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The opening ceremony of the Bilal Mosque

By: Sr. Tinuke Zainab Babalola

 

Since the early 1900’s when the first Muslims arrived in Manitoba, the Muslim community here has continued to grow. From holding prayers in jamah in someone’s basement (1966), to getting praying space at the Unitarian church (1967-1971), and finally getting it’s first masjid in Hazelwood (1975), our community has come a long way. In June, something new was added to this Legacy: the Winnipeg Islamic center (Masjid Bilal).

 

Masjid Bilal had its grand opening on the 22nd of June 2013, adding it to the list of numerous masjids and prayer centers/spaces present in the province. The grand opening was presided by key members of the community and well attended by the muslim community at large. We had speeches by Sh Ismael Mukhtar, Br Al-Haji Abdo Ibrahim El Tassi, and Br Kadar Ahmed among other well known speakers. Sh Osman Madad had specially made a trip to Winnipeg from Edmonton as the Keynote speaker. All the speakers echoed the sentiment that this type of Center was very much needed in this part of the city. They were very grateful for Masjid Bilal to have opened its doors and it is a blessing to have the Masjid and the month of Ramadan at the same time. “I used to live here across the street for 35 years, I wish if we could have opened Masjid Bilal at that time” Abdo El Tassi added.  After the event, all the attendees sat down for a well cooked dinner.

 

Vision of Indiginization

Dr. Idris Elbakri*

 

“Oh you who believe, be patient, persevere and remain steadfast and fear Allah that you may be successful” (Al-Imran 200).

The majority of Muslim families in our community are first generation immigrants. Overall, we are doing well. We have established a number of organizations, we continue to grow in number and a significant segment of our community is highly educated, skilled and relatively well off.

The relatively recent settlement of many of us means that we are emotionally strongly connected to our countries of origin, usually much more than we are connected to our adopted societies.  We are continuously gripped by events that unfold in historically Muslim countries. What goes on over there shakes many of us to our core. It causes us to mobilize, act and speak out. There are many recent examples. Local Ethiopian Muslims have organized, rallied and fundraised in support of the plight of Muslims in Ethiopia. Local Syrian Muslims have done the same for Syria. Before them there was Palestine, Kashmeer, Iraq and a long list that spans all corners of the globe.

We are part of a global Ummah and we must feel with the rest of the Ummah. That is part of being Muslim. That is an embodiment of the prophetic statement that the Muslims are like one body.

At the same time, we must look ourselves in the eye and ask the question: is Islam in this country an alien religion? Are we here as a mere transient presence?

The tragedy of September 11th  forced this question upon Muslims in the West. We had to reconsider much of our rhetoric and positions and come to a closer realization of our context and reality.

We must not turn our backs on the Ummah. We are part of a community of faith that spans all corners of the globe. Yet, there are responsibilities that we have, towards our families, children, community and our faith in Canada that only we can fulfill.

Right now, we seem to always carry global worries and causes and we remain passive locally. The future of Islam in Canada is simply not our priority. This is a mistake and it is fatal.

This disconnect manifests itself in many aspects. Here are a few simple examples just to illustrate the point: we tolerate sermons that are delivered in poor English (do our kids understand them?); our sermons are more likely to talk about political events overseas than social justice issues here (when was the last khutba about the issue of residential schools); our mosques are not very friendly to women and children; young leaders are sidelined in mosque administration; we do not know our neighbors well; we do not read the local paper (but will read the news outlets in the ‘home’ country); some of us who are parents may even instruct our children that they are ‘Palestinian’, ‘Pakistani’, ‘Somali’, etc… and not Canadian, although the home country for them only exist on the other line of the international call we make to our families every so often. We refer to non-Muslims as ‘Canadians’, forgetting that there are Canadian born Muslims and that many of us came here to become Canadian.

To have a “Vision of Indigenization” means that we understand our role as the predecessors (salaf) of future generations (khalaf) of Muslims in Canada.  These future generations must inherit from us the confidence, cultural tools and authentic understanding of the faith that enables them to positively synthesize being Muslim and Canadian. If they do, they will make Du’a for us. If not, we may become the subject of their curses.

This ‘Vision of Indigenization’ requires us to revise many aspects of our community life. We must think about where we put our financial resources: build another “protectionist” mosque where we can hide from everyone or setup world-class Da’wah institutes? We must revise the way our institutions are managed: are they still run with the “corner shop” mentality or are they professionalized and efficient and modern? Do we reject many aspects of Canadian culture just because it feels alien to us or do we embrace all the good that this culture offers (polite people, law and order, and turkey for Thanksgiving)?

The most important transformation we must undergo is an emotional and spiritual one. We require a paradigm shift to re-arrange our priorities and start to call and think of this place for what it is: home.

In this vision we see ourselves, and others start to see us, as an integral part of Canada. There is nothing “weird” about a young Canadian of Anglo-Saxon, Francophone or Aboriginal origin being Muslim. It is an acceptable social phenomenon.

Our tradition has much guidance to offer us. The Prophet focused in the Meccan period on Da’wah, building spirituality and on the universal moral principles that are common to all human beings. We have the example of Muslim refugees seeking asylum in Christian Abyssinia. In Medina, the Prophet prayed for the emigrant Companions to overcome their longing for Mecca and he embraced Medinese cultural norms. Many of the achievements of great scholars were accomplished at a time when Muslims were still a religious minority in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Persia.

