Arriving at Winnepeg at 10:00, I’m met by Izzudeen from Libya, president of Manitoba University Muslim Students Association. I’m staying with him in his immaculately tidy flat based in the Univillage cooperative. Low cost housing for students. They have a utility room that is booked for prayers everyday and I meet some of the Muslim residents there. The hub of social life is “Prince”, a young student from Bangaldesh. Thanks for the adapter bro! Without which I would not have been able to use my laptop.
Izzudeen has cooked some quite frankly delicious lamb and mushroom stew, and soon after I collapse into bed.
next day we plan to see some of the sights of Winnipeg, so we head off to “the
Fork”, where two rivers meet, sight of a bloody battle between the British and
native Indians. A reminder that
Canada, despite it’s ethos of multiculturalism, which is real enough, is still a nation forged around conflict and shedding of blood. There’s not much information about the battle, but there are plenty of shops. That fact that “the Fork” was a major trading post is easier to remember and commemorate than a monument to European expansionism. Still the shops are quaint, tidy. We have cinnamon buns and coffee.
Outside is still bitterly cold. Izzudeen is certainly the early bird type, and it’s barely 11am when we decide to visit the Sate Legislature.
This building alone transforms Winnipeg from a typical soulless North American city to a place with some character. Amazingly we walk in without even the wiff of a security check. It’s an openness and confidence that every nation should display concerning the workings of government. We are allowed in the debate chamber and listen to the state minister for health berate the former government and eulogise his own party’s achievements. Someone makes an attempted counter attack and is heckled.
Democracy in action, and by the way, at least a third of MP’s are non-white!
Winnipeg is cold. Even at this time of year. Its no more than three degrees centigrade and I’m taken completely by surprise having only packed summer clothes, so Izzudeen lends me a coat and hat, laughing that this is bar-b-q weather!
In the evening we are going to have “bodluc”, which I presume is a Libyan word for gathering, but I discover that in fact its “pot luck”, when everyone is supposed to come along with a dish and see what we’ve got. I give a small advice on the importance of brotherhood and following Islam. Pot luck proved a very tasty and well organised spread.
Isha is at 11:15pm, and afterwards we go to Tim Horton’s (a Canadian national institution) for coffee and donuts. It’s late by the time we get back.
we take the 20 min. walk to the University. It’s a modern campus but with some
older and rather grand buildings that lend it a decree of character. I sit in
Izzudeen’s cubicle and trawl through emails and search for info to help me in
my lectures. I’m due to lead jummah prayers. It’s all a little chaotic as
prayers are being held in tomorrow’s conference room as opposed to the usual
prayer room. The adhan is given without me coming to the front and giving
salams, so I tell them off. The khutba
is about the Day of Judgment and temporary nature of the life of this world.
Afterwards we eat pizza while two convert brothers on tabligh talk about their
journey to Islam and their journey by car from Toronto and onto Calgry. I
go back to the apartment and get some desperately needed sleep ready for the
opening lecture of the conference:
“Muslim Identity: Cultural Islam, Assimilation and Nationalism.”
The first lecture is actually one of the best attended of the whole conference. My mind map notes suggest a complex discussion about the nature of culture and ethnicity and complexities of idea exchanges, but a scan round the audience suggests something more pragmatic. What I want everyone to go away with are three things:
Firstly: Know what being a Muslim really means and understand your religion. To do that you have to start at least by reading the Qur’an in a language you can understand. After that we could go through the authentic hadith books like Bukhari and Muslim, or a compendium like Riyaadus Saliheen. Of course this will not turn anyone into an instant scholar. In fact it is very dangerous to think that one could make independent ijtihad without the required qualifications, but it means at least we have some understanding of the what the revelation, the basis of our religion, teaches. It always amazes me how many even educated Muslims have not even done that!
Second: Differentiate between the culture you have been raised with and what that requires and what the actual religion demands.
Thirdly: Think carefully about what cultural norms you try to force upon yourself and your kids. What we need is Islam, not culture. This is especially true if the “culture” is alien to the environment. What we need is a “culture” that is adaptive to living in the West but is still fully Islamic. Such a development is in fact inevitable and is already happening, but we should do our best to ensure that it is based as much as possible on deep thinking, knowledge and understanding. This of course takes us full circle to point one.
Success! Muslim adapting to Canadian culture...from Chai and Ladoo to Coffee and doughnuts!