Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence
In December 2016, Soleiman Faqiri died in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail after being subdued by over 20 officers. Since then, both his family and members of the McMaster community have been waiting for answers surrounding the circumstances of his death and the punishments to follow.
Walid Abdulaziz, a student and member of McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, is one of those people. Abdulaziz, who has been involved with the case since early 2017, has been helping both Faqiri’s family and the Justice for Soli movement, a movement created to seek out answers concerning the circumstances of Faqiri’s death.
Faqiri was a mentally ill man placed in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail for a number of days who subsequently died under their care. He had been arrested about two weeks earlier on charges for aggravated assault and did not have a criminal record prior to this.
In the February 2018 report the Toronto Star obtained through a freedom of information access request, the Kawartha Lakes Police Services found that Faqiri had been pepper sprayed twice and held down by iron rods. As of now, Kawartha Lakes Police Service does not plan on charging any of the officers involved with the altercation.
Abdulaziz first heard of Faqiri’s case through a fellow member of MMPJ, who had learned about the case about a month after it occurred when it was mentioned by a speaker at a different university.
Faqiri was a mentally ill man placed in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail for a number of days who subsequently died under their care.
“Obviously [MMPJ is] a social justice group so we wanted to get involved with as much as we could. Our first idea was to make an informative video that made its way around the internet to get publicity for the case. A lot of members have kept close ties to the movement,” Abdulaziz said.
Abdulaziz and other members of MMPJ helped the Faqiri family while they tried to find answers to why he died. They finally received a report of the exact nature of the attack sometime in February 2018.
Since then, Abdulaziz has been working with the Justice for Soli movement and the Faqiri family to inform people about Faqiri’s case.
Our immediate goal is to get answers and report on what happened, but our bigger picture is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Justice for Soli executive
“Our immediate goal is to get answers and report on what happened, but our bigger picture is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Abdulaziz.
As a part of their education process, the Justice for Soli movement has been coming to different university campuses and giving talks to inform the public about Faqiri’s case. Yusuf Faqiri, Soleiman Faqiri’s brother, is a common guest speaker, who talks about his brother and the difficulties surrounding his death.
The Justice for Soli movement had scheduled an event on March 1, but due to the weather conditions and Mohawk College’s shutdown of all their buildings, they had to cancel their event which was set to take place in the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, a Mohawk building on the McMaster campus.
Nonetheless, Abdulaziz urges students to learn about the Justice for Soli movement.
“This kind of topic has so many intersections. There’s so many problems with the justice system that we have people with mental health concerns being mistreated by those in authority and other really grave injustices that affect a lot of people,” said Abdulaziz. “It’s not unrealistic to expect things to be better or just different,” he added.
The Justice for Soli movement plans on rescheduling their event on campus in the coming weeks.
Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide
The mental health crisis is growing at an alarming rate in Ontario. Despite the widespread prevalence of mental illnesses, especially amongst young adults, communities have been struggling to start dialogue and take action.
Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Everyone has mental health, but often times how we experience it and cope with our problems, is largely shaped by our cultural and religious context.
In the Muslim community, culture and religious expectations tend be heavily intertwined. Unfortunately, some of these expectations contribute to the stigma against addressing mental health and illness.
The McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, a social justice group inspired by the values of Islam, organized an event to create a safe space for students to listen to mental health advocates in the Muslim community, start discourse, and spark the end of stigmatization.
“A lot of [Muslim] organizations focus on external problems, such as Islamophobia or inclusiveness at work… but I feel like as a Muslim community, we don’t like to talk about ourselves. There’s [little] discussion about mental health,” explained Co-President of MMPJ Sahar Syed.
"I feel like as a Muslim community, we don't like to talk about ourselves. There's [little] discussion about mental health,"
McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice Co-President
The Arabic word may be short, but it carries enough weight to prevent individuals who are struggling with their mental health or suffering from mental illness from seeking guidance and help from their family, friends and community.
“I come from a South Asian background and I know a lot of people in my family who have gone through these issues,” explained Syed. “It tends to be hushed and no one wants to talk about it. When they want to seek help, it’s seen as something that is shameful.”
Sometimes families are incredibly supportive with helping their loved ones to cope with mental health problems, but then there’s also pressure to keep the dialogue within the family.
“There is a cultural belief that what happens within the family, stays within the family, what happens within you, stays within you. People have a hard time opening up… I think that it’s extremely dangerous to keep these things to yourself and not seek help,” explained co-president of MMPJ Youssef El-Feki.
These cultural expectations, alongside feelings of fear of failure, hindering ambition and looking weak, often lead to boxing Muslims into a lonely environment where their mental health needs are not supported.
There’s a misconception amongst Muslims that all mental health problems and illnesses are attributed to a lack of belief and patience with Allah.
When Mohamed Mohamed, a Mohawk college graduate, sought help from a religious clergy, he was told that he had weak faith.
“That scares an individual, especially when you are on the edge, when the only thing you are really holding on to is your religion and your faith… I think the last thing that I wanted to hear was that ‘you really have weak faith,” explained Mohamed.
“All of the sudden the only thing that is holding you together is gone… I think what I was waiting to hear was ‘you are really strong’. If you hold on to God, that can help you.”
Mohamed is now a motivational speaker focusing on overcoming the stigma and supporting others with mental health problems. He has advocated for the Canadian Mental Health Association as part of the Talking About Mental Illness speaker lineup and is now working on writing a book on his experiences.
