Opinion: Departing imam cherishes time spent in Kingston (Kingston Whig-Standard)

By: Sikander Hashmi

KINGSTON – For nearly four years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as the imam of the city’s Muslim community. This role has given me the pleasure of having numerous positive interactions with many of my fellow Kingstonians during events, in various waiting rooms and while running everyday errands.

Today is my last day as imam of the Islamic Society of Kingston. I am moving to Ottawa to pursue new opportunities for myself and my family.

The last four years have been fabulous. I came here in the August of 2010 as a rookie imam who had never imagined of being one. Kingston’s Muslim community welcomed me and my family with open arms.

As a visible minority, I have always wondered about acceptance when moving into a new city and neighbourhood. Clearly, there aren’t too many men in the city, if at all, that carry an appearance similar to mine — long robe, skullcap, bushy beard plus brown skin. I didn’t choose my skin colour, but the other aspects of my appearance are a personal choice.

I am grateful to be living in a country and a city where I’m not persecuted because to my faith or appearance. This freedom, among others that we enjoy, ought to be cherished and protected.

Although I may have been on the receiving end of a honk and some four-letter words, my overall experience in Kingston has been very positive. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone, including some members of my community. Yet, the majority of Kingstonians have proven to be kind and welcoming.

In my experience, the initial feeling caused by seeing someone who appears to be very different, especially for the first time, can vary from person to person. Some may experience fear, anger, or suspicion, while others may feel happy, depending on what thesight of the “other” leads one to think about. The assumptions that lead to such feelings could be right or wrong.

Overcoming the initial negative feelings and treating the “other” with kindness and respect, without being judgmental, requires theability to control ones emotions in favour of rational thought. This is easier said than done.

Some years ago, I was sitting on a university shuttle bus in Montreal when a young man with piercings and spiky green hair came on board. I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable for a few moments. When I noticed that he appeared to be friendly and that he was just talking about ordinary things with his acquaintance, I relaxed. Since then, I have really tried to “never judge a book by its cover.”

I don’t know what crosses most people’s minds when they see me, but for those who wrestled with negative emotions and gave me a chance, thank you. For those who may still be feeling negativity, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to reach out to you and prove you wrong.

Living in an increasingly diverse society, I firmly believe that we must promote positive interactions between the different faith and cultural communities that make up our society. The more we get to know each other, the better we will understand each other. Eventually, these positive interactions will strengthen our societies and help us all in living peacefully together.

I cherish the opportunities I had to interact with my fellow citizens outside of the Muslim community. I wish I had done more, but I’m confident that the positive connections that have been established between the Muslim community here and other faith, cultural and social groups, law enforcement, the military, the media and all our neighbours will continue. The seeds were planted long before my arrival and the branches will continue to strengthen after my departure.

As is the tradition in my faith, if I have hurt you in any way, I am sorry and I seek your forgiveness. Thank you.