Digital platform streamlines Islamophobia lessons for Ontario teachers

Amid rising waves of Islamophobia, educators now have a new digital platform to help them combat hate.

The Muslim Association of Canada officially launched Thursday, which was funded in part by a $225,000 grant from the Ministry of Education, announced in June after five members of the Afzaal family were killed by a motorist in London, Ont. in what police say was a hate-motivated attack.

The courses cover high-level topics like defining Islamophobia, implicit bias and how Islamophobia exists in structures and in the media. There are sections on hate crimes, the history of the issue and overlaps with anti-Black racism. And the first of the three courses gives an introduction to Islam explaining customs and values, like dietary restrictions, holidays and the history of the religion.

“I think this (platform) really empowers all three: Muslim students, non-Muslim students, and educators around addressing something that we, statistically, are seeing is on the rise. And in the space that’s most important, which I think is education,” said educator Memona Hossain who worked alongside several others to create the platform’s content.

Through about six hours of video spread over 50 clips, infographics and resources, the platform offers teachers straightforward tools to use in the classroom or to inform their lesson plans.

Ayaan Abdulle recalls growing up attending the York Region District School Board and having to at times field questions from classmates about her religion, and doing her best to answer, “but keep in mind — you’re a kid, you’re not a scholar,” she said.

“I think a resource like this would be very helpful in taking that burden off of students,” Abdulle said.

But she wonders if this sort of education will be mandatory for teachers in the near future. And beyond that, how will the resource reach people who may already have a negative view of Muslims?

“The people in the community — the Muslim community, allies, they already understand the harm that Islamophobia has,” she said.

“ … The threat is not coming from within our communities, it’s coming from folks who are not very familiar with Islam. So how are we going to connect with those folks?” she pondered.

The Ministry of Education said it is currently not a mandated part of Ontario’s curriculum. Minister Stephen Lecce said in an emailed statement, “Our government is committed to working with community organizations like the Muslim Association of Canada to create a school climate where students, school staff members and parents feel safe, and are safe, included, and accepted.”

Still, community leaders, like Mustafa Farooq, founder of National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), would like to see more consistent internal commitment from governments.

While he acknowledged a resource like this is an important initiative, Farooq said to keep in mind, “We’re not going to get to full change through any one organization’s platforms … We also need to see systemic change from governments.”

Movement to see action on Islamophobia has risen in recent years as tragedies mount. Before the London, Ont. attack in June, there was the Quebec City mosque shooting where six were killed and 19 were injured in 2017, which sparked research and some government response.

In the wake of the June tragedy, in addition to funding for, $75,000 was given to NCCM to facilitate outreach with Muslim parents and families.

A national summit on Islamophobia was quickly planned and held in July. It was met with skepticism from some community members about whether it would lead to tangible change.

And between 2017 and now, motions to condemn Islamophobia have been put forth by Liberal Ontario MPPs and the NCCM received support from the NDP last week on a bill to combat Islamophobia and white supremacy.

In his speech, Farooq said challenging hate cannot be “a platform promise” — it needs to happen now.

Speaking with the Star, Farooq reiterated, “We really need to see (the) whole of government change.”

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