A Message from CCMS Director Adel Iskandar

September 30, 2021

If there was ever a reminder of our collective resilience as communities in the face of adversity and strife, these past two years have been precisely that. With a global pandemic upending post-secondary education, rendering students, faculty, and staff both emotionally and financially precarious, this has been a time when vulnerability was shared by so many. At SFU's Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, throughout this time, we have been striving to pull together despite the maelstrom and uncertainty, to continue to compassionately support all of those who are part of our many intersecting communities. During the pandemic, our team and friends led Digital Iftars that brought together Muslims and non-Muslims across the country who found themselves isolated from one another during Ramadan--a month of togetherness and solidarity. Since the lifting of health care restrictions, we have done everything we can to enliven and reanimate our programming to ensure our many communities continue to feel connected and enriched. 

Following the splendid and rich contributions of my predecessors and colleagues Dr. Amal Ghazal and Dr. Azadeh Yamini-Hamedani, I had the distinct pleasure to have served as the Interim Director for the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies (CCMS) for the academic year of 2021-2. During this time of great change, we reluctantly bid farewell to our inaugural Community Engagement Coordinator Aslam Bulbulia who led some of our landmark efforts through the Muslim Community Fellowship, our outreach and solidarity with Indigenous communities through numerous programs such as our multi-day workshop "Muslims on Turtle Island" and countless other efforts. We also bid farewell to our former Director Amal Ghazal whose charisma, creativity, and vision have left an indelible mark on CCMS through intersectional critical work that contributed to the Centre's international reputation and its local grounding. We wish Aslam Bulbulia and Dr. Ghazal rich and rewarding adventure aheads, the latter in her capacity as the Dean of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar, where she has already had a significant impact. We are proud of Dr. Ghazal's contributions to CCMS and continue to steadily follow in her steady footsteps. We also bid farewell to our long-time Janine-Marie Conrad who was a staple in the Centre as our program assistant. Stepping into Janine-Marie's place, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Amal Abdullah, our former Research Assistant and current Interim Program Assistant who stepped in for a brief but impactful stint and worked tirelessly to make possible so much of our "post-pandemic" programming in record time.  

The year 2021-2 was supposed to be a quiet year with limited programming as we ease back into some semblance of normalcy. Heeding the call of so many who encouraged CCMS to bring back our signature events, we doubled down on community and used the solidarity fostered during the pandemic to channel as much of this energy into our work. Beginning in September 2021, we marked the outset of these activities with an historic 3-day event entitled "Muslims on Turtle Island" which featured over 40 speakers and participants addressing themes such as Muslim settlement on the continent, building spaces of learning, fostering relationships and discussing responsibility among academics, artists and activists on what it means to Muslim on this land, as well as the ethical and moral implications of being settlers and migrants. 

With the Centre being the inaugural signatory of the City of Vancouver's original declaration of October as Islamic History Month, we continued to celebrate this occasion with a dynamic program that featured a collaboration with the Vancouver Public Library to host author Omar Mouallem who discussed his new book Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas. This was followed by a full day art exhibition and reception entitled "Healing Together: Overcoming Anti-Indigenous Racism and Islamophobia" and featured the works of Muslim artists, sculptors, writers, and poets from across the Lower Mainland with a special exploration of how to heal in the face of anti-Indigenous racism and Islamophobia.  

The Centre was also thrilled to be a partner and sponsor of the immensely successful MENA Film Festival this year in its most ambitious in-person iteration and as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). I had the pleasure of offering remarks at the Opening Ceremony of this festival which is pushing the boundaries of decolonial, local, and diasporic cinematic production from and about the SWANA region and whose films are a much needed offering for audiences in the Lower Mainland. CCMS also sponsored two panels featuring filmmakers and critics entitled "Systems of Accountability: Arts & Culture and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine" and "Finding Home: Being Jewish and Moroccan in Canada." As a long-time supporter of the study of the Middle East and Muslim Communities across the British Columbia, CCMS continued its collaboration with partner universities in the province to make possible the regular student conference MEICON (Middle East and Islamic Consortium of BC), held this year by our friends at UBC under the direction of Dr. Pheroze Unwalla. The event was immensely successful and highlighted stellar student research on a plethora of themes and topics from universities across western Canada and beyond.

