By Dima Traboulsi and Zaynab Mamai – Student Reporters, Maingate Islamic Academy (with support from Sanaa Ali-Mohammed)
“Sometimes when we are surrounded by different messages and different people-we’re surrounded by media, that has various ways of representing or… portraying Islam – we can be overwhelmed by our emotions.” -Therapist Asma Ali
Asma asks the youth gathered in the room to have the courage to share their thoughts and feelings with her and with one another.
She has a series of questions for them about how people around them view different aspects of their Muslim identity.
As participants become more engaged in the conversation, their answers make clear the harmful effects that the attitudes and actions of others can have on the lives of young people.
The reality is that Muslim communities across North America and Europe are facing increasing racial and religious discrimination.
Ordinary, law abiding citizens find themselves unfairly labeled terrorists and outsiders.
This can make individuals in our community feel hopeless and humiliated.
The effect of this hopelessness on children and youth in particular is disheartening and can even make them feel depressed.
It also means that many young adults are not proud or are ashamed of their identities.
But even through all the negativity, there is hope and this is the reason Sr. Farrah Marfatia, Principal of Maingate Islamic Academy, organized an art therapy workshop for students.
She says, “I want you guys [young Muslims] to feel like there is hope, like things will get better for Muslims in Canada. And I wanted you to feel like you can make a difference for yourself, for your community…so you are able to think about these [difficult] topics, but in a hopeful way…”
And so, on March 8th, 2016, about 50 teenagers gathered to discuss and heal from Islamophobia at an event called: “Healing, Hope and Art.”
The workshop was divided into two main segments.
The first, a thought provoking therapeutic discussion with youth participants, facilitated by therapist Sr. Asma Ali.
The second segment was led by a group of Muslim artists showcasing how youth can use different art forms to deal with experiences of Islamophobia and other challenges in their lives.
The first activity leads to thoughtful discussion, demolishing barriers between participants and therapist.
Early on in the discussion, a safe space is established, to ensure that all opinions are welcomed, and students are at ease.
Once the artists introduce themselves and their art forms, youth have the chance to choose whom they would like to work with.
There are a variety of options: painting with visual artist Sr. Aasimah Hossain; creative writing with published author, Sr. Shoilee Khan; filmmaking and photography with environmental activist, Br. Fatin Chowdhury; spoken word with poet, Br. Rizwan Wadhera; Nasheed with singer-songwriter Br. Nader Khan.
Students then separate into small groups for the breakout sessions led by their chosen artist, so that they can express how they feel.
The event concludes with an inspirational closing, where students showcase and explain the masterpieces that they have produced, to everyone.
After the event, one participant explains how she benefited from the experience, “ I put my thoughts into my art, and it made me realize that whenever I feel frustrated or angry…I can paint to help me deal with things”.
Teacher-facilitator, Ms. Fatima Alaso, says, “ I felt that students were able to express their emotions and their feelings about not only their personal life [through art], and that it was a positive experience for all parties involved…and the theme of Islamophobia was not overwhelming.”
Additionally, the artwork produced through this initiative will be used as part of an anti-Islamophobia campaign, with messages from Muslim youth sent out to members of the general public.
As attendees, we feel like this workshop was a complete success and the goal was well achieved!
Note: Healing Hope and Art engages Muslim youth in creating artwork aimed at raising public awareness about the impact of discrimination based on creed, while promoting youth agency and leadership. The project was led by Maingate Islamic Academy and the Anatolia Islamic Centre, and facilitated by Concentric Care Counselling, with support from MuslimFest, Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline, and the Laidlaw Foundation.