As we wrap up October, we’d like to acknowledge our Muslim Community and all they do for us locally! We’re welcoming guest blogger Iffat Farooqui, a 30-year resident of St. Thomas and a member of St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership’s Cultural Diversity Committee. She wrote us a great blog post about Islamic History in Canada and what our local Muslim Community has been up to!
What is Islamic History Month?
The Government of Canada first established October as Islamic History Month (IHM) in 2007, recognizing “the important contributions of Canadian Muslims to Canadian society, the cultural diversity of the Canadian Muslim community, and the importance of Canadians learning about each other to foster greater social cohesion.” On June 22, 2016, the month of October was designated as Islamic Heritage Month in Canada.
“Islamic history and culture encompasses a broad range of individual and collective experiences, as well as important contributions to literature, math, science, art and history” – Bill 23, Islamic Heritage Month Act.
Islamic History in Canada
Muslims in Canada go back to 1854 when there were 4 Muslims in the country. The population grew to 13 Muslims by 1871, 47 by 1900, and 478 by 1921! Many of the migrants came from the collapsing Ottoman Empire and were looking for work by heading west where land was cheaper and labour was needed. In Ontario, the oldest Muslim community is in London, according to Hassam Munir, an Islamic history researcher and founder of iHistory.
In his article in the Hamilton Spectator, The Long and Forgotten History of Muslims in Canada, Munir says that among the first Muslim settlers was a man from West Africa, enslaved as a young man in Brazil and shipped to the United States. As a free man he eventually made his way to Chatham, where in 1854 a local man helped him document his life in a biography. Also among the earliest known Muslims (or Mohomadens as the census at the time called them) to arrive were James and Agnes Love, who were belived to have converted to Islam in Scotland before coming to Canada. According to Munir, many of these first Muslim immigrants in Canada developed good relationships and even married the Indigenous peoples where they settled.
Munir recounts the story of Hilwi Hamdon, a Muslim woman who led the call to see the first mosque built in Canada (in Edmonton), and Bedouin Ferran, who came from Lebanon in 1910 and overcame much discrimination to become a successful fur trader and then a politician, and later changed his name to Peter Baker.
During the First World War, twenty two Muslims fought for Canada. After WWI, the Muslims who immigrated to Canada were skilled labourers and professionals, and many French speaking Muslims from North Africa had settled in Quebec. The Muslim population continued to grow from 645 in 1931 to 33,000 by 1971, and today there are more than one million.
In Ontario, 12 immigrant families settled in London and were the pioneers in building the London Muslim Mosque on Oxford Street about 50 years ago, and about 25 years later the Islamic Centre of Southwestern Ontario was founded.
Not only in the past but today, the Muslim community is a vital part of the fabric of Canada. There are many famous Muslims who have made their mark in sports, entertainment, politics, business, and many more areas important in our society.
Our Local Islamic Community
In St. Thomas, thanks to the St. Hilda’s Street Luke’s Anglican Church, the Muslim Community has a place to pray on Fridays. The church has opened their doors and has been very hospitable. On June 11, 2018, the Muslim Community hosted an Eid Dinner for the Church Community and St. Thomas. London Mosque Imams, Imam Jamal and Imam Tawakkal, attended the event along with Naj Mankal, President of the Islamic Centre, and prominent Muslim community leaders Dr. Munir El Kassem and Professor Yahya Kharrat.
The Muslim Community invites everyone to visit the Mosque on Oxford Street during their open house every year. Come and see the beautiful mosque from the inside, see how Muslims pray, enjoy the display items, ask questions and enjoy the variety of yummy snacks!
October is now celebrated in many places all throughout Canada as Islamic History Month. On behalf of the Muslim Community in St. Thomas, I would like to thank the St. Thomas Public Library for putting up a display of books written by Muslim authors.