Following the Christchurch terrorist attack, the Muslim Students Association and the Canadian Muslim Chaplain Organization commemorated the lives lost and brought attention to Islamophobia at the University of Saskatchewan with a campus event.
On March 15, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, witnessed a terrorist attack in which 50 lives were lost and 50 others were injured during Jummah prayer at local mosques. On March 26, many students, faculty and staff from the U of S attended the event held at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre to show their solidarity with the victims of the shootings.
MSA executives Rida Pervaiz and Abdirahman Ali, practicing physician and CMCO Chaplain Dr. Joel Schindel and graduate student Gary Beaudin gave speeches addressing the shooting. They also used the occasion to bring attention to the problems Muslim students face at the university. These problems are sometimes seen through outright harassment but also by not having their voices heard.
Schindel acknowledged the diversity of the people that came out to the event and have been offering support.
“I think the event itself basically represents how people have been feeling,” Schindel said. “I think we, the Muslim Chaplaincy and the MSA, have all received overwhelming words of condolences from the students wanting to support us through this difficult time.”
However, Schindel expressed his worry over escalating Islamophobic comments and incidents that have been occurring on campus such as the threats made on Sept. 19. On this date, a student shared on social media his plans of executing “Saudi leaders” at the university. He was taken into custody a day after making these posts.
“The most recent of which was of course Sept. 19,” Schindel said. “There were online threats against Muslims, threatening their lives, making mentions of the locations on campus as well as harassment of Muslim students.”
Iqra Khan, third-year physiology and pharmacology student and the MSA secretary, says that Muslim students face harassment and threats of attack.
“Every time the MSA ever [posts] an event and makes it public, we have these people giving negative comments that we actually have to block and take measures to make sure that someone is aware of it in case an attack were to happen, which is why we had to have security at our event,” Khan said. “This is something that had been going on for a while, and it’s grown since the last three years.”
Schindel, who himself is a U of S alumnus and has been on campus for over a decade, has seen Islamophobia grow as a trend.
“Islamophobia is not just violent or overt. I think that it is also in terms of people not being able to necessarily understand the unique needs of Muslims on campus,” Schindel said.
Schindel says that recently, the Muslim student community, and especially, the MSA has had problems with having their voices heard regarding the various issues that Muslim students face.
“The MSA and other Muslim students have come to the chaplaincy with concerns of their voices not being heard,” Schindel said. “If someone’s voice is not being heard, then it’s very challenging for the issue of Islamophobia to be addressed.”
Schindel says universities should work closely with organizations that help Muslim students such as CMCO.
“I think that universities in general should be working with organizations such as ours to be able to ensure that their Muslim students have an opportunity, and ultimately, a good experience throughout university,” Schindel said.
Khan says the goal of the MSA is to make discussions between the university administration and the CMCO more effective to help with issues of Islamophobia.
“We need the university to work with an established organization, such as the CMCO, to help them fix this problem,” Khan said. “All we ask is for the dialogue to continue with the university administration and taking meaningful steps towards stopping and eliminating Islamophobia on campus.”
Khan says that she and the CMCO were deeply touched, and they appreciated all of the support received from various people and student clubs, such as the Biology Club, before and at the event.
“The Biology Club wanted to send us flowers for the longest time,” Khan said. “They were talking about how they were walking their friends to class since the attack just to make sure that they were safe. It was quite nice. The MSA really appreciates everyone who came out.”
To describe the event’s purpose, Khan uses the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) hadith, or teachings.
“The entire point of the event was to go off of what the Prophet — peace be upon him — said, which was that the Muslims are one body,” Khan said. “If one part feels pain, then the rest of the body feels pain as well.”
Khan says that the CMCO and the MSA ultimately hope to achieve security for the Muslim student community.
“Our goal as the MSA and CMCO is just to make sure that Muslim students on campus are safe,” Khan said. “That’s basically what we’re trying to get to from the shooting.”
Photo : U of S Muslim Chaplaincy / Supplied