In Canada, Islam has not yet developed a truly national form of social and religious culture; it is rather a work-in-progress.
But where else, except in Canada, will you find North America’s oldest mosque — still standing, preserved as a national heritage site in Edmonton, Alberta?
Where else, except in Canada, will you find the world’s first mosque with a multi-function gymnasium? This modern facility is used for events such as basketball games and sports 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?
So who else, but Canadian Muslims, would originate the world’s first Islamic History Month? And they did!
All of these facts are Canadian realities, yet if questions about identity and self-definition still occupy a prominent place 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 –” and secondly, by the self-perceptions of its Muslim immigrants.
A Muslim in the U.S. is usually identified as a Black Muslim; in France, a North African; in Britain, an East Indian or Pakistani; and in Germany, a Turk. These designations reflect the predominant origin of Muslims in each of those countries. But that is not so in Canada, where Muslims have arrived from all over the world and from very diverse cultures. Here, in our unique and dynamically challenging environment, the Canadian Muslim is just that — a Canadian Muslim.
Whether they form a minority or majority segment of society, Muslims historically have been able to create localized 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 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.
Islamic heritage does not belong only to Canadian Muslims; it belongs to all Canadians. For more than 1,000 years, the contributors to Islamic civilization 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.
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 civilization 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 civilizations 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 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?