 

We all talk about Da’wah and offer it a lot of lip service. Da’wah, and this ‘Vision of Indigenization’ are all about having a sense of belonging. The Prophets, as beautifully illustrated in Surat Al-A’raf, all came with the message of God’s Oneness alongside a social message: be fair in trade, be moral, do not oppress, etc.…The Prophets addressed the people with “Oh my people”. They belonged.

Belonging to a culture is so critical because it enables the members of that culture to offer a critique of that culture, without threatening it. If I make a joke criticizing Palestinians they are more likely to accept it and laugh at it because I am one of them. If someone from outside of the culture makes the same joke then it is offensive. Da’wah, in essence, is a culture critique. For Da’wah to be effective it must come from a heart that belongs.

If we indigenize our faith, it will, insha Allah thrive in this land and we can become the blessed salaf of future generations. If we don’t, then God says: “If you turn your backs, He will replace you with another people, and then they would not be like you!” (Muhammad 38).

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Masjid Bilal serves the Winnipeg community at large and specially around East Kildonan and surrounding areas. This center is to also serve as a replacement to the former one around the same area that could only accommodate approximately 70 people. This replacement was needed because of the exponential growth of the Muslim community in that area; especially with the increase in the amount of Muslim immigrants our province has been receiving. InshAllah, it aims to provide prayer services and other vital needs of the community. Some of the facilities present in the center are; class rooms, multipurpose gym, and prayer halls. Masjid Bilal intends to provide/Host:

 

  1. Space for the establishment of the five daily prayers and Friday prayers (Salaat-ul-Jumu’ah)
  2. A Small library
  3. Various Islamic classes and knowledge circles (Halaqaat-ul-‘elmeeyah)
  4. Youth Programs like summer camps and sport activities
  5. Islamic Lectures, workshops, seminars and Quran Classes.
  6. Counseling: Family, youth, Marriage/Divorce.
  7. Complete Funeral Services (Janaazah).
  8. Daily Iftar and Suhoor (in the Last ten nights) in Ramadan.
  9. Programs and activities like:
  • Helping the youth who are at risk of becoming involved in gang activities, by providing the right resources through education and positive community involvement
  • BBQ/Picnics and family fun day
  • Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha events.
  • Weekend Islamic School.
  • Tutor Program (Math, English, and Science) and after school programs and facilitating new immigrants Citizenship Classes
  • And many other activities and programs.

 

All members of the Muslim and non-Muslim community in Winnipeg are welcome at Masjid Bilal. You can reach us at our website www.BilalCentre.com and at our email address info@bilalcentre.com

My experience as President of Manitoba Islamic Association!

By: Ismael Mukhtar

 

In December 2011, I accepted a task I ruled out as a possibility for a long time; I became President of the oldest local Muslim organization, Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA)! Ironically, this time I accepted what I had consistently declined in the past when I was much younger, healthier and conditions in MIA were more favorable. Two things compelled me to accept the task. First, the relentless pressure from many members of the community and second the dire straits the MIA was in. Given my professional background in management and my lengthy volunteer involvement in MIA, I accepted, hoping to make a difference and bring back some normalcy and order. From the outset it was crystal clear to me that the task was daunting; MIA was facing it worst crisis in its history. The expectations from my executive team and me were high. Even the Winnipeg Free Press, for the first time took interest in MIA elections and published an article titled “Islamic association head vows to heal divisions”! It was clear to me that I was venturing into a difficult terrain, with all possible outcomes. Nevertheless, I made my istikharah (seeking guidance prayer) and took the task, fully prepared for all possibilities.

I was fortunate to be part of a team of an executive full of talents and expertise. We worked as a team, we collectively made decisions, we tackled many difficult issues,we agreed and disagreed as brothers and worked together consistently. When I accepted the task of President, I wasn’t sure if I made the right choice. However,, now looking back at the two years I spent in the MIA executive, I feel happy that I accepted the task. It isn’t up to me to judge how well the performance of our executive team was; I will leave that judgment to community members; however, I can certainly say, that by the grace of Allah, the MIA we left behind is far better than the MIA we took over in 2011. Working in MIA gave me an opportunity to work with an amazing group of volunteers, from across section of the community and see firsthand the generosity and the positive attitude of many members of the community. I believe there is a lot of good in our community; we need to tap into it and unravel it. Being a leader has it challenges and demands. Here are some of my reflections on being a leader:

 

Pleasing all:

Trying to please everyone is noble and great; but in reality it isn’t always attainable.  As the Arabic saying goes: pleasure of people is a goal unachievable. There are many situations where decisions have to be made; these decisions might be pleasing to many but not necessarily pleasing to all. This becomes even more difficult in a community where there is great diversity and diversions. A leader who doesn’t make a genuine attempt to find alternatives that please everyone, isn’t a good leader, on the same token a leader who hesitates to make the right decision for fear of angering some isn’t a good leader. It is a difficult act of balance that requires tact, courage and creative thinking. In the end no matter how careful and how thorough you are as a leader, the fact remains, you can’t please everyone, every time.

 

Global view:

When you are at the helm, everything funnels to you. You see the community with its various segments, issues, needs, prospects and limitations. This view might not be readily available for all. Many times provincial views conflicts with global views. Provincial views are stand-alone views, where a single issue or need becomes the central focus. Global view on the other hand looks at the bigger picture and sees provincial needs within a broader context. The challenge for a leader is to foster a global view and to show everyone that yes your project or your activity or your program is good, your issue is important, but remember that your project is one of many projects, your issue is one of many other issues and your view is one among other views. Many times big ideas, long-term strategic initiatives are undermined by provincial views. The difficulty facing a leader is to cultivate a broader understanding that encompasses all. An understanding that isn’t limited to immediate future, but distant future; not focused on quick fixes, but lasting solutions; not fixated on what is good for me, but what is good for us.

