Where Else but in Canada?
This year, October 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress is launching Islamic
History Month Canada (IHMC). Dr Mohammed Elmasry gives a brief
overview of the status of Canadian Muslims in Canada.
Canadian Muslims praying at a mosque in Canada
Muslims in Canada have already made celebrated contributions to Canadian wealth, literature, art, medicine, architecture, science, business and engineering. Where else, for instance, except in Canada, will you find North America's oldest mosque still standing, preserved as a national heritage site in Edmonton, Alberta?
It is also in Canada that you will find the world's first mosque with a multi-function gymnasium. This modern facility is used, in the heart of Toronto, for events such as basketball games and sport tournaments, school graduations, fashion shows, or lectures but on Fridays it becomes a place of prayer.
Where else, except in Canada, will you find university classrooms which have just been used for lectures in mathematics and computer science, converted on Fridays into prayer halls?
Where else in the Western world, except in Canada, will you find the highest per capita number of Muslim Members of Parliament and Senators?
Where else, except in Canada, will you find so many mosques and churches sharing each other's parking lots?
And where else but in Canada will you hear the largest Protestant church in the country publicly declare that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do?
All of these facts are Canadian realities, yet if questions about identity and self-definition are on-going in the minds of our citizens, these issues pose an even greater challenge to Canada's Muslims.
While Muslims are a small minority here (under 3 % of the total population), they are still the largest non-Christian minority in the country, comprising a wide variety of immigrants from some 40 different national, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. And over 50 % of Canada's 750,000 Muslims (2007 figures) are Canadian-born.
Muslim identity in Canada has been influenced in two major ways: first, there is the country itself a nation with a comparatively young history (140 years in 2007), occupying a huge and ruggedly diverse land-mass with a challenging climate and secondly, by the self-perceptions of its Muslim immigrants.
Whether they form a minority or majority segment of society, Muslims historically have been able to create localised Islamic cultures suitable for their region of settlement. This has resulted over time in distinct Islamic societies that developed among Arabs, Africans, Persians, East Indians, Malays, Chinese, Russians and Turks.
On the Indian subcontinent, for example, Muslims form a minority of some 400 millions. That's a very large minority, yet a minority nonetheless. But it didn't stop Indian Muslims from building one of the world's greatest cultures, highlighted by such imposing architectural monuments as the world-famous Taj Mahal. And Muslim culture similarly imprinted its distinct character on other areas, like Spain and Eastern Europe.
Now it is Canada's turn to celebrate and add to the Islamic legacy. Islamic History Month Canada is a new and unprecedented initiative developed to respond proactively to the multicultural, multiethnic and multifaith nation that we have become.
Beginning in October 2007, it is hoped that all Canadians will share in this annual recognition of the nation's largest non-Christian faith group.
Al-Rashid Mosque, constructed in 1938, was Canada's first mosque. Originally located
at 101 Street and 108 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, it was moved a few blocks in 1946.
Today it is preserved at Fort Edmonton Park. (Top) And Al-Rashid Mosque at its new location. [13070 113th St. Edmonton, Alberta] (Bottom)
Islamic heritage does not belong only to Canadian Muslims; it belongs to all Canadians. For more than 1,000 years, the contributors to Islamic civilisation were of different ethnic backgrounds, including African, Asian and European. They were numerous men and women who were often adherents of different faiths; most would never even have known that they were helping to make history. Many of their names and accomplishments have faded with the passage of time, but their collective story has not been forgotten. Now there will be an annual opportunity, every October, to experience another chapter of the Islamic story, right here in Canada.
Islamic History Month Canada will also enhance our ties, both economically and culturally, with Muslim countries around the world.
In the words of IHMC's Honourary Chair, Senator Mobina Jaffer: “Canada's national cultural heritage is the sum total of the way Canadians from every background and every walk of life identify and express themselves. Islamic civilisation does not belong only to Muslim Canadians, but to all Canadians. In fact, for more than 1,000 years (about 600 AD through 1600 AD), Muslims made significant contributions to the well-being of humanity in numerous fields of endeavour. There are so many good stories to share and new learnings to experience; we intend to do all that, and more, during Islamic History Month Canada.”
Today, it would seem that the civilisations of East and West, or the Muslim and non-Muslim world, have become reversed. But perhaps it is more a case of having forgotten those former glories in the pursuit of present-day materialism and political agendas. A re-discovery and renewed appreciation of Muslim accomplishments as well as present day contributions would benefit all of humanity, allowing us to see and hopefully resolve present conflicts within the wider spectrum of human history.
Where else but in Canada?
The writer is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo and Chair of the Islamic History Month Canada and the Canadian Islamic Congress.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007