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Canadian-born or immigrant, 83% of Muslims in Canada are proud of Canadian heritage despite facing discrimination, shows national survey

There is no doubt about it, Muslims are one of the most misunderstood religious groups in Canada. Discrimination towards and even hatred of Islam is alive and well in this country, a fact that may come as a surprise to those who believe in Canada’s reputation of progressive ideologies and acceptance of difference. Canada’s reputation is one thing, but a society that is truly free of discrimination and ignorance is another – perhaps a utopia that can only exist in imagination. Turn on the television and it’s likely you’ll come across a story about a mosque that was defaced with graffiti, or an employee who dealt with discrimination in the workplace because of their belief in Islam. And it goes without saying; the Liberal Party’s welcoming of over 25,000 Syrian refugees has also given rise to passionate debates online and off (at the time of this article’s publication, 27,005 Syrian refugees have immigrated to Canada).

But there are always two sides to every story. If we are to only focus our attention on the negativity that Muslims face, then we discount that Canada has, in some ways, made progressive steps in ensuring the freedom and acceptance of all its residents, despite religious beliefs or ethnicity.

The Environics Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to public opinion and social research in Canada, conducted a survey in an effort to gain a better understanding of Canadian Muslims and non-Muslims’ feelings about a number of topics surrounding Islam. Some of these topics include pride and belonging, Muslim identity, integration versus separation in Canadian society, perception of domestic support for violent extremism, homosexuality, and more.

Of the 600 Muslims in Canada that were surveyed, 83% of them feel very proud to be living in Canada, a 10% increase from the findings in Environics Institute’s 2006 survey released a decade earlier. Their greatest sources of pride? The fact that Canada is a free country with a democratic government and a multicultural population. Interestingly enough, when they were asked what their least favourite thing about Canada was, 31% answered the cold weather while only 13% answered discrimination of Muslims/others.

Rukshana Khan, an award-winning author of children’s books who moved to Canada from Lahore, Pakistan when she was three, says that she is a true Canadian; her hijab and brown skin does not invalidate or lessen her national identity, even though some may think they do. Rukshana may only be one person, but her sentiments echo those in the Muslim community across Canada.

Fatima Alaso, who also wears a hijab, was born to Somali parents who immigrated to Canada. Like many Muslims in Canada, she knows what it’s like to be a target of Islamophobia. A man had berated her and her friend in downtown Toronto with what seems to be the go-to insult: “Get out of my country, you terrorists”.

With regards to immigration in Canada, it begs the question that if there was an influx of Muslims or another religious group coming into Canada due to events that caused the Syrian refugee crisis, how would Canadians react? We can always examine our reactions to the Syrian refugees and look back at our history in welcoming Vietnamese refugees escaping a Communist regime in 1979, or the thousands of Hungarian refugees that came in 1956.

Ruskahna and Fatima’s experiences are reflective of thousands of Muslims in Canada, a sign that we have to continue to work on making Canada a safe haven for all cultures and religions. That being said, if the results of the survey are any indication of the future in terms of achieving harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada, then there is a reason to be optimistic, at least from the perspective of the Muslim community.