NDP leadership contender Jagmeet Singh has opened up about what was going through his mind when a heckler spewed ugly remarks at him during a campaign event this week.
On Wednesday, a woman interrupted Singh's event in Brampton, Ont. to accuse him of backing Shariah, a system of laws based on Islam, and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. The Ontario MPP is Sikh.
Video recordings of Singh deftly defusing the situation by urging his supporters to respond with "love and courage" — and telling the woman he loved and welcomed her — have since gone viral in Canada and the United States.
But some have wondered why Singh didn't tell the woman that he is Sikh, not Muslim. The MPP addressed that issue directly in a statement released Saturday night.
"Many people have commented that I could have just said I'm not Muslim. In fact, many have clarified that I'm actually Sikh," he said. "While I'm proud of who I am, I purposely didn't go down that road because it suggests their hate would be ok if I was Muslim. We all know it's not.
"I didn't answer the question because my response to Islamophobia has never been 'I'm not Muslim.' It has always been and will be that 'hate is wrong.'"
Singh said he reacted as he did because he needed to "act fast and set the tone" for the room.
"Once allowed to grow, hate doesn't pick and choose, it spreads like fire. Once we say it's ok to hate someone based on their religion, we're also opening the door to hate based on race, gender, sexuality, and more," he said. "It's important that we stand united against all forms of hate.
"It takes love to understand that we're all in this together. It takes courage to come together, demand better and dream bigger, so that we can build a world where no one is left behind."
My response to Islamophobia has never been 'I'm not Muslim.' It has always been and will be that 'hate is wrong.'Jagmeet Singh
One of Singh's rivals, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, took to Twitter earlier to compliment him for handling the incident with dignity and respect.
Singh, 38, has been open about the bigotry he has experienced at different points in his life because of his religion and the way he looks.
On Wednesday, he told supporters: "You know, growing up as a brown-skinned, turbaned, bearded man, I've faced things like this before. It's not a problem, we can deal with it."
In a series of tweets marking Multiculturalism Day in June, Singh spoke about his childhood struggle to feel comfortable in his own skin.
Shortly after he launched his leadership bid, Singh told HuffPost Canada he realized there would be a lot of attention on his background. If he wins, Singh will become the first non-white person to lead a major federal party in Canada.
"The journey that I'm proposing or the vision that I'm proposing is one where we bring all people along," he said at the time.
HuffPost Canada is hosting a Toronto debate featuring all four NDP leadership candidates on Sept. 27 — and seeking questions from readers.
NDP members begin voting Sept. 18.
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With a file from Mohamed Omar