Campaigning against discrimination

Author: Alia Hogben

Source: Whig Column

1297920625405_ORIGINALHappy New Year!

Recently, our organization, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, was honoured that our government invited us to be on a panel at the U.N Forum on Anti –Muslim Discrimination on January 17/2017.

As the Forum was organized by Canada, the U.S, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, there were representatives from many countries. It was impressive to be at the U.N. and I do hope that our contribution was worthwhile!

The U.N. and its member states are understandably very concerned about the increase in racism and discrimination against groups of people. Just before this Forum there was another one on Anti – Semitism.

We hope the Forum leads to next steps of implementation by the U.N. and countries.

Although anti –Muslim discrimination has worsened in Europe and the States, sadly, far too many Canadians express the same sentiments. The Canadian 2016 Environics Institute’s poll found the negativity is affecting Muslim youth disproportionately. At the same time, Canadian Muslims report being very proud of the democratic values of their country.

At the Forum held at the U.N. in New York, I was on the panel on “Civil society coalition building.” We were given a list of questions such as to highlight an example of the role of organizations and the cooperation which resulted in positive changes.

I spoke about our organization’s values which are based on the Islamic principles of equality, social justice and compassion. These are congruent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of course on our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Our activism is to assist women to learn more about our society and about our religion. We are committed to integration through accommodation and adaptation, and we celebrate the diversity, not only in the larger society, but within Muslim communities.

I spoke of the example of cooperation which resulted in positive changes not only for Muslim families, but also for other believing women who wanted equality as a fundamental right in family laws.

Our struggle, from 2003 to 2005, was for one unified family law for all Canadian families. We were against the use of religious family laws in legally binding arbitration.

We are believing women and based our position on a lot of research on Muslim family laws around the world and that they were all unfair for women. Equality did not feature in any of these laws.

We appreciate that some people may want to use their religiously based arbitration, but we don’t think this should either be integrated into the legal system of family law or be allowed to create a parallel system for religious women.

There was a remarkable coalition of over 50 groups and individuals who worked alongside us, and within two long and difficult two years we succeeded in changing the Arbitration Act so that no religious family laws would be legally binding.

Another example of our work is our focus on projects with Muslim youth, esp. young men.  The aim is to learn about identity, integration and the development of a strong sense of belonging. We also discuss anti- Muslim discrimination and how this affects their lives.

As a minority in many countries, we believe that Muslims should stand up for the rights of other minorities, esp. those in Muslim majority countries.

A 2015 report – Desecrating Expression- Freedom and Religion in Asia – concludes that the  “Growing use of blasphemy  and anti –hate legislations is shutting down legitimate expression on issues pertaining to, or on restriction on the freedom of expression in the context of religion.” This means that under the guise of religious beliefs, many countries are silencing the beliefs of others.

In the West, it is our reality that in some circumstances there has been an increase in discrimination. We can either be paralyzed by this racism, or we can take active steps to counteract some of the perceptions – true or imagined.

What non-Muslims see as issues are their fears regarding national security; violent events occurring in other countries; the overt religious practices of Muslims; the spectre of “Shariah;” and what is viewed as unreasonable demands for accommodation.

We cannot take responsibility for resolving all these issues, but there are somethings we can do. It is up to us to educate regarding the proper use of language and concepts concerning Islam and Muslims. For example, the concept of “Shariah” is over-used to cover all sorts of laws and its use radically changes its true meaning.

We can also critically examine if our demands for certain accommodations are essential to our wellbeing, or should these lead us to adapt?

We need to reach out to our neighbours, fellow workers and others so that they get to know us and realize that we have more similarities than differences with each other.