“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” – Malcolm X
Vocal on everything from the environment to government policy, Ms. Fizza Mir isn’t afraid to call it like she sees it. Speaking to youth groups, attending protests, and penning hard-hitting posts on social media is all too familiar to Ms. Mir, who’s no stranger to controversy. Lanterns had a chance to learn more about this high school teacher with a few lessons to teach outside of the classroom as well.
My parents came to Toronto in the 70’s, so I’ve been part of this beautiful community for decades. Alhamdulillah! Toronto’s first mosque, The Jami, was originally a beautiful church that ISNA purchased long before the ISNA Centre in Mississauga was even a thought. The Jami was central to our lives back then and it laid the foundation for the growth a robust Muslim community throughout the GTA. I come from a family of five girls with parents who always encouraged us to explore, create, challenge ourselves, actively engage and form strong relationships with family, friends and community.
As an adult I can see how my parents’ influences led me to pursue multiple interests in my personal and professional endeavours. Although I am a high school teacher, I have also spent time establishing a Fair Trade clothing brand called Azadi Project and am currently pursuing a Masters in Social Justice Education. Whether teaching, designing or organizing, my faith made it imperative that equity, fairness and justice was always central to work.
The transition to activism:
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been involved in some sort of social justice work, whether it be collecting food for our local food bank or organizing for anti-war demonstrations.
Our beloved teacher Dr. Mahdy (at Jami Mosque) always instilled a sense of social responsibility in us. We were always encouraged to question the status quo, to think deeply about the practices we engaged in, the issues that formed our reality and to consider the universality of Islam and how that translated into the bigger picture. Dr. Mahdy’s class was extraordinarily unique in that it was a place of discussion, analysis, critique and not simply a student-teacher lecture dynamic. I feel so blessed to have spent my youth in such a transformative space.
When I think back, all the people I know who used to attend his class are now engaged in some sort of social justice work, it’s pretty amazing.
Challenges facing activism and the Muslim community:
I think we’ve come a really long way and matured tremendously and that makes me really proud and hopeful for our future. As a community we’ve come to understand that we don’t have to agree on everything to work towards a shared vision.
However, some voices are still excluded from our organizing circles. Often there’s still an expectation to be a certain kind of Muslim and to properly perform that Muslimness in order for your voice to be heard and valued. This attitude completely contradicts the example of our beloved Messenger (PBUH); it divides, isolates, marginalizes and pushes away many of our brothers and sisters who begin to feel like outsiders in their own community.
First and foremost, effective engagement, organizing and activism requires solidarity. Again, we don’t have to always agree, but we have to respect and negotiate difference. We have to have openness and transparency in the decision making process; a leadership that is receptive and accountable to the community. This would create a climate where people feel safe, valued, relevant and invested; an space where they can work towards an immediate and greater good.
Having said that, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that Muslims currently live under tremendous pressure to perform as model minorities. Islamophobia is real, many of us experience it daily and our current government has actively exacerbated anti-Muslim sentiment through their words and policies. I understand the desire to not ‘rock the boat’ and not engage in anything remotely controversial. This ever-present and understandable fear can be a difficult barrier to overcome for individuals and communities. However, this is precisely why we need to build solidarity, build strong networks and allies who support one another. When communities feel supported, they are able to transcend fear and engage in building just societies; not just for themselves, but for others who have been radicalized, stigmatized and oppressed.
Biggest challenge as an individual activist:
I spoke about respecting and trying to understand different approaches to a shared vision and that’s really hard to do. It’s complicated and time consuming and it constantly requires people to check their egos and re-align their way of thinking, even if just temporarily. This is a huge challenge for people, myself included. But when we are able to build a respectful, inclusive movement that really affects positive change, it’s incredibly powerful and heartening to look back at the work you’ve done and the beautiful relationships you’ve built in the process.
Patience is also a huge challenge when engaging in organizing and activism. Change happens over time and in increments and though this can feel discouraging, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate small victories. Social justice is a goal and a process, it’s important to understand that the latter is often just as important as the former.
If the Muslim community could take one thing away:
We know that ibadah is so central to our faith; our spiritual connectedness. We make efforts to never miss daily prayers, to fast during long summer days and awaken in the middle of the night to praise our Creator and to remain grounded in our greater purpose. I think sometimes we mistakenly think of our ibadah as the end, the completion of our devotion. For me, I’ve come to understand ibadah as a means to an end, not the end itself. Greater than the acts themselves are what we gain from prayer, fasting, dhikr; we gain strength, conviction, fortitude, gratitude and humility – the very attributes we require for a prolonged struggle to build a better world around us. Perhaps we can start to think of ibadah as the fuel we need to continue our work, rather than the achievement of our work.