Reassessing what it means to be a Pakistani Muslim immigrant in Canada

Published: December 8, 2016

Imam Syed Soharwardy and fellow muslims show their support in hands against the attacks on Canadian soldiers during their memorial service in Calgary, Alberta, October 24, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

While I sip tea and watch my children play around in our almost four-year-old home in Canada, I can’t help but reassess what it means to be me, as 2016 comes to an end – a Pakistani Muslim immigrant in Canada.

I can’t help but feel this warmth for this great nation’s hospitality and heart. At the same time, like an itchy throat signalling the onset of a ruthless flu, I shift uncomfortably in my seat as corroborated stats show the rise and effect of hate crimes across Canada. I can’t help but remember last year’s shootings in Ottawa and how Canadian Muslims were shoved under unwanted limelight. I can’t help but think about our neighbouring country’s recent abomination, the Trump effect, and its poison trickling across the borders. I can’t help but think about the unsaid nervousness and fear that some immigrants around Canada may be harbouring. With negativity and hate dominating our mind-sets under the guise of free speech and the uncanny right to be inhuman, it’s impossible to stay aloof.

I live in Mississauga, one of the main cities in the Greater Toronto Area, aka GTA – a city so exhilaratingly multicultural and cohesive that sometimes it is hard to imagine a world at war. I live in a city where I see turbans, hijabs, beards and all sorts of individualised traits that people feel pride in, and adopt because of their beliefs. I see Irish pubs, tattoo parlours, Italian bakeries, desi stores carrying everything from Tibet Snow to Everyday tea whitener. I see the latest trends of western clothes at H&M, Zara, and thriving Nishat Linen and Junaid Jamshed stores in the same vicinity. I see mosques, churches, synagogues and temples. I see halal food being introduced and served in the best Canadian restaurants.

I see a Pakistani Canadian woman as the currently elected MP of this city. I see Muslim men’s baseball and Muslim women’s softball leagues. I see some public schools that have a provision for Friday prayers. I see calendars from my children’s schools highlighting all important days of major religions and cultures in the city. I see lavish Eid celebrations in local public school grounds. I see Muslims feeling festive during the Christmas season. I see neighbours sending treats to each other on special occasions. I see annual Islamic gatherings like the MuslimFest and the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention where thousands gather to celebrate with soulful discussions and food.

I see Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations entailing a new version of the national anthem in 12 commonly spoken languages. I see so much love and acceptance that it is hard to force this hateful lump of fear and scorn down my throat.

While some don’t see all the colours in the rainbow, I still choose to believe in this country’s inbred goodness. I choose to sympathise with those suffering but still look ahead. I choose not to burst my bubble because of a few thorns. Even when I hear about a Muslim woman being called a terrorist in a super market. Even when a poor teenager is attacked on the pretext of a hate crime. Even when a mosque is vandalised. Even when 49% of Canadians feel that Canada is inviting too many immigrants. Even when certain places in Quebec are famous for their xenophobic views. Even when some parents feel uncomfortable letting their children go out alone at night.  Even when for some Canadians, bigotry is the new black.

Why so much hope, some may ask?

I’ll admit, it’s not just my experience. It’s a subtle, collective feeling of strength and togetherness that I feel every day. Canada recently became the first western country to have passed an anti-Islamophobia motion that openly denounces all forms of Islam-directed hate. Public campaigns like “Toronto for All” are shining examples of efforts to curb racism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t hesitate to tear up when talking to Syrian immigrants during a radio show.


Sure, opposition doesn’t leave any chance to challenge his honesty, but for many Muslim Canadians his kind words make the difference. There is a surge of people who are as proud to be Canadian as they are to be Muslim. These are people of action as opposed to being propagators of self-pity or the ‘why me?’ syndrome. From charity, community help, and other volunteering work to improve the society, they are the real deal.

I remember reading Warsan Shire’s chilling lines and trembling to the core,

“Later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
It answered everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”

The world is bleeding and stains are splashing across all our faces. No one is immune and no one can hide. Whether it’s Pakistan, France or Canada, safety and security are now relative terms. And the quicker we understand that incessant bickering will only send us decades behind, the better it will be.

So while some of us do fear an outbreak of irrational hate towards immigrants, it is not a deal breaker. We will continue to stand on guard for this country and while we’re at it, we’ll have each other’s backs too.

