On September 20, anti-trans protests will be taking place across the Canadian state under the guise of ‘parents rights’. Muslims in Canada should not join them, and here is why.
I am referring to us as “Muslims in Canada” because not everyone identifies as a “Canadian Muslim.” There are many factors at play here: some of us have the gift of Canadian citizenship by birth, hence definitely identify with the “Canadian Muslim” label. Some of us are first generation immigrants and remember, very vividly, a life elsewhere. Many of us are working towards permanent resident status, while some of us are international students or migrant workers or their families who would love to build a life here. Some of us do not identify as Canadian; maybe our children are, but we still remember the warmth of a home left behind. Some, even do not identify as Muslim even though born into Islam yet have a connection to the faith and culture.
Even within our “Muslims in Canada” collective we have varying identities. No two Muslims at a gathering will identify in the same way, nor will they have the same degree of closeness with Allah. Some of us have completed Hajj, have all their prayers, zakat and fasts figured out as well as their moral foundation, while many of us are in various stages of being Muslim. Even for us, it is a spectrum. We may be different, but we are in some ways connected, we are “Muslims in Canada.”
We represent a religion of peace, if not “the religion of peace.” Most world religions champion the cause of peace in different capacities, but we love this identity of ours. Our Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam, or Peace and Blessings of Allah Be Upon Him, is the epitome of kindness, justice, and care for fellow beings, including nonhuman animals. Our love for this enigma knows no bounds. We are his followers, and we seek to build lives according to the example set by him, as ordained by Allah. This involves tolerance toward other faiths and beliefs, as we all know, “To you be your religion, and to me my religion.” No matter what, we will not intentionally hurt another person’s religious sentiments or otherwise. Nor will we endeavour to thwart another’s freedom of expression.
Coming to Canada, or building a life in Canada for many of us was an educated choice, even for those who are fleeing war, terrorism and climate crises in our long left, forever beloved homes. Canada may not be a multicultural paradise, but it has offered us a place to start, or start over. This sacred Indigenous land was not supposed to be colonized by European settlers in the first place. Hence, this is a land built upon injustice and tears.
The original hosts of this land, in their kindness, feel a solidarity with us as people who are racialized, marginalized and discriminated against in a white majority society. We live on this land with a vow of peaceful coexistence with the Indigenous people, and we should honour that with everything we have. Our dear Prophet (PBUH) did not conquer Medina even though he could. He took their hospitality with gratitude in his heart, and led by example so that his followers would do the same.
There are many things we may not agree with in Canada. The idea of your children going to parties can be deeply uncomfortable since you had no exposure to this culture growing up. How people dress in this country is perhaps different from what you are used to, or prefer to wear. It is only natural that values and morality standards will differ. It does not make you prudent, overly conservative or a freak, it just makes you different.
We are all building a life in a country that encourages and celebrates difference, at least in policy. Yes, reality is far from perfect, Canada is no utopia, it is neither a melting pot nor a salad bowl of cultures. Yet, there is a beautiful diversity to be appreciated, everywhere. When our Jamaican colleagues share their jerk chicken lunch with us, even going as far as ensuring that it is halal, our hearts fill with gratitude and joy. When our elderly neighbour, a sweet Ukrainian Babushka waves at us on our daily afternoon walk, we feel warm on the inside.
Again, this is no utopia, and problems in this country are numerous. Homelessness, funding cuts in education, wildfires, building pipelines on Indigenous land, police brutality against Black and brown people, the cost-of-living crisis, a housing market spiraling out of control; these are only but a few of them. As citizens, permanent residents, people on work and study permits, we will of course decry these injustices. It is our right to protest with banners, placards, and megaphones. It is our right to elect the right candidate and oust the wrong ones from public office provided we have voting rights. It is our right to express our dissatisfaction on public issues that harm everyone else.
Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, agender, asexual and queer people have always existed all over the world. Many of us had that one friend who loved playing dress up, or the dance teacher who was rather unconventionally graceful. What about your best friend in an all-women’s school who liked to dabble in the men’s section of clothing, cut their hair short and was always the “tomboy” in your group? What about the hijra community in South Asia who have always taken the streets in their stride? Does their choice of dress or how they conduct themselves in the world make them any less human than they already are? Does our religion ask us to treat everyone with kindness, or does it ask us to exercise hate for no reason? In our new lives in Canada, we often see and interact with gender diverse people at our workplaces, at school, and in all walks of life. If they have not exercised any prejudice toward you, why are you so entitled to destroy what they live for, and what makes them happy?
Before taking any action on September 20, we must educate ourselves on what the protest is about. The nationwide march is entitled “1 Million March 4 Children, which is protesting queer inclusive education in schools. They demand that educators only use transgender pupils’ given names and pronouns in class and want to out trans children to their families. Many of them want to ban life saving gender affirming care and are pressuring the government to enact laws like “don’t say gay” bills in the United States, which prohibits any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity within the public schooling system.
We must understand the double standards at work in these demands. There is usually no outcry over heterosexual content in schools, but suddenly, homosexuality or even the mention of same gender families is touted as “obscene” or “taboo.” As for outing or revealing a child’s chosen names to families, it may put their life in danger especially if in an abusive household. Gender affirming care, which includes but is not limited to gender affirming counseling, hair removal, haircuts, and a choice of clothing can save precious lives, reduce the rates of suicide and self-harm among trans children and youth. Minors are not subjected to surgery, contrary to popular belief. Doctors usually prescribe puberty blockers for trans children, which do not permanently stop puberty. Signs of puberty of their assigned at birth gender commences if one stops taking puberty blockers. This helps trans children take an informed decision about their gender identity as they grow up. If these measures can bring positive changes in the quality of trans children’s lives, who are we to keep it from them? Gender affirming care is hence a human right.
Banning all 2SLGBTQIA+ content from school will not erase the existence of queer people overnight. The history of queer liberation struggles date back to the 1890s. These diverse, resilient people continue to exist despite the impacts of the AIDS epidemic, criminalization of homosexuality, and today’s anti-trans regulations.
Muslims can be queer too, and an intersectional identity is not impossible. Many Muslims are closeted to their families and living miserable lives. Many have found their voices, yet at the cost of their family abandoning them. Despite all odds, queer Muslims have their own vibrant community, chosen families and allies who help them survive and thrive. Author Samra Habib’s queer Muslim memoir is titled, “We Have Always Been Here,” and we always will be.
Dear Muslim parents, you are understandably worried about your children, but know and understand that the world is not out to get them, nor do queer people actively seek to corrupt children. As Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran famously says, “Your children are not your children…You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.”
You may guide your children in the edicts of your religion the best you can, but it is up to them to either follow these edicts or not. Children are not their parents’ property; we must respect their right to decide for themselves and to chart their course in life. Make yourself a safe space so that your children do not have to hide their chosen identity from you. If you have a queer or trans child, they need your love and support more than anything. Do not oust them for being different from what you had imagined, or doing something differently, deviating from family tradition. Only love can keep families together, not hate.
Under the guise of “parents’ rights”, far-right politicians are pandering to various hate groups through transphobic statements and the promise of anti-trans legislation. Just a few days ago, the Conservative Party of Canada voted to include two anti-trans policies in their platform.
As Muslims in the West, we must understand that minorities are often scapegoats. Even though the conservatives and the far-right are liaising with Muslim-led organizations for this protest, remember that this is a part of their manipulative and divisive tactics. Not only conservative parties, but certain seemingly liberal politicians are also looking for chances to turn on the Muslim population; at a moment’s notice there may be anti-immigration and racist laws that can turn our world upside down. Quebec’s notorious Bill 21 that prohibits Muslim women from wearing the hijab in public offices and schools is a prime example.
Experiences of queer people are not divorced from the experiences of Muslims in a post 9/11 world. As minorities, we are all under the attack of fascist forces. We must resist these oppressions together, as a collective, to build a world that promotes tolerance, fellow feeling and helps us all thrive despite our differences. Being an ally will not make you any worse a Muslim, but only stands to make you a conscientious member of the society.
Please do not go to that protest; rather, join a counter-protest happening near you.
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