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Islam awareness week teaches about Muslims in Windsor: 'We belong here'
Islam awareness week teaches about Muslims in Windsor: 'We belong here'

With gifts of roses and coffee, a day of trying out the hijab, a night of performance art and numerous volunteers ready to share their faith, this year’s Islam Awareness Week is aimed at sending one key message — that Muslims in Windsor are people just like you.

“Under the hijab, I have hair too. I look like a Muslim and I am a Muslim, but I’m very, very similar to you,”said Khadija Shamisa, director for Islam Awareness Week at the University of Windsor. “I study at the same university as you. I shop at the same grocery stores as you. I don’t want you to be afraid or feel uncomfortable to come talk to me.”

Shamisa said the week’s theme is Muslims in the West: those living in Windsor, in Ontario, in Canada. Although often associated with the Middle East, she said Muslims come from numerous countries around the world: Indonesia, India, Bosnia.

“I wanted to shed light on the fact that Muslims are here too. Muslims are Canadians. Muslims are Americans,” she said. “We’re active members of society and we belong here. We belong here just as much as non-muslim Canadians.”

The week launched Monday with an event in the University of Windsor’s CAW centre offering passersby a free coffee in exchange for a post-it note showing three things they’d learned from the wealth of displays and activities. The week comes after several mosques in the area opened their doors to the community on the weekend.

Around noon on Monday, volunteer Maha Al-Khulaidy guided second-year student Rachel Fitzgerald through the displays.

The two were talking about a chapter of the Quran called the cave, whose verses tell stories of how a young group came to believe in God.

“I think it’s really good to bring the awareness here. We’re really a diverse campus,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s better to make everyone feel like a community rather than have separation and fear that really shouldn’t be there.”

At a nearby table, colourful displays showed off the five pillars of Islam: testament of faith, daily prayer, donations to charity, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca.

Shamisa said Windsor is generally a welcoming and accepting community, but that there are times when she notices a reluctance to approach her or shyness because of her hijab. She and her sister share very similar personalities, but only Shamisa wears the hijab.

“I do notice the different treatment that I get,” she said. “I understand it. I get it. I look different.”

She said people can be quieter. They don’t approach as easily. Maybe in a shop, they won’t ask her how she’s doing or if she needs help.

“I’m a really strong advocate for discussion,” she said, adding that education is an effective tool against misconceptions that can lead to hatred. Last year, a Muslim woman was attacked in Toronto while picking up her kids from school. A mosque in Peterborough was set on fire.

“I would like people to not be afraid,” she said. “I just want people to understand that we are just as Canadian as you are. (Being Muslim) doesn’t make us any less human.”

Throughout the day, volunteers also handed out single yellow roses to students. Each was adorned with a quote from the prophet Muhammad.

Shamisa’s favourite mimics the very goal of the event: “To smile is a form of charity.”