Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Being Muslim in Canada is under attack — from private prayers to simply visiting family
There is a tendency to treat minorities as a new presence; by erasure, their long histories and deep legacies are removed from the places they live.
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Fireworks are fun, but they’re fleeting. What makes this country real are the people and communities that form it. As the country celebrates 150 years of nationhood, Metro’s national columnist Vicky Mochama set out across Canada to discover how five different groups are creating space here.
This is Part 2 in the After The Party series: Muslim resilience
Away from the crowds, rain and noise of Ottawa on Canada Day weekend, dedicated volunteers fed and supported the city's homeless and needy people.
“When people expect us to do good, we cannot let them down,” says Omar Mahfoudhi, executive director of the Islamic Care Centre, the group running the charity outreach while the rest of the city partied.
In a year that began with a tragic attack on Muslims in Quebec, there are places in Canada like this that insist on staying a safe space for everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
Recently, a non-Muslim father came in to the centre to talk about his daughter’s abortion, Mahfoudhi said.
“He said he felt uncomfortable talking to his local church about it,” he said. “We were able to let him know that you have to be there for your daughter rather than being someone who is obstructing her future.”
He admits interactions like this are rare, but for Mahfoudhi the centre's work isn't solely for the city’s Muslim population. By his calculation, they provide a majority of its services to non-Muslims.
“The majority of people who seek us out are usually Muslims. But in reality, if we took the sheer number of people that we reach out to and support, the vast majority are non-Muslim,” he said. That community spirit is how, when the centre needed a space for Friday prayers, they ended up in the basement of nearby Knox Presbyterian Church.
By faith, community and goodwill, he insists on taking up space. In this way, and in the regular living-breathing-eating-being way, people of Muslim faith are an indelible part of the fabric of the cities we live in. In my own neighbourhood, there's a Muslim group that hands out food — and a helping hand — on an often desolate and downtrodden corner of the city. It's too easy to pass them by without a second thought.
And it's that long, oft-ignored presence of Muslims that was a point of contention for Omar Yaqub, a senior partner at ALIF Partners, an Edmonton consulting company.
In a conversation with him I mentioned that it came as a surprise to me that the city’s Al-Rashid mosque was Canada’s oldest. It was built in 1938; the original building stands in Fort Edmonton Park on a wide green park.
“When we say that we’re working on integration, that implies that a community isn’t already integrated," he said. "Perhaps better stated, isn’t integral."
There is a tendency to treat minorities as a new presence; by erasure, their long histories and deep legacies are removed from the places they live. I have known, lived with, befriended and loved Muslims, and yet I don’t truly know the history of Muslim people in Canada.
That it is also what makes it easy for those who would dare — from politicians to right-wing racists — to target Islam and Muslims, a religious group that has not only been in Canada for decades but has been essential to the country.
When Aisha Ahmad, a professor at the University of Toronto, began tweeting about being attacked while attending the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, something about it felt so very 2017.
Speaking to Metro last month about the attack, Ahmad said, “Our city is remarkable in its diversity, and yet I was the only woman of colour in that entire section, and that made me wonder whether we have these toxic pockets of exclusion that are inconsistent with the spirit of our city."
In the most generous sense, Canadians value inclusion. Along with diversity, multiculturalism and integration, they’re the values we claim to hold.
Whether they hold true when racialized people take up space is another thing entirely.
More in After The Party:
Part 1: A story of space
Part 3: Feeding Chinatown
Part 4: Holding on to heritage
Part 5: Being Black at school
Part 6: Scenes from Caribana
Part 7: Welcome to the Gaybourhood
Part 8: The Indigenous City