Every week, in Davis’ Spigel Hall, the UTM Muslim Student Association hosts Communitea discussions, where taboo conversations are discussed among other important issues. While this event, which takes place after Friday prayers, is open to anyone wishing to attend, discussions are generally specific to the Muslim community, and are intended to be a unifying forum for the UTM Muslim community to actively engage in and provide their input on various issues.
Nadia Fakhry, UTM MSA’s vice-president and a third-year sociology and CCIT double major, says, “The overall concept was inspired by a Majlis-type setting, which means a council or a place of sitting wherein community members would gather to discuss current social issues. We decided to call it Communi/tea/ because—well it is a pun—and because we serve tea and coffee. It creates that atmosphere where everyone can relax and discuss the topic at hand.”
“That’s not to say that the discussions don’t get heated sometimes,” says Maryam Faisal, who is the MSA secretary and a third-year sociology and PWC double major.
Faisal is the individual who came up with the idea last semester. She wanted to remediate the issue of an apparent lack of forums available to talk about taboo topics in the Muslim community.
“We became increasingly aware that a lot of these topics were taboo and not being talked about, and just wanted to bring it to the forefront to find some practical solutions,” says Faisal. “Even for The Medium, I’ve covered topics related to mental health awareness and other events held by minority, marginalized, and racialized groups. Within my major, I’m extremely interested in the field of social work, and we wanted to incorporate that aspect into the MSA.”
“It was decided that our goal would be to try and unify Muslims at UTM. We wanted to create a sense of community on campus,” Faisal adds. “We wanted something for the whole community to engage in. It didn’t feel right to have an MSA where only 15 to 20 Muslims made all the decisions. Having input from the rest of our community both within and outside of UTM is essential for us. Communitea discussions became a way to tackle a lack of voice that we felt had become too normal on campus. We wanted to enhance that voice.”
Faisal adds that she wanted to endure this project since she applied for the position of MSA secretary, and was “excited to see it come to life as a biweekly open space for people to come out and express their concerns.”
Each week, the topic for that week’s Communitea discussions is decided in the previous meeting. A guiding question to help in this process is: “What occurs but isn’t talked about in the Muslim community?” Some topics that have fit this line of questioning and those that have been focused on in the past include gossiping, sexism within Muslim households, and relationships with parents.
“Our first topic was “What’s wrong with the MSA?” which was a way to generate interest for Communitea. People were talking about the questions. Everyone wanted to know what others were saying. It created a buzz, which is what we wanted,” says Faisal.
Out of the above topics, “Sexism in Muslim Households” has been the most eventful. Not only did this topic deal with a sensitive issue, but also because some of the discussions got a bit heated, as is sometimes the case at such discussions. This, however, illustrates how significant these discussions have been to provide an outlet to vent opinions about controversial topics.
Overall, the UTM MSA’s Communitea discussions have been greatly influential in giving a strong voice to the Muslim community on campus, and in showing how solidarity, especially today, is important if solutions to pressing problems are to be found. In fact, Fakhry states that a representative from UTSC’s MSA had gotten in touch to ask if they could replicate the idea (and use the same event name) at their own campus.
“This event is a whole team effort. Our prayer services coordinator sets up right after prayers are completed. Another team member brings refreshments, and someone else normally moderates. These discussions wouldn’t be successful without the response we get from everyone on campus,” Faisal says.
The next Communitea discussion will be held on February 3, where the forum will discuss mental health and/or domestic violence within the Muslim community.