Canadian Muslims a blend of ethnicities: UNISSA lecturer

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July 10, 2017

|     Rokiah Mahmud     |

“ALMOST in every Canadian city and town, one can today encounter Muslims and Islamic centres, associations, educational institutions, and mosques,” said Dr Ahmed F Yousif, a lecturer at Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) and the author of ‘Muslims in Canada: A Question of Identity’.

He said Muslims of many races, colours, nationalities, languages, and cultures have immigrated to Canada throughout its history.

Canada celebrated 150 years of its Confederation on July 1, along with a small and active Muslim community that represents about three per cent of the overall total population of 36 million.

“In Ottawa, for example, Muslim women dressed in Islamic fashions have become extremely visible, particularly since the late 1980s, and Halal food is served in most Canadian campuses,” Dr Ahmed said during an interview.

“The Muslim community in Canada has its foundations in the western part of the country, where al-Rashid, the first mosque in North America, was built in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1938. Although the majority of Muslims are among Canada’s most recent immigrants, Islam does have a long history in the new world.

“There are confirmed references that there have been African Muslims in the Caribbean area, who were either kidnapped from Africa or had worked in Portugal or Spain as slaves, or they were African Muslims who were enslaved by the Spanish after the fall of Grenada.

“Mircea Eliade, an American historian, stated, ‘Of the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought from West Africa by the Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British, between 1530 and 1850, to work in mines or on plantations in the American colonies, about 14 to 20 per cent were Muslims,” he added.

Dr Ahmed also explained that according to Abu-Laban, a Canadian sociologist who has researched on Muslim and Arab demography in North America, the earliest presence of Muslims recorded in Canada date back to 1871, when the Canadian census recorded some 13 Muslim residents.

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A mosque in Ottawa, Canada. – DR AHMED F YOUSIF

“During the last few decades the number of Muslims in Canada has increased tremendously, largely due to the political and economic unrest in many Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East,” he said.

“According to the Canadian 1981 census, there were only 98,165 Muslims, accounting for less than one per cent of all Canadians.

“In 1990, there were about 200,000 Muslims in Canada the large majority of who are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived within the past 25 years.

“Today, the Canadian census recorded more than 1.3 million living in the country.

“They come from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, the Persian Gulf states, and from Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Bosnia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and a very small number from Southeast Asia.

“As a result, Muslims living in Canada represent not only different ethnic backgrounds and races, but different nationalities, languages and ‘sects’ as well. Although the Muslim community in Canada does not reside in one specific area, more than half of the population is located in the province of Ontario.

“Muslims who immigrate to Canada from Muslim countries often find themselves deprived of a social structure which encourage the practice of Islam and helped them to maintain their Islamic identity. Instead, they find a culture where religion constitutes only a fraction of people’s lives.

“As a result, many Muslim immigrants, particularly the recent refugees, find the transition difficult. How does such a small minority group facing enormous psychosocial challenges, maintain its identity within a population that is 90 per cent Christian? Only monographs based on social sciences research can provide us with a reliable answer,” Dr Ahmed explained.

He said there are five primary factors which have influenced the immigration of Muslims to Canada, particularly during the last few decades.

“There are economic advantages, educational opportunities, political alienation from their ancestral lands, the pull of kin and friends already in the country, and the freedom of faith and expression guaranteed by Canadian law,” he said.

“The other immigrants are diplomats who chose to remain in Canada, and tourists. Despite their initial motivations, Muslims have chosen Canada to make a better living for themselves, their children and their families.”

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