 

Violation of Quran and Sunnah:

Quran and Sunnah are the two primary sources of reference. No Muslim organization or individual should entertain the idea of acting in ways contrary to these sources. Mistakes are human, but intentional violation would be least expected from a Muslim. Occasionally, as a leader you are told that you are violating Quran and Sunnah because of not preventing certain things or making certain decisions. Sometimes these presumed violations are a by-product of failure to take into account certain important scholarly considerations. The Quranic or hadith text could be Qatee (absolute) or Zanee (subjective). If a text is Zanee it opens the window for a legitimate variety of scholarly interpretations and opinions. At the practical level, when it comes to application of textual ruling there are considerations of gradualism (tadaruj) and weighing harm and benefit (al-muazana bayna almaslaha wa almafsada). Failing to take into account all of these considerations and simply presenting one’s own view as an absolute, where non-adherence to it becomes tantamount to non-adherence to Quran and Sunnah is erroneous. Even though, occurrences of this nature are few; in a Muslim community a leader can’t escape the rantings/criticism of such short-sighted critics. Even Caliph Omar Ibn Abdulaziz had to face similar criticism from his young inexperienced son, Abdulmalik!

 

Patience, patience and patience:

If an ordinary person needs one dose of patience, a leader needs 100 doses of patience. The task of a good leader isn’t just maintaining the status quo, but effecting positive change and looking for better alternatives. People generally tend to resist change. A leader needs to give people time to absorb change incrementally and be patient with them and not be hasty or display signs of frustration. Further, a leader needs to be patient with people. People are different. Some are friendly, some are hostile; some are gentle, some are harsh; some are approachable, some are unapproachable; some are quiet, some are vocal etc. A leader meets all of these types of people and deals with them. The only way a leader can deal with this variety of human traits is through patience and openness. As well, a leader could sometimes be the object of personal attacks and false rumors. To deal with this and more, a leader needs a great deal of patience, fortitude and moral strength. The more sincere a leader is to the cause, the greater his patience and endurance will be.

 

Train future leaders:

MIA has grown significantly and functions in a complex world. To achieve its objectives, MIA needs competent leaders; leaders with vision, character and know-how. As such,  succession plan and training for future leaders becomes pivotal.  The days where you learn to lead on the job are gone. MIA leaders must have knowledge of the community’s history, understanding of the MIA constitutional and legal frame work, understanding of the basic Islamic values, personal integrity and proven record of running organizations. Young people should be groomed from now and be prepared to step in when their time to lead sets in.

 

Adequate staffing:

Elected MIA executives are volunteers who have other work, family and personal commitments. Given the expectations placed on them and given the growing complexity of MIA’s operations, they need adequate staffing support. Like many large organizations, MIA needs an executive director who can deal with day-to-day operational issues. This will not only minimize the stress on the executives, but it will free their time to focus on strategic initiatives, long-term growth and development and greater engagement with the larger society.

 

To those who were supportive of my team and me, thank you. To those who were critical, thank you as well. No leader can succeed without having both supporters and critics. I am optimistic that MIA is heading on the right course, I pray for the success of its current and future leaders. May our community with all of its facets and entities succeed and be a beacon of unity, compassion and cooperation.

The Winnipeg Central Mosque’s (WCM) historical journey: from the Ross Pakistani Association to a full fledged mosque!

By: Ismael Mukhtar

The first ever mosque in Manitoba was established in Winnipeg in 1976 on 247 Hazelwood. The mosque served as the only mosque for Muslims of Winnipeg for two decades. The location of the Hazelwood mosque was on the southern end of the city and was somewhat far away from downtown. Commuting to the Hazelwood mosque for Jumma and other prayers was challenging for downtowners. The Muslim Student Association at  the University of Winnipeg had a temporary prayer room that provided an alternative. This alternative, however, was only available during the school year; it was not available in the summer. Various efforts were made to find another alternative, such as approaching the International Center and similar institutions in the downtown area.

 

In the early 90’s a building owned by a Muslim business man became available on Ellice Avenue. It served as a permanent Jumma prayer location for about a year and ceased to be available afterwards. Around this time a small building was purchased by the Pakistani Association on Ross Avenue but remained empty most of the time. The President of the Pakistani Association at that time, Khalid Khan, agreed to make the place available for Jumma and regular prayers. The building was in dire need of repairs and renovations. However, it became a place permanently used for Jumma. As the attendance grew, the renovation of the building became of paramount importance.  A fundraising effort lead by Dr. Ahmed Al-Saghier – a Saudi medical student- was initiated. Within a short period of time, close to $30,000 was collected. The building was soundly rennovated. A committee, jointly appointed by Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) and the Pakistani Association was assigned the management of the place. The place became a source of attraction for downtowners. After few years, it was runing out of capacity and the neighbours were complaing of parking jams. Complaints were made to the City and the building was closed pending hearing. However, with the intervention of one of our community’s elders, Br. Abdu El-Tasee, the parking issue was resolved and it was reopened. The growth in attendance kept  on increasing; the need for a larger space was becoming clearly evident.

 

One of the regular attendees and khateebs of the Ross Pakistani Association Center was one of our community’s elders, Dr. Mujeeb Rahman. Seeing the need for a greater space, Dr. Mujeeb, along with some others, took the initiative of searching for a larger building  downtown. After some search a building previously used by a restaurant was available for sale. An offer was made and was accepted; the building was purchased. Buying it was not easy. There were a number of objections. Some of the objections focused around the fact that the Waverely Mosque was under construction and  another undertaking in downtown will would negatively  impact the fundraising efforts to complete the Waverely project. Other objections included the fact that the project wasn’t under the auspices of MIA Executive. Despite all the objections and lack of full fledged support, Dr. Rahman was fully determined to see the project to its end.

