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Muslim Students

By: Syed Yasin Ali

Canada is a diverse nation with Canadians coming from a variety of cultures and faiths. Although the majority of Canadians are Christian, the Muslim community in Canada is growing and is currently the largest religious minority in the country. The Canadian Muslim community is estimated at around 600,000, in a total population of about 30 million. Muslims in Canada come from different parts of the world and speak a variety of languages. They come from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, and speak English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Swahili, Turkish and many other languages. Eighty-six percent of Muslims live in the major Canadian metropolitan areas and the Greater Toronto region is home to more than 250,000 Muslims.

Islam is not a new religion to Canada. Muslims have a history in this country that dates back to the mid 19th century. In 1854, the first Muslim child was born in Canada to a Scottish family in Ontario. The family later had seven other children. There were also records of a European-Muslim family that migrated from the United States and settled in Ontario in 1871. During the pioneering days, many Muslims came to work on the construction of the railway linking the Prairies to Ontario and Quebec. Others arrived during the beginning of the 20th century to work in the settlements of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
On December 12, 1938, the first masjid in Canada, and indeed in the whole of North America was opened. The Al-Rashid masjid in the city of Edmonton, in the Province of Alberta was inaugurated in the presence of Mawlana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui al-Qadiri (Rahmatullahi ‘alayh) and Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Rahmatullahi ‘alayh), the well-known English translator of the Holy Qur’an. The Al-Rashid masjid still continues to be a landmark for the Muslim community in Canada.

Muslims arrived in Canada after World War II. Many of them progressed and improved the economy. They were skilled workers and professionals who were brought to serve the needs of the people. In 1952, the inauguration of Islamic Studies took place at McGill University and attracted many Muslim scholars and students from abroad. During the mid-1960’s, many Muslim teachers, professionals and entrepreneurs came to Canada and increased the economic growth.

Today, Muslims in Canada are a well-established community. They are active members of the Canadian society. Twenty-seven percent of Muslims in the labour force have one or more university degrees compared to 17% of the general population. Masajid and halal meat shops are common in major Canadian cities. Muslims have also established madrasas to educate their children. The events of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha are covered in the Canadian media and by newspapers regularly. Schools, businesses and workplaces are beginning to accommodate Islamic practices and are recognizing Muslim holidays. Muslims have also opened websites which present the beauty of the teachings of Islam and have also used them for propagating to non-Muslims. Many prominent figures in Canadian politics also continue to attend Muslim events and seek support from the Muslim community.

In Toronto, there are more than 50 masajid and Islamic centres that are full during Jumu‘ah prayers. Most of these masajid have at least two Hafiz al-Qur’an who lead the tarawih Prayers during Ramadan. Some of these masajid have been built new from the foundation while most of them have been converted from existing buildings. Special arrangements are made during Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha prayers in order to accommodate a larger congregation. Muslims also preserve their Islamic traditions and recite Khatm ul-Qur’an and celebrate Milaad un-Nabi and Mi‘raaj un Nabi in homes and masajid.

They also visit farms and perform zabiha (sacrifice) on Eid ul-Adha and distribute the meat among their families, relatives and the poor.

The Muslim community has also developed a positive relationship with members of other faiths in Canada. Muslims are starting to promote understanding about their Faith and are increasing awareness in their communities and workplaces. The Muslim community respects all places of worship of all religions.

The Muslim community of Canada is also blessed with many scholars and shaykhs. For example, in Toronto alone, we have personalities like Imam Hafiz ‘Abdul Haleem (from Afghanistan), Imam Haji Shameer Khan and Imam Muhammad Yusuf (from Guyana), Syed Mumtaz Ali saheb (from India), Shaykh Yousef Bakhour and Imam Yusuf Chebli (from Labanon), Imam ‘Abdulshakur Dulloo (from Mauritius), Mawlana Qazi Bashiruddin Farooqui (from Pakistan), Shaykh Umar al-Qadiri (from Somalia), Shaykh Ahmad Talal (from Syria), and Imam Muzaffar Kosar (from Turkey).

Some prominent Muslim individuals are also becoming more visible in the Canadian society, serving as editors of newspapers, as economists and researchers in industry, and as professors and Deans of Faculties in universities.

But despite the progress made by the Muslim community, we still have many challenges facing us. Muslims have to fight the negative stereotypes that are surrounding the community. Terms like “Islamic extremists” and “Muslim terrorists” are constantly being repeated in the media. There have been incidents where Muslims with beards were being called terrorists and Muslim women with hijabs were being harassed. Muslims should educate the Canadian public more about our religion and we should help them understand Islam and the noble teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam).

Overall, Muslims have established themselves as a strong community in this country and we have gone through a lot of hard work to arrive at this stage. The years ahead will be very critical for Muslims. The community will have a large population and will have a great impact on the Canadian society. Once again, we will have to emerge as a strong community and we will only accomplish this goal by never abandoning the teachings of Islam and the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet Muhammad, (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam).

Shawwal 1422, January 2002

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