By: Zeinab Saidoun
A few weeks ago at work, a lady started talking to me about the Syrian refugee crisis. After telling me that she’s thinking of running for council in the next election, she said, “Did you know that most Syrians coming to Canada are Christians? It’s comforting to know that they’re not from some weird religion, you know?”
No, I don’t know.
Should I apologize for not seeing my religion as “some weird religion?” Of course not. In that moment I remembered that I’m supposed to be a journalist; I’m supposed to tell her something that would make her think about her thoughtless words. In that moment I told myself silence is golden.
In May of 2008, I woke up to gunfire and heavy smoke outside my window. It was another conflict in Beirut. Who knows what they were even fighting about this time.
I heard my mom talking frantically on the phone with my dad, who was out of the country for business.
“I already packed,” she said. I peaked my head out from underneath the covers to see that indeed, she had packed two suitcases for her, my brother, my sister and I.
The airport had been closed under a state of emergency. We had to act quickly. There was no time for goodbye phone calls or kisses. My mom had already dropped off our three-week old kitten, Beeso, at my grandma’s. I never got to say goodbye.
I didn’t even know what my mom had in the suitcases. What if she didn’t bring any of my favourite clothes? But it didn’t matter anymore, I didn’t really have much of a choice. After all, stuff can be replaced but people can’t.
I couldn’t help but think to myself that we had lived through too many bombs to let this one make us leave. We know what it’s like to live in instability and lose our minds when we can’t get a hold of our family members minutes after a bomb. Why are we giving up now?
We took a cab and the driver drove with the radio on the entire time. I will never forget passing a bridge only a few kilometres away from the Syrian border and minutes later hearing the radio host with breaking news: the bridge had been bombed.
It could have been us.
We got to Syria, stayed two days and then drove to Jordan where we flew to Montreal and met up with my dad. We ended up in Newmarket, Ont. which at the time wasn’t the most racially diverse.
On the first day of Grade 7, my homeroom teacher spoke slowly to me. She introduced me to the class, mispronounced my name and told them that I’m working on my English. She never bothered to speak to me before her introduction to even know that I’ve been writing essays since Grade 3 and speaking English since kindergarten. Needless to say, she was shocked when she heard me speak after her introduction.
I saw my parents struggle. I saw the strongest man in the world break into tears when he realized all his experience had gone to waste. Nothing hurt me more than seeing my dad going to a job he hated. It killed me to know that he would have to introduce himself multiple times because the name Khaled is just too difficult to pronounce.
Throughout my eight years in Canada, I found myself having to explain my religion and my culture over and over again. It didn’t bother me until I realized that I was no longer explaining, I started defending myself. My answers changed from being informative to having to convince others that my religion isn’t about terrorism and hate.
But I am very grateful to be living in a place that is overall accepting of my religion. I may not visibly look Muslim to those who don’t know me, but often when there’s news about something Islam-related, I’m always asked “Zeinab, what do you think?”
I can’t help but share articles about terrorists who are Muslim while always repeating the same concept that this is not what Islam is about, this is not what Islam means.
We simply cannot paint everyone with the same brush.
In my first year of Ryerson journalism, I found myself asking why I got into this program that I dreamed about for so long. What possessed me to get into something that will constantly have me talking, explaining and defending?
The answer was simple. There are so many untold stories in this world. My story isn’t that unique, nor that tragic when looking at what other humans have been through and are going through.
I have found myself trying to give a voice to those who often go unheard.