Engin Sezen, The Circle
Can one speak of a “Canadian” Muslim? If so, what might that Muslim person look like?
Believe me, there is a great diversity of Muslim communities in Canada; even in the Waterloo region itself. Not only are there two Sunni mosques and one Shia mosque (though I know very well that the three of them are greatly welcoming to all Muslims and non-Muslims), but there are over twenty thousand different life styles and interpretations of the religion…despite all the encouragements and calls for “the unity,” or Ummah.
Yes, not only Sunnis and Shias, but a far uch more nuanced composition than that: Sufis, Islamists, Ahmedis, Ismailis, Muslim brotherhoods, etc. For example, there are often quite different realities for younger and older Muslim women, for men and for women in general, for the Straight and LGBT Muslim communities, for those who emigrated during their lifetime and others who didn’t. The list could go on and on….
In 2011, Statistics Canada found that over 1 million individuals in this country identified themselves as Muslim, representing 3.2 % of the nation’s total population. That is a big number! More than 1 million Muslims call Canada home, and each year tens of thousands more will arrive in Canada.
Diversity is great. It is richness. Especially when there is an inclusion within the community. If there is intra-faith dialogue, exchange, and appreciation.
Let’s ask this classic question, then, one more time: Who speaks for “Islam”? Who creates and dominates the narratives for Muslims in Canada?
Instead talking about Turkish Islam, Arabic Islam, Iranian Islam, or any other cultural and geographical interpretation of Islam, I think it is now time to talk about an emerging Canadian Islam, a unique interpretation that is being cultivated from the climate, history, geography and culture of this great nation. I think it is the time to leave “the diasporic mentality” behind, or at least to complement it by the acceptance of a new Canadian home and an appreciation for how this new space is shaping us.
Who is a Canadian Muslim, we may ask? What does he or she look like? Are there any distinguishing features from, say, Caribbean or Middle Eastern Muslims?
To explore the possible answers to these kinds of questions, I think Canadian Muslims can start by creating safe spaces for a rigorous intra-faith dialogues—across a wide range of identities, ages and genders.
One probably can claim that his or her interpretation of Islam is the best. Why not! But how fair is it to assert that this is the only valid one? In fact, a “this is the only Islam” mentality is not Canadian in spirit.
As Muslims in Canada, we are learning to appreciate the freedom and acceptance of diversity with which this country provides us. For those of us who moved here as adults, we realize that in our Muslim-populated territories, our “home-lands,” in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, etc., we were often unaware of this Islamic diversity on the ground. Living in Canada has typically heightened our understanding of what the other expressions of Islam are and how they are representing their religion.
About Hijab, about Jihad for instance…. About prayer, halal diet, leadership, gender….
Living in Canada has also helped us appreciate the vast diversity of expression even within our own cultures.
To be sure, Muslims in Canada perceive their Islam quite differently from one another. Following the customs of this country they will continue to do so. And as our children are educated in the public school systems they will also come to appreciate how Muslim understandings of the world differ from those of other religions, and from those who hold no religion at all. The goal is respect for difference, and understanding, not the domination of one over the other.
As Canadian Muslims increasingly come together they will develop a better understanding of each other, and they will cultivate more appreciation and respect for their own Muslim beliefs and practices, and those of others, internalizing and expressing Canada’s democratic, multicultural values.
In the meantime, we won’t fully know about the differences and the levels of the differences until we have more courageous conversations with each other on a regular basis. There is no single “Canadian” Muslim, but there is a Canadian type of Islam that is more appreciative of dialogue and diversity.
How we respond to that reality as Canadian Muslims will help shape our future in this country.
The question for us now is how we proceed along this path….Any thoughts?