From the Heart

From the Heart

maisaloonBy Maisaloon Al-Ashkar

(July 7, 2015) – As a young, Muslim, Palestinian woman of colour in North America, everything that defines who I am is essentially under attack.

I’m often faced with oppressive, preconceived notions that place me in restrictive circumstances where I’m expected to ‘justify’ and ‘defend’ every part of my identity, which is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

This struggle has even made its way to environmental and social justice movements, as the marginalized communities I identify with are often missing from the picture.

And I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way.

These lived experiences are real-life repercussions of colonial hegemony, systemic oppression, and institutionalized discrimination.

I was raised listening to the oral history passed through my ancestors about my family’s Palestinian heritage and struggle, and through their lived experiences, I was exposed to the idea of oppression at a very young age.

Although I didn’t have the knowledge to fully conceptualize it into words at the time, learning about my culture and background is the initial spark that ignited my passion for activism.

The injustice experienced by my ancestors serves as a constant reminder in my life to think critically and behave compassionately.

In high school, my extra-curricular activities were dedicated to volunteering and being involved within the community, as I now realize I was caught-up with the glamourized notion of “making the world a better place.”

Social Justice 12 class, however, is when I learned what social and environmental justice actually mean – with that also came the sweeping realization that although my intentions were to move forward long-term change, my approaches were very much charity-oriented, which only contributed to bandaging the surface of problems rather than tackling the roots.

Through that class, I was encouraged to reevaluate my values, think critically, and challenge the status quo, through which I acknowledged my potential as a young activist.

Islam means peace in Arabic. It’s the faith I grew-up with and choose to continue embracing.

It has always played a significant role of guidance in my life, and most importantly, it has paved the way for my connection with Allah (God).

Islam taught me that the environment and humanity are intersected, and that they are a reflection of Allah.

And thus, to honour this sacred bond, I have to respect and protect Allah’s creation.

As a displaced Palestinian now an immigrant-settler living on Coast Salish Territories, I also recognize that the land and environment hold social, cultural, historical, and spiritual values that are irreplaceable.

I believe that my wellbeing is linked to our collective wellbeing, and so I view social and environmental justice as the path for expressing, valuing, and uplifting this connection, whereas the current colonial, capitalist, oppressive structures that hold dominance are built upon the complete opposite notion – where everything is restricted to hierarchies and categories, controlled by materialistic ideals, and in which some lives are valued much more than others.

And let’s keep it real, in general and throughout history, religion/faith has been used as a tactic to rationalize oppression, injustice, and hatred.

It’s about time that we fully acknowledge this reality and work towards deconstructing it in meaningful ways, through which diverse faith communities can be more effectively mobilized for a common goal towards justice and equity.

Both faith and social and environmental justice shape my worldview, and together, they provide me with a sense of hope that is also critical, assertive, and willing to question the status quo and challenge institutions.

Through actively joining those two worlds, I hope to bring all of who I am to the table.

Faith is an integral part of the set of experiences that constitute who I am, and it’s crucial that I take ownership of that to be able to meaningfully and holistically situate myself in my activism.

Through this, I can pursue my passion for cultivating decolonized, open, and safe spaces where the marginalized communities I identify with are represented, empowered, and heard.

Maisaloon Al-Ashkar is with Fossil Free Faith, Vancouver. First published on Faith and the Common Good.