When I first saw the building after purchase, I was shocked how much in bad shape the interior of the building was. Further, I felt the place was far too big. I was even wondering if the right choise was made in acquiring this building. It took months of cleaning, scrapping, rennovation, and hard work to make the place usable. Weekend after weekend, the family of Dr.Rahman, Br. Farhad Sultanpour and his wife Sr. Glenda Lagadi and many other volunteers worked relentlessly to meet their target opening date of 1st Jumma in Ramadan.

 

By the grace of Allah the place was opened as planned in the first Jummah of Ramadan 2004.  Having seen how in bad shape the building was when it was purchased and how beatiful it looked when it officially opened, my sense of appreciatiion for Dr.Rahman’s family and all the volunteers was huge. I was honoured to lead the 1st Jummah at WCM. The place was half full. Over the years the attendance kept on growing, to the extent of running over capacity within a few years.

The WCM has served the whole community and particularly the downtowners very well. New immigrants, who mostly settle downtown, find a covenient mosque at a walking distance. Similarly, people who work in downtown have found it a very covenient place to come for Jummah. The WCM  has provided an avenue for newcomers to be connected to their new Muslim community and maintain their Islamic values and identity.

The WCM’s success stems, among others, from the fact that it was not a splinter project. It was a project created with the purpose of meeting a need of the community. The WCM  became an open place for all members of the community and has been effectively utilized for all sorts of activities and events. Even though, the WCM, was not formally under MIA governonship structure, it adopted a policy of cooperation and working together with MIA and all other local institutions; thus enhancing the community’s unity and capacity.

Having WCM was a great blessing from Allah. It wouldn’t have come true if it was not for Allah’s will first and next to the vision, the will, the determination and hard work of our esteemed elder Dr. Mujeeb Rahman. May Allah bless him, his family and all those who made great contributions to our community.

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Community Photos

Community Picnic 2011

Camp Awakening 2011

MIA Meeting June 06, 2010


Honoring Oby 2011


CMI 2011

CCIC Dinner 2011

Islam Alive 2010-2011

MSA Conference 2010

Eid  Dinner 2010


Senior Bowling Night 2010

Wednesday Quran Class 2010

Federal Election 2010 Debate

Abyssinian study group conference 2010


Eid Carnival 2010

MSA prayer room opening 2009

Muslim kids attending Bombers game in Winnipeg 2008



 

Silver Tongued Diplomacy

By: Dr. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman *

Abu Hurairah quoted the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying: A charity is due for every joint in each person on everyday the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.

(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

 

The power of words is undeniable but, silver tongued individuals are not simply effective because of their words, but rather their actions. We as human beings communicate both verbally and non-verbally. In the above hadith, we see that the Prophet’s description of charity involves both the verbal and non-verbal aspects of behavior. However, to suggest that such kind behavior be a charity may appear to some as a mere metaphor, a generous interpretation of kindness. In truth, such kind behaviors, good words, or kind actions are in fact significant contributors to changing the world around us. The primary reason for this is simply that good behavior encourages good behavior and discourages bad behavior. The science of behavior modification is based on these principles.

Experts in the area of political science, such as Douglas Noll, suggest world peace can become a function of good diplomacy. Diplomacy is defined by Wikipedia as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states.” An artistic individual may appear to have a skill that appears to flow naturally as a “gift”. A skill, however, is something that is derived from practice, as is the concept of patience, tolerance, and general good judgment in dealing with heated topics. Now imagine the power of such diplomatic behavior, if they are not simply a part of our jobs or actions, but rather a part of our personality.

Abu Darda (radi Allahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Nothing will be heavier on the Day of Resurrection in the scale of the believer than good manners. Allah hates one who utters foul or coarse language.” (Tirmidhi)

Knowing what we know about the science of behavior (good encouraging good, and bad encouraging bad), we can understand the above hadith better. If poor manners espouse poor manners, it makes sense that they should be despised. Not only for their own nature, but because they promote similar behaviors in others. Islam suggests that we, as Muslims, embody more positive qualities of good etiquette in our every day persona by way of daily practice of small acts of kindness. An Islamic personality should embody qualities of diplomacy. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be with him) was known for such characteristics even before he became the Prophet, and was referred to as Al-Amin (trustworthy) and Al-Sidiq (truthful). He checked on a neighbor who threw garbage at his doorstop, was patient with the impatient and brash, and fair in his dealings with everyone, Muslim or not. Many non-Muslim scholars attribute the success of the spread of Islam to the Prophet Mohammed’s diplomatic skills.  The Prophet not only acted this way himself (as a ruler of a nation) but encouraged all of us to follow suit in this behavior. Being diplomatic with others (even the most angry) will likely result in others being diplomatic with you.

