Islamophobia is an issue that Muslims all over the world experience on a daily basis and is a concept that has been brought to surface especially with the rise of reported hate crimes towards Muslims. Islamophobia has many faces, however, in the North American context it is often expressed in the outward abuse and harassment of visibly Muslim women and men. Other forms have included the destruction of property, such as setting aflame and vandalizing mosques, and at its worst, it has included the massacre of worshipers in sacred places. The threat of people demonstrating their hatred towards Muslims is a fear many deal with, myself included. Tragedies like the Quebec City mosque shooting of 2017, as well as discriminatory bills calling for the ban of religious symbols, among others, has specifically led individuals to commit hate crimes and create a general atmosphere of fear.
When I moved to Montreal, Quebec several months ago, I braced myself for what I expected would be regular harassment because I choose to wear the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab. Add to this the fact that I am not fluent in Quebecois French and the fact that the current administration in power advocates a hostile stance against wearing religious symbols, serving to create an environment of fear for the tens of thousands of Muslims living here. AlhamduliAllah (praise to God), my experience so far has been a positive one with only some minor incidents not even worth mentioning, and although I always practice caution when alone in public, I was determined to spreading positivity and love in my new home and to counter ignorance and hatred in whatever ways I could. This comes in the form of small daily acts of kindness, establishing relationships with my neighbors and trying my best to be an all-around decent human being. This, I think, should be the minimum aspiration for most of us.
I have been inspired by my faith and by the ultimate role model, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him and his family) in all aspects of life, and particularly for me now on how to create relationships with my new neighbors through small acts of kindness. The sunnah (tradition) of the holy Prophet of Islam also advocates that our neighbors actually have rights over us, and Muhammad also showed compassion with his neighbors, even with ones who were not reciprocating in like. Since moving to Montreal, I have been focused on building positive relationships with neighbors and have succeeded for the most part in having friendly conversations and exchanging the occasional “hello” or “bonjour, ca va?” or even the occasional “buongiorono” with my Italian neighbor.
With summer behind us and Christmas trees and lights gracing our neighborhood, I have also started brainstorming on what I could do for my neighbors at Christmas time. Back in my hometown of London, Ontario, my family is used to exchanging baked goods and chocolate with our neighbors for the holidays and New Year. It then dawned upon me that the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet of Islam was nearing and I could use that as an opportunity to start in a small and practical way to show kindness and love to my neighbors. This came in the form of making and delivering treat bags with a message about the holy Prophet and in an attempt to spread awareness about who he was. I was hoping that it would also add to the holiday joy all around.
Here’s what unfolded:
I decided I would create small treat bags with a short and sweet message about the Prophet and how we celebrate his birthday through wishing happiness and love to our neighbors. I then shared the idea with my friends and family who agreed that this was a great idea and also wanted to help. So, one of my dear friends composed a poem surprisingly quick, and with the help of friends across oceans, the poem was then translated into French, very important for the bilingual community of Montreal, as well as Italian since I live in an area with many Italians. This ensured all neighbors would understand our message. After a couple of quick trips to our local Staples, ‘Bureau en Gros’, and Costco, we printed the poems and bought chocolate. We then gathered for a small party to celebrate the birth of the Prophet and formed an assembly line to put together around 110 goodie bags. The next day, I ventured out with my husband in the sub-zero weather, but we felt warmed by our desire to make a difference, and we started placing a treat bag into each one of our neighbor’s mailboxes. at first I felt like Santa Claus with my bag full of treats, and that quickly turned to Halloween, going door to door, except candy was being given instead of recieved.
Through this small gesture and humble act of kindness, I wished to acknowledge the birth anniversary of our beloved Prophet who was kind and generous to all. Through this act, I learned that to be kind and to treat our neighbors with love and respect would have much greater outcomes than even extending that gift-giving to family. I wanted to spread positivity, neighborliness and awareness, even if on a small scale and in a practical way that anyone can do. My friends will be distributing some of these goodie bags in their own neighborhoods and in the future, we hope that others can do this simple project, as it is a great way to get children involved in learning the all-important quality of kindness. I hope these treats will be well-received and God-willing, we plan to organize something similar again at Christmas to share with our neighbors our mutual love and respect of prophet Jesus. I encourage you to reach out if you want some advice on how you can do this in your neighborhood. Feel free to contact me if you have questions, or if you would like a copy of the poems!
“The best Muslim is the one who is good to their neighbor” – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).