One of the best and effective ways to counter the rising anti-Muslim sentiment is not only through words, issuing statements and being on the reactive and defensive mode all the time.
When a lunatic in their midst create havoc; when the rights of Muslims are infringed by the prohibition of the hijab in France's public schools and now in Quebec; when a hate monger vandalizes an Islamic centre; or when a hooligan makes irresponsible remarks about Muslims, only then do Muslims react.
They start issuing statements of condemnation and then go back to sleep.
While the condemnation of such acts is the right thing to do, a more proactive mechanism, however, is needed to show what Muslims are all about. The anti-Muslim prejudice can only be countered through active participation in the society including helping those in need, as I have witnessed on Friday, the last day of Ramadan, at the International Muslim Organization of Toronto.
The Islamic Relief of Canada surprised everyone by setting up a massive booth containing brand new clothing items, bedding sheets as well as shoes among many other things.
People could not resist the temptation to take a peek of the products before entering the mosque. They wanted to take advantage of what they thought to be the "sale of the month" as what was on display consisted of materials of high-quality products. In collaboration with the IMO, the Islamic Relief of Canada had surprised everyone to announce that everything was for free -- absolutely free.
"What do you mean free?" people asked, raising their eyebrows thinking that the statement was a joke. It was a remarkable initiative which deserves praise and support.
According to the organization's CEO, Sallah Hamdani, the relief organization, a recognized charity that helps the less fortunate whether they are in the disaster driven areas across the globe or locals who can not make the ends meet, would get a set amount of new clothing from large corporations to donate to the needy.
They would then choose a day, which Hamdani called, "a day of dignity" where they would distribute the items to the needy and poor.
"They would intentionally choose a mosque as the location for the distribution to show that Muslims do indeed care and give back to the society," Hamdani explained."Everyone is invited and welcomed to take what they need -- Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The event is announced to different organizations including food banks and shelters across the city," he elaborated.
Omar Farouk, the President of IMO, said it was an honour and a privilege to host such an event to help those in need.
"The IMO is always at the forefront when it comes to helping the needy irrespective of geographical location -- whether it is the food bank distribution, blood donation events, helping in the disaster relief in Haiti and elsewhere," said Farouk
Islamic Relief of Canada is also an organization that deserves recognition for not only playing a key role in the international disaster reliefs; they also do what they can to help those who require assistance locally.
It was heart-warming to read in the Toronto Star about the organization that normally deals with international disasters answering the call of a Toronto Food Bank.
Islamic Relief Canada has launched a campaign that will match dollar for a dollar, any donations to help the Flemingdon Community Food Bank pay off the $30,000 it owes in rent.
Last week, according to the report, the food bank -- which serves 3,800 families in the high-needs area of Flemingdon Park -- launched an urgent appeal to help it raise the money needed and save it from shutting its doors.
"We saw the necessity and the need," said Hamdani, the CEO of Islamic Relief Canada. "Our scope is international, but... we have to look at how we can help alleviate issues of poverty and homelessness that we have right here in our backyard," he said.
Another organization worth mentioning is the Muslim Welfare Center which provides shelter for women, food bank, meals on wheels and free medical clinic for those who are not covered by OHIP such as refugees, students, visitors or new immigrants. With these kinds of initiatives, the community can certainly remove the rust that has accumulated on the image of their faith and regain the respect that they have lost.
At a time when the confusion about Muslims is at its peak, it becomes important to come up with a long term plan to clear the image of the religion of Islam whose name itself is derived from the word "peace".