The late comedian, George Burns, commented on sincerity – stating that “if you can fake that, you’ve got it made”. The suggestion that once again, diplomatic skills, skillfully applied and well practiced generally lead to increased charm, and thereby increased success in our interactions with others. Sincerity is an awfully difficult trait to fake, and if faked can often appear disingenuous. So then how do we implement change by merely practicing diplomacy rather than embodying it the way the Prophet did. The answer is twofold; we must understand the implications of prescribed behaviors, and we must practice them, regularly and religiously. Salat in congregation for example, highly rewarded, encourages a social interaction. A kind word as charity, suggests not only charity, but would result in more positive reactions toward ourselves. These are only a few examples of prescriptive practices that have greater societal and individual impact on improving the frequency and quality of our interactions with others. However this understanding is nothing without practice. Practice, interestingly enough, is more important that the fuller understanding. Even if we don’t have a full understanding of the importance and impact of these behaviors, engaging in them, eventually results in a positive experience which leads to a greater understanding of the reasons for them. This regular practice, and an increased mindfulness (which can occur either before and/or after the practice of the behaviors) eventually integrate diplomacy and good manners into our personality.  Personality is not an easy thing to fake – hence it is in many ways the sincerest part of who we are. Becoming silver tongued is not something that occurs by nature, but rather by mindful and regular practice.

 

* Dr. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman is a psychologist and former member of MIA Takaful Fund.

 

Dr. Riaz Usmani

The late Dr. Riaz Usmani, a pioneer Muslim Winnipeger

 

By: Ismael Mukhtar

As I was listening to the speeches, reports, and presentations that were made at the New Center fund raising dinner held on Feb 24, 2001, my memory went back to the initial days of the New Center project and the formation of the land committee by the MIA General Body. The mandate of the committee was to purchase a piece of land as a site of the future New Islamic Center. I was fortunate to be a member of this committee along with others like Br. Pervez Siddiqui, Br. Gulam Kibrea, Dr. Mujeeb Al-Rahman, Br. Irshad Farooqi, Dr. Abdulnaser Batuoq, and the late Dr. Riaz Usmani who was the most senior in the community amongst all of us.

 

As the fund raising evening continued, the memories of the initial days of the project and in particular Dr. Usmani’s images kept on flashing through my mind. This prompted me to write this article to share some of my memories of Dr. Usmani and to introduce him to the new members of our community and to our younger generation.

 

When I first arrived in Winnipeg I saw Dr. Usmani for the first time at the Hazelwood Masjid on Sunday Zuhr prayer, sitting on his wheel chair in the front row. Since then, I saw him every time I came to the Masjid, but I always saw him from a distance. He would be sitting very quietly in his wheel chair almost always on the same spot, greeting people with a smile and friendly face. Once during Ramadan, I listened to his speech about fasting in a seminar arranged at the Masjid. He spoke about the rules of fasting in a soft, gentle voice, occasionally smiling, and went on to share his memories of Ramadan when he first came to Winnipeg. He said in those days, there were hardly any Muslims and he had to fast and pray by himself. He went on to tell us how things changed later when more foreign students started coming to the University of Manitoba. In particular, he spoke of one brother whom he said was instrumental in organizing Jumma’ prayer and other activities. He humbly said as much as he admired that brother, he equally blamed himself for not taking the initiative before.

 

Later on, I came to know this man closely when I became a member of the land committee. I had a chance to work with Dr. Usmani not only in the land committee, but also in the steering committees during MIA General Body meetings. As I came to know Dr. Usmani, I developed a great sense of respect, admiration, affection towards him. I found him to be very friendly, gentle, quiet, respectful, peaceful, and humble man. His face was full of Haya’, smile, and brightness. We met regularly at his home on Victor Lewis Drive. He was the Land committee Treasurer. In meetings he was mostly quiet. He hated arguments, confrontations, raising voice, and too much talk. He listened carefully to every detail of our discussions and arguments, making comments some times and asking questions at other times. Seeing the new center in place was his dream. He was extremely happy to see the land being purchased and to issue the cheque for the purchase of the land.

 

Dr. Usmani was visible in all community events. He was keen in attending and participating in every community gathering and function  (seminars, conferences, dinners, picnics, general body meeting e.t.c.) despite his health limitations. His advice was to be always close to the Masjid, and not to boycott the Masjid, no matter how upset or angry you are. He hosted in his house the Urdu Tafseer Halaqa organized by our respected brother, Ayub Hamid. In early days he used to teach in the weekend Islamic School and was involved in building of our present Hazelwood Masjid and was a trustee in charge of collecting funds.

 

Dr. Usmani had a very successful career. He received his Masters degree from Aligarh Muslim University, India, and Ph.D. in Numerical Analysis from the University of British Columbia. He arrived in Winnipeg in June 1967, as a member of Computer Science faculty at the University of Manitoba. He later transferred to the Applied Math’s Department U of M. He was well known around the world in his field of research. He produced over 80 papers in his related field and was the author of three books.

 

Dr. Usmani was confined to a wheel chair in 1968 after having had a surgery of the spine to remove a TB tumor. He spent a year in the Rehabilitation Hospital. Although he was physically disabled, his spirit remained high and he was active up until his last days of life. In 1995 Dr. Usmani went to visit his homeland, India, with his respected wife Sr. Denise. Suffering from kidney failure, he became increasingly ill; and passed away in India at the age of 61. He was buried in the village of his birth, Pataunja, U.P. He left behind three children from his first marriage, a daughter (Anjum), a son (Naiyer) and a second son (Qaiser), plus his two wives, his mother, four brothers and two sisters.