This is what will continue to make Canada the glorious nation that it promises to be.

Canada for all.


Nida Shahzeb

A Canada-based writer who strives to give meaning to life and its quirks. Also suffering from delusions involving a mutant alphabet bite. She blogs at:

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Aamir – Toronto

    Great article……..No doubt, Canada is one of the best country in the world to live and raise your family !!!!!Recommend

  • Rationalist

    This article reads like a meltdown of person suffering form victimhoodRecommend

  • HZR

    This xenophobia is Muslim created situation and it is for Muslims to systematically change their image not just in Canada but right across the was not s a few years ago but today people are sensitive to muslims and have negative feelings.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    It is not hijab or beard that is the reason. There are two main reasons that were and still are the seeds from which these forests of hate against muslims have grown.

    First reason is the conversions of non-muslims to muslims by kidnap, rape, force, that, coercion, etc. etc., all the means except by being an example yourself that would influence and motivate others to become muslims. Every time a muslim man marries a non-muslim girl, he have to convert her and also make her cut off all her relationship with her non-muslim friends and relatives, invariably, if the girl happens to be a hindu. They would not dare to do so much if the girl were a christian in a western democratic country. He liked and loved her for what she was but would marry her only if she changes anything and everything in her which includes her beliefs, her practices and everything that made her likable to him and also make her cut off her relationship with her parents and family who made her a likable woman for him. In Pakistan, muslims kidnap even 8 year old girls from their homes and rape them to convert them to islam. These rapes are done by muslims right in their family homes with the support, encouragement, assistance and praise of their family members, males and females, elders and younger ones. Daish does the same today. At least they take the kidnaped girls to remote places or their strongholds but Pakistani muslims take them right to their homes. Pakistan’s media, particularly female anchors like UK educated Fareeha Idrees, Nasim Zehra, Meher Abbasi and also educated male anchors like Dr. Shahid Masood, Dr. Aamir Liaquat, Dr. Danish, etc.,have praised it and if not at the minimum supported it in many ways. Pakistan’s courts have not only supported it but protects the rapists who kidnap and rape to covert non-muslim girls. Muslim women of Pakistan have never come out on the streets against these widely prevalent practices that are practiced in every muslim home in Pakistan and also by Pakistanis who have moved to the secular western democracies. They came out in hundreds of thousands for Mumtaz Qadri and come out every year in same numbers for promoting hijab in Pakistan. They also came out in the same numbers to demand that Rinkle Kumari be handed back to her kidnaper and rapist who converted her to islam. These videos were watched throughout the world and they also read the comments by Pakistani muslim readers in news items supporting these types of conversions and claiming that the girls willingly got raped and converted. When women support their men in these acts, they are looked differently. Even Musharraf did not have a good opinion of muslim women of Pakistan when he said in an interview with CNN that they get raped willingly to get visas to western countries. Though he said it in a different context, he reflected the opinion prevailing in the minds of Pakistani muslim men about their Pakistani muslim women. Christians will not talk about conversions because they also convert others to christianity though they do it very differently but they hate it in their minds and thoughts. They do not force or rape to convert. At best they offer inducements. Also, in conversions to christianity, the entire family converts and they do not force the converts to cut off their relations with their families. In choversions to islam as done by Pakistani muslims, it is always a single girl and not the entire family that converts and also the girl is forced to cut off all her relationship with her non-muslim relatives and her parents. Additionally, muslims gloat on these and post videos in Youtube, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of such videos on social media but you will not find christians posting such videos. Conversions of others by muslims including conversions by marriage are expressions of extreme hate and seen and felt by others as such. So, repraisals and retaliations after recurring and repeated occurrances are to be expected. Since it has gone too far, it will not suffice for muslims just to write twrite a blog or two on these. Only if we see huge numbers coming out on streets and protesting the same way they protest for blasphemy, etc., it may make a difference. Otherwise, it may only get worse.

