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Friday Magazine

Date: Nov 2nd, 2007 - Shawwal 23, 1428,       Volume: 10     Issue: 114


ALL CANADIANS BENEFIT FROM ISLAMIC HISTORY MONTH


  by Dr. Judith Miller - Kitchener-Waterloo Record -- Oct 30, 2007

Late last month Canadian senators Mobina Jaffer and Hugh Segal helped launch the first Islamic History Month Canada for October.

Good for them. They supported an opportunity to build new bridges of experience and understanding.

Canadian Muslims, with the support of a wide range of people from many backgrounds, originated Islamic History Month Canada so that all Canadians may share in this annual recognition of the nation's largest non-Christian faith group.

Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada are benefiting from attention focused on the rich legacy of Islam, which belongs to all Canadians. This heritage comes to us from many countries and cultures.

Much of it might be called a "lost" history. This month gives all of us a chance to notice the Muslim culture, which is developing around us, as well as to acknowledge its wider contribution to human history.

North America's oldest mosque is still standing, preserved as a national heritage site in Edmonton. And in Toronto there is a mosque with a multi- function gymnasium -- a facility that is used for events such as basketball games and sports tournaments, school graduations, fashion shows and lectures. On Fridays, however, it becomes a place of prayer. University classrooms which have just been used for lectures on sociology, mathematics or computer science are converted on Fridays into prayer halls.

In the Western world, Canada has the highest per capita number of Muslim senators and members of Parliament. London, Ontario, has the highest number of Muslims as a percentage of its total population.

In urban Canada, mosques and churches share parking lots. The largest Protestant church in the country - United Church of Canada -- has publicly declared that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do.

During Islamic History Month, we are noticing the wonderful riches offered to all of us when artists blend Islamic traditions with Western approaches to the visual arts, theatre, food, fashion, architecture, literature and music.

While Muslims are a small minority here -- less than three per cent of the total Canadian population -- the community comprises a wide variety of immigrants from some 40 different national, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. And over 50 per cent of Canada's 750,000 Muslims, based on

2007 population figures, are Canadian-born.

On the Indian subcontinent, Muslims form a minority of some 400 million

-- an astonishingly high number. They created one of the world's great cultures, highlighted by such imposing monuments as the Taj Mahal. And Muslim culture has enriched many other areas, such as Spain, southern France, Sicily, Eastern Europe, Indonesia and other countries of Africa.

Now it is Canada's turn to celebrate the Islamic legacy. Medicine, architecture, art, law, mathematics all bear the marks of contributions from the Islamic world.

A rediscovery and renewed appreciation of Islamic history and the present day accomplishments of Muslims give us a wider understanding that will help us see -- and address -- present conflicts within the larger view of human history.

Senators Jaffer and Segal deserve our thanks, as well as all the other Canadian citizens who are asking us to turn our attention to the art, culture and history of Islam, and to the things which unite us rather than those which divide us.

Especially pleasing was our Canadian Parliament's statement of support for Islamic History Month in Canada. On Oct. 25, Parliament officially declared Islamic History Month in Canada.

Mauril Bélanger, the Liberal MP from Ottawa-Vanier and opposition critic for Canadian Heritage, Francophonie and Official Languages, presented this motion in the House of Commons:

"That, in the opinion of the House, due to the important contributions of Canadian Muslims to Canadian society; the cultural diversity of the Canadian Muslim community; the importance of Canadians learning about each other to foster greater social cohesion; and the important effort now underway in many Canadian communities in organizing public activities to achieve better understanding of Islamic history, the month of October should be designated Canadian Islamic History Month."

"I believe that by having a better understanding of our fellow Canadians from various communities and backgrounds that we will achieve a stronger and more cohesive country," said Bélanger.

Several cities across Canada have declared October Islamic History Month, and locally special events have been organized with support from the City of Kitchener, the Kitchener Public Library, the University of Waterloo, Renison College, and the UW School of Architecture, as well as some private citizens.

(Dr. Judith Miller is a member of the Islamic History Month Canada Advisory Board and a professor of English at Renison College, University of Waterloo. This article was slightly edited and expanded for the CIC Friday Bulletin.)



A MEMORABLE EVENING WITH DR. SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR


  by Pauline Finch - Special to the CIC Friday Magazine - October 2007

It was only fitting that world renowned Iranian-born Islamic scholar and author, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, should conclude his first-ever Canadian speaking tour in "the centre of the universe," where Islamic History Month Canada was born.

