Muslim Community Reaches Out
Canada, and especially Toronto and its surrounding area, is one of the most diverse places in the world. For most people, this is a point of pride – our neighbours come from all over the world and not only can we learn about their cultures, beliefs and values, but we can share recipes, fashion tips and stories too.
Unfortunately, there are those members in every community who would rather not welcome neighbours from other countries and cultures. Over the past few years, North Americans have experienced an increasingly anti-Islamic atmosphere full of misrepresentations.
According to Unlikely Utopia, the new book from Environics’ president Michael Adams, “nearly one in three [Muslims] (31 percent) report that they’ve ‘had a bad experience’ related to their race, ethnicity, or religion in the past two years.” Adams writes that “when we asked Muslims about their level of concern regarding various matters, from discrimination to unemployment to the secularization of Muslim youth, discrimination is close to top of the list: two-thirds of Canadian Muslims (66 percent) say they’re concerned about discrimination against Muslims in this country, and three in ten (30 percent) say they’re very concerned […] the only thing that concerns Canadian Muslims as much as discrimination is unemployment.”
“There are a lot of people out there who are afraid of the unknown,” says El-Farouk Khaki, Secretary General of the Canadian Muslim Union (CMU). Khaki says collective responsibility is a real problem and it is important to create understanding. “We’re all human, we all need to eat, we all need to sleep, we all bleed the same blood,” he says.
The Environics study also suggests that Canadian Muslims are very pleased with their decision to come to Canada. “The vast majority of Canadians Muslims (about nine in ten) were born outside Canada. […] Ninety-four percent say they’re proud to be Canadian.
Nearly three quarters describe themselves as very proud. Moreover, among foreign-born Muslims, pride in being Canadian grows with time spent in the country.”
This contradiction (Muslims feel discrimination but love this country) explains – at least in part – why the CMU holds events like its annual Ramadan Break-Fast Dinner, which Khaki says drew about 300 people in 2007. The crowd was made up of Muslim, non-Muslim, male, female and straight and queer guests. With events like this, Muslims are trying to create new ties with Canadians.
The CMU also holds monthly events, which, true to the organization’s mission, work towards a common goal: to build bridges. Anyone interested in attending an event can visit the CMU website at www.muslimunion.ca. Members also have a strong presence on Facebook, a social networking website, where they post relevant news items and spread the word about upcoming events.
There are quite a few other groups in Toronto with similar goals, aiming to educate non-Muslims about Islam and empower Canadian Muslims.
“We live in an era of a lot of fear,” says Khaki. “We need to provide vehicles for people to recognize our collective humanity.”
Other organizations working to increase awareness and acceptance include:
Canadian Islamic Congress – Based in Kitchener, Ontario, the CIC is Canada’s largest national non-profit and wholly independent Islamic organization. It also has one of the most up-to-date websites with an excellent collection of recent news stories, as well as responses and opinions based on current issues related to or affecting Muslims. The CIC recognizes professional and volunteer community contributions by Muslims through awards, offers scholarships and provides information on voting and governmental issues.
Islamic Institute of Toronto – This is a non-profit, federally registered, educational institute, but it is much more than a school. In addition to strengthening access to Islamic education, the Institute promotes scholarly research and facilitates communication and interaction between other religious organizations and community groups. It is the Institute’s mission to “nurture and establish Islam as a living reality in the lives of Muslims and to enhance the Islamic identity in the society at large.” The Institute has a campus with an ever-growing library in Scarborough.
Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations – CAIR-CAN is Canada’s version of the Washington, D.C. based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). It is a non-profit organization that is active in media relations, anti-discrimination and political advocacy. CAIR-CAN aims to educate non-Muslims through an active media presence, human rights work, independent publications like brochures and handbooks, seminars and workshops, action alerts and inter-community relations. CAIR-CAN gets people talking and hopes to create an understanding of Islam and empower Canadian Muslims.
Muslim Canadian Congress – The MCC’s website states that the organization “provides a voice to Muslims who are not represented by existing organizations.” The MCC explores and promotes Islam by bringing speakers to Toronto, holding poetry, performance and short film events and holding prayer meetings. Members follow the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian constitution as their guiding principles. Members of the MCC are active in the media as well, often writing or being quoted in opinion and news articles for Toronto newspapers.
Islamic Foundation of Toronto – According to its website, the IFT “is one of the oldest Muslim organizations in Canada. It was established in 1969, when an old 3,000 square foot building was purchased at Rhodes Avenue and converted into a mosque.”
The IFT provides religious, educational and social services for residents in the Greater Toronto Area. It is also home to an elementary school. www.islamicfoundation.ca
Islamic Society of North America Canada – ISNA Canada promotes a positive presence of Muslims in Canada. It is a union of Muslims and Islamic organizations and serves as a platform for all Muslims and their communities. ISNA works through its members to create strong Muslim communities. It also works at a national level to represent the Islamic point of view to government, media and other religious organizations.
Canadian Council of Imams – This organization brings together Imams (Ministers of Religion) in Canada. Together, these leaders settle community-level disputes between individuals related to marriage, divorce and inheritance, for example, but also work on a larger scale. The Council has advised the Metro Toronto Council and the Metro Toronto Police on Islamic matters. It has also been involved in establishing proper procedures for entering mosques in case of fire or emergency and communicated with numerous government bodies about issues affecting the community.