We know the statistics: in 2017, police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose by 47 percent to 2,073 – the highest level since 2009. Ontario experienced the biggest annual increase, where crimes targeting Muslims increased by 207 percent. In Quebec, reports of hate crimes against Muslims were highest in February 2017– right after six men were killed in a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

We have argued about the need for prayer spaces in schools, and heard from Muslim students that their schools are not always welcoming places. 

Just two weeks ago, Quebec banned the use of religious symbols by teachers and some other public sector workers. This includes kippahs, turbans, and hijabs.

We are living in a time where Muslim communities are increasingly under attack, and young Muslims are having to sift through the noise and find space for their own true voice.

How do we as educators and youth advocates support the creation of this space?

I don’t take the responsibility of answering this question lightly. I know what it feels like to be visibly Muslim, a new immigrant, and black. I know what it feels like to be called names for my hijab, and I understand the challenges and pressures of coming of age as a Muslim post-9/11. While my experience as a young black-Latina Muslim teen in the early aughts wasn’t pretty, I didn’t have Snapchat, or Facebook or Donald Trump, or hijab bans to deal with. The world is different now and teens are facing many more challenges

Young Muslims today have so much they want us to understand about who they are and what they are grappling with. The best way to do that is to talk to them. So I did. I asked a few Muslim youth from public schools across the GTA the question: If you could give your teacher one thing to think about when it comes to better supporting you as a Muslim student, what would it be?

Here is what they had to say:

I can’t be your spokesperson on Islam and Muslims. Every Muslim high school student wants their teachers to first view them as a student just like everyone else.  We are not just Muslim, and what you hear about Muslims on TV doesn’t represent us.

–  Grade 11 Student YRDSB

Final exams and big assignments while fasting in Ramadan are hard. Asking for accommodations is harder. I don’t know who to go to and I don’t know how to ask. I wish my teachers would make announcements at the beginning of the school year let us know how to ask and who to ask.

– Grade 10 Student TDSB

I want teachers to know that those controversial topics we debate in class aren’t just theoretical debates. Be aware that sometimes you are debating things that impact your Muslim students’ lives directly. When you are arguing in favor of the Quebec Niqab ban you may be talking about taking away the rights of someone your student is related to.

– Grade 11 student, YCDSB

It’s nice to feel seen and understood. We just got a prayer room at our school. It’s made me feel like our school really cares about us, it’s made me feel like it’s ok to feel proud of my Muslim identity, like it’s not something I need to hide. Now I just wish we learned more about Muslim histories and heritage in our classes

– Grade 12 student, PDSB

Your Muslim student is tired of being reduced to “a single story”, as author Chimamanda Adichie calls it. They want you to see them in all their identities. They want you to understand that no two Muslim students are alike. They want you to know that, as a young person, they are just starting to understand their faith independent from they’ve been taught by their parents.  They are trying to understand all parts of what makes them who they are — Muslim, Black, Women, Men, Queer, Trans, Disabled, Able-Bodied — and how all of those parts exist together. And while they are happy to answer some of your questions about their religion, they want you to know that they can’t be your encyclopedia. It’s too much.

Part of creating inclusive classroom settings as an educator is also about remembering the inherent power dynamics that exist in teacher-student relationships. We must remember that for many marginalized students the need to be exceptional and prove people’s assumptions wrong is very present and makes it difficult to ask for support. It goes a long way for students when teachers are explicit about how they can support them. To make it clear how and who to ask for help can bring so much relief to your struggling student.

Students want your allyship and your action. This summer think about what allyship in action can look like in your classroom.  

Written by Gilary

NCCM Townhall Report on the Impact of Islamophobia on Highschool Students. http://www.nccm.ca/town-hall-report/

iHistory. http://www.ihistory.co

TDSB Islamic Heritage Month Educators Guide. Click here.

The Danger of a Single Story [Interview] with Chimamanda Adichie. http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Islamophobia: Understanding anti-Muslim racism through the lived experiences of Muslim youth (Vol. 116, Transgressions: Cultural Studies and Education) by Navid Bakali.


The Advocacy Coordinator for the National Council of Canadian Muslims. The co-founder of the Sisters Retreat, and a Mom of two. Gilary is currently pursuing her Masters in Leadership and Community at York University.