Mergim Binakaj


“My name is Mergim Binakaj. It’s an Albanian name. Binakaj means ‘of twins’ so basically some ancestor of mine must have been a twin!”

Mergim Binakaj is an Edmonton-based human rights activist, proud mipster (Muslim/hipster, although he’d never admit it), and a medical student at the University of Alberta.

My first name is Mergim.

‘Mergim’, translates as ‘to be outside your homeland’. 

It was because my parents had escaped to Germany as refugees in 1993. My mother was pregnant with me and she had to sneak across the Czech border to family-friends waiting on the other side in Germany.

What does that mean to me? Oh man, I’m just really thankful that I have this name, because to me it just seems so oddly fitting with who I am becoming, and have become, thus far.

Because it’s a reminder of your roots.

Ultimately, you know, what is home? Where is home? Home is not only just a geographical space, but it’s also the symbols and the values that you were raised with. It’s something I don’t consciously think about, but you know, when I think about it now… it’s just beautiful.

What I like about my name is that I’ve grown to appreciate it. I hated it as a kid. You know…being called in attendance and it getting botched. ‘Mergim Binakaj’ is not an easy name to read in class, but now, it’s the first reminder to the person I’m engaging with, that ‘this person is not like other people’.

To me that always becomes an opportunity to bring up who I am, bring up my culture, bring up my faith. It’s a position of privilege, and I think to me actually, I treat it like a responsibility.

It’s come to a point now where it’s important for me to be overt with my Islam. There are folks who have a narrow perception of what other Muslims are like.


I think I have seen enough in my life to understand that health outcomes and social outcomes are so much more reflective of the world people are born into than the actual physical bodies that they have.

Fundamentally, that is just a truism that I have learned and fortunately have the tools to have talked about in my sociology classes. Now with empathy, it is just so much easier to be empathetic and empathic with people, because you’re just like, ‘This is a human who… this is a culmination of many adversities that this person has faced.’

How could you not be more empathetic to that human? When you individualize and depoliticize (which are terms one of my old professors would always mention),  when we individualize responsibility and depoliticize their outcomes, what we are saying is, ‘You’re a drug addict because you make bad decisions.’

We don’t say, ‘You had 8/10 adverse childhood experiences by the age of 18, you were both exposed to and received physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. One of your parents was incarcerated and the other had a mental illness and you never developed adequate coping mechanisms to deal with your adversities, so you, along with your peers, resorted to drug abuse as an escape to your harrowing life. That became so damaging that you spiralled into an addictive cycle.’

What sounds more empathy inducing, the former or the latter? I think a lot of, you know, empathy is something you’re not necessarily born with, it’s hard to know what you’re born with, but empathy is something you work on, empathy is something that you’re taught.

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