“WE SAW ISLAM but no Muslims” — this is what mostly every Middle Eastern say after a visit to Canada.
Recently, TRU had its annual celebration, the IDays. One of the events was ‘Debunking Islamophobia’ by TRU Student Union. I was there for almost two hours covering the event, taking notes, photos, and conducting interviews. As an objective journalist, I thought it was a well-organized event, and I moved on.
But, as a Muslim, I was amazed.
To see non-Muslim students, standing there for hours, debunking Islamophobia, is remarkable. It is a scene to remember for the rest of my life.
Multiculturalism? Diversity? Respect? I think it’s even more than that.
This event silently said more about Canada. It proved it in actions.
So I said to myself: “Islam but no Muslims. But wait…” And I started thinking.
In this context, what does Islam really mean? What do we refer to?
Since cultures have a huge influence on human perception, people use their existing knowledge to identify what they see. As a culture that’s strongly connected to a religion, Arabs came up with this description of what they ‘like’ about the West. This statement has become very familiar nowadays in Arabs’ discussions and social media.
This description of the West goes back to the 19th century, when Muhammad Abdo, who was an Islamic scholar, visited Western countries. He wrote that while travelling, he found Islam but no Muslims, and upon his return to the Arab world he found many Muslims but no Islam.
According to social psychologist Henri Tajfel, who formulated the social identity theory, categorizing people leads us to the perception that “we are who we are because they are not what we are.” Whereas it is almost impossible to come up with accurate-fair categories nowadays. How different that will be than stereotypes?
Let’s think about it. When Arabs tell each other that they saw Islam, they don’t mean that they saw mosques and Hijab everywhere. They mean that they saw the core values of Islam practiced by non-Muslims. It means that we all believe in the same values. But those core values are not only taught by Islam, they are also taught in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. Therefore, we can look at it as the common ground between all faiths.
Aside from all religions, it is actually a common ground between us all as humans.
Those who were talking in the event were students, yet, they were inspiring teachers. What they taught me, was not about Islam. It is about the idea of standing up defending other’s believes.
As humans, we all value love, justice, respect, peace, freedom, safety, and happiness. We live by them, and for them. Regardless to someone’s faith, skin color and ethnicity, values make a good human being.
Now that we have a common ground, does it mean that we are the same? Not at all. We are different, and those differences enrich each of us and widen our visions, rather than separating us.
It’s time, to debunk the fear of differences.
Nada Alsalahi is a Saudi Arabian student enrolled in the Journalism program at Thompson Rivers University.