Sunday’s tragic shooting at Quebec City’s Islamic Cultural Centre, which happened not long after the Trump administration banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely, and declared a temporary ban on all residents of seven Muslim-majority countries, has left many Muslims and non-Muslims deflated. The post-9/11 climate has already stifled Muslim participation in civic life, and these recent developments have scared and depressed many Muslims, a good portion of whom have expressed their frustrations online.
“What can possibly be done now?” they ask. It all seems so hopeless.
But the reality is precisely the opposite.
The truth is that authoritarian actions and the regimes that produce them count on this subsequent deflation of their citizenry to fortify their own positions. But as thousands upon thousands of people have flooded the streets of North America in protest of the #MuslimBan, Trump and his circle have walked back much of their rhetoric. The American Civil Liberties Union has also won temporary court victories to halt the ban. Though there’s a very, very long way to go, civic action, disobedience, and protest make a difference.
But none of it works if Muslim Canadians and Americans use this dark time as an excuse to not do anything. Nothing will change if Muslims — myself included — simply withdraw and look inward helplessly. The divine example that Muslims follow balances a proactive worldliness with a constant internal, critical self-awareness. It’s this Prophetic balance that we must strive for, and that means holding ourselves to a high standard in the thick of things.
In short, “What can I possibly do?” is not an adequate response or option.
There are a lot of ways you can help.
If you know Muslims and allies, then band together with them to help organize vigils and protests. Talk to municipal and local administrators — along with experienced activists — about how to book times and spaces to demonstrate or hold a public circle.
Pitch in using your practical skills — such as graphic design or communications — to help spread the word about gatherings or protests. You can help hand out posters and flyers to raise awareness for these events.
You can do 10 minutes (or more) of research on groups that advocate for human rights from a Muslim perspective, such as the National Council of Canadian Muslims. You can donate to them or call to ask how you can help.
You can organize meetings, letter campaigns, or phone-ins with your MP, MPP, or city councillor to force them to prioritize the denouncement of anti-Muslim sentiment, racism, and the anti-refugee and immigration ban in the United States.
You can gather your friends and family into one space, private or public, to facilitate and hold a discussion circle on what has happened. You can even use such a gathering to brainstorm ideas of how to respond to these events. Multiple brains working at once is always better than a single person trying to figure things out.
You can look out for your Muslim neighbour — particularly visible minorities — in public spaces to make sure that their physical safety is not threatened. Anti-Muslim incidents have doubled in Canada in the past few years. Perhaps you can even figure out a group system to help execute this idea.
You can form or join online listservs or social media groups on Whatsapp, Facebook and elsewhere to pool ideas and thoughts, as well as to keep each other informed about actions that are taking place in your city or country.
You can write op-eds or organize letter campaigns to media outlets that you think have distorted their depiction of how these events unfolded. You can use social media to bombard journalists or commentators who should be held accountable for what they write and say.
That’s just a partial list. Many, many more things can be done, particularly if we brainstorm with like-minded people and allies.
Whatever happens, it’d be a tragedy if the anger, frustration, and urgency of today isn’t converted into political action for the future. The momentum right now is palpable and we must make the most of it. That means not allowing ourselves — particularly those in the Muslim community — to be cornered into inaction and despair.