We were also thrilled to be hosting the global in-person launch of The Colour of God, the deeply personal memoir of respected scholar and Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice at UBC Dr. Ayesha Chaudhry. It is the story of a child raised in Canada by parents who embraced a puritanical version of Islam to shield them from racism. She explores the joys and sorrows of growing up in a fundamentalist Muslim household, wedding historical narratives of colonialism and migration to the small intimate heartbreaks of modern life. In a continuation of our work on examining the racialization of communities, we collaborated with The Caucus--a student led progressive group at SFU--to hold a panel discussion about being "Reflections on Space Making in Institutions for Black Muslim Youth." A very lively and compassionate conversation ensued that brought to the fore the struggles with Islamophobia and racism in a colonial context among progressive Black Muslim youth as they face social stigmas within institutions.

We continued our dynamic, exciting, and fruitful collaboration with the Ismaili Centres in Vancouver and Toronto through a program led by CCMS Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Amyn Sajoo entitled "Onstage Conversations." The program featured numerous talks including Dr. Ulricke al-Khamis, Director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto on "Art As Dialogue" and Dr. Anver Emon, Professor of Law and History at the University of Toronto.

For the first time in over two years, we were able to hold a large community Iftar in Ramadan at SFU--a free catered public event that featured uplifting poetry, reflections, and spoken word from members of the community. The event was also a fundraiser for Nisa Homes, a transitional shelter in Surrey for Muslim women and children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Finally, and before the end of my directorship, I had the distinct pleasure of working with our program assistant Amal Abdullah in collaboration with our partners at The Caucus and the SFU Student Society (SFSS) to organize "Palestine Days @ SFU"--the single most extensive and ambitious 3-day program on Palestine at the university to date. Organized in the three cities housing SFU campuses--Burnaby, Vancouver, and Surrey--the program included a lecture by educator Bassam Abun-Nadi entitled "A Sky With No Stars" about the history of Palestinian leadership during the British Mandate (organized by The Caucus) at KPU-Surrey, "A Night of Celebration: Recognizing Student and Community Organizing for Palestinian Liberation" held at SFU-Burnaby which commemorated the historic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions passed by the Student Council. The evening featured a recognition of all the persons and organizations that contributed to this effort. Award-winning Palestinian-American journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin sent a video message congratulating the student-led initiatives and discussing the importance of sound coverage of the occupation of Palestine. On the last day of the events, we worked with our partners at the MENA Film Festival and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival to deliver a program entitled "Telling the Stories of Palestine" showcasing Canada-based Palestinian films made as part of a residency. We also heard remarks from Amnesty International's envoy to the UN Sherine Tadros, who is also the coauthor of the vital report on Israeli apartheid against Israelis as well as Emmy and Murrow award recipient Dena Takruri of digital journalism platform AJ+ who spoke about her work covering Palestine. The evening came to a close with the powerful reflections on the quest to document the tragedy of forgetting the losses of life and the memory of a nation from Vancouver-based Palestinian filmmaker Sobhi Al-Zubaidi.

We closed the year's events with a special evening of poetry and remembrance in honour of recently deceased Iraqi revolutionary socialist poet Muthaffar Al-Nawab led by scientist and humanist writer Dr. Wadood Hamad.

As we prepare for the upcoming year, we can look forward to the arrival of two stellar scholars to the Centre who will enrich our intellectual community with their fascinating project. We welcome the arrival of incoming Research Associate Dr. Nozhat Ahmadi and Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Kamran Bashir who will enliven CCMS with their research work and intellectual contributions.

In the coming weeks, CCMS will look forward to the seasoned and wise directorship of our dear friend and colleague Dr. Tamir Moustafa, Professor of International Studies and outgoing Director of the School of International Studies at SFU. A renowned scholar whose work falls squarely under the mandate of the Centre, he will be shepherding CCMS through this forthcoming year. We greatly look forward to his leadership in this period of great promise and opportunity.

In closing, I want to thank absolutely everyone that helped turn a rather routine year into an extraordinary one. CCMS is greater thanks to the collective efforts of so many who step up regularly to push the envelope and render this establishment one that has both purpose and impact.

Wishing everyone a restful and joy-filled summer.

Adel Iskandar

Director (Interim), CCMS