Reflecting on Last Week's OnEdMentors Episode in Honour of Islamic Heritage Month

While not every episode of OnEdMentors drives me to write a post, it's not because I’m not compelled by each weekly broadcast. I love hosting the show that I’ve been a part of since its inception. Gathering each panel is a challenging and interesting quest, and this panel was no exception. Last week’s episode did not come as a result of Islamic Heritage Month, though it was planned for this month on purpose. It resulted from a conversation that catalyzed my thinking about the student experience for Muslims.

This summer, I was speaking to Rizwana Kaderdina, Equity Teacher Facilitator at York Region District School Board and Co-Chair of The Alliance of Educators for Muslim Students (AEMS), about The Mentoree and her work with AEMS. Just the existence of the Alliance of Educators for Muslim Students (AEMS) had me intrgiued, but after spending 3 years teaching in public school in York Region, I better understand why this is a truly essential group. Hearing stories from my students about their lived experiences, racism and a lack of cultural and religious understanding for many of them makes episodes like this about so much more than a celebration and chance to learn about the rich and longstanding contributions of Muslim Canadians to this nation. That is why it was extra exciting when Rizwana brought 2 students onto the panel for Thursday night’s OnEdMentors.

Rizwana shared the following reflection:

Learning opportunities present themselves in many forms. Being invited to join Noa Daniel in a discussion about Islamic Heritage Month (IHM) brought a host of learning with it. In addition to being able to talk about, and therefore engage deeply, with concepts around IHM, and learn from the others on the panel, I was asked to support with finding students for the panel. This became an opportunity for some community work around gathering student voice. I held two Student Consultations during which students from Grades 5-12 were invited to join a virtual discussion and share their thoughts about, experiences with, and hopes for Islamic Heritage Month. As you can imagine, the dialogue was rich and a valuable reminder of the importance of rooting the work we do with the communities we serve. Two students from those consultations joined the podcast, and left us wanting to hear more from them. The experience was immensely valuable, in so many ways!

The panel taught me a lot. Rida and Riyad are Musim students in different parts of York Region. While everyone on the panel including Rizwana, Wahid and Idil, shared important insights about ways to use Islamic Heritage Month and the theme of Activism, Art, and Authorship to infuse our classrooms with learning through various lessons and opportunities. Hearing the two students speak about why this month was important to them was very moving. Rida said that this month gives her a sense of pride, walking down the halls seeing Islamic role models, activists, and authors giving her a sense motivation and hope. “It’s a lot bigger than just representation. It’s just really a feeling of belonging... It inspires you for your future." Riyad shared that, “Students that are Muslim can talk about their experience with their heritage, every day things...The thing I like about Islamic Heritage Month is that it starts conversations among students and teachers where they'll ask more questions, and questions are what we need to have more conversations and people to start talking about it more... in schools.” Rizwana added that a month like this creates “the kind of space for that affirmation,” and asks, “How we can use this month as an entry point into ongoing work to ensure that students of all diverse identities are at the centre?” If we are going to move past the heroes and holidays mentality of these months, these should be opportunities to “learn and infuse our pedagogy.”

Other insights from the panel came from Wahid Kahn. Wahid mentioned notable Muslims such as Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who covered his eyes with his hands during the anthem because of his faith. He protested the anthem even before Colin Kapernick. He added, “On a personal note. For me, I would buy baseball and basketball cards when I was younger...I was frozen when I came across Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf just because of his name.” Seeing Muslim representation in the world and bringing those examples into the classroom really mean a lot to students.

Idil Abdulkadir spoke about how we, as educators, in order to be relevant and responsive, have to bear the load of learning. Speaking of student well-being, she noted that, “I do want us as educators to be mindful of the emotional burden that we are putting, sometimes, on students and being careful not single out Muslim students or expect them to do this kind of education...It is difficult to be the only or one of the only in your is difficult to be a is difficult to be Muslim in a time right now where there is a lot of Islamaphobia.” She added that, “Along with curriculum work, we need to focus on the wellness of Muslim students and tending to their wellnesss as whole learners and as children doing work that children from others communities don’t...For the kids that do, how are they feeling? How do they feel to do that work?” There are many more considerations that Idil mentioned for us regarding creating curriculum and developing lessons, but she urges us to consider the impact on students of colour and of distinct faiths that may be underrepresented and too often rely on the students, themselves, to be the educators and advocates, which can be difficult and draining work as well as challenge their well being. Idil noted that more people have to do the work, too.

I learn so much from each episode of OnEdMentors, and the panelists often leave an indelible new line of thinking or provide a lens onto which I see a different view of the topic. From this episode, I had the chance to immediately deepen my lesson for the following day. My Friday Photo on a famous picture turned into a lesson on Muslims, representation, world view, perspective, and on the difference between a hijab and a niqab. I was a better teacher because of this episode and the conversation on Twitter afterward (follow the thread).

I want to also thank Munazzah Shirwani for her support and critical questioning over the years and for helping me bring together this panel.

This show is about mentorship. I learn so much from each panel, and they usually learn from each other. I love that poeple listen and share the learning live on Twitter during the broadcast and then continue the conversation from those who listen to the archive. If you haven’t already heard it, here's this episode.