Last fall I was invited to speak at a camp where senior high school students of Alberta came to attend a course on multiculturalism and stereotyping. This is an optional course for senior high school students. Students from various Alberta high schools come for a week and attend this course at a campsite near Calgary. The course instructor invites guest speakers from various faiths and ethnic groups. They speak about their cultures, beliefs, movies, dance, music, dresses, etc…
There were more than 200 grade 11 and 12 students in my four classes. These classes were held on four separate days. Coincidently, there was no Muslim student in these classes.
I wanted to find out what these students knew about Islam and Muslims. Therefore, we did an exercise. We divided all the students into separate small groups. Each group was asked to brainstorm and write down on a flipchart negatives and positives about Islam and Muslims. The following stereotypes were unanimous among all groups.
Muslims are terrorists / violent
Muslims are women Abusers / In Muslim families, women are oppressed
Muslims hate Christians and Jews
Muslims believe in getting 70 virgins after dying in a suicide bombing
Muslims wear turbans
Muslims are smelly
Muslims drive cabs
Muslim work in convenience stores
Muslims are well educated
Family oriented / close family ties
Love their religion / very religious (This may be seen as negative too)
After this exercise, we discussed all these stereotypes. We had a long very interactive question and answer session. We also watched the PBS movie “Empire of Faith”. The following is the feedback that I received from the instructor of this course. It proves that the Canadian and American media is poisoning the minds of our future generation but when our youth find out the truth, they are extremely intelligent, honest, open minded and very receptive to the truth.
The course instructor told me that the overwhelming majority of students felt that they had been misinformed about Islam and Muslims but the presentation (Islam 101) had changed them. Here is the feedback from some of the students.
Sample reflections of Connections students on “Islam 101” based on the question:
“WHAT WERE SOME OF THE ACTIVITY HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU DURING THIS FOUR-DAY WORKSHOP?”
Islam 101 – Syed Soharwardy
1. The third thing that I enjoyed was the presentation about Muslims. I really saw a lot of their culture was similar to the beliefs of my religion. And I am sometimes on the receiving end of the stereotyping that Muslims receive so I understood where he was coming from.
2. The Islam Presentation.
I was surprised to see all the stereotypes that we could come up with… Even at myself. You do not really realize how you think of these people until you put it on paper.
3. One other thing I liked was where the Arab person (I cannot actually remember his name) came and talked to us about the Muslim culture and the common misconceptions.
4. Islam 101. Certainly my favourite presentation. He was just so straightforward and showed me a side of Islam that I sure did not see on CNN. I never knew all of those things about the Muslim faith, and I am so glad that I was able to listen to it.
5. Another thing that I found really good was Islam 101. I believe now that if I were ever to leave Atheism and choose a religion, it would be the Muslim faith because I believe (just my belief) that the Muslim faith is one of the best religions. It includes other faiths within it and has a little bit more to boot. I also enjoy how the presenter of the Islam/Muslim stereotypes can just laugh at our summed up stereotypes. He reminded me of myself because I can laugh at my ethnicity and all the stereotypes that go along with it.
6. 2) Islam 101 was incredibly eye opening for me. Before that night, I knew zilch about Islam or the Muslim people and it was great to hear that most of the stereotypes I even had before, were false. Since then I have had a greater respect for the people within my school that have the courage to wear their hair covers around knowing that most people see them and automatically think “terrorists”. I could not imagine dealing with that kind of thing on a daily basis.
7. The Islam 101 I learned so much about the extremists in the Muslim culture and I have so much respect for Muslim people and it really did change my life.
8. The Islam 101 presentation was absolutely amazing, also. It was incredible to learn so much about a culture that has kind of been unknown to me, and to have had so many stereotypes cleared up. I felt as if I could have listened to him talk for hours and hours.
9. The Islamic speaker was also very good at opening my eyes to Islamic perspective and their view on things. I learned that most Muslims are great people and worthy of our utmost respect. I think Syed was an amazing person and was excellent at explaining concepts.