    The next thing is mosques and muslims spreading prayer mats on public places and parks and start praying. Do christians do these things? No. Only muslims do it and they demand right to do it. When muslims in NY wanted to build a mosque on Ground Zero (the place where the twin towers bombed by Osama once stood), Trump was angry. He offered huge sum (I believe $100 million) to muslims and asked them to build their mosque somewhere else. Newt Gingrich said that muslims build mosques as a symbol of their conquest and whenever muslims have conquered in the past, the first thing they built there was a mosque. When Germany decided to take in many hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, Saudi Arabia offered a huge sum and asked Germany to build 2000 mosques for the refugees. This made even Angela Merkel extremely angry. In UK, Sadiq Khan after becoming Mayor of London wanted to bring better relations between muslims and Christians. What did he do? He invited christians to mosques. No one gets impressed by muslims extending invitations to non-muslims to their mosques. It only produces the opposite result in the end though at first impression it may seem different in the beginning. No one gets impressed by seeing a muslim praying but everyone will get impressed by seeing a good muslim who is doing good work and would treat others the same way he would want for himself.
    When Trump first spoke agains muslims, he was criticized in Germany, UK and throughout Europe. They all did so just to appear politically correct. But today, they are all doing the same.
    At one time, hindu women were targeted in NY and elsewhere in USA by Dot Buster gangs because hindu women were wearing Bindhi on their foreheads. Hindus did not protest then and today they are not targeted for bindhi on their foreheads. Not even in one instance, in USA or throughout Europe, sari was pulled off from a hindu women on the street. Why hindus are seen and perceived differently? This is what should be realized and understood.Recommend

  • S Hashmi

    Very well articulated. We Pakistani Canadians living in the west coast city of Vancouver also share the same feelings towards Canada. We are unable to enjoy the same privileges as you have in Toronto due to the low numbers here, but we are getting there. However, weather wise we are slightly better off than you folks in the East!Recommend

  • Rohan

    Complain of racism abroad.Recommend

  • worst post

    Nida, lot of emotion, ton of sentiment, lot of Islamic Fest, Muslim Xenophobia, Islamophobia etc.
    You say “The world is bleeding and stains are splashing”, because of whom, Muslims. But then you say “some of us do fear an outbreak of irrational hate towards immigrants”. & claim you are a victim.
    How rational is it that there are so many Islamic Terror attacks all across the world, but then Non Muslims should not be angered? On top of Muslims are the victims. While Minorities & even muslims in the very same Muslim countries are savaged, many muslim countries have no concerns. But then complaints fly from Muslims even if there`s mere threat in non muslim countries. This is pure bigotry.Recommend

  • jay

    Mississauga has become like Orangi town of Canada… Thanks to the Pakistani who have made in excalty like the city they left behind !Recommend

  • vinsin

    You cont want to partition Canada? Recommend

  • Rohan

    My comments are bing edited by et to comply with the ideologyRecommend

  • Rationalist

    ‘We are getting there’ how? By marrying world famous baby machines & procreating?Recommend

  • G. Din

    Until enough Muslims arrive…!Recommend

  • sterry

    The only problem is that large numbers abuse the social system and live on welfare- especially the Afghans, Iraqis and Somalis. Pakistanis may not be as bad as other Muslim groups who don’t work and collect other peoples money but there are some bad type areas which are becoming like the situation in UK housing ghettos called council flats.Recommend

  • France Belgium Future o Canada

    You have exacted all the right reasons Muslims are dreaded… When in minority Muslims want all privileges like Friday off, special provisions in public schools etc and do everything to NOT integrate and then raise Victimhood status… And when in majority you want the country to accept Sharia laws and partition the countries based and support militants based on religious greed. You can call me by any name but you cannot deny the ample factual truths and proof around world to prove.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with author somewhat, for her deep thinking on the subject as immigrant and her self introspection of her status which has Muslim attached to it. The problem in today’s world is that which I would say started by West and gained momentum in Muslim countries is the lack of reasoning beyond their religion, whereas, every secular country is doing well and majority of the people living in those countries are free thinkers. Whereas, the problem lies in the roots of Islam. It’s not your fault, but I would say it’s the norm of the religion which makes you uncomfortable the moment an idea sprouts out of opposing it. Muslim people need to be tolerant at least in the western civilization and try to detach themselves from religion once and see the broader picture. Leave your religion at home and be a human first and a citizen more. The more you indulge in being a citizen and keep your religion which in 200-300 years from now would be pretty irrelevant, so, try and raise your kids as the citizen and normal human, not as some hard-core religious practicing human.Recommend