Education

Youth Council to launch Islam 101

Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association.   Kathleen Jones

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore’s youth council will launch a new campaign tackling Islamophobia this spring.

The project, titled Islam 101, will take the form of a social media campaign and workshops to educate people about Islam.

The council is made up of youth ranging from teenagers to people in their early 20s. They advise Fillmore on issues relevant to youth in Halifax.

The idea for Islam 101 came about after council members discussed issues that were important to them.

“There’s nowhere that’s rid of misconceptions about Islam,” said Fatima Beydoun, a Muslim member of the council working on the project. She says that Islamophobia often stems from ignorance.

One of the council’s ideas for the campaign is to host a “Talk to a Muslim” event where people can ask their questions about Islam.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, are a key part of the strategy. Beydoun noted that it’s sometimes easier to reach people on social media, because they have to consciously choose to go to an event, but they might accidentally stumble across something on social media.

Changing minds

Misunderstandings about Islam are still very common in Halifax, said Beydoun.

“Because if you don’t have a Muslim friend, you can easily hear things that are obviously not true, and then not feel the need to actually look into it and to figure it out. You believe what you hear, and if you hear something that’s false, that’s the perception you have,” she said.

As of the 2011 census, there were only 8,500 Muslims in the province, compared to 690,460 Christians.

Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association, says she sorts Islamophobia into two categories: micro-aggression and macro-aggression. Micro-aggression includes people asking where a Muslim person learned English, for example, while macro-aggression can mean being called a terrorist in the street. She said she’s dealt with it her whole life in Nova Scotia.

“It’s very, very present,” Khan said.

She said Islam 101 could be a step in the right direction, and that changing even one mind is a success. She also thinks there could be a domino effect, where that one person would be able to speak knowledgeably about Islam in the future.

“And I think it would help, but I think there’s always gonna be people who aren’t interested in learning more and think that they know more than Muslims do about their own religion. Which sucks, but it’s the reality,” she added.

But for her, “trying is key.”

The Muslim Student Association has had success with educational events in the past, including one they had last year called “I’m a Muslim, am I a terrorist?” Their focus was on educating people on the peaceful aspects of Islam.

Beydoun hopes the youth council will reach out to members of the Muslim community to work on Islam 101, including Muslim leaders who might wish to speak at an event and anyone else who might want to volunteer.