A Canadian Muslim teacher from Saskatoon is working to create “an inclusive world and community” by creating reading lists for families who want to fight Islamophobia.
“I think if you can see yourself in an experience like family, friendship, teamwork or sports — universal experiences — I really believe that’s one of the ways that we can build bridges of understanding and really counter those negative stereotypes with children,” Rabia Khokhar told CTVNews.ca.
Khokhar, a resource teacher in the Greater Toronto Area, shared a list of children’s books centered around Muslim authors and voices on Twitter last week.
The books touch on everything from cooking with parents, music, belief in oneself and adventure to help parents fight Islamophobia in their circles.
Some of the titles, written by Canadian and American authors, include “Salma The Syrian Chef,” “Barakah Beats,” “Agent Zaiba Investigates,” “Malika’s Surprise,” “Sadiq and the Fun Run,” “Fatima’s Great Outdoors,” “Like the Moon Loves The Sky,” and “The Proudest Blue.”
“I think every-day stories restore the dignity of people,” Khokhar said, explaining that doing something fun like a reading challenge is one of the best ways to not only help children realize how much power they have but get families to empathize with marginalized communities.
Khokhar’s list was inspired by reading lists featuring Black authors and Black-centered narratives, which garnered attention last year during the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against systemic racism.
“Our voices have always been here but there’s always been structures that have prevented our voices from being heard or even being excluded,” Khokhar said, adding she never saw herself reflected in the reading materials growing up in the Canadian school system.
The list comes among efforts to fight Islamophobia in Canada after Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed on Sunday, June 6, when Nathaniel Veltman, 20, used a black pick-up truck to jump a curb and strike them.
The attack comes amid rising concerns about Islamophobic attacks in provinces across Canada and widespread calls for authorities to tackle racism, hate-motivated violence, and the prevalence of far-right groups.
This is not the first time for Khokhar to lead efforts to fight Islamophobia. Her past work in the schools led to winning Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s 2020-2021 Anti-Racist and Equity Activism Award.
“[Books] have always been a way for me to center voices of people who are experiencing racism, discrimination and religious oppression,” she said, but noted there’s a caveat in her reading list: anti-Muslim oppression is not the main theme in her list.
Muna Saleh, an assistant professor of education at Concordia University in Edmonton, praised Khokhar’s efforts, saying she was “so heartened by the list.”
“I was really impressed, Mashallah [meaning ‘good job’ in Arabic], with her ability to bring forward so many different authors and experiences and intersectionality,” Saleh told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
“Too often people view Muslims as just a monolith. And that’s not true.”
However, she believes more effort is needed to give Muslims a voice in every-day education. Khokhar agrees.
“We can’t have a Muslim kid only being highlighted during Islamic Heritage Month or Black students only having their identity represented during Black History Month,” she said.
“This is how we start but they can’t be where we end up.”