3 Things You Can Do to be Inclusive in the Wake of Islamophobia

Ritu Bhasin speaking with a Muslim woman


Over the past month, many of us have been struggling to make sense of several heartbreaking hate incidents on Muslim communities, including the attack of a family in my home country of Canada that killed four members of the Afzaal family.

These events have shaken us — not only those of us who do diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work for a living but everyone who cares about social justice and inclusion.

Once again, I have been asked repeatedly by clients and colleagues: What can I do to stand in solidarity with my Muslim friends, colleagues, and community and be supportive and inclusive in this difficult time? What can I do about the powerlessness I’m feeling?

I’ve been reflecting on these same questions and here are three things that I have found to be helpful:

1. Reach out to your Muslim friends and colleagues

I encourage you to reach out to your Muslim friends and colleagues at this time to signal that you’re thinking about them and that you care.

Speaking from personal experience as a member of the Sikh community, another religious group that consistently faces oppression and hate, I was devastated in 2012 following the killing of six of my fellow Sikhs at a gurdwara (our house of worship) in Wisconsin by a white supremacist. The love and support I received from people who reached out to me during that time greatly helped my healing.

One of the questions I was asked during my time of grieving that I found to be most helpful was simply, “What can I do to support you at this time?” And when I received emails and calls — even simple, short messages — it signaled to me that people felt compassion for what I was experiencing and it mattered to them that I was hurting.

I recognize that it can be difficult to have this type of conversation if you’ve never discussed your friend or colleague’s religious identity before, which underscores the importance of learning how to ask and share about differences, but if you do know that someone is Muslim, reaching out can signal to your friends and colleagues that they aren’t alone during this difficult moment.

2. Talk about Islamophobia

Immediately after the Islamophobic attack in London, Canada, when I was asked “How are you?”, rather than responding with the typical “I’m great”, I deliberately shared my truth — that it had been a really hard week, and that I was very upset by what’s been happening in the world with Islamophobia.

This candor enabled me to have authentic, meaningful conversations with others about my feelings, it gave me a chance to learn from others, and it helped me to feel empowered and hopeful in a time of darkness. By giving voice to your hurt, not only will you open the door to healing, but you also help to create the space for others to share their experiences.

But most importantly, by talking openly about hate incidents and Islamophobia on a whole, we bring attention to the need to interrupt. We push conversations that are needed. We cause people to pause to reflect on their behavior. And this directly links with my third point.

3. Use your voice and actions to disrupt Islamophobia

To interrupt Islamophobia, it’s vital to bring attention to and challenge anti-Muslim remarks, beliefs and behaviors that you observe. It may feel challenging to take action in this way, but you can be better prepared by leveraging scripting to prepare what you will say in advance.

Engaging in active allyship also means educating yourself about why Islamophobia is so prevalent, expanding your awareness of Muslim experiences and historic events that have impacted Muslims globally and committing to understanding and interrupting your own unconscious biases about Muslims.

In workplace DEI efforts, often times there’s less discussion about inequities that people experience when they come from religious minority groups. But in the wake of continued attacks on Muslims and other religious communities, we must make this a focus.

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Dr. Komal Bhasin

Dr. Komal Bhasin, MSW, MHSc, DocSocSci, is bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence and an accomplished DEI facilitator, coach and strategist. Komal has over 20 years of experience in providing strategic and advisory guidance and program development across a range of sectors, with a particular concentration in mental health and racial inclusion. Komal is also Founder of Insayva Inc., a social enterprise focused on providing accessible DEI and health equity support to charities and non-profit organizations.

Komal has extensive experience in creating and delivering programming in a range of DEI areas, including unconscious bias, cultural competence, mental health inclusion, psychological safety and allyship. She is passionate about driving transformational change in workplaces and has worked closely with bci clients — corporations, professional services firms, health care providers and educational institutions — to embed cultures of DEI within their organizations.

Komal has provided one-on-one inclusion coaching to hundreds of senior leaders and brings a unique approach that is informed by her background as a therapist. She is able to expertly handle sensitive conversations and situations and works with leaders to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advance racial/ethnocultural, gender and mental health-related equity across teams and organizations. Komal also offers a performance coaching program designed specifically for BIPOC leaders. This program aims to help BIPOC leaders harness their place, position and identity to thrive in the workplace and beyond. Komal is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

As bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Residence, Komal offers tremendous expertise around workplace mental health. As a doctoral trained mental health clinician, certified health executive and registered social worker, Komal has assisted organizations looking to advance employee mental health inclusion and well-being through offering programming on inclusive dialogue, anti-stigma, burnout prevention, psychological safety, resilience and self-care. Komal is committed to advancing mental health and wellness across the life course; she currently serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and previously served on the board of Children’s Mental Health Ontario and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

When Komal is not working, you’ll find her painting, cooking or snuggling with her cats.

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