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Zeinab

Diversity is common around Regina and, yet, how much do we really know about the different cultures that surround us in our multicultural society? Walking down the halls of the university, there are a variety of faces that pass by. Among the chaos of students rushing from class to class, do you ever pause and think, "Is what I know of this person in front of me a fact or a stereotype?"

 

 

“(When) you see a girl in a hijab and a man wearing a kufi or having a long beard, we already have these misconceptions or these realizations that society has that the media portrays. We want to educate the people that this is not the case and give them the right portrayal,” said Haisum Khawaja, coordinator of University of Regina’s Islam Awareness Week.

In collaboration with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta, and the University of Saskatchewan, the U of R’s awareness week runs from Jan. 20 to 24. Each day will have a different theme and on the last, the topic of demolishing stereotypes will be accentuated.

 

Khawaja, an intern at the Pasqua hospital, was born in Pakistan, and made his move to Canada in 2002. Growing up as a Muslim man, he said he has witnessed stereotypes play out firsthand but believes that most of the negativity comes from the U.S.

 

 “The American media has a lot of impact on society. The TV that people watch is mostly entertainment and the news that they get are from the headlines, and that’s not really the right picture,” Khawaja said.

 

Saskatoon teacher, Faizah Jamil said after 9/11, people began to treat her differently.

 

 “I remember when two older men saw my sister and I at Walmart and started asking me why I didn’t wear the headscarf like (my sister) did. When I told them that it’s something you do for God, not anybody else, and that I wasn’t ready, they went off saying stuff like, ‘Yeah it’s better that you don’t. It’s a rag and you probably think so too.’ I was offended and my sister was, too, but we laughed and just walked away,” Jamil said.

 

Unlike Jamil, Zeinab Ramadan chooses to wear a hijab. Ramadan has helped coordinate Islam Awareness Week for the past two years. Born in Tripoli, Libya, she came to Canada in 1995 at the age of three. She grew up in Moose Jaw and remembers enduring a lot of negative comments when she started wearing a hijab in high school. She believes that the ignorance that she experienced in this small city was because people were not educated about her religion.

 

“They saw it was something restrictive whereas growing up I never viewed it that way. People have this conception that the family restricts you from doing things but I find that it was society that didn’t understand restricted me. I wanted to do many things but they saw (my hijab) as something limiting me from my full potential.”

 

Ramadan said one of the highlights of awareness week will be the Hijab Challenge on Jan. 24, when people who don’t usually sport a hijab will be challenged to don one and express their experiences afterwards.

 

“We’ve had 30-40 women come and try on the hijab and it’s usually a very positive experience. We get a lot of good feedback. Usually we set up scarves. They’re all prewashed, ironed, and folded. The challenge is that you can have the free scarf if you wear it,” Ramadan said.

 

It’s a chance to step into someone else's shoes and to break down stereotypes, and that’s what Khawaja and Ramadan feel is important.