Salaam B'y - A Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander
Hi! I’m Aatif and I’m a Muslim Newfoundlander. I come from a place where few people look like me, or believe in the same things as me. But in spite of those differences, the people in this place always accepted and encouraged me. I felt an unwavering belonging to Newfoundland. This place carried a level of sincerity, respect and appreciation within its character. Such a character held within this community has the ability to create great change in the world. The communities across this province helped form me to serve humanity through science, engineering, and social studies, and I have been struggling to do this ever since. Now, I’m going back to my home province to share my story for everyone today who feels different, sometimes anxious, and highlight how Newfoundland showed me and others a way to build communities of love and respect. I moved to Newfoundland in 1989 as a 5 year old with my 10 year old brother, 13 year old sister, and parents who have been in Canada since 1976. My dad got a job at local refinery and we moved from Ontario to Clarenville, a small town of 4,000. My parents had no idea what they were getting into when my dad accepted that job offer. But that town gave my family the most fantastic community to grow up in. I joke with my wife that I lived a Disney life, where picking blueberries, playing in the woods, street hockey, or ‘spotlight’ in the neighbourhood, having bonfires and biking to the playground and corner store, and watching Star Trek - The Next Generation filled my days. At the same time, we were one of the few families of colour in the community, let alone the only Muslim family. My parents taught all us kids how to read Quran, pray, fast during Ramadan, along with the occasional visit to the lone mosque 2 hours away in St. John’s. Also, even though primary school entailed a bible study class, teachers let me do my coursework on the Quran. All this engagement with both Christian and Muslim faiths made me appreciate two groups with a common interest (i.e. serving God), but with different approaches with mutual respect. However, 5 years later my dad was laid off from his job and we moved to Vancouver, which carried significantly more people and diversity. While my parents navigated job insecurity, I was managing social identity and seeing if and how I fit in. I ended up being a misfit who didn’t really feel belonging in one set community. I was also exposed to racism for the first time. It was here that catalyzed my appreciation for social justice and civil rights. My family returned to Clarenville 5 years later and I returned to a high school full of old friends, a mix of people from gay, atheist, amazingly smart, people who found school difficult, nerds, jocks, etc. I never felt that ignorant ambivalence in regards to my race in Newfoundland (e.g. “I don’t see race”). People knew I was different, and they empowered it, including by asking me to recite Quran at our high school graduation church service. This persisted after 9/11, where only in hindsight, I realize I was in a type of a bubble where life went on normally after 9/11 for me. I never knew the extent of a narrative that people would draw between Muslims and the attack. The people of Newfoundland never reflected any of vitriol in the national and US media. I never felt even for a brief moment that I didn’t belong. In fact, people kept empowering me to be who I was and push against anything potentially racist. I would never be concerned about racist incidents in Newfoundland. It was really an exception to the rule. I plan to visit Newfoundland to visit schools and libraries in the different communities that helped form me to express my gratitude for my home. I also want to exhibit how Newfoundland culture has benefited me in my career and navigating turbulent times, which Newfoundlanders feel often with it’s precarious economy. While looking at my history with Newfoundland, I want to explore the current state of Newfoundland communities and engaging diversity.
16 Sep 2017
30 Sep 2017
Strategic Research Themes
Community and Regional Development
Creative Arts, Culture and Heritage
Creative Arts, Culture and Heritage