“We won’t be scared by your message,” says MSA president to attackers.
Members of the Muslim community on campus gathered online this past Friday to remember the victims of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting. Their memorial was interrupted when a group of attendants in the Zoom call started attacking.
“It was horrifying,” says Rida Pervaiz, second-year pharmacy student and vice-president of the Muslim Students’ Association. “The messages keep replaying in my head. It’s hard to listen to the words that were said.”
The harassment started when a speaker from the MSA was in the middle of sharing the stories of the victims of the shooting. The offenders, five by the MSA’s count, interrupted the speaker repeatedly saying “shut up, no one cares,” and other Islamophobic remarks including “all Muslims shall die” and “Hitler was correct.”
The MSA hurried to remove them from the meeting, but more kept revealing themselves and trying to re-enter in a way that Pervaiz says “felt pre-planned.” Before the last of them was kicked out, one drew a swastika on the screen, on top of the image of the victims.
Afterwards, the whole call was silent, says Abdirahman Ali, third-year sociology student and MSA president.
“It was a shock to us — that someone would have a problem with us remembering the victims that were killed in that masacre,” Ali said.
As the attendees processed what had just happened, Ali recalls that someone said: “Let’s remember why we are doing this. We are doing this for the lives lost and we should be strong and not be intimidated by Islamophobes.”
This is not the first time the group has been the object of harassment, says Pervaiz.
In her time she has heard of a female student who wears a hijab being intimidated on campus and MSA posters being frequently ripped off the university walls or vandalized, among other incidents. She also mentions the Islamophobic attacks happening in the wider Saskatoon community.
“That’s why we have to hold these events, to remember these acts of terrorism and violence that take place against Muslim communities and Muslim students, even on campus,” Pervaiz said.
Ali does not feel the university has adequately responded to the discrimination Muslim students face.
“What needs to be done is something more than symbolic gestures and words — those are easily said by anyone,” Ali said. “Real action needs to be taken.”
As a provisionally ratified campus club, the MSA is under the purview of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, who discussed the Jan. 29 events at their most recent executive meeting.
“The USSU executive is deeply concerned,” Jamie Bell, USSU vice-president operations and finance, said in a statement to the Sheaf.
“We all have a responsibility to combat Islamophobia and continue to build a more inclusive campus. We are exploring ways to improve the security for online events and have had conversations with the U of S about further support.”
On the side of the MSA, Pervaiz says the group plans to tighten up security for their future online programming.
“We can’t take these threats lightly,” she said.
In the aftermath of the event, Ali says the attack “hurts emotionally, physically and spiritually.” The MSA has encouraged the other attendees to reach out to them and to Dr. Joe Schindel, the local chaplain from the Canadian Muslim Chaplain Organization, for support.
Although the attack was shocking, Ali says the group remains strong. He addresses “the trolls who did that” directly.
“In case you are reading this article, I just want to let you know that we won’t be scared by your message and we’ll continue to be proud Muslims and proud members of the Saskatoon community,” Ali said.
“I hope if you really have any concerns about Muslims, you’ll take the time to reach out to us and we can sit down and talk. But if your intention is just to scare us, that will never work.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dr. Schindel is the university Muslim chaplain. Dr. Schindel is the CMCO chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan community. The U of S has two appointed Muslim Faith Leaders, Fatima Coovadia (Sunni) and Aziz Ahmad (Ahmadiyya). We apologize for this error. If you spot any errors in our articles, please send us a message.
Ana Cristina Camacho | Copy Editor
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor