This post has been a long time coming. The issue of Muslims and Indigenous rights, specifically in the context of Canada and the US, has been on my mind for many years, but recently, with an increase in Islamophobia in both Canada and the US (especially the US) its got me thinking about our relationship to the land, and subsequently, to those from whom the land was taken.
Growing up I was lucky that I didn’t hear the common stereotypes at home about Indigenous peoples in Canada. Perhaps it was my parents’ own anti-colonialism (as a result of being from a part of the world that was brutally colonized by the British) that produced empathy, rather than the disdain too commonly seen, toward Indigenous peoples. However, the same couldn’t be said of society in general.
Negative beliefs about Indigenous peoples are so ingrained in Canadian society it really doesn’t take long for those new to the country to adopt them. Muslim or not, I’ve heard too many immigrants and non-white peoples make the same racist and White supremacist comments as White Canadians. And it truly perplexes and shocks me each time how easy it is to be from an oppressed minority and perpetuate harmful and violent beliefs about other oppressed minorities. (I realize this adoption of white supremacist and colonial attitudes often has to do with survival, but I’ll save that for another post).
However, as shocking, offensive, and harmful as those may be, what tends to irk me more is sense of entitlement. It’s true that most white Canadians (and Americans) have a false sense of entitlement to the stolen land upon which they live. Basically, in very simplistic terms, much of Canada is unceded Indigenous territory. Taken, immorally, from Indigenous peoples. Canada, and the US, are both countries formed on the basis of Indigenous genocide and land theft. The non-Indigenous inhabitants of these countries live the lives they do, have the benefits they do, because of that genocide and land theft. In other words, we benefit from the devastation that was wreaked upon the original inhabitants of this land.
It really should go without saying that White people living on this land, especially those descending from the colonizers, should not have the sense of entitlement to this land they do. It is stolen land. No one should have a sense of entitlement to something they, or their ancestors, stole. The lack of humility is unnerving, especially in the US. The same applies to Muslims.
Recently, in response to an incredible increase in Islamophobia among certain politicians in the US (who will remain unnamed) many American Muslims have felt the need to “prove” their “Americanness.” This sentiment is understandable. When politicians in the country you call home start talking about banning Muslims, including ones who already live there, you do feel the need to assert that you belong and that the US is your home. Canadian Muslims often have the same tendency to “prove” their “Canadianness.” However, this assertion must always be made with caution.
We are settlers on stolen and occupied land. Our relationship to this land is no more nor less secure than that of white people. So before we, as Muslims, make assertions of how American or Canadian we are we must humble ourselves and recognize what our relationship to this land truly is and how we have benefitted from the destruction of Indigenous lives. We must remember we are indebted to them, not the colonizers, and demonstrate our allyship by supporting calls for social justice. If we pride ourselves on the Islamic value of humility then this is surely the time to demonstrate that.