January 29, 2018

Strength in the darkest of times

My name, in Arabic, means companion. More specifically, it refers to the person who walks besides you in the night—a metaphorical reference to a friend who will be there with you in the darkest of times.

I’ve always been proud of my name, and thankful that my parents gave it to me. Even when I went by my surname and not my given name (in high school, college, my early adulthood), I still held my first name with appreciation. In recent years, I have reclaimed Sameer, moving away from using my last name—a name I also hold dear—as my primary moniker and doing my best, as I have since I was young, to live to the ideals of the name my parents gave me: I try, every day, to be that friend who will be with you in the darkest of times.

It often feels that these are dark times, now, for those of us with Arabic names; these are not easy times for those of us who are Muslim—no matter how we practice the religion—and who do not shy away from asserting our faith.

A year ago, six Muslims were murdered in a mosque in Quebec City, just as they were emerging from prayer. The event was shocking to me: I knew there was a palpable hatred of Islam in this country (I have many, regular experiences in my everyday life that remind me of that) but I never thought that this hatred could manifest itself in an attack in our most sacred of spaces.

The mosque is more than a place of prayer. The mosque is a place of refuge, of community connection, and of intergenerational and intercultural sharing. Prayer, especially in a mosque, is a communal practice that is centred on bringing good to the world, and not just the person engaged in prayer.

Everyday hate against Muslims can often be reduced to the actions of an ignorant individual; terrorism in a place of prayer says so much more—that there is a widespread, systemic hatred against Muslims in this country, and it is too often ignored when we laud ourselves for being diverse and multicultural.


I will always remember January 29, not just because innocent lives were lost because of hatred, but because it reminds me that, even here in a land of supposed tolerance and multiculturalism, people like me aren’t always welcome.

I am proud of my name, and especially proud of its Arabic roots and my Muslim heritage. We may be in dark times, we may not be always welcome, but through it all I will walk with my sisters and brothers in strength.