Two West Vancouver Muslim teens have hosted a forum to dispel myths and stereotypes about Islam after experiencing discriminatory comments about their faith, North Shore News reported.
“People just didn’t know any better. It wasn’t really their fault because Islam’s image is portrayed by the media as mainly negative,” said Razaan Lalji, following the forum held at West Vancouver Community Center.
“What we wanted to do was stand up and show them that Muslims aren’t terrorists and that we actually share much more in common than we think.”
Razaan, a grade 10 student, and his brother Kian, a grade 12 student at Sentinel Secondary, hosted a forum called Understanding Islam in a World of Fake News and Stereotypes on Nov. 17.
The idea for the forum came about after the brothers started talking about the misconceptions out there about the Islamic community which they faced on a daily basis.
Kian recalled being in Grade 8 and being asked if he was a “terrorist” by a classmate. The comment may have been made in jest, but for Kian, it struck a chord.
“I laughed it off at first, but also it wasn’t just the fact that I was called a terrorist, it was also that this could happen to my brother Razaan, or even my youngest brother,” he said.
“I realized that people all around the world – in Canada, America, everywhere – would be facing these types of stereotypes.”
The pair got in touch with Ali Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim religion and cultures at Harvard University, and got him to agree to speak at their Understanding Islam forum.
“Right now what I think is the next step, at least for me, is just to carry the torch and hopefully actually make an impact on the future generations and help make sure that none of them have to go through something like a racial stereotype, or something even similar or close to being called a terrorist,” said Razaan.
Statistics Canada reported a 151% spike in police-reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2017 following the Quebec mosque attack and the RCMP says far-right extremists have become emboldened in Canada.
In June, the Liberal government released its first anti-racism strategy that pledged $45 million over three years to tackle systemic discrimination through education and other community programs and to boost data collection on race and ethnicity.
The strategy, called “Building a Foundation for Change,” will also create an office to oversee the initiative.
The most recent national crime data by Statistics Canada from 2018 shows that reported hate crimes were down for the first time in five years.