Last weekend's well attended presentation and book-signing at the University of Waterloo Humanities Theatre (Sunday, Oct. 28) was one of more than 100 coast-to-coast events held throughout October as part of IHMC's inaugural year. Many, like Sunday's talk - jointly hosted by the Canadian Islamic Congress and U W School of Architecture -- were actively supported by local civic and academic institutions.

Dr. Nasr, who despite recent open heart surgery, had spoken in three other cities - Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto - since October 25, smiled during a brief but heartfelt introduction by CIC national president Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, who had read most of his guest's 50-plus published books. "In life you can become very close to people you have never met," Prof. Elmasry told the audience. "I consider myself to be a student of Dr. Nasr."

Speaking without prepared notes, Dr. Nasr drew on his vast inter- disciplinary experience as Professor of Islamic Studies at George

Washington University in Washington DC to reflect on the complex, but fascinating relationships that unify and illuminate the Qur'anic foundation of art, architecture, science and spirituality.

He confessed at the outset to being pleasantly surprised at the wide- ranging topic proposed by IHMC, rather than having to give structured responses to current topical and/or political events. And to be speaking about Muslim history, design and spiritual aesthetics in Canada, he suggested, was an additional bonus; more than once he cited this nation as "a model for the positive presence of Islam in the West."

But Canadian Muslims are not immune to serious identity challenges facing the present and coming generations in a post-modern world where values are changing daily and where historic and cultural roots are often discarded in favour of trying to imitate the fashions and preoccupations of Western society.

Ironically, while Western art museums and schools of higher learning have finally come to recognize that "there is such a thing as Islamic art and architecture ... that it is a cultural category," many of the countries where treasures of Islamic art and learning were born have relegated this priceless legacy to the scrapheap in their rush to "modernize." In addition to the intentional urban-development destruction of ancient buildings and artifacts, war and neglect have also taken their toll.

What the world often fails to realize, Dr. Nasr stressed, is that Islamic art, architecture and science are not simply about objects and ideas "created by people called Muslims, but ... are those things created from deep within the very essence of Islam itself." In fact, Islamic spaces, places, and their visual adornment, are meant to reflect the two essential traits that any religion must have in order to survive - Truth and Presence.

Art created in harmony with Truth and Presence enlarges the concepts of religion through the effects of sensory and aesthetic experience. To be genuinely sacred, and not just superficially religious, art must "draw people in and awaken the spirit." If, however, it tries to mask or replace spiritual values, "it is mere idolatry." For this essential reason, Islamic art is non-iconic (non-representational); its distinctive beauty is built on geometric designs and the creative interlacing of Arabic letters, rather than in depictions of human and divine beings.

Dr. Nasr drew a very appropriate comparison with the early 16^th -century Protestant Reformation movement in Christian Europe. The powerful Roman Catholic Church was criticized for the opulence and worldliness of its art and architecture, which came to celebrate itself rather than the precepts of faith. While the arts were never completely banished from mainstream Protestant churches, as with Christianity in general, an increasing divide emerged between "sacred" and "secular" life, a divide that Islam cannot logically or spiritually recognize.

In classical Islam, he explained, all of life is regarded as art, from what we wear and the material things that enhance daily life, to the spaces in which we live, work, socialize, shop, study or worship. "Muslims seek the presence and truth of God in all things ... so great sacred art can be made from very humble materials."

This is because Islamic spirituality reflects Tawhid, meaning the divine unity of all things - as opposed to the diluted and superficial version of the word that emerged in "new age" Western philosophy. In Islam, beauty and aesthetics are not meant to be confined within the walls of museums or concert halls "into which people escape" from the boredom, ugliness, or chaos of the everyday world.

While there is no verse anywhere in the Qur'an that specifies how to design and build a mosque, or how to do calligraphy for example, the Qur'an continually reiterates the doctrine of Tawhid as the source of all being and the interrelatedness of all creation. When contemporary Muslim architects try to design mosques without bearing historic Qur'anic precepts in mind, they produce only sterile and deadening enclosures where the word of God does not resonate with the beauty it deserves to have.

Time did not permit Dr. Nasr to explore all the facets of art that combine in some of the world's finest monuments to the Islamic aesthetic legacy, but he summarized the importance of several categories he believes are most prominent.

1. In architecture, he noted, a distinctive Islamic character and style began to emerge less than a century after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Although techniques and ideas were absorbed from other civilizations, they evolved and changed within the Muslim context. The major development happened when Muslims increasingly moved from their "supernatural space of the desert" into urban areas where they sought to recreate the mystical intimacy of worshiping outdoors amid the primary elements of creation.

2. Calligraphy developed as another art form of high religious value. With very few literate individuals, it barely existed in the Arab world before the rise of Islam, but the revelation of the Qur'an suddenly brought written language to the fore and over a relatively short time Islam became "one of the most bookish civilizations in the world." Today there are an estimated 1,800,000 Islamic manuscripts worldwide and more than half of them are inscribed in classical Arabic, as well as some 500,000 in Persian.

Dr. Nasr detoured briefly to tell listeners how valued the printed and written word was to the largely illiterate residents of the old Tehran neighborhood where he grew up. "If someone found a scrap of printed paper on the road, they would pick it up, kiss it, then roll it up and stick it into a hole in the wall ... That is because people were taught all writing was part of the Qur'an and thus had to be treated as sacred."

3. A third essential art of the Islamic world is that of chanting, specifically the tonal recitation of the Qur'an, which raises holy scripture to a plane far above everyday speech. David (also a prominent figure in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament) is known as the great singer of Psalms; even today, someone with beautiful chanting skill is described as having "the voice of David." In fact, the act and experience of Qur'anic chanting connects 90% of Muslims on the planet, especially in areas of high illiteracy rates.

Dr. Nasr compared the effect of chanting on the spirit of the believer to the experience of hearing superb Western classical music. One does not rely on the intellect to analyze a Beethoven string quartet, a Mozart symphony, or a Bach fugue - their true meaning reaches the soul through the heart.

4. Finally, Dr. Nasr also touched on the unique richness of Islamic fabric arts, especially that of carpet-making, which evolved from Persia where hand-knotted carpets were being fashioned some 1,300 years before the rise of Islam. For daily prayers "even the humblest home has a carpet, made from natural vegetable dyes... the carpet is essential to Islamic life."

As Dr. Nasr himself acknowledged, every aspect of Islamic arts, architecture and their interrelated sciences could be the material for an entire series of lectures. Even after extending his allotted speaking time, the vast territory of which he is a rare master was barely explored. But the glimpses he gave Sunday's rapt audience were powerful, illuminating, and above all, memorable.

To extend the memory, some four dozen waited patiently afterwards while he signed copies of his recent work, The Heart of Islam.

* * *

DVDs of Dr. Nasr's talk can be purchased for $20. per copy from CIC. They can be ordered online through Ms Romina Ghasemian: adm5@canadianislamiccongress.com Cheques should be made out to CIC and marked in the memo line "Nasr DVD" and mailed to: Canadian Islamic Congress, 675 Queen Street South - Suite 208 Kitchener ON, N2M 1A1

* * *

(Pauline Finch is a CIC office editor/administrator in Kitchener and a final-term Anglican seminary student at Huron University College in London, Ont.)



NDP LEADER RELEASES STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF IHMC ~


  by DU CHEF DU NPD SUR LE MOIS DE L'HISTOIRE -

Assalamalikum;

"It is with great pleasure and excitement that Canadians can celebrate Islamic History Month in October as Parliament unanimously consented to this motion. Thanks to pressure from the NDP caucus, all federal parties finally agreed to the motion and it passed in the House of Commons.

"Islamic History Month is another example of how Canada must embrace diversity and multiculturalism. We need to continue to strive to learn more from each other and build on making Canada a more tolerant and accepting country.

"We also congratulate the progressive community members of Port Coquitlam for being the first city to proclaim October 2007 as Islamic History Month in Canada. Because of their forward-thinking, other cities, such as Kingston, Calgary and Ottawa [also Victoria and Burnaby BC] have officially proclaimed October 2007 as Islamic History Month.

"As you celebrate this momentous month in your communities, focusing on your beautiful faith, history, culture and heritage, the NDP also extends warm wishes that you had a wonderful Eid al-Fitr with your family, friends and community."

Jack Layton, NDP Leader & Wayne Marston, Critic for Multiculturalism

* * *

Déclaration du chef du NPD, Jack Layton, sur le fait qu'octobre soit le Mois de l'histoire islamique

Assalamalikum;

« Nous sommes très heureux que les Canadiens puissent célébrer le Mois de l'histoire islamique en octobre, puisque le Parlement a adopté cette motion à l'unanimité. Grâce à la pression exercée par le caucus du NPD, tous les partis fédéraux ont enfin accepté la motion et l'ont adoptée à la Chambre des communes.

"Le Mois de l'histoire islamique est un autre bel exemple de la façon dont le Canada doit embrasser la diversité et le multiculturalisme. Nous devons continuer de nous efforcer d'apprendre davantage les uns des autres et d'aller de l'avant en faisant du Canada un pays plus tolérant et ouvert.

"Nous tenons également à féliciter les membres de la communauté progressiste de Port Coquitlam pour avoir été la première ville à proclamer octobre 2007 le Mois de l'histoire islamique au Canada. Grâce à leur avant- gardisme, d'autres villes, dont Kingston, Calgary et Ottawa [aussi Victoria et Burnaby BC], ont également déclaré qu'octobre 2007 est le Mois de l'histoire islamique.

"Alors que vous célébrez ce mois historique dans vos communautés, en vous concentrant sur votre foi, votre histoire, votre culture et votre patrimoine merveilleux, le NPD vous présente nos meilleurs voeux. Nous espérons que vous avez passé un excellent Eid al-Fitr avec votre famille, vos amis et votre communauté."

Jack Layton, chef du NPD et Wayne Marston, porte-parole du NPD en matière de multiculturalisme



REFLECTIONS ON MUSLIM AND CATHOLIC RELATIONS


  by Imam Zijad Delic - Special to the CIC Friday Magazine - October 20, 2007

A speech presented to the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops -- NAC Canada Training and Conference Centre, Cornwall ON, Tuesday, October 16 2007.

* * *

Dear Bishops of Canada, Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters in Dialogue, Ladies and Gentlemen: May the Peace and Blessing of Almighty God Be with You ALL!

It is a real privilege for me to greet the Catholic Bishops gathered here today and to share with you my ideas and reflections regarding our faith relations in this great country - Canada.

This morning I want to begin by affirming that Muslims and Catholics share a vital common heritage of faith in the one God, the mission of the Prophets, divine revelation, and an emphasis on social and private ethics.

Muslim and Catholic leaders these days are urging that sincere and renewed efforts be made to achieve mutual understanding for the benefit of all human beings, by promoting social justice, peace, liberty and moral values.

As members of the one human family and as believers, Muslims and Catholics share obligations to work for the common good, to do justice and to act in solidarity. Both our faith traditions also stress the obligation of forgiveness which, as Pope John Paul II suggested, is an essential component for both our present and future relationships. Rather than asking us only to forget the sins and tragedies of the past, the Pontiff developed the core themes of peace, justice and forgiveness in his 2002 message for the World Day of Peace: No Peace without Justice, no Justice without Forgiveness.

I fully believe that our respective religious traditions - Islam and Catholicism - have the necessary resources to overcome past and present misunderstandings and to foster mutual friendship and understanding between our peoples. I am aware, as well, that collaboration does not imply giving up our distinct religious identities, but is rather a journey toward new discoveries, growth and self-respect.

Through collaboration we can learn deeper respect for one another as members of the same human family - children of Adam and Eve - and to appreciate those common values that bind us together in spite of our differences. As God Almighty informed us in the Qur'an: "O [human]kind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous [among] you ... Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [Qur'an 49:13]

So, what are the principles that guide me in relating to my brothers and sisters from the Catholic religious/intellectual tradition? In a talk long ago in Cairo, Bishop Kenneth Cragg stressed the importance of openness: an open door, an open hand, open heart, open mind and, yes, an open creed. I can only say how fully I agree with his logic.

The open door, for me, represents hospitality -- something I have experienced today among you and also earlier this year in Ottawa, where I was welcomed by three Canadian Catholic bishops and their staff. An open door suggests that interfaith dialogue can happen when each partner in feels secure and trusted enough to freely extend hospitality - and that comes from self-knowledge, identity, and confidence in one's faith.

On the other hand, when the sense of security is lost, doors to genuine dialogue close. It has been my growing conviction that the more at-home and confident I am in the principles of my own faith -- that is, the more deeply I am rooted in my formative Islamic beliefs -- the more open and hospitable I can be to my Catholic brothers and sisters, as well as to those of other religious traditions. Conversely, the less I am rooted in my formative Islamic principles, the less open and hospitable I will be to others. The same logic applies to your faith.

When hands are open in greeting, others are immediately put at ease. For me, open hands symbolize honest intentions, a gesture to show you that I have no hidden agendas; no desire to trick you, harm you, or hurt you.

An open heart? When I attend interfaith meetings, I work hard on building trust by being as honest and transparent as I can. I become very uncomfortable with those who say one thing among friends and another in different company. Such duplicity generates only suspicion and ill-serves the progress of our relationships and dialogue.

Then there is the continual struggle to maintain an open mind. In life, we must learn not only what to think, but how to think. For this to happen we need more than mere knowledge or data; we need wisdom. We need leaders who are dedicated to "walking the talk," according to the core teachings of their scriptural texts. In Bosnia we used to say: "Before cutting, measure three times; before saying it, think three times."

Finally, a few words about having an open creed. The more and deeper faith we have, the better and more open human beings we are. Faith opens our eyes and clears our vision; we see others through a more empathic lens, from a more attuned spiritual perspective - which is in complete accord with the will of God Almighty for us.

Ignorance and misunderstanding about our respective faiths closes the doors of dialogue, cooperation and ethics. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught something very similar to the Christian "golden rule" when he said: "Love for others (inclusive) what you love for yourselves and you would attain the status of the best believer; be good to your neighbor, and you will be the best Muslim."

In our present era of rapid globalization and the ever-expanding information highway, one powerful tradition guides my daily thoughts and actions: The best among God's people are those who are the most useful to others; and the worst are those who bring harm to their fellow humans.

I am honored to have shared these ideals and reflections with you and to bring you warmest greetings from the diverse Muslim communities of Canada, who collectively share a tremendous spiritual treasure with you. These are some of their wishes and I believe they are yours as well.

We chose to live in Canada because...

We want to live in a society where faithful people affirm God's love for all humanity.

We want to live in a society where religion is an agent of healing, reconciliation, and peace.

We want to live in a society where religious people and institutions encourage understanding, cooperation, and respect.

We want to live in a society where no one uses religion as a lever or weapon to gain advantage over others.

We want to live in a society where each person is free and encouraged to live his or her faith unhindered and unashamed.

We want to live in a society where religion promotes the safety, dignity, freedom and potential of every person as a whole human being.

... We, as Muslims, want to live in Canada!

A Prayer of Canadian Muslims



Our Lord!

Do not let success deceive us, nor failure take us to despair;

Always remind us that failure is a temptation that precedes success!



Our Lord! Teach us that tolerance is the highest degree of power

And that desire for revenge is the first sign of weakness!



Our Lord! If You deprive us of our property or safety, give us greater hope;

If You grant us success, give us also the will to overcome disappointment;

If You take from us the blessing of good health, provide us with the blessing of deeper faith!

Our Lord!

If we sin against people, give us the strength to apologize;

And if people sin against us, give us the strength to forgive them!



Our Lord!

If we forget You,

Do not forget us!



AMEEN!



May God Almighty bless this gathering and bring peace into our minds, hearts and actions!

AMEEN!

(Imam Dr. Zijad Delic is the National Executive Director for the Canadian Islamic Congress and is based in Ottawa. He can be reached at: imamdrdelic@canadianislamiccongress.com This article was slightly edited for the CIC Friday Magazine.)



COMING EVENT: LIVING UNDER ISRAELI OCCUPATION


WHAT: "Living Under Israeli Occupation: The Christian Palestinian

Experience"

WHEN: November 14, 7:30 p.m.

WHO: Nora Carmi, staff member of Sabeel in Bethlehem Palestine. (Sabeel is a grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians)

WHERE: Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, 1803 East 1st Avenue,

Vancouver BC

SPONSORS: Canadian Friends of Sabeel -- together with the Interfaith Summer Institute for Justice, Peace and Social Movements at Simon Fraser University; Canadian Islamic Congress; St. Chiara Community; Canada Palestine Support Network; St. Elias Orthodox Church; Stopwar.ca; Jews for a Just Peace; Near East Cultural and Educational Foundation (NECEF); Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.

CONTACT: Steve Kalil skalil@shaw.ca