Canadian Ismaili success stories

November 03, 2006, volume 37, no. 5
By Marianne Meadahl

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Canadian-born Ismaili Muslims strongly identify with Canadian values of multiculturalism and feel at ease practising their religion in Canada, according to a Simon Fraser University study.

The study examined the ways in which parents' migration shapes expectations for their Canadian-born children. Its findings are based on a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with 47 Lower Mainland Ismaili Muslims from East Africa — many of whom fled Idi Amin's violent regime in the 1970s — and their Canadian-born children.

"We found that these expectations, especially in terms of education and professional achievement, are exceedingly high," says Jennifer Hyndman, an associate professor of geography at SFU. "Parents' economic and social sacrifice, and loss of business and property taken by local governments in their countries of origin accentuated hopes and aspirations for the second generation born in Canada." Hyndman calls it "a remarkable success story."

The study also found that second-generation Ismaili Muslims don't experience dissonance between their faith and their identity as Canadians.

The findings are part of a larger research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and supervised by Hyndman. Graduate student Arif Jamal carried out the study for his master's thesis, Linking Migration and Education across Generations: Ismailis in Vancouver. Jamal came to Canada from Kenya in the mid-1980s, one of three young siblings.

Jamal calls himself part of the ‘1.5 generation.' He sees his own experience echoed in the research findings: "I am the youngest of three. My brother is a dentist; my sister is an instructor at UBC; I'm working on my master's degree," he notes.

"We all aspire to do and be something that makes our parents feel proud and certain about their decision to leave behind so much financial prosperity in Kenya for better opportunities for their children. The sacrifices made our parents shape our aspirations and expectations here."

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