At six years old, Mohamed immigrated to Canada to be raised by his single father. He had difficulty coping with being separated from his mother and the cultural and societal pressure to be a successful individual. He wasn’t aware of it at the time, but depression and anxiety started to take hold of his life.
“[When I was] 18 years old, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be doing anything with my life… [i]n 2010, I lost someone very dear to me to suicide, which opened up these floodgates of emotions and feelings and issues that I never knew existed,” explained Mohamed.
“[It] made me discover and understand the essence of mental health and depression and what I’m going through.”
Despite the stigma, Mohamed learned to cope with his depression and anxiety with the support of his father and by researching mental health. He didn’t have many places to turn to for support and realized that others in his community may feel the same way.
"[It] made me discover and understand the essence of mental health and depression and what I'm going through."
Mohamed started sharing his experiences of struggles and adversity on a platform he coined the MoeMoe3xperience in hopes of inspiring other people to start dialogue and find support.
Two years later, Mohamed found himself talking someone out of jumping off the bridge on Upper Wellington Street.
This experience sparked an epiphany. He wanted to start a movement.
Even though speaking about his experiences often left him feeling exposed and vulnerable, Mohamed was determined to make a change. He decided to support and empower youth and show them that it’s possible to cope with mental health issues.
Through his platform, Mohamed was able to start a conversation with his family and community. He’s held mental health talks at mosques and started dialogues at high schools.
There’s still much more work to be done in the Muslim community. Mohamed believes that the religious community can play an important role in overcoming the stigma by taking mental health more seriously and integrating solutions into religious practice.
MMPJ’s panel also included Huma Saeedi from the confidential phone counselling service Naseeha, and Yusuf Faqiri, the brother of Soleiman Faqiri, a man diagnosed schizophrenic whose death in an Ontario correctional facility sparked the Justice for Soli movement.
Like Mohamed, these advocates for mental health, organizations and social justice activists have taken it upon themselves to educate the Muslim community on mental health and create opportunities for support and healing.
“Overcoming stigma is not going to be a short term process… It goes back to the concept that you can’t change the condition of the people, if you won’t change yourself,” explained Syed.
“Every single one of us needs to [overcome stigma], seek help when we need it, and learn to recognize the signs. That way we can implement a long term solution to the current crisis in our community.”
Only if the Muslim community continues to challenge the stigma will it be able to fully foster positive mental health. It’s time that Islamic and cultural values are used to shape a supportive environment.
By: Saad Ejaz
Thousands of Canadians across the country have sought to show their support for the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, as the country struggled to understand how it became a setting for the tragic events on Jan. 29.
On Jan. 30, as the flags in front of the Burke Science Building flew at half mast, McMaster University students, bundled against the cold, stood in solidarity to mourn the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque shooting.
Dareen El-Sayed, the co-president of McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, says the tragic events were a shock.
“It was a lot closer to home – it was home,” said El-Sayed.
MMPJ’s event on Monday held a Maghreb prayer outside of Burk Science Building to take a stance to remember the victims of Sunday’s attack.
“The people who were killed were killed while they were in the mosque while they were going to pray… and our response to standing and taking that time to first of all stand in solidarity and secondly grieve and mourn...would be through prayer,” said El-Sayed.
A prayer was also held in the McMaster University Student Centre, where McMaster president Patrick Deane spoke in solidarity.
“The tragedy of the victims is fundamentally an incomprehensible reality… I don’t know how you get your mind around such things nor should one ever have to,” said Deane.
All week long, messages of hope and support for the stricken community have ranged from vigils, to open-podiums, to forming a “ring of peace” around local community mosques.
The attack took place amid protests around the world after the U.S president Donald Trump enacted a travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries.
“For a leader of a country to be saying these things – what kind of bar does that set for everyone else?” said Youssef Khaky the president of the McMaster Muslim Student Association.
El-Sayed cited the focus on crimes done by marginalized groups in comparison to others as a key issue.
“In each community there is the good and the bad. What is ironic is the fact that if an act may have come out of a marginalized community… the emphasis on the bad compared to other communities is much bigger… it is crazy how a crime can be labeled in two different ways based on the ethnicity of the person who committed it… contrary to being framed as a one person incident,” said El-Sayed.
Member of the McMaster Muslim Student Association, Anas Alwan, pointed to the current political dialogue for being a part of the climate fostering hostility towards Muslims.
“We need to recognize the need to identify that this is a problem that exists and need to look within our campus to find a solution that best fits the problem,” said Alwan, alluding to events earlier in the term when students on campus booked a Mills Memorial Library study room for a ‘Ku Klux Klan’ meeting and the neo-nazi posters on campus in November.
The events held by MMPJ have emphasized the prospect of being unapologetically Muslim. This means representing the Muslim identity regardless of what is going on around the world.
"It is crazy how a crime can be labeled in two different ways based on the ethnicity of the person who committed it..."
Co-president of McMaster Muslims for Justice and Peace
“When we hear about these attacks, what we stress is that these types of things will not scare us and these things will not make us shy away from portraying our Muslim identity to the world,” said Walid Abdulaziz the co-president of MMPJ.
Following the events in the past few weeks, McMaster has recognized its multicultural and inclusive community open to all students.
“We need to keep our eyes on what is at risk, and the importance of playing our parts to defend the values of inclusiveness and mutual support… the university will defend those values and every member of the community with everything at our disposal… that has to be said over and over again… I hope everyone regardless of how they are affected by the Quebec events or by what is going on will turn to the university for support,” said Deane.