Canadian Muslim student Weeam Ben-Rejeb has been named as the recipient of this year’s Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (CCIQ) Memorial Award.
The award, established by McGill University in 2018 after Quebec mosque shooting, recognizes a McGill student who has demonstrated a particular commitment to fostering the inclusion of Muslims within Quebec and Canadian society.
Born and raised in Montreal, Ben-Rejeb spent her high school years in Ottawa before returning to her hometown to begin an Arts degree at McGill, where she experienced discrimination and harassment.
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“It makes me sad to say it, but I definitely felt a very big difference as soon as I moved back,” she told McGill Reporter.
“In my first year, I experienced the most overt Islamophobia in terms of comments in the streets or people screaming at me.”
Working towards an inclusive community, Ben-Rejeb has been an outspoken advocate against Quebec’s secularism law, known as Bill 21.
As lead coordinator with the McGill student-led Coalition Against Bill 21, Ben-Rejeb was instrumental in organizing a panel event in March 2022, inviting representatives of diverse communities – Muslim, Jewish and Sikh – to discuss the personal and professional implications of Bill 21.
“My main message has been to not only emphasize that the law harms Muslim women’s employment prospects, but also that it harms the sense of belonging of religious minorities in Quebec,” she says.
“I believe that we cannot foster Muslim inclusion without strongly advocating against the law, and challenging the dominant discourse which sees the hijab as a sign of oppression.”
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Leading efforts to counter the polarized political debate around Bill 21, Pasha Khan, Chair in Urdu Language and Culture and Associate Professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies praised Ben-Rejeb for her efforts, describing her success in winning the CCIQ Award as “truly a matter of pride”.
“Weeam worked tirelessly on the Loi 21 panel at McGill, which brought together a stellar group of speakers,” he said.
“She richly deserves this award, given all of her work against Islamophobia.”
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Islamophobic attacks across Canada have risen at alarming levels. The attacks have increased in frequency, many are targeting visibly Muslim women and girls.
Hate crimes targeting Muslims have significantly increased last year according to a report released by Statistics Canada in August 2022.
The report said police reported 3,360 hate crimes last year, an increase from 2,646 in 2020.
Ben-Rejeb’s efforts are not limited to countering Bill 21, volunteering at Discover Islam events run by McGill’s Muslim Students Association and bringing visibility to Muslims in the legal field through engagements with the Women of Colour Collective, Avocats sans frontières and the L.E.X. Outreach program.
“To me, the most important contribution I can have is to use my voice for positive change,” she says.
“This is what I hope to continue to do during my time at McGill, and beyond as a future lawyer.”
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