When Muhammad Mirza walks into a room, people look at him warily.
“They think I might have a bomb in my hat, or in my sleeve, or in my shoe,” said the Muslim leader, who recently visited Whitehorse.
“Because that’s all you know from the media, everybody thinks this is what Muslims do.”
Mirza’s elegant lamb’s-wool Jinnah, or hat, is the first thing that sparks suspicion.
Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan, said Mirza.
“And he used to wear a cap like this. It’s comfy and easy to carry.”
But Mirza didn’t come north to talk about headgear.
He and several compatriots were here to plan a conference that will bring people of various faiths together next year.
“If a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew can sit down regardless of their differences in Whitehorse, why can’t they do it in Israel?” he said.
Mirza is the leader of the religious Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of BC, a group that has been putting on multi-faith conferences in the province for the past 18 years.
“But this is our first time up here,” said Mirza, who also planned to visit Yellowknife.
“We came up here to meet people and let them know we are just like them,” he said.
“Regardless of our ethnicity, culture and religion, when a nuclear bomb is dropped, it is not going to see who you are.”
There’s a growing culture of fear around the world, he said.
“So we want to fight against that fear and provide hope.”
Through these conferences, Mirza also hopes to change the widespread perception that all Muslims are terrorists.
“Nowadays Muslims are on a very hard seat,” he said.
“It seems people only know about Islam as the religion that deals with terrorism or tries to kill everybody else besides them.
“And we, as the Ahme Muslim community, have this challenge in front of us to condemn that and let people know that Islam is nothing but a beautiful religion which is full of peace.”
All faiths have their dark times, said Mirza, citing the Crusades.
“And this is our time,” he said.
“And since we don’t blame any other faiths for those bad things, Islam should also be given the benefit of the doubt and should be looked at from a different perspective and, from our perspective, we’ll show you how beautiful it is.”
While in Whitehorse, Mirza met with various religious leaders, including the Catholic and Anglican bishops.
He also met with First Nations and with mayor Bev Buckway, who agreed to chair the upcoming conference, he said.
These inter-faith gatherings are usually four hours long, with representatives from many faiths talking about their religion and what it offers.
“We need to be getting along well and extending some respect and courtesy to each other,” said Mirza.
“If we educate each other and share our many faiths, we can avoid a third world war.
“Because there’s not much hope from the political side.”
An interfaith conference in Whitehorse will take place next fall, he said.
Anyone interested in participating should contact the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of BC at (604) 583-4669.