News

Can we stop studying Canadian Muslims already?!

And while we're at it, can we stop publishing news stories about how normal Muslims are?

When I glanced at what was trending on Twitter this morning, “Muslim Canadians” appeared on the list. I reluctantly clicked, bracing myself for a report of another attack on a hijab-wearing girl or a fluff piece on how Muslims are secretly just like the rest of us. The CBC story it led me to reported the results of a new survey by the Environics Institute on Muslim-Canadian attitudes towards … Canada.

Salient findings include that 83 percent of Muslim-Canadians felt “very proud” to be Canadian versus 73 percent of non-Muslim Canadians, while 94 percent said their “sense of belonging to Canada” was strong or very strong. The majority agreed that immigrants should adopt “Canadian customs” (what does this even mean?), while 17 percent said they wanted to “remain distinct,” as the CBC characterized it.

But it’s not an entirely rosy picture for the good liberals hoping to eradicate Islamophobia by showing the broader population that, phew, we don’t have to worry about these people — they want to be like us, customs and all.

Specifically, the survey showed young Muslims are becoming increasingly devout, with 61 percent of them reporting that religion was most important when it came to their identity, while 6 percent placed their Canadian nationality first. And compared to 10 years ago when this survey was first administered, more Muslims are attending mosques at least once a week — a seven-point increase, to 48 percent. The same percentage of Muslim women reported wearing the hijab, up 10 points from a decade ago.


Related: All I want as a Muslim is the freedom to be ordinary


The survey alone is not entirely offensive. The fact that the results are news is. Along with the CBC’s story (“Muslim Canadians increasingly proud of and attached to Canada, survey suggests”), CTV, the Toronto Sun and other outlets all picked up the story. Why do we need to report that Muslims are “very proud” to be Canadian? Or that they want to adopt “Canadian customs”? It’s as though the answers are news-worthy because the opposite was assumed to be true. Substitute any other religious group and it quickly becomes apparent how absurd this is. “The majority of Christians want to adopt Canadian customs,” or “Jewish-Canadians are ‘very proud’ Canadians” — not exactly headlines an editor would use to attract eyeballs.

A more meaningful and interesting approach might be comparing the behaviour of devout Christian youth, Jewish youth and Muslim youth to non-religious youth. Do they volunteer more? Do better in school? What are their STI rates? And if combatting Islamophobia was indeed the goal of the survey, why not investigate attitudes towards Muslims?

Instead, Muslims are singled out, an auto-othering nobody bothers questioning. What’s the value in that? Well, it’s useful to two camps. The well-meaning folk who want to prove there is nothing wrong with Muslims and the Islamophobes who want to warn against the tide of violence we are going to see with these increasingly hijab-wearing, mosque-going “Moslems.”

I heard from representatives of both camps on Twitter. I also heard from the organization that conducted the survey:

Environics tweet

I don’t doubt this was valuable for many Muslims; in fact, the civic-minded organization Canadian Muslim Vote was one of the survey’s sponsors. Of course, there are Muslims who would love to use the findings to counteract mischaracterizations of Muslims. After all, two-thirds of the respondents to the survey indicated they were worried about how Muslims are portrayed in the media. But just as I choose to cover these issues differently from other journalists, there is no strict party line I have to toe as a Muslim. And I for one, am sick of the assumption that my opinions as a Muslim are only valid if “my people” agree with me. Of course Muslims disagree with each other — above religion, nationality, sexuality and whatever other identities breed stereotypes, we’re simply human. Why we need studies to prove this, I’ll never understand.

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