 

Once he was interviewed by Sr. Sadia Warsi for the MSA newsletter (Vol. 2. No. 6 October 1990) and she asked him: What things do you enjoy doing when you have time off your busy schedule? He replied “Reading (history, literature, biography) keeping up with world news (via TV), and visiting friends and relatives whenever possible”. His respected wife Sr. Denise, describes him in the following words “I met him when he was recovering from surgery and at that time I was searching for Muslims after I had glanced through Quran. Seeing how much love he had for Islam even after what he went through and the visible strength of faith he possessed, made me feel that this was what I was searching for. We were married four years after I did Shahadda and I remained with him until the day of his death. I miss him and pray for him, he was a inspiration to all ages”. Our respected brother, Dr. Mirghani Sheikheldin describes him in following words “he was a giant man. I have never seen him with a gloomy face, he was always smiling and high spirited”

 

Given his great qualities, Dr.Usmani was a highly respected and regarded man; he was truly a father of our community. He was a man whom we loved, respected, revered, and looked towards for direction during difficult times. His contributions to the community are many; the New Center* once it is built will be one of them.

 

Remembering good people after their death, making prayer for them, and recognizing their good work is the least that we should do for them. May Allah bless one of the fathers of our community, Dr. Usmani and shower him with His Mercy.

 

Published in Manitoba Muslim May 2001

*The New Centre was completed and officially opened on January 2007.

 

Obituary

The late Dr. Mirghani Sheikelddin, a great brother and a generous friend

By: Ismael Mukhtar

I met Br. Mirghani for the first time in our Masjid at St.Vital on a Sunday evening, where he used to regularly attend a weekly Islamic study circle conducted by Br. Waleed, a PHD student at University of Manitoba. When I first met him and introduced my self to him, he received me with a friendly smile and with his typically warm welcome. We became friends from day one and our brotherly and friendly relationship continued to grow through out the years.

 

Br. Mirghani was a very active member of our community. He was always available to serve, to help and assist in the work of the community. His involvement was widespread and far-reaching. He volunteered in the weekend school, in the library committee, the camps, the MSA; he was elected as MIA trustee, MIA Vice President, MIA president and many others. He rarely missed any community gathering or event. He played an important role as a mediator and conciliator in many disputes and disagreements. His message was always the message of compromise, forgiveness, understanding and working together.

 

Even when he became ill, the community and the affairs of the community were always in his mind. Every time I visited him he asked about the community; the advice he offered to all of his visitors was consistent: reach out to every body, be united, open and clean your hearts and sort differences and disagreements by way of dialogue and discussion.

 

Br. Mirghani was ill and suffered physically for many years, but despite all his physical ailments his spirit and his faith in Allah remained high. Once I went with a group of brothers to visit him after he had a major health set back, and despite his serious illness, he surprised all of us by his smile and cheerfulness. He was praising and thanking Allah (SWT) and telling us how fortunate he was for having the kind of medical attention and care he was receiving, which he said many people in other parts of the world can’t easily afford.

 

There were times when I had disagreement with Br. Mirghani on certain community issues. Being a man of principle, he stood for what he believed was right and disagreed with me cordially and respectfully without compromising our brotherhood or our friendship. At times of disagreement he has proven to be a man of character and high moral standard. He was a man who made a clear distinction between differences of opinions and judgments and brother hood and sisterhood. He proved that it is possible to disagree but still remain close friends and brothers.

 

For many years Br. Mirghani and his family was the only visible Sudanese in our community. However, he never felt he was a foreigner among his brothers and sisters. He intermingled and made close friendship with all people from different regions of the world and gained their love and respect. He was above nationalism and ethnicity and truly believed in the universality of Islamic brotherhood.

 

Br. Mirghani’s contributions to this community are many and he will be remembered as a pioneer, a leader and a great brother.  May Allah bless him and shower him with his mercy and may Allah save and protect his family.

(Published MB Muslim news letter Aug 2002)

 

 

Laughter

Laughter is cool, and it’s healthy too!

By: Dr. Asim Ashique*

In the hussle and bussle of our 21st century world, an increasing number of us are reporting elevated stress levels. Studies show a consistent trend in increased workplace stress. Marriages are pushed to the limit as we put our time management skills to the test. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to juggle all of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, this build up of stress has very real effects on our health. Studies show that heightened stress levels cause a proportionate increase in sickness and disease, although much of it can take years to be expressed on the symptom level.

 

We know that many different systems are negatively affected by stress: Cardiovascular (high blood pressure, heart disease), digestive, (ulcers), musculoskeletal (back pain and headaches), nervous system (sleeplessness), hormonal (cortisol – stress hormone response) and mental (anxiety & depression). In fact, a recent study estimated that 90% of all visits to health practitioners of any kind are directly or indirectly related to stress. So what to do about this?

 

One of the simplest remedies is laughter! Did you know that the average preschooler laughs 300 times per day? Adults? Only 17 times per day! What happened to us?

Laughter is therapeutic. A recent medical study involving children found laughter helped childrens’ recovery from illness. They found the healing power of humor could reduce pain and stimulate immune function in children with cancer, AIDS or diabetes and in children receiving organ transplants and bone marrow treatments. Other research carried out in the US suggests that laughing and having a good sense of humor can protect older adults against heart disease.

Two recent studies documented improved immune function for many hours after watching a humorous movie. One of them found T cell levels to remain elevated for up to 12 hours after laughing. In fact, there is evidence that laughter stimulates production of Natural Killer Cells (which fight cancer), B cells (natural antibiotics), and endorphins (natural painkillers). Laughter lifts depression and anxiety.

Laughter adds years to your life and life to your years! Happiness is a choice. You can view yourself as a victim when faced with adversity or you can take control of your life and steer it in the direction you want it to go. Remember that you can’t control 100% percent of your environment, but you CAN control how you react to the world around you. Empowered people make smart choices, then they get to work and make the most of what life gives them. The reality is that most of us are blessed just by virtue of living in a great country like Canada. In the grand scheme of things, even when things look bad, they’re usually not that bad.

