Islamic History Month 2019

October 15, 2019
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Post-event Reflections

Story by Yara Younis
MAIS Candidate, Teaching & Research Assistant 

In 2007, the Parliament of Canada proclaimed October Islamic History Month, followed by a series of provincial-level proclamations. Now, Islamic History Month is observed in recognition of the significant contributions Muslim communities have made to Canadian society. The month seeks to inform, educate, and spread mutual understanding about Muslim cultures and the historical contributions made through literature, science, sports, and the arts. To mark this occassion, the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies at SFU partners with local organizations, the Vancouver Public Library and the City of Vancouver to host an annual Islamic History Month celebration. 

The 2019 edition of Islamic History Month focused on highlighting similarities and shared understanding between the Indigenous and Muslim communities through an acknowledgement of the land we live on, as well as by asking difficult questions about co-existence on stolen land while sharing stories of art and spirituality in both communities. 

An opening welcome ceremony marked the beginning of the event, honorably gathered by representatives from the Squamish and Musqueam nations, councilors from the City of Vancouver, the director of CCMS, and a representative from the Vancouver Public Library. All were given an opportunity to express their views on what the event means to them. Michelle and Marissa Nahanee, and Christie Lee Charles offered powerful words and a heartfelt song with drumming about the history of their land, culture, and peoples. Amal Ghazal, the director for the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, followed with a statement to “recognize that the history and contributions of Canadian Muslims have taken place on Unceded land and as a Muslim community, our responsibility is not just to acknowledge that but to rectify this however we can.”  Each speaker’s words drew the room closer as we acknowledged and questioned our presence on unceded land - whether it is through questioning how “halal” our food is if it is eaten on stolen land, a question put forth by CCMS Engagement Coordinator Aslam Bulbulia, or when we enjoy walking in areas like Stanley Park that have been anglicized to erase events and actions bearing historical significance. The organizers recognized the relationship building that still needs to happen, evidenced by the absence of members from the Tsleil-Waututh nation whose land this is too.

As the ceremony came to a close, guests enjoyed an intermission with chai, cake and cookies generously provided by members of the Ismaili community. Guests took the time to mingle and ask questions, while naturally transitioning to the art exhibit, carefully curated by Layla A. Jaffer. The exhibition showcased phenomenal pieces from a variety of artists and creatives from Muslim and Indigenous communities based in Vancouver, including pieces by Tariq Malik, Aisha Damji, John Velten, Azmina Kassam, Fatima Ahmed, Fatima Jaffer, Layla A. Jaffer, Mustaali Raj, Nasnin Virji-Babul, Shahira Tejpar, Shazia’Ayn Babul, and prayer rugs made by Muslim and Indigenous artists and weavers through a project initiated by the Vancouver Biennale last year. The exhibition ranged from contemporary abstract pieces, to shoes, fabrics and prayer rugs symbolizing the multiple ways creativity can manifest in relation to spiritual practices, while also demonstrating the journey of being an immigrant Muslim on this land. 

The exciting scheduled programs were soon underway as guests were directed to the poetry corner, where an impressive line-up of local spoken word poets and authors were sharing their work, including Halah Zumrawi, Tariq Malik and Nabila Jaffer. At the same time, others chose to attend a panel discussion on “Muslim and Indigenous Art Practices and Spirituality” with Chief Janice George and Mustaali Raj, moderated by Prof. Amal Ghazal. Both sessions were at full capacity due to intriguing and insightful discussions that allowed Muslims to question their creative and cultural thought processes in relation to Indigenous norms and practices. The sessions that followed included an Elder’s Circle hosted by Tim Elijah and Tariq Malik, where a discussion ensued with elders from the Muslim community sharing their stories of building a life in Vancouver over the decades. Right next door, Tauheed Faheem conducted an Arabic Calligraphy workshop for visitors young and old, where each participant left with their own practice calligraphy workbook designed by Tauheed. 

Simultaneously, Shagufta Pasta moderated a Q&A session with Aatif Baskanderi, the filmmaker behind “Salaam B’y - A Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander” that was being screened. Close by, on the library’s grand staircase, Romila Barryman and Itrath Syed facilitated participants through the life-sized board game “Sinulkhay and Ladders” created by Michelle Nahanee, which is a twist on the classic game of Snakes and Ladders. “Sinulkhay and Ladders” teaches lessons on decolonial practices as players move through it. Meanwhile, down at the promenade, guests had the opportunity to get free Henna designs by talented artists, Aabida Ali and Sarah Khan. Throughout the day, memorable moments were captured through Doaa Jamal and Ahmed Seedat’s photography. 

Shortly after the sessions came to an end, guests enjoyed the scenic views from the library’s rooftop garden, where group pictures were taken with our amazing volunteer team. Shadowed by the sun’s glistening reflections on the downtown buildings, we received the last thank yous and farewells for the day, but not before a final song by Métis singer and actress, Andrea Menard, of Métis descent, signalling the end of the Islamic History Month 2019 event. It was a day of learning experiences and growth for all and now, we look forward to next year.