Coffee & Islam Challenges Misconceptions from Canadian Cafes

Vancouver locals who want to know more about the faith can now do so over a cup of joe

Tariq Azeem, an Imam from Vancouver who volunteers with the Coffee & Islam campaign, is dedicated to educating the community about his faith. (Alyssa Laube)

British Columbians who have found themselves with unanswered questions about Islam can now pursue a greater understanding of the religion by having a personal conversation, and a hot drink, with a local Muslim.

As part of the Coffee & Islam campaign, Canadian Muslims are making themselves available to anybody with an inquisitive mind to sit down in a coffee shop and talk about their faith. Officially launched in November, people like Tariq Azeem, a Missionary Ahmadiyya Muslim living in Vancouver, have been hosting these meetings for over a year.

Azeem is a congregation leader for the Muslim community in this city, and like all of the volunteers with Coffee & Islam, everything he does, he does for free.

His work as an educator on Islam goes beyond the time he spends in coffee shops. Azeem says that he tries to bring his desire to explain what it means to be Muslim into his everyday life.

“Because there are so many misconceptions regarding our faith, partially due to media and partially because of the actions of some so-called Muslims, it is our goal to remove those misconceptions by sitting down with individuals, families, groups, and educating them regarding the real teaching of Islam,” says Azeem. “We feel this is necessary because, if people don’t find out about the actual faith, they start painting all people with the same brush. That is very dangerous not only for Muslims but for society in general.”

Some of the most common questions that he receives are about Jihad—a topic which he calls “very misunderstood”—or the status of women. Azeem has also noticed a great deal of confusion around the status of women in Islam, the details of whether or why Muslims actively speak out against extremists, and what Sharia Law is.

“My main message when I talk to them is that every religion teaches two basic things: love God and love his creations. This is a message that is common among all faiths and religions. This is what we need to adhere to,” says Azeem.

“[People] need to understand that the holy Quran in itself teaches peace. The holy Quran tells us that if you have killed one person, it is as if you have killed the entirety of humanity. This is Islam,” he continues. “The message of Islam is love for all, hatred for none. If we understand this message, then we would not be afraid of Islam or people who follow true Islam.”

According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes against Muslims rose by 60 per cent in 2015 compared to the previous year, peaking at 159 incidents nationwide. While they began decreasing in number last year, many Canadians still report experiencing extreme racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia being perpetrated by those who are not educated about Islam. With this campaign, Azeem and his peers are hoping to identify and correct misconceptions prevalent in the media, both to readers and news creators.

Vancouver has proven to be one of the most responsive communities to Coffee & Islam, according to Azeem. He notes that he “received very good media coverage when the campaign was launched,” and hopes to continue doing meaningful work in the community well into the future.

“People are willing to listen. When they learn about Islam, they realize that there is very little that they know themselves,” says Azeem. “Talk to a Muslim who practices his faith and you will be very comfortable. You will find out that there’s not much difference between people of different faiths. They all want the same thing for themselves, for their families, and for their cultures. They all want peace in their society and in the world.”

To get in touch with a representative from Coffee & Islam about organizing a meet-up, send a message through the campaign’s online contact form. Azeem encourages those who live in Metro Vancouver to get in touch with him directly at tariq.azeem@ahmadiyya.ca.

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