown closer since they’ve learned of both the attacks abroad and the harassment incident on campus. He also acknowledges the importance of non-Muslim students being supportive and considerate of Muslims.
“Muslim or not Muslim, for someone to just reach out and say ‘hey, I understand what is going on with you, I feel for you, and we are there to stand in solidarity with you,’ it’s one of the most important things that can be done because it gives (Muslims) a sense of community and a sense of safety,” said Ali.
Allies of the Muslim community have the ability to play a large role in making Muslim students feel safe and comfortable in their school. Students like Peter Lodge, a 20 year-old Travel and Tourism student, makes an effort to understand their plight and empathize with them.
“If you had to move somewhere else, you wouldn’t want to be thrown around, you wouldn’t want to be told go back to where you came from,” said Lodge.
“They came here for a reason, in many cases they came here to get away from something they can’t control.”