What is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia is the discrimination, exclusion, and violence against people who are believed to be Muslim.

Who does Islamophobia affect?

Islamophobia affects those who practice the religion Islam, known as Muslims, or who are in some way associated with Islam or Muslims. Islamphobia can also affect non-Muslims, specifically those who belong to racial and ethnic groups that may be mistaken as Muslim because of how they look or dress, their language, or their name. 

What does Islamophobia look like?

Islamophobia creates harmful stereotypes about Muslims. Muslims are people who believe in Islam, which is a religion practiced by many people across the world, especially in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. 

Islamophobic stereotypes are often gendered. For instance, the false and toxic portrayal of Muslim men as violent, or of Muslim women as weak, oppressed victims leads to discrimination and even violence against Muslims.

People experience Islamophobia in many ways, including:

  • Negative feelings from others like aversion, fear, disdain, disgust, rejection, etc.
  • Being shamed or attacked for wearing religious clothing in public spaces 
  • Seeing harmful representations of Muslims in the media (e.g., as “terrorists”)
  • Being denied religious accommodations at work or school (e.g. prayer, halal food options)
  • Difficulty accessing employment, education, housing, and other public services
  • More surveillance by law enforcement like police, border agents, and national security agencies (e.g. placed on no-fly lists or targeted for “random” screenings and searches while traveling) 
  • Being questioned about religious beliefs and practices at school or work

Where does Islamophobia come from?

Negative stereotypes about Muslims are reinforced in many ways, including through the media, in schools, and through discriminatory laws. 

In the media, both in the news and in fictional movies or shows, Muslims have been portrayed as violent and linked to terror networks. Muslim women are also depicted as submissive and oppressed by Muslim men. 

In schools, the educational curriculum often does not include historical and political lessons explaining what leads to Islamophobia, and many students and teachers lack awareness about what their peers may be going through. 

In law, the government has enacted discriminatory policies that target Muslims. In 2015, the Canadian government passed the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which has been critiqued for reinforcing harmful stereotypes about Muslims. In Quebec, Bill 21, the Laicity Act, was passed in 2019, which bans public sector employees from wearing hijabs in Quebec.

What rights do I have in school as a Muslim?

Whether you’re attending a public school, university, or college, all students have a right to:

  • Express their religion
  • Wear religious symbols
  • Organize student-led prayers
  • Request religious accommodations to attend Friday prayer or religious holidays
  • Request accommodations for athletic uniforms

Schools are required by law to ensure that your educational experience is free of discrimination. Universities and colleges must give students equal opportunities, benefits, and treatment regardless of the student’s religion. Schools usually accommodate students’ religious observances unless accommodation causes “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is a legal test that considers the cost and health and safety implications of the accommodation.

While the purpose of education is to introduce students to ideas that challenge them and even make them uncomfortable, educators and lessons should not reinforce discrimination against any group. 

If you think any of your rights are being violated, talk to your peers and inform a parent, counselor, or educator to get support for how to defend your rights.

How do we fight against islamophobia?

Everyone has the right to openly express their religion and these rights are coded into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code. The government, service providers, employers, and landlords are not allowed to discriminate against you because of your religion, race, national or ethnic origin, sexuality, and more. 

An important step to fighting against any kind of prejudice is building awareness. We can do this by educating people at school, at work, or in our communities about Islamophobia and why it’s wrong.

Rivers of Hope created an Islamophobia Toolkit with information and resources about how Muslim women experience Islmophobia and how to suport. The Canadian Council of Muslim Women also has many resources to help people who are facing and/or witnessing Islamophobia.