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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.