By Farheen Khan
My name is Farheen Khan and I am a hijab wearing Muslim woman who was born and raised in Mississauga, Ontario. My parents migrated to Canada from Hyderabad, India in the early 1970s and have gone through the entire immigrant experience. I am the second born of seven children and I was raised in a faith-based household where the emphasis was put on being a good human being, standing for justice and always being a role model in the small but close-knit Muslim community that began to settle in Mississauga at that time.
My father had a vision of starting the first mosque in the community and over the years his vision and hard work paid off with the support of many others who shared in that vision. I remember standing with him the day when he finally had the keys to the mosque in his hand and that twinkle in his eye that said, “Anything is possible if you put your mind, heart and soul into whatever it is you want to achieve.”
At age 10, I began wearing the hijab and over the years I did my best always to create positive images of Muslims everywhere I went. I believed “education was the best response to ignorance”. Like many Muslims, 9/11 was a defining moment in my life. For the first time, I had to reflect on the idea of remaining a visible Muslim woman at a time where being identified as Muslim would put me at risk of being verbally or physically assaulted. I remained at home for a number of days and I remember really feeling fearful of my decision to continue wearing the hijab. “Canada is the land of inclusion” is what I remember being taught in school over and over again. If that were true, then why were we hearing about such intolerance and so many stories of backlash? Eventually I did return to work with my hijab and found the courage to face my fears. But what I didn’t expect was to still be victim to an attack by a man who was convinced that he would “show me what it meant to be bad” as a response to Muslims being bad in the world”.
That incident shifted my life forever and made me question fundamentally what I was doing with my life. Was my purpose simply to become a corporate executive and to retire at age 35 or was I meant do something more? With that in mind, I began working in the non-profit sector and advocating for the rights of women, and demonstrate the impact of both violence and gendered Islamophobia in a post 9/11 world. I wrote a book about my experience “From Behind the Veil: A Hijabi’s Journey to Happiness” and was swept into the media as a woman who knew on a personal level what the impact of gendered based Islamophobia had on women and the growing anti-Muslim sentiment that was emerging in the world. I continued to be an activist for many years and continued to share my story, but when I realized that the seeds of hatred and using Muslims as a scapegoat continued to happen, I found myself running in the federal election as an MP candidate: one of the few women wearing the hijab among the candidates. The experience of being in politics simply re-emphasized just how much of a role media plays in creating these stereotypes that exist about Muslims in the world. Extremist groups that claim to be Muslim, having nothing to do with the beliefs of the average everyday Canadian Muslim. In fact, it’s as far away from their lived reality as can be.
So I decided to begin a blog to share what Muslims were actually about. It’s called “It’s Muslims actually”. Muslims are encouraged to share their lived experiences of #love, #laughter and #hope to create the kind of positive narrative we need in the media today. While it’s an uphill battle to convince people that such a positive platform is necessary, I’m confident that once people see the value in such a platform, that we will begin a movement that truly depicts Muslims as being compassionate and caring individuals that are peace loving and are committed to creating long lasting social change in society.
I value being a Canadian Muslim Woman and the opportunities that I have so far to contribute to the Canadian landscape. I also strongly believe in the importance of continuing to uphold the rights of all people as defined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms i.e. to ensure that all people are treated with dignity, respect and are treated equitably. While there is still a lot of work to be done, I am confident that with the growing support of like-minded Canadians, we will be able to truly build the Canada of our dreams.