Canada is known for its liberal and diverse culture, and its welcoming people, which include its Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
However, in recent months, even this nation of some 35 million people has come under some strain, as Islamophobia begins to raise its ugly, intolerant paranoia.
To counter this growing concern, this past week, Muslim youths in Canada fanned out across cities in the country to dispel misconceptions about the religion.
The movement, called Islam Understood, is a nation-wide campaign to help people understand Islam and who Muslims are and what they stand for.
The group behind the project is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), and members have been going door to door and taking to the streets to engage the public.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions people have been getting about Islam,” says Qasid Chaudhry, a volunteer with the group. “We’re trying to give people the idea that Isis is not Islam. It is a religion of peace.”
Isis is the terrorist organisation, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has been engaged in an ongoing war inside the two countries.
The response from those AYMA has approached has been encouraging, Qasid says.
“It’s amazing because a lot of times people are afraid Islamophobia is becoming a really big problem,” he explains to local media. “It makes us feel that people don’t fear Islam, they fear these extremist groups.”
Engaging the public on the streets gives Canadians an opportunity “to ask some questions about their faith, to challenge them, to know what exactly about their Canadian identity is important to them and how they reconcile that with being a Muslim,” Qasid says.
The initiative comes on the back of the terror attack in a mosque in Quebec earlier this year.
A 27-year old French-Canadian student, Alexandre Bissonnette, has been arrested and charged for the shooting spree with killed 6 people.
He is reported to be a supporter of US president Donald Trump and far-right French politician, Marine Le Pen.
Choudhry admits that anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as anti-Semitism, is on the rise in North America and his group wants to be at the forefront of fighting this.
He said it is important for Muslims to reach out to the public because Canadians may not be aware that groups like his are assisting in the fight against Islamic State radicalization through campaigns such as Stop The Crisis.
The campaign was set up because of “a great need to take real and immediate action to work towards tackling and eradicating this problem of radicalisation amongst a small segment of Muslim youth”, according to its website.
The AYMA outreach was launched just days after rallies in Montreal were held by both critics and supporters of a Parliamentary motion by Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, condemning Islamophobia. The move has sparked controversy and debate across Canada.
Among other things, it proposes that the government should “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
It is not a Bill, and therefore will not, as some fear, become law.
Opponents of the motion say it infringes their right to free speech, the right to criticise religion.
Supporters, however, say because it will not become law, anyone can still criticise religion.
A recent Forum Research poll of 1,304 Canadians in December found that more than a quarter of respondents said they had “unfavourable” feelings toward Muslim people, while 54 per cent said they had “favourable feelings” and 17 per cent said they “don’t know.”
In the meantime, the youths of AMYA continue with their outreach.
“These aren’t Muslim scholars,” said Safwan Choudry of the volunteers. He too is a member of AYMA. “These are no Imams. These are everyday Canadians, in many cases born and raised here, who want to take their weekends and talk to Canadians and help them understand their faith.”
“It’s such a kind response and warm response,” Ahmed Sahi, another volunteer, says, referring to the reaction from those they have approached. “Everyone wants peace and to get along. We come across several people who really appreciate the message of peace we are spreading.”