HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – Disappointed with negative media coverage of his faith, a young Canadian Muslim is using humor to challenge stereotypes about Islam, creating short, satirical videos on YouTube in the hope to counter the hate.
“A lot of people misunderstand Islam, thinking that as a Muslim you have to be an old, grumpy person who hates everything,” Mohamed El-Attar, 22-year-old Muslim from Halifax city in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, told The Coast on Thursday, November 3.
“But Islam promotes humor, smiling and the living of a happy, balanced life and that’s why I thought of presenting facts about Islam using comedy.”
El-Attar, who works as an accountant, has launched a YouTube channel called That Muslim Guy.
The channels includes short, humorous videos tackling different topics, including a look at “What is Islam?” and an explanation of The Trump Effect.
The young Muslim hopes to show a more normalized view of Islam with his videos.
“The majority of Muslims aren’t hurting anyone, but then a small minority commits a terrorist act and they suddenly become the representatives of Islam,” he said.
While stories involving Muslims and crime are covered as terrorism, stories including non-Muslims are portrayed in different colors.
El-Attar cited the Chapel Hill shooting of 2015, where three Muslims were killed. The crime wasn’t reported as a hate crime or terrorism, but a crazy, lone-wolf shooting about a parking dispute, he said.
“When a Muslim does something wrong, Islam goes to court,” says El-Attar, “but when a non-Muslim does something wrong, that individual goes to court, not the religion.”
According to Media Smart, a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy, “the most prevalent Islamic stereotype is the radical Muslim who is bent on waging jihad, or holy war, against the West. It usually represents violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim.”
Negative media coverage extended in Halifax to covering hoax news that caused a lot of damage to the city Muslims.
Zia Khan, imam at the Centre for Islamic Development on Robie Street, recalled a story that appeared in The Chronicle Herald this past spring, which reported that a refugee child choked a classmate with a chain while yelling “Muslims rule the world.” The Herald later retracted and apologized for the story.
“It was a hoax that created a lot of hate for us,” said Khan.
The imam added that local media in Halifax is not covering enough stories about Muslims, and is also misinformed about the culture.
“Sometimes the media sees us in terms of how we dress, the way we walk or just because of our ethnic features and they think we are unable to articulate our point of views, so they somehow extract their nonsensical ideas from CNN or Fox News,” he said.
El-Attar blamed the Halifax Muslim community for the rarity of the news about them in local media.
“It is also our fault because we are not doing enough events or gatherings to represent our religion and to show people that we are part of this community and that we can offer something,” he said.
Khan believes it’s important for more young people, like El-Attar, to voice their opinions and take a stand against harmful stereotypes targeting any group.
“If you see any group, whether it be Jewish, Korean or Japanese, being scapegoated for something wrong, then we as Muslims should stand up for them,” Khan said.
“So if it is happening to us, then that’s what we should do, too.”