Make a commitment to laugh more. Avoid the resentful person in your workplace. Seek out optimistic people. Consciously spend more time laughing with your family. Give yourself permission to laugh at silly things. Watch funny movies. With such busy schedules it’s easy to loose perspective – why not take joy from the simple things in life? Next time someone asks you how you’re feeling, instead of murmuring “I’m surviving”; try smiling, lift both hands in the air and say, “I’m thriving!” Take charge of your health, your life and make a conscious decision to be happy. You’ll be glad you did!  ☺

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* Dr. Ashique is a chiropractor practicing in Winnipeg. He is Winnipeg’s only chiropractic orthopedics specialist. With 16 years of post-secondary training is he one of the most highly trained chiropractors in the world. He can be contacted at dr.asim@mts.net

(2005 archieves)

Manitoba Islamic Association, a historic critical overview

By Ismael Mukhtar.

On the 27th of November 1969, the small Muslim community in Manitoba took a bold step of formally incorporating the first Muslim organization in the history of Manitoba. The new organization was named Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA). As early as the mid- sixties, the newly emerging Muslim community had been taking baby steps towards organizing itself and creating a formal structure. A constitution was ratified and the first President for the MIA, Br. Khalil Baksh, was elected in 1967 for a one-year term. The formal incorporation of MIA came as a necessary step towards the establishment of an officially recognized Muslim presence in Manitoba. The Muslim community at that time was made up of a small number of families; it had no mosque, no place of gathering or any institution of any sort. The founders of MIA set in motion an ambitious vision articulated in the MIA constitution preamble. Stated in the preamble is: “WE, THE MUSLIMS OF MANITOBA, HEREBY JOIN TOGETHER TO FORM AN ASSOCIATION HEADQUARTERED IN THE CITY OF WINNIPEG TO BE CALLED THE “MANITOBA ISLAMIC ASSOCIATION” WHOSE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE IS TO CREATE, NOURISH, AND MAINTAIN A TRULY ISLAMIC COMMUNITY IN MANITOBA FOR THE MUSLIMS”.

 

Guided by this vision, the small Muslim community under its newly established organization, started pulling its meager resources and diligently working towards the fulfillment of its long cherished dream: the establishment of the first ever mosque in Manitoba. Years of hard work and a generous partial contribution from the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia bore fruit and the mosque was completed and officially opened in August 1975 on 247 Hazelwood Avenue. The establishment of the mosque was a historical moment that gave Manitoban Muslims a place they can call their own and a great sense of accomplishment.

 

When MIA was established it had virtually no tangible assets, today it has grown to be a large organization that directly owns two mosques, provides a multitude of services and generates thousands in revenue. MIA has been at the core of the history of Muslims in Manitoba. No Muslim history in this province can be written without referencing MIA and its long lasting legacy. For decades MIA has served as a platform for Muslims from a cross section coming to work together under one umbrella for the common good and the greater benefit. It provided a training ground for many volunteers and prepared them for taking greater roles locally or nationally. Many other local institutions emerged and flourished from within the MIA’s platform. Further, MIA remained open to all Muslims; not only to be members but to also to be elected to positions of leadership.

 

Despite many challenges, MIA has come a long way. Even in today’s multi-Muslim organization era, MIA still remains among the few bodies that have a broader mandate, open structure and an elected official leadership. MIA, like any other organization has seen its share of challenges and difficulties. Even though many of these challenges are common across organizations, MIA’s challenges haven’t yet been systematically identified and objectively analyzed.  For the purpose of this article, the following four challenges will be discussed and analyzed in the following paragraphs. These four by no means are the only challenges, but they are certainly among the major ones.

 

Challenges:

 

1- Managing conflict: Like any organization MIA had its share of internal conflicts and frictions. Many of these conflicts have a common underlying theme; they appear to be cyclical in nature and keep on recurring. One of these recurring sources of conflict in the history of MIA has been the election process. The bi-annual election process has been in many cases antagonistic, adversarial and polarizing in nature. During elections, competing groups emerge and engage in campaigns that lead to unhealthy rifts. This results in disenfranchisement, apathy and constant loss of active members. Further, as noted by the late Br. M. Inayatullah (MIA President 1968- 1969), this adversarial process has discouraged many talented and competent individuals from taking active leadership roles in MIA. Surely, MIA should remain an open organization and its leadership should be elected; however, the current electoral process has to be revamped to ensure minimal group politics, smooth transition of power and the election of people with proven competence and proficiency.

 

The worst and most dreadful conflict ever to happen in the history of MIA was the conflict that took place in the early 90s between the former official Imam of MIA and the MIA executives. This conflict caused a kind of polarization never seen before; it led to the first major split in the community, created unprecedented havoc and seriously hampered the progress of the community. That conflict, fortunately, is now history; however, the systemic causes that led to that conflict are still existent and a similar conflict could erupt at any time in the future. No serious attempt has been done, so far, to objectively analyze and understand what led to that conflict and take measures to avoid the recurrence of such a conflict. MIA had three full time paid Imams in its history. The first Imam left voluntarily after mounting tension between him and the executives; the second was abruptly dismissed. Imams and executives represent the core of the highest body of decision making in MIA. Accordingly, it is essential that they function as a team in a comfortable, cordial environment where the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, the reporting structures are clear-cut and their accountability process is less arbitrary.

 

2- Staying relevant: When MIA was created the community was small, its needs were limited and was relatively homogeneous. Accordingly, a simple structure with a simple governing model was suitable and sufficient at that time. Over the years, however, the community has increased not only in number, but diversity, needs, issues and problems. MIA itself has expanded in terms of the assets it owns and manages. However, the same governing structure and the same working framework created 40 years ago is the order of the day. The MIA constitution, for example, has not been updated to reflect the current complex and diversified structure of the community. The constitution, as it exists today, lacks many organizational safeguards, essential checks and balances and clear definitions. Further, the elected officials of MIA still function within the same old management framework suitable for a small emerging organization. Most MIA executives have been pre-occupied with minute administrative and maintenance issues of the mosque such as: cleaning, record keeping, logistics, organizing recurring events (Eid, Ramadan), making announcements etc. Elected officials of an organization as big as MIA should not be bogged down by these administrative issues. In large organizations, these tasks are handled by paid staff or volunteer subcommittees. Hence, the MIA constitution needs to be reviewed by a competent body of experts and its elected leaders need to have a change of focus. The primary focus of MIA leadership should be on strategic initiatives, futuristic planning, fostering a common renewed vision and a pro-active tackling of the critical social, economic, educational and settlement challenges facing the community at large. It is a travesty that MIA despite its long history has only one part time administrative staff and a primitive management structure.

 

Another area where a significant change has taken place in the local Mulsim community is the emergence of multi Muslim organizations. The days were MIA was the sole Muslim organization in Manitoba is gone. True, MIA still remains the largest, the broadest in mandate and the most open to all. However, the existence of many other organizations providing vital services to the community is a reality that can’t be overlooked. Accordingly, MIA needs to formulate a new strategy of working within this multi-organizational environment. MIA should embrace the change rather than resist it. MIA should actively work towards fostering a cooperative relations with these organizations; lending hands of support, exchanging expertise, building alliances and readily sharing workload. The emergence of these organizations is a natural phenomenon that occurs in any growing community. Their appearance will not undercut MIA, it would rather strengthen MIA by freeing its resources to take a lead on more critical areas and venture into new realms. This would certainly help MIA in maintaining and strengthening it leadership role in the province. Resisting the inevitable change rather than riding it, thinking small and failing to seize the opportunity is a recipe for stagnation and ultimate demise.

3- Being inclusive: The participation of 1st generation Muslims at the leadership level of MIA is undoubtedly very weak. This was understandable in the 70s and 80s. But now after forty years, MIA should have had a significant portion of its leadership coming from the ranks of the 1st generation who have grown up in Manitoba and developed within the community’s framework. Similarly, women’s participation at the highest level of decision making in MIA seems to be non-existent. Over the last forty years only one woman was elected to a position in the MIA executive. Manitoban Muslim women are well educated, many of them play leading roles within their own professions or other organizations. They have been active as volunteers at the grass root level of every MIA event; however, their presence at a higher level is still weak.

 

Further, given the reality that we are a predominantly immigrant community, MIA needs to find a happy medium of preserving its collective memory and legacy established over the last 40 years while seamlessly incorporating newcomers into its body. There is a clear disconnect within MIA between those who founded MIA and acted as volunteers during the early years and most of the current leadership. It is essential that this link is re-established. Many of the ex-MIA officials and volunteers are on the margin and rarely part of any process of consultation on MIA affairs. The new ones not having that historical perspective keep on venturing into areas already ventured before and run the risk of re-inventing the wheel and starting from square one. A mechanism of preserving the old history, tapping into past experiences of MIA veterans and bringing newcomers into the system in a seamless progression is very critical for future viability of MIA.

4- Being true to its name: MIA is “Islamic” and “Manitoban”. Being Islamic, MIA needs to fully uphold the authentic teaching of Islam based on Quran, sunnah and authentic scholarly tradition. Further, the core Islamic concepts and values should permeate through the whole body of MIA functions and relationships. Moreover, MIA has a duty to carry the universal message of Islam to the surrounding larger community. The challenge here is to differentiate between culture based understanding and genuine Islamic injunctions. Further challenge is to take a middle course and not fall into narrow conservative interpretations or one school partisan positions or dilutive liberal understanding.

 

To be Manitoban, MIA needs to act as a genuine Manitoban organization not an alien body residing in Manitoba. MIA needs to be actively engaged with the larger society, showing concern to all local issues and being an integral body of the civic society. Certainly, MIA has made some inroads; however, it is a long way from being a truly Islamic Manitoban organization. Given the high turnover in the Manitoba Muslim community, the risk MIA faces, despite its long history, is its propensity to be colored by the customs of any dominant ethnic group at any particular time. Other Muslim ethnic groups can have their own sub-stream on the margin, but MIA should remain at its core, Manitoban and Canadian in its culture, outlook and norms.

Conclusion:

MIA certainly is a proud accomplishment for all of us; old, young; new, veteran; men and women. MIA’s legacy is a great legacy that no particular group or individual can claim; it is a legacy that transcends all. Surely, MIA had its own challenges, difficulties and growing pains. The challenge for us is to build upon past successes, learn from past mistakes and take MIA to the second stage with a greater vision, bold ambitions and a confident outlook. MIA is not a “ritual” defined by its logo, a website, a street address, a ten member elected body and hired staff. MIA is a vision, a legacy, a tradition and a set of core values.

 

MIA will remain vital, progressive, strong and forward moving as long as it remains focused on its greater objectives and not side-tracked by petty organizational tangles. The day MIA becomes reduced to a narrow tunnel vision, happy with an outdated status quo, paranoid with control and averse to constructive criticism, the predicament of history on all organizations that lose sight of their greater objectives will fall upon it. If that would ever was to happen, it would be a sad end to a great legacy.