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

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