Because I’m brown, and my first name is Mohammed, I’m still a victim of Islamophobia, even though I’m not Muslim

I am a little anti-religion. But I think I am a very spiritual person. I believe in a greater sense of purpose and connectedness in the universe. And that doesn’t necessarily come from a higher being, but just…nature, and feeling connected with the earth.

I trailrun a lot, out in the North Shore mountains. I’ve done 65 km races. Being in the woods by myself, using my body, pushing myself to the limits, that feels really spiritual to me. I feel with trail running the runner’s high is so much more because you’re in the woods and the mountains, and usually when you’re trail running you’re alone for the most part. I feel very grounded when I’m running. Like you’re connected to the earth – you’re very connected to your body and your body also feels like its part of the earth. And your ego is just gone.

I’m definitely an atheist. I was born into Islam, and my experience with that wasn’t very good. My dad was very religious, so he was a little strict in the house and stuff. It wasn’t as bad for me, but it was especially bad for my mum and my sister, being women. And seeing other people in my community (I’m from Pakistan), how they’ve used Islamic scripture to persecute women, quell dissent…. I looked at other religions as well, and I found religions in general for the most part to be patriarchal, hegemonic, hierarchical. So that drew me away from organised religion. And I think once you move away from something you get rebellious and sort of anti that. So I became a fan of the New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, I was like, ‘oh yeah, you’re totally right, religion sucks’. But then I was like, well, it has its bad things but it is really meaningful for a lot of people. The spiritual aspect was something that I wasn’t getting from that militant atheism.

I admire Buddhism. I meditate every day. I go to the Buddhist temple for my lunch break. But I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, I just like the Buddhist philosophy. I like being in the present moment, the concept of no self, how our ego is just something that we create. And we’re all sort of like one. But it’s obviously very hard to practice. Because the ego, like ‘me’, ‘I’, is so ingrained into us. You have to make a conscious effort, all the time. Yesterday I was biking downtown, and I had to bike on the sidewalk a little bit, and this person blocked my way, and was like ‘don’t bike on the sidewalk’. This obviously made me a bit angry, and I found myself overthinking for the next 5 minutes. If I wasn’t thinking about the self, I would have been ‘oh whatever, he was probably just having a bad day’. It’s hard to let go of that completely, it still damages the ego a little bit.

At the Buddhist temple everyone is super nice and welcoming, whereas I feel at the mosque people are a lot more judgemental. That’s obviously not necessarily the religion, it’s the people who are bad, and maybe it’s the Pakistani culture, but I had no such experiences with the Buddhist community. At the Buddhist temple almost everyone in Chinese, there’s a few brown people, but it never feels like I’m being judged. I practice a different kind of meditation than they do, and some people ask me about that, but I never thought it was coming from a negative place, it’s always coming from curiosity.

Because I’m brown, and my first name is Mohammed, I’m still a victim of Islamophobia, even though I’m not Muslim, I’m even Islamophobic myself sometimes. When I say I’m Islamophobic it’s different than when someone else is Islamophobic. Because obviously I’m not talking about the people, I’m talking about the ideology. I think Islamophobia is wrong it is such a racialised term. The reason people are Islamophobic towards me is because of my race, not because of my religion. So I would never respond to someone being Islamophobic to me by saying that ‘oh well I hate Islam, too’. I would call them out on ‘why did you think that way, is it just because I’m brown’ or, ‘not everyone who’s Muslim does this’. When someone is Islamophobic to me I find myself defending Islam.

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