10. My favourite experience was when the Islamic person came in; he was the only person that actually kept me awake. It was very interesting. Our school will hopefully understand when we have the Muslim guy come in next week. Maybe it will change people’s thoughts on Muslims as it did for us!
11. The Islamic guy… sorry I cannot remember names all too well; he made me think of what Muslims have to go through on a daily basis.
I am very optimistic about the future of Canadians. As these young children grow and hold positions in the political and media organizations, they will bring a very positive change in our Canadian society. I see a very bright and prosperous future for all Canadians including Muslims and non-Muslims. We just need to have some patience, perseverance and a continuous dialogue among Canadians.
Long Live Canada
Founder, Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT)
President, Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC)
For Immediate Release
Date: February 6, 2007
Last year in August, Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT) announced its “Fighting Terrorism Through Sufism (FiTTS) Project”. Phase I (Canadian Phase) of this project has now been completed with complete success. From August 2006 until January 31, 2007, the founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the president of Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), Prof.Syed B. Soharwardy, reached out to more than a million Canadians through seminars, lectures, interfaith dialogues and TV programs. Over the past six months, the FiTTS project accomplished the following milestones.
Five interfaith dialogues at different churches were arranged where hundreds of Canadians attended the Islam 101 presentation and asked questions on Islam and current issues. Six Islam 101 seminars were held at different high schools in Alberta where more than two thousand senior high school students attended the presentations on Islam and Prof. Soharwardy responded to their questions.
Last November, a meeting with Calgary business professionals and the members of various Alberta Think-Tanks was held at the Calgary Petroleum club where several senior managers of various businesses had the opportunity to discuss the issues of terrorism and Canadian policies/security with Prof Syed Soharwardy.
During the past six months, more than ninety lectures and seminars were arranged for Canadian Muslims and Muslim youth in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill, Montreal and Ottawa where thousands of Canadian Muslim families attended the programs and asked question on Islam and current issues. God willing, these programs will continue in these cities on a weekly or monthly basis.
Through ISCC’s two TV programs, Vision of Pakistan on Vision TV and Islam 101 on Shawcable, Alberta, Prof. Soharwardy reached out to more than a million viewers in their homes. After his TV lectures, hundreds of listeners followed up with him through phone calls and email messages and asked questions. Moreover, millions of worldwide users interact with Prof Soharwardy through ISCC and MAT’s websites. (WWW.ISCC.CA and WWW.M-A-T.ORG).
Phase II (International Phase)
The second phase of Fighting Terrorism Through Sufism (FiTTS) will start on February 21, 2007 when Prof. Soharwardy will travel to USA, UK and Pakistan. In USA, Prof Soharwardy will be speaking at the University of Akron, Ohio on February 22, 2007 at 5:30 PM. In addition to the students and faculty, the University of Akron, Ohio has invited several State and Federal government agencies such as Fire, Homeland Security, EMAs, Public Health, Hospitals etc. to attend Prof. Soharwardy’s talk and ask questions. A large gathering is expected at the University of Akron on February 22, 2007.
On March 22, 2007, Prof. Syed Soharwardy will be the keynote speaker at a conference on Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) in Karachi, Pakistan. This annual gathering in Karachidraws more than 20,000 Pakistanis from all parts of Pakistan. Prof. Soharwardy will address several other conferences and youth gatherings in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
On April 4, 2007, Prof. Soharwardy will address a large gathering of British youth of Pakistani descent in Manchester, UK and will discuss with them the current issues and problems of extremism and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On April 7, 2007 at 7:00 PM, the project FiTTS will be concluded at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada where hundreds of Muslims will gather to celebrate the birth, the life and the message of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him).
It is important to know that Tasawuf (Sufism) is Islamic mysticism. Sufism provides meditation for spiritual growth. The problem with many Muslims is that they have ignored the requirements for spiritual growth. A strong spiritual person will never have an evil mentality / thoughts. A strong spiritual person will love and respect God’s creation. Throughout history, the Sufis have shown tolerance, acceptance and courtesy towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike.