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.

 

The first phase of the new center project.

By: Ismael Mukhtar

The official opening of the new center was a historical moment of great significance for the Muslim community in Manitoba. The historical significance of this event can’t be fully appreciated without going back and looking at the years of hard work, planning, and relentless efforts by members of the community at large. Most of the early pioneers of the new center project didn’t have the opportunity to witness this historic moment; some of them passed away others moved to other locations. The beginnings of the new center project can be traced back to the late eighties when there was a growing sense among community members of the need to establish a larger center with a full time school, a community center and a mosque. Discussions on the feasibility of such a project and the community’s ability to sustain it were becoming increasingly more common. The Friday and Eid sermons, conference lectures and community forums were more than ever emphasizing the need for such a project, in particular a full time school. Outside speakers who visited Winnipeg were encouraging the community to undertake this project and were positively sharing their communities’ experiences with such projects. Some members of the community were actively searching, on their own initiative, for suitable piece of land and making various proposals to MIA Executives.

 

As the momentum for the project kept on growing the executives were obliged to take the first step towards making the project a reality. A regular annual General body meeting was held at the Hazelwood mosque in the late eighties. The agenda items of the meeting included: the formation of a land committee. The meeting ended with the establishment of a land committee with a mandate to purchase a piece of land as a future sight for the new centre. The new committee was to work in conjunction with MIA trustees. Included in the committee were Br. Gulam Kibrea as a chair person, Dr. Riaz Usmani as a treasurer, Dr. Mujeeb Al-Rahman as a senior trustee and other brothers. The committee started its mandate with out a penny in its account and had to begin the whole process from scratch. Regular meetings started in earnest, mostly held in Dr. R. Usmani’s residence. The committee struggled for some time, but gradually things started to fall in place and take shape. Brochures introducing the project were made available in English and Arabic. Letters of endorsement were secured from National organizations such as ISNA, ICNA and others. The land committee set its criteria for the ideal land as a 4 acre land, in a fully serviced area, with an estimated cost of $150,000. Fund raisings at small scale begun at various levels within the community. A major fundraising dinner was held where Shiekh Abdulah Idris (former ISNA President) was invited as a speaker and fundraiser. The event was a huge success; more than $80,000.00 was raised in cash and pledges, a record by the standards of those days. Members of the land committee along with other members of the community started to actively search for a suitable piece of land. All most every potential land in the south was considered and enquired upon. The search finally narrowed down to a 4 acre piece of land on Chevrier Blvd (off Waverly). The land was on residential area, fully serviced for an asking price of $200,000. Negotiations ensued with the vendor and offers went back and forth. As the negotiations were going on, a member of the community informed the land committee of the potential availability of a piece of land on Waverly through the provincial government. The land committee immediately applied for the purchase of the land. After some delays the offer was accepted by one level of government bureaucracy, but later rejected by another level. A relentless and exhaustive effort was made by the land committee, particularly its able chairman, Br. Gulam Kibrea in contacting politicians, department officials and ministers to reconsider the decision. The effort bore fruits the deal was approved.

 

The community finally took ownership of a 13.5 acre land on Waverly for a total cost of about $60,000. There was a great sense of excitement and jubilation at the community. The late Dr. Usmani was so elated, that he took pieces of stones from the land and kept it at his home. The excitement, however, was muted among some members of the community who questioned the suitability of the land; they felt it was too far, there was no development in the area, no services available and it was in agricultural zoning. The land committee, however, bought the land with the expectation that the area will develop in the future and if for some reason the land wasn’t suitable for our purposes, it would still be a worthwhile investment which can be sold at a much appreciated value. With the acquisition of land, the mandate of the land committee came to an end; MIA Trustees became fully responsible of the project. To ensure continuity of the project, at least two members of the land committee were elected as Trustee and Br. Gulam Kibrea continued as the lead person in the next phase of the project.

 

As preparations were under way to move to the second phase of the project, the community was hit with a major conflict that halted the whole project and pushed it to the side ways. A simmering and unfortunate conflict between the Imam of the day, Imam Mohammed Safi and MIA Executives became public and took center stage. All efforts to resolve this conflict reached a dead end. The community was polarized between supporters of the Imam and the Executives. Cynicism set in, mutual trust was lost, and the community fell into a terrible turmoil. The Muslim community of Winnipeg has never experienced a conflict that was so intense and polarizing such as this conflict. Finally, as the tension peaked, the Imam was abruptly dismissed by the Executives (1994). His dismissal brought some quite to the mosque, but the tension and split within the community continued for some time. The new center project became the victim of this conflict. There was a sub-conscious decision made by the Trustees to freeze the project until there was a positive change in the mood of the community.

 

Fortunately, with the passage of time, the rift created by the conflict started to fade away and a new spirit to move forward set in. A brain storming meeting initiated by the executives of the day, particularly Br. Iqbal Siddiqui, the secretary of MIA, was organized in the summer of 1996 at the University of Manitoba. Participants were divided into small focus groups to discuss a selected project. Out of this meeting came a new volunteer group to solely focus on the school project. As well, the new center committee was revitalized and a plan of action was put in place. The full time school group set an ambitious goal of establishing the school by the end of summer, to be temporarily housed in a rented facility until the new center project is finalized. The full time Islamic school, named Al-Hijrah school, became a reality and opened its doors in September 1996. The school was housed in a rented facility on Pembina Hwy with about 30 students. The new center committee directed its effort towards the development of an architectural design of the center, fundraising and creating a new momentum for the project. There were suggestions from some members of the community to buy an existing building and turning it into a new center instead of building on a distant, un-serviced Waverly land. The trustees were open to the idea and willing to look at what becomes available case by case, but the stated goal was to build on the Waverly land.

 

As the community started to grow, new comers started to take greater role and volunteer in community projects. Among them were the late Br. Haseeb and his wife Dr. Sabeeha. They were keenly interested in the new center project and wanted to share the experience they gained in volunteering for similar projects in other cities. Br. Haseeb later became a trustee and started taking a leading role in the second phase of the project. After years of hard work in various fronts, within and outside the community, with the leadership of the trustees of the day: Brs. Haseeb, Pirzada and Asim the first step towards building the new center took place with the ground breaking ceremony on June 2003. Three and half years later the center was finally opened for the community in January 2007.

 

One missing component from the new center structure as was envisioned originally is the full time Islamic school. When the project was initiated originally, the school was viewed as the most pressing and most central element of the project. However, the center project took longer than what was expected; as a result the Al-Hijrah full time school came into existence ten years earlier. Currently, Al-Hijrah is in a separate location, close to downtown. Perhaps it is time to start planning to move the school to the new center or, depending on the needs of the community, to establish a second branch of the school in the new center to serve community members in the south. That will bring the original vision to its full completion.

 

The beauty of the new center lies in the fact that it is the outcome of years of collective community wide effort. From penny drive by children, to brick sales, tree planting, fundraising sales and dinners etc; all done with a spirit of sharing in building of the community by across section of our community members: men, women; seniors, young; old timers, new comers; residents, foreign students; all ethnic groups etc. It is indeed a community success story that should make all members of the community proud. Going forward, the main challenge isn’t in maintaining the center physically, but in transforming it into a bastion of love, mutual respect, cooperation, care, empathy and understanding.

Note: this article is solely based on my re-collections as a member of the land committee and MIA trustee for 6 years. Its focus is mainly on the 1st phase of the project.

(2007 records)

 

 

Next Challenge: Developing a Higher Collective Self-Esteem

Chances are that as you read this article you are either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. As such, you are in the early stages of laying down your family roots in North America. In relative terms, this is the infancy of your family history. This is where you begin the story of your inclusion into the Canadian social fabric.

 

Statistics from government funded studies confirm that of all religious communities in Canada, Muslims are by far the youngest with an average age of 28. We are also growing faster than any other community and, until recently, most of that growth was happening by indigenous birth rather than immigration. We also are more educated than the average Canadian.

 

Immigrant families and communities have needs. On a basic level, these needs are the same from community to community, from nationality to nationality. The initial focus is on survival. This includes having a roof over one’s head, harnessing a stable income so that the basic necessities can be met, learning the language and the culture, and so on.

 

The danger is that as individuals, and as a community, we can remain stuck in a survival mentality. This mentality works very well in the early stages of establishment because it provides a quick fix to each immediate need. The danger comes from the lack of longer term vision, foresight and creativity associated with survival thinking, and this can stunt a community’s evolution.

 

Every person, family and community needs to evolve. We need to move from surviving to thriving. Is it possible that as a community we have failed to make this change in thinking?

 

Many years ago Charles Darwin said It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It’s an important observation. Adapting to the changing conditions is critical to survival. In other words, beings survive if they remain engaged in a dynamic process of change and adaptation. Remain static, or the same, and you’re done!

 

One could argue that the same principle is applicable to the dynamics of communities. It relates not only to survival but whether they grow to become dynamic and cutting edge. Becoming a well organized, advanced community is no small task. The many elements that make up a community’s dynamics mean that it’s a comprehensive process to understand and facilitate that change.

 

But there are small steps that we can take as individuals participating in this process. For starters, many of us need to consciously acknowledge the hardships we had in the early years as our families immigrated and settled in this great land, and the dreams for a better life that accompanied those hardships. Then, we need to acknowledge that many of us have evolved past that stage. Things have changed and our community too has evolved. We are no longer struggling to have a masjid that is open for more than the jumm’a and Sunday salah, as in the early days. We don’t drive to the farms and slaughter the animal ourselves if we want zabiha meat, as we did before. The average Canadian no longer stares when encountering a hijab clad sister. We now have many masjids, multiple Islamic schools, regular publications in Canadian newspapers and we’re becoming better represented in all major professions.

 

We can’t stop here. And the way forward will require awareness and management at levels not seen before. There are elements of the big picture that can’t be missed. Seeing this requires a broad and clear perspective which is not currently commonplace. By neglecting to develop this perspective, we are in danger of failing as a group. It’s very real possibility.

 

It is time for a change in our collective identity and our communal self esteem. We should set higher standards for ourselves. We must acknowledge that we are no longer passive participants in an existing social and political system; we can take a leadership role in that system and make it better. We can be role models and examples, not just followers. As Muslims, playing an exemplary role in our society is not optional; it’s an obligation. When people give examples of communities that are raising the bar, improving their neighborhoods and contributing to the greater good of our fellow man, they should point to our Muslim community. The opposite is true as well. Muslims should never be seen as included in the weak and dysfunctional of Canadian society.

 

It’s a collective responsibility to create this kind of progressive community. Each one of us needs to participate. Alexander the Great said, “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all”.  It’s a team effort. Let’s allow ourselves to dream a little. Without a dream there is no dream to come true! Envision a community that is empowered, self-sufficient, influential, and successful. We have the option of creating this community – in which success is contagious, and we’ll leave no one behind! The secret? We have to all want this; and we have to be willing to put in the work.

 

Those of us who had the benefit of struggling through the early years must remember that there are new Muslims arriving here every week. They are at the beginning of their journey, as some of us were many years ago – the difference being that they have a (somewhat) established Muslim infrastructure that they can rely on.

 

But the problems these days are different. We now deal with a growing problem of the passive poverty cycle in which people fall into the trap of relying on social assistance. Too many newly arrived Muslims dismiss education or training in the skilled trades. For some, these decisions lead to a lifestyle of apathy and isolation. Hopelessness may prevail and a cycle of poverty, abuse and addiction can flourish.

 

An increasing number of Muslims consider social assistance acceptable despite the teachings of our Prophet (SAW) that the “upper hand is better than the lower hand”. Social workers are reporting an increase in domestic abuse, child abuse and addiction involving Muslims. There have recently been many high-profile incidents in Winnipeg involving Muslims and youth gang violence. We have over one thousand Muslim youth in Winnipeg. How many do you see at the masjid? This does not bode well for the future and the time to act is now, before the damage is irreparable.

 

The current rate of Muslim immigration to Canada is unprecedented. How is it that Muslims are leaving the struggles of their homelands, arriving at the land of opportunity and then not benefiting from that opportunity? How can we help all Muslims to develop a higher collective self-image and self-esteem? How can we show new immigrants that in this great country their progeny will not only get by, but they could thrive and do great things?

 

In this time of rapid change it is important that our community appropriately adapts. It is time we put into place a strategy for helping new Muslims obtain education, training and employment and discourage anyone from long-term reliance on welfare or other forms of passive social support. We need to have the collective attitude that it is cool to work hard in one’s profession or trade, and to take pride in the independence that comes from that. It is cool to own property, a home or a business. Let us educate our newcomers, as well as the old-timers, and create a new level of awareness in our community. Let’s talk openly and get the word out!

 

I don’t presume to have all of the answers. But my instinct tells me that we are near a crossroads in our young history in Canada. With affirmative action we can take control of our destiny and flourish. If we choose the path of least resistance and fail to intervene in the conditions of our own people we may have big problems ahead. The solution will have to involve a collective and well-thought out effort.

 

“We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”  ~Benjamin Franklin

 

Dr. Asim Ashique is a pain and physical injury specialist. He practices as a chiropractor in Winnipeg. He has served as an elected or appointed volunteer for several Muslim organizations including MSA, MSA National, MIA, and the Canadian Islamic Congress.

(2007 archieves)

Muslim women in the midst of revolution

By: Ismael Mukhtar

In the recent wave of revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Muslim women’s active participation at all levels was clearly evident. Their participation went beyond simple presence to actively leading, inspiring and courageously taking a stand. Many of them were detained, tortured and some executed. Despite all the odds, they remained firm in their resolve to fight for justice and liberty. Among the many women voices of revolution receiving greater publicity, two are noteworthy: Asmaa Mahfouz and Tawakul Karman.

Asmaa Mahfouz is a 26 years old Egyptian activist and one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement. She is credited with helping spark the mass uprising in Egypt. Her main tool was video blogs on YouTube and face book. She broke the wall of fear by calling on Egyptians to rally in full force against the dictatorial regime of Mubarak. Her simple, yet powerful message electrified the masses and inspired millions. Despite all threats and warnings, Asma continued her struggle with admirable resolve.

Tawakul Karman is a 32 years old Yemeni mother of 3, a journalist and political activist. She heads the ‘Women Journalists Without Chains” group. She is an outspoken human rights defender in Yemen. She became a leading voice in the Yemeni uprising against the dictatorial regime of Abdullah Ali Saleh. She was arrested many times, but continued to lead peaceful protests against the regime. Tawakal’s activism gained her international recognition and was a co-recipient of Nobel peace prize for 2011.

 

The resilience and courage of Muslim woman in these revolutions might come as a surprise for casual observers of women in contemporary Muslim societies. Muslim women are sometimes perceived as being submissive, laid back, un-interested in social activism and living under the shadow of their men. This perception is probably true in relation to certain cultures, but not to all. Referencing the textual and historical framework of Islam reveals that these perceptions are a reflection of anomalies that emanate from cultural norms more than Islamic ideals.

 

One of the highly acclaimed figures in the Quran is the wife of Pharaoh (Surah 66, verse 11). She is set as a model for the believers for her faith, courage and principled stand. She defied her brutal husband and distanced her self from his wrong doings. She chose, instead, to be on the side of prophet Moses and his oppressed people. Similarly, another reference is made in the Quran to a woman in the chapter known as “disputation” (Surah 58). This woman, known as Kawla Bint Tha’laba, came to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to speak out against a pre-Islamic woman-dehumanizing social norm prevalent in Arabia, known as Zihar. Many women suffered under this norm with no other recourse. This particular woman, however, took it upon her self to courageously challenge this norm and point how unfair it was to woman. Her stance didn’t go in vain; her name became a fixture in the exegesis of the Quran as well as Islamic jurisprudence on family. Zihar was strictly prohibited in Islam.

 

Early Islamic history is full of examples of woman who defied the current stereotypical perceptions. It is known historically that the first person to die as a martyr in Islam was a woman known as Summaya. She renounced the idol worship of Arabia and as a result she was subjected to severe torture by her masters. Despite her old age and frail health, she stood for her belief and was brutally executed. In her resolve, Summaya, was not an exception. She was a reflection of the new sense of self worth gained by women as a result of their new faith.

 

In every juncture of the early struggle against Meccan pagan hegemony, Muslim woman were part and parcel of that struggle. Names such as Znira, Umu Salama, Asma Bint Omais, Asma Bint Abubaker,Umu Haram and many others stand in prominence. One of these women, Asma Bint Abu-Baker, lived long enough to witness the era of Al-Hajjaj, the tyrant of Iraq. Asma’ had a lengthy discussion with him. She courageously challenged him and told him, “I heard the prophet (PBU) saying, “from the tribe of Thaqief an imposter and annihilator will emerge”. We have witnessed the imposter (she was referring to an imposter known as Ubaidillah) and now we are now witnessing the annihilator and that is you!

 

Early Muslim woman were more engaged civically, had greater social awareness and were active participants in the social life. Much of the norms debilitating Muslim woman today in some Muslim societies are remnants of pre-Islamic cultures that persisted for centuries and are far from the authentic legacy of Islam.

 

 

 

kaaba

My Hajj Experience

By: Sr. Rita Ramchandar

My son Ryan and I left Winnipeg on October 30th, 2010, to begin a trip of a lifetime; always wanting and wishing to visit Islam’s holy land, and never imagining fully that this could become a reality. Insha Allah, Allah swt fulfilled this dream for both Ryan and I, and may Allah swt accept our Hajj. I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity.

We over nighted in Toronto, in order to prepare ourselves for the long 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi the next day. After an overnight stay in this beautiful city, we boarded our flight to Jeddah, and arrived late into the evening. Here we waited for about 4 to 5 hours as officials checked our passports and placed the appropriate stickers to admit us into Saudi Arabia. We later checked to make sure our luggage had arrived, and then made our way to an awaiting bus which would eventually take us to our hotel in Mecca, where we would spend one week. Our hotel restaurant remained open late into the night for us to have a proper meal, before resting up a bit, so that we could proceed to perform Umrah. This was done about 1.00 am that morning.

Standing in front of the Kaaba, after only reading about it and seeing pictures of it was totally awesome, incredible, and I felt a sense of peace watching this beautiful black robed structure; knowing that our prophets Ibrahim and Ishmael and Muhammad (phut) had walked here, had prayed here, had been in this very place so many, many, many years before us. We performed our rituals of circumambulating the Kaaba 7 times and made the journey between the two mountain spots of Safa and Marwah.

The pressure and closeness of the pilgrims as we proceeded around the Kaaba was daunting but tolerable. We all moved together as one, for the same purpose to worship our one God. Later we completed the shaving of the men’s heads and cutting of the women’s hair. We stayed to pray Fajr prayer, and later explored a bit of the Grand Mosque, before heading back to our hotel across the street for some breakfast, and much needed sleep. We woke up later that day to heavy rain, thunder and lightning. Ryan had gone out to pray Maghrib prayer and was blessed with squeegee water (from the cleaners) all over his head while in sujud J With the large numbers of pilgrims onsite daily, we felt comfortable heading up to the 3rd floor for prayer as it was less crowded there, men praying together, and women praying together. From this floor we could look down and see the perfect rows of the pilgrims as they surrounded the Kaaba, all moving as one as they performed ruku and sujud together. Temperatures were in the high 30s, with many 40 degrees Celsius days.

In Medina, we prayed in the Prophet’s mosque (pbuh) whenever we could get in or in the courtyard when necessary under the huge folding umbrellas. We had to wait our turn in order to visit the Rawdah (green carpeted area of the Prophet’s original mosque representing bit of Jannah on earth). Women are only allowed to visit at certain times of the day. This area was very crowded with groups organized by language or country.  We awaited our turn to enter this sacred place to give our salaams to our Prophet (pbuh) and his two companions who were buried next to him, and to pray our 2 Rakats.

In Mecca and Medina, we were also fortunate to go on the Ziyarah (tours) where we were able to see and visit Aziziah, Mina, Muzdalifa, Mount Arafat, Masjid Quiblatain, Masjid Quba, and Mount Uhud.

Our next stop was at Aziziah, a suburb of Mecca, a trip that took about 12 to 13 hours. Two days later we headed out to Mina which had now been transformed into a tent city to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who had come to perform Hajj; to our surprise this trip took just approximately ½ hour. Our tent was close to the Jamaraat and it did not take us long to go back and forth to perform the ritual of throwing the stones.

The next day, we left for Arafat at 6 am, with our bus winding its way through the heavy traffic – many buses, cars, scooters, trucks, pedestrians, arriving about an hour later. Here we were shown to large covered tents where we rested, read, slept, until it was time for Dhur prayer, after which time we would be spending the rest of the day until sunset praying to Allah, and asking Allah for whatever we wanted. We left Arafat after sunset arriving in Muzdalifa around 9 pm. The crowds were phenomenal; no matter where you looked there was a sea of people stretching from end to end. Our bus stopped on a street very close to a washroom for women. We bunked down close to our bus for the night, and under a half moon and a one star night, I slept surprisingly well! We awoke at 4 am to take our bus back to Mina arriving around 6.30 am. After a quick breakfast we left for the Jamaraat, taking the escalators up to the 4th floor to avoid the heavy crowds. Here, Ryan and I were able to walk to the far side of the pillar and throw our stones without any crowd congestion.

What an experience, to be among so many people from all over the world (the rich, poor, old, young, feeble, different languages, cultures), all here for the same cause, to worship Allah, and perform this pillar of Islam, the Hajj. After the hair cutting, we rested and I got to know our sister Hajjis better. I have met some wonderful sisters on this trip. On this Eid Ul Adha day we enjoyed a very delicious lunch. Our next test was to perform Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai at the Haram in Mecca.

Due to traffic congestion we were told that our buses would not be able to come to our tents to pick us up for our trip to Mecca, therefore we would have to walk part of the way to where the bus would pick us up. At about 1.30 am in the morning with a 29 degree Celsius temperature it was cool enough for our walk. We arrived at the Haram in time to do Fajr prayer before completing Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai. At 8.30 am we returned to our tents in time to go to the Jamaraat to throw the stones at the 3 Jamaraats.

The crowds appeared to be huge and a bit scary, and I was happy to have my son with me to guide me through these massive crowds of pilgrims, as we wended our way to the 3 pillars. Back in our tents the skies opened up and we were treated to some heavy rain, thunder and lightning. At bedtime, for the first time I was very, very exhausted. The next day, after a bit of breakfast, I felt refreshed and energized. We completed the Jamaraat one more time before leaving our tent city in Mina for Aziziah.

As we prepared to leave Mina, the skies opened up once more and this time we had hail along with the heavy rain, thunder and lightning. The rain flooded the hallways between our tents and slippers floated by like miniature boats. For the second time we were told that our buses would not be able to make it to our tents due to the rain. We waited for the rain to slow down somewhat before heading out at 3.30 pm in light rain to walk until such a time we could flag down a bus. We walked through flooded streets helping those with luggage. The air was cool and comfortable for our long walk, and after negotiating a bus we arrived in Aziziah around 9 pm. Ryan and some of the brothers had to walk almost all the way back. On our last day, we were up and ready by 2 am to leave for Makkah to make Tawaf ul Wida (the farewell Tawaf) before we could return to our homes.

The Haraam was crushingly full of pilgrims, and we finally made it to the 3rd floor, and then decided to move down to the 2nd Floor to complete our Tawaf, as it seemed less crowded. By 8.15 am we had completed our rituals and were back on the bus for our return trip to Aziziah, and later that night, our trip to the Jeddah airport, then Abu Dhabi airport for our final journey home, a 13 hour flight back to Toronto.

This journey of a lifetime was a joyful and happy one for me. Just being there made me feel closer to Allah; my emotions were on a high as I prayed and contemplated the Haraam, the Kaaba, the Prophet’s Mosque, Mount Arafat , drove by place the prophets had walked, and lived. It was an overwhelming and wonderful spiritual experience. Insha Allah we can all make this journey one day to please Allah swt.

 

For those sisters hoping to make this journey Insha Allah one day, I would offer these words of advice and encouragement during their stay in Mecca, Medina, and the days of Hajj:

 

  • Before you begin your journey, read as much as you can about Hajj and what is required. Attend seminars on Hajj when offered.
  • Discuss your trip with tour planners in advance, and with others who have already performed Hajj to get feedback on their experiences and their itineraries, and what to take with you. Ask lots of questions.
  • On the very hot days, stay in your hotel or in the shade to cool off, to avoid heat strokes, etc.
  • When you are in large crowds, especially at the Haraam, follow the stream of pilgrims heading in the direction you are headed. This makes it much easier than trying to cut through the many, many pilgrims. Crowds are manageable, and be sure to have your mahram or someone with you so that you can assist each other.
  • Be sure to take breaks during the day and night so that you do not tire yourself needlessly; drink lots of water during the hot days; plan washroom breaks in advance, so that you are not waiting in long lines.
  • While you are at the Haraam, for a fee, there are wheelchairs and attendants readily available to take the elderly and those who may have problems walking.
  • Travel light and smart – you may have to carry your luggage from time to time.
  • Be Patient.  If you feel angry or upset at someone just remember they may be someone who has saved their entire life for this once chance to be next to the Kaaba.
  • Enjoy the experience and do not worry too much about other people.  Remember the focus is Allah swt – not the food, hotels, shops and other distractions.

 

Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is Haraam

Domestic Violence is Haraam

By: Shahina Siddiqui*

I am yet again dealing with another case of domestic violence within the Muslim community and wondering when will we take our families and their needs seriously. When will we start supporting organizations like ISSA so that it can reach more families and help preserve our community.

First it is important to assess how much do we actually understand about this social ill, this disease of the nafs.  Do we actually understand the sheer abhorrence with which Islam looks at wife abuse? Do we know the impact it is having on our families and our youth and our viability as a healthy community?

By neglecting to address this disease that is becoming more and more apparent in our community, we are becoming complicit in an injustice that each and every one of us will have to answer for, to the Merciful Creator.

Due to our inaction we are allowing our mothers, daughters and sisters to be used and abused, harassed, beaten, maimed and killed. Do we think that their pleas and cries are not reaching the heavens?

Have we forgotten that during 38 years of married life of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h), we do not find even a single incidence of abuse or mistreatment of his wives and daughters?   In fact Prophet Muhammed instructed us, “I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those who treat their wives the best.”(Sahih).  In another hadith he stated,” The best among the faithful is the one whose character (akhlaq) is the best, and the best among you is one who is best towards his wife.” (Tirmidhi).

By ignoring to tackle the issue of ill treatment of women, we are complicit and responsible and in violations of the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ( p.b.u.h).

Many verses in the Quran specifically warn Muslim men about their duty to women and of the purpose of marriage. “Among His signs is that Allah created spouses for you from among yourselves so that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and Allah has planted love and mercy between you. In this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).

“O humankind be careful of your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate…Be careful of your duty to Allah in whom you claim your mutual rights” ( 4:1).

” In accordance with justice, the rights of a wife with regards to her husband are similar to the rights of her husband with regards to her”.(2:228).

“O ye who believe ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will nor should ye treat them with harshness…If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good” (4:19). Men are protectors and maintainers of women …. “(4:546)

Some Muslim perpetrators and critics of Islam, wrongly based on faulty translations, take the Quranic verse 4:34 to prove that Islam allows men to abuse their wives-  “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct admonish them, (first), next refuse to share their bed, and last chastise (wadribuhunna, but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of grief for Allah is most High Great above all” (4:34).

This falsehood of associating this verse to condoning wife abuse is a blatant lie that the Quran warns us against, ” Behold how they invent a lie against Allah but that by itself is a manifest error” (4:50).

The Quran also warns against applying means of grief against the wife. Furthermore, the obedience the wives owe their husbands (within reason) under Shariah is conditional to the husband’s obedience to Allah and His Prophet Muhammad.

Obviously a shariah-violating, non-practicing, abusive, violent man is not in obedience to Allah and therefore has no right to demand or expect obedience from his wife.

If issues are not resolved through this last stage of resolution then divorce is imminent. Verse 4:34 is not a verse that gives blanket or in fact any approval or condones any action that can be used as a justification for wife abuse. If it did, it would be abrogating all the other verses that call for peaceful, equitable and loving relationship between husband and wife and this would be against the rules of exegesis of the Quran.

Verse 4:34 is not about wife abuse or domestic violence at all.  In fact the Quran states, “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion or ill-treatment on her husband’s part there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves…”(4:128).

Furthermore, classical scholars of Shariah also stipulated that the above steps towards conflict resolution leading to reconciliation can only be implemented if the wife is totally in the wrong and the husband is innocent of any wrongdoing or contributing in any way to the conflict and only after both have decided that divorce is not an option.

This practice of the Prophet sustains the linguistic interpretation/translation of the Arabic word ‘dribah’ in  the verse 4:34 and is  being  considered by scholars is as valid as  to ‘walk away’. A husband should walk away from a situation that angers him – partly to cool down and partly to show his disapproval. Even if this interpretation is not based on ijma or consensus, the sunnah makes it clear that wife-beating and abuse of any kind are not acceptable since these cruel acts violate the Islamic spirit of justice and compassion and do not promote peace at home.

The overwhelming number of verses of the Quran dealing with marriage and husband-wife relations, encourage peace and tranquility as the goal and purpose of domestic life and mercy and love as the governing principles.

The logical conclusion is obvious –  domestic abuse does not promote or nurture peace at home and therefore cannot be tolerated within the Muslim community.

The community needs to understand that domestic violence accounts for 50% of murdered women in Canada based on statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association. There is no general character composite of a man who is violent towards women, since they come from all socioeconomic classes, religious and ethnic groups.

We often mistakenly blame women for staying in abusive relationships and therefore refuse to believe them when they do come forward and speak up.

What we seem to forget is that these women are afraid. They fear for their lives and that of their children since an abuser often threatens in order to control his victims. They are also usually financially dependent because even if they are earning, he controls the money.

In North America many immigrant women do not have an extended family or a support mechanism to help them to move out of a abusive relationship.

Some Muslim women, due to their poor understanding of Islam or anti-women norms, come to believe that this is their fate and that they must accept it in order to gain paradise. This is further enforced by well-meaning but misguided community leaders who tell these women to go home, be better wives and have sabr.

Abused Muslim women also fear community reaction and rejection because many a  times their husbands are well-respected and well-known members of the community. They are kind and well behaved in public and therefore people find it hard to believe that they become monsters behind closed doors.

As a community we need to deal with this social ill not only by treating it but also by taking preventive measures:

  • To prevent we must develop “How To” kits for Muslim couples based on the Quran and sunnah on all aspects of Marriage – husband and wife relationships, stress management, parent & child relationship, roles of in-laws, extended families, pre-marriage preparation and counseling for both men and women.
  • we must expel any practice that is against the spirit and teaching of Islam. We must identify behaviors that are not acceptable as well as apply social consequences for unacceptable behavior.
  • to help break the cycle we must implement educational programs in Islamic schools that promote healthy family values and teach.
  • zero-tolerance for domestic abuse.  We must provide children coming from abusive homes with positive role models and treat them with mercy and compassion.
  • Parenting, stress management, anger management and communication classes must become regular part of Islamic school curriculums and Community Awareness Programs.
  • We must start acknowledging at a leadership level that abuse is a problem in Muslim communities and that we need to address it.
  • Myth and fears can only be put to rest through education. workshops on peaceful homes and functional marriages must become regular features of Islamic centers.
  • Treatment must be two-fold. Both victim and abuser must be helped.  During this period, victims must have access to Muslim shelters and must receive assurances from the community through financial, emotional and spiritual support.

 

Islamic Social Services Association of Canada and USA, along with other initiatives in North America, have been doing pioneer work in prevention and education about domestic abuse.  ISSA needs the community’s assistance to help break this cycle of violence from plaguing our future generations as well as helping to restore peace and security to the victims of abuse and their children.

ISSA needs assistance in continuing the education of Imams in assessing and dealing with cases of domestic abuse effectively, fairly and legally.

Imams and community leaders are usually the first responders in cases of domestic abuse and if they are not trained or informed in the pathology of this social ill, they may inadvertently become complicit in this injustice.

ISSA needs your help to employ social workers, establish shelters and provide counseling. These services need to run professionally and within the Canadian legal framework while maintaining the spirit of Islamic principles of justice, compassion and fair play.

Lest we forget in the last sermon, Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.) instructed his followers for all times to make sure that the rights of women are maintained and secured because these rights are sacred.

No cultural practice, no tribal custom, no ignorant tradition, no matter how entrenched, can be allowed to take precedence over the teachings of the Quran and sunnah.

Sexism, racism and ageism are vices that we must purge from our midst if we are to be true followers of Islam and to benefit from its blessings.

 

* Sr. ShahinaSiddiqui is the President of Islamic Social Services Association(ISSA) of Canada and author of ‘Helping Victims of Domestic Abuse-A guide for Imams and Community Leaders.’

Abandoned Brothers

By: Dr. Idris Elbakri

Our Muslim community is blessed with individuals who have come to Islam after being born into a different faith tradition. These are individuals who, of their own accord, have found and accepted the truth of our faith. They come to Islam from different backgrounds, and for different reasons. Converts, usually from the indigenous people of the land (i.e., Canadians) strengthen the Muslim community in several ways. They help our faith strike its roots in society, they provide their immigrant brethren with a better understanding of the country’s history and culture, and they can become capable spokespersons for the community.

The purpose of this article is to critically examine, and suggest remedies to, the response of the Muslim community to its stream of converts. This article looks at the issue after a convert has proclaimed his/her shahadah. The evidence for the arguments and suggestions made is anecdotal in nature, based on the author’s observations and experiences.

Many converts have arisen to positions of prominence in the North America. A few examples include Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Dr. Ingrid Mattson. The latter was recently elected the president of the Islamic Society of North America. Despite these luminary examples, many if not most local Muslim communities are falling short in providing converts with the necessary support for their transition into the faith and community.

We generally meet the new convert with cheers and proclamations of “God is Great”. Often times, after the 5 minutes of fame that the convert receives when he/she proclaims his/her shahadah, they are all but abandoned. Conversion can be a very lonely experience. Converts risk their family ties, their jobs and their friendships when they come to Islam. Because our faith is often identified as the “other” in the Western psyche, converts can be considered cultural apostates by their families and friends. Our Islamic centers and other institutions have virtually no programs to offer support and to compensate for those potential losses. Converts are left to fend for themselves and to depend on the kindness and goodwill of individual Muslims. The private efforts of individual Muslims to welcome their new brothers and sisters are admirable in many cases. However, there is always the risk of the convert coming under influences that seek to shape them into a certain idealized image of a Muslim; an image that is often informed by allegiance to certain movements, cultural influences and that is almost certainly alien to the historical and cultural experiences of the convert. I have often wondered (sometimes in despair) how a week-old Muslim suddenly appears like they have just emerged from 7th century Arabia (or so they were lead to believe).

One of the categories of people for whom the Qur’an admonishes us to give Zakat charity to is the category of those whose “hearts need to be reconciled”. This includes new Muslims who require assistance and support to remain firm in their new faith. Our community and its representative organizations should consider creating programs, funded from Zakat, that ensure that our new brothers and sisters are cared for and supported. A program of support for the new Muslim can include the following elements.

  1. Social support: This is, in my opinion, the most important. New Muslims need Muslim friends. Friend to whom they can talk, share their experiences and struggles and “unwind” when the going gets tough. The primary role of these friends/mentors/supporters/ansar is not to teach or indoctrinate, but to open their hearts and homes to the new Muslim, and to just “be there” when needed. A formalized support program could match converts with mentors based on surveys and personality profiles. It could also provide training for the mentors to ensure they are sensitive to the struggles of new Muslims.
  2. Educational support: There is a dire needed for formal educational opportunities that introduce the convert to the beliefs and practices of Islam. This can take the form of periodic offerings of introductory courses, as well as one-on-one mentoring. Appropriate materials for self-study would complement a formal learning program.
  3. Financial support: Funds need to be marked for the sole purpose of helping converts deal with the possibility of financial difficulties. These difficulties could arise due to family support ceasing, job loss, or may exist from before accepting Islam.

In researching, designing and implementing such a program, it is important to have a clear educational and social philosophy. The goal of such a program should not be to help the new Muslims become copies of their immigrant brethren. Rather, it should strive to ultimately help them reconcile Islam with the other dimensions of their Canadian identity. The prophet Muhammad (S) was reported to have stated that those who were “the best” (in character) in pre-Islamic times were also the best in Islam. Effectively, becoming Muslim should affirm everything that is wholesome and beautiful in one’s character. Attitudes that lead converts to change aspects of their identities, from their names to the way they dress, should be abandoned altogether.

Instructing the new Muslims in the beliefs and practices of Islam should encourage questioning and critical thinking. We can expect that converts have come to Islam after a long period of study and thinking. They are lead to the faith by their hearts and minds. We have to adopt teaching methodologies that respect their intellectual capacities and critical thinking.

Another challenge is for the Muslim community to learn to embrace converts regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds. We have to be able to embrace new Muslims whether they are White or Black, Aboriginal or Anglo-Saxon, rich or poor, a North-ender or South-ender. Islam is only as colorblind as we are.

To conclude, I recall the bitter words of a convert who had been Muslim twenty years or so. He said that when he embraced Islam, he was told all of his problems would end, but that, in reality, he felt they all began then. Nonetheless, he had remained committed and had successfully raised a Muslim family and rose to a position of prominence in his community. There are many like him. Their endurance and faith, against all odds, is a testament to the power of the truth of Islam, once it penetrates and illuminates someone’s heart.