By Pradip Rodrigues
Mississauga, December 4. 2015 (CINEWS): Rishma (name changed to protect her identity) is a highly anglicized Canadian, she smokes the occasional cigarette, savors fine red wine and apart from pork, she has no other dietary restrictions. Rishma is Muslim but not at all in an
obvious way. She comes from an elite family, attended a convent school, she is well-versed in Islamic culture, literature, poetry and music as well as western culture. In short she’s the perfect hybrid who has seamlessly integrated into
Muslim men who sometimes see her at a cocktail party swilling down wine find it hard to hide their disapproval. She’s been told drinking is haram and that she’s not being a good Muslim. Some members of her own community quite possibly
don’t consider her Muslim at all. When she’s among non-Muslims who often discuss Islam and invariably bring up the issue of terrorism, she is on the same page. They don’t see the need to be politically correct in her presence, as she
shares the same westernized lifestyle and secular thinking so despised or scorned upon by more conservative Muslims especially in the west. In fact she’s been told that if all Muslims were like her, there would not be any Islamophobia.
So naturally I was taken aback recently when she spoke about an incident where her non-Muslim friends were casting aspersions on conservative Muslims and discussed their fears of terrorists sneaking into the country disguised as
refugees or becoming home-grown terrorists after arriving here. This time she took it personally as some comments seemed to paint all Muslims with the same brush. When she expressed her disapproval about their comments, one of her close
friends in a bid to reassure her and soothe her ruffled feathers said: “Rishma, we don’t consider you Muslim.” At that point something in her snapped and she felt compelled to loudly proclaim she was born Muslim and would die Muslim.
Her friends were taken aback and now no longer discuss anything to do with religion in her presence.
Canadians often don’t know how to act around observant immigrants
While I can now see how she like so many beleaguered Muslims living in the West today feel, I explained to her that the fact that her friends don’t consider her Muslim certainly didn’t have anything to do with her faith, but more her
mindset and attitude. The perception most people have is that Muslims are mostly conservative and devout. It is rare to see a Muslim man leave alone a woman nursing wine and nibbling on canapes at a cocktail party. Everyone who knows
Rishma know they don’t have to walk on eggshells around her. She won’t be shocked by the odd dirty joke, in fact she’s known to contribute a few herself. She won’t draw attention to the fact she avoids pork but won’t reject non-halal
beef or chicken at someone’s home , she doesn’t excuse herself to pray once or even five times a day. And she is as critical and very concerned about the growing ranks of fanatical Islamists who are portraying the religion in very poor
light. Yet all this negative talk about Islam and terrorism and all that is going on in this world has now taken its toll on her and possibly all honest, hard-working and God-fearing Muslims in Canada and much of the western world. It
is a community under seize.
Conversation about race generally had when hyphenated Canadians aren’t present
I know for a fact that her friends had no reason to offend her and do not even realize how offended she is when Islamic terrorists and their awful actions are dissected. The fact that Rishma’s non-Muslim friends hold nothing back and
treat her like one of them is a fact that she has been accepted, integrated and assimilated into the mainstream. And yet, an overdose of negative stereotyping of Muslims as dangerous people with latent leanings toward an IS agenda. It
isn’t that they don’t consider her Muslim, it is just that her faith doesn’t matter, period.
I am Catholic but any Canadians me, including South Asians, they assume I am Hindu or Muslim, talk about religion doesn’t even come up. Would it matter to anyone what religion I practised? I doubt it.
At a previous workplace, a Caucasian work colleagues had no qualms discussing her obnoxious neighbor who happened to be brown. She was quite sure her observations would not have offended me as I was nothing like that and would have been
just as appalled regardless of color. Another girl who had moved from Alberta and was renting briefly in Brampton one time told me of the first and last time she went to a gorgeous park one evening. “The park was great, but it was full
of brown people, we left quickly,” she said. Having grown up in a lily white town, she was unnerved by the sheer number of brown people. Was it offensive, well yes, but then again I saw where she was coming from literally and otherwise.
When I am with non-South Asians, I often am part of conversations where disparaging remarks are made about brown people. I have to admit that on a couple of occasions, I’ve excused myself from the conversation or have changed it. But
then again, I’ve been told that I’m somewhat of a Coconut, brown on the outside and White on the inside. I don’t think they’d have opened up about how they really felt about immigrants if I harbored strong views or got offended easily.
But then again it isn’t the same thing to equate negative views about brown people with negative views about Islam or Muslim people in general.
It is hard to be positive in the face of negative talk
I have to admit that it isn’t easy to be a Muslim wearing traditional clothing or hijabs. I was reading a piece in a newspaper recently about young Muslim women who spoke about finding it easier to deal with society without the hijab.
One girl found people were friendlier, another noticed other passengers smiled more and sat next to her. In short they felt liberated at not being detected as Muslims in public. In Rishma’s case, she is so fully anglicized given her
upbringing in Pakistan that no now no one considers her Muslim. Under ordinary times, it would make no difference to her, but these are extraordinary times we live in and the conversations being had about Muslim people, Islam and
terrorism, all in the same sentence or conversation is making it hard for her not to actually come out and say she was Muslim. So while other young Muslims may be trying to blend in, Rishma for the first time in her life was forced to
declare she was Muslim and loudly proclaim her faith that would follow her to her grave. Now that was something she never thought she’d have to do and is sure that she will have to do it again. She isn’t looking forward to it.