Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Proud Moment for Toronto Muslims

Muslims who have migrated to Canada often don’t realize the value of helping others. They don’t mind helping their own communities, but they have difficulty reaching out to others. I’ve always found this tribalism astonishing. Where are the Muslims when we organize sandwich runs and soup kitchens? Why can’t the Muslims help out when we set up tutoring programs for disadvantaged inner-city kids?

The answers are complex, but I think we can begin to understand Muslim non-participation by looking at two perceptions within the Muslim community:
1. Muslims often believe that the poverty-stricken in Third World countries need much more assistance than those in North America; and
2. Muslims often believe that their primary responsibility is to other Muslims.

First, Muslims don’t seem to realize that poverty exists in Canada. Perhaps this perception arises because many Muslims originate from 3rd world countries where poverty means working the cane fields, having little to eat, and using the out-house in the backyard. The welfare state that is Canada seems leagues apart. Community activists trying to shake Muslims out of their apathy and ignorance begin to educate Muslims by showing them that there are Muslim women who are homeless and Muslim families using food banks in Canada. By dealing with poverty and drug abuse and countless other problems in their society, Muslims are taught that they are helping their own.

But the second problem still remains. Muslims seem to think that their primary responsibility is to other Muslims. Muslim immigrants often don’t feel as if they are a part of Canadian society. They have not established themselves as vital elements of the wider community. And while they are quick to recognize their rights, they often forget their responsibilities as citizens and neighbours in this land they now call home. It’s a zero-sum game. If they help others, they feel that their own community is being deprived of their donations and support.

Community activists are now working to convince the community that it doesn’t always have to be about Muslims. Times are a-changing. Muslims no longer reside in segregated societies; they are bound up with Canadian society. And they are helping themselves when they help others. The Prophet Muhammad was sent as a guiding light to all humanity. He took care of the poor and sick; he sought ways to bring the disadvantaged out of their helplessness. Muslims too need to be concerned about their responsibility to humanity. Community activists demonstrate the interconnectedness of people by pointing to the positive way in which non-Muslims have interacted with Muslims in Canada. Muslims are for the most part treated equitably in the Canadian context, even after the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

The extensive efforts are making a difference. I was delighted to hear that Muslims have
donated over two tonnes of beef to the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. On Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims are obligated to sacrifice an animal in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. A portion of the meat is distributed to the needy. Muslim organizations in North America and Europe have long established programs allowing Muslims to donate their sacrifice to other Muslims living in Third World countries or war-torn parts of the world. This is the first time the mainstream Muslim community in Toronto is extending itself in a substantial way, not just to the poor in Canada, but also to people who might not even be Muslims. It is a small step, I know, but it demonstrates growth. In the midst of all the negativity, it is something to be proud of.


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