In October 2007, Parliament officially declared October as Islamic History Month in Canada.
What is a History Month? According to IHMC Honorary Chair, Senator Mobina Jaffer, it is a month in which Canadian Muslims “celebrate and share their diverse civilization, including contributions to the arts, sciences, medicine, architecture, humanities, music, spirituality and every area of human knowledge.” It has since become a permanent part of Canada's multicultural calendar with similar events across the country that have built bridges of understanding and appreciation between Muslims and all other Canadians.
The Hon. Mauril Bélanger, MP for Ottawa-Vanier and Official Opposition Critic for Canadian Heritage, Francophonie and Official Languages, declared that: "… in the opinion of the House, due to the important contributions of Canadian Muslims to Canadian Society; the cultural diversity of the Canadian Muslim community; the importance of Canadians learning about each other to foster greater social cohesion; and the important effort now underway in many Canadian communities in organizing public activities to achieve better understanding of Islamic history, the month of October should be designated Canadian Islamic History Month.
During the inaugural year following Mr. Bélanger’s motion -- which was introduced and carried in the House of Commons on October 25, 2007 -- and also in 2008, 2009 and 2010, a number of Canadian cities proclaimed October as Islamic History Month in their civic jurisdictions. And the rest is history, as interest in IHMC continues to gain recognition and support. Through this intercultural experience we have witnessed that history is not only in books; it is a living experience and it is part of whatever one does. Since Canadian Muslims live in Canada, the celebration of IHMC is another facet of Canadian history in the making.
As an educational and cultural project conceived, developed and sponsored by the Canadian Islamic Congress, the objective of Islamic History Month is to motivate and inspire Canadian Muslims to annually share their history, heritage and culture with fellow Canadians.
The IHMC Advisory Board includes senators, public figures, academics, inter-faith activists and Muslim community leaders, who all play significant role in making sure that IHMC lives up to its mandate of sharing only the vast legacy of knowledge and skill passed down from earlier generations of Muslim scholars, scientists, artists, and philosophers.
Since becoming IHMC’s national chairperson four years ago, it has been my responsibility to select an annual focus theme on contemporary issues in consultation with our advisory board. The board’s other function is to assist in the selection of suitable guest speakers. This is a difficult task, since there may be many renowned scholars to choose from in a particular field, but few among them having any deep familiarity with Muslim contributions to their vocation. Most of all, it is important to remember that scientific and historical relationships which existed between Islamic and western civilizations still exist to this day.
Since 2007, IHMC has presented four lecture series on topics that include Islamic art and architecture, Islamic banking systems and finances; irrigation and water systems; and medicine and pharmacology. This year’s timely theme focused on Islam and the environment and was central to a series of presentations in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Vancouver. The topics highlighted by IHMC not only resonated with our mixed audiences but also brought diverse people together. Therefore, as a permanent component of Canada's multicultural calendar, IHMC works to facilitate similar events across the country, in order to build bridges of understanding, mutual discovery and appreciation between Muslims and all other Canadians.
There are multiple benefits of this great project, but I will just mention a few. IHMC offers an unprecedented annual opportunity to the citizens of Canada to learn about Islamic contributions to humanity from Muslims themselves, as well as from those sympathetic to their culture and faith. This opportunity presents a positive contrast to sources that do not objectively represent Islam and Muslims.
IHMC also helps to foster respect, understanding and cooperation among Canadians of diverse backgrounds. These are the foundations of healthy communities and lead to greater prosperity for society as a whole, enhancing our collective potential to reduce or eliminate fear of “otherness,” deter or prevent Islamophobia, create an atmosphere of belonging (rather than exclusion) for Canadian Muslims, and build a climate of acceptance and respect for all Canadians.
Islamic History Month is therefore important, not only for non-Muslim Canadians to learn about Islam and its place in human development, but equally so for Muslim Canadians, who until now have had very limited access to knowledge of their past history. This history is seldom, if ever, discussed within the mainstream media, who seem afraid to engage Canadians in a varied intellectual discourse.
In our current anti-Islamic environment, IHMC offers the most effective and balanced means of promoting dialogue between the Muslim community and the institutions and government of mainstream society. It was one of my goals to reach out to other Muslim organizations, including youth groups, to develop mechanisms for working with them as partners. I am delighted to say that to some extent, IHMC has accomplished this by having several very successful joint events in major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Saskatoon. This has attracted the attention of other cities across Canada, and I am very hopeful that next year there will be more cities that will join as partners in celebrating IHMC.
I am pleased that in Canada there are many people who are thinking about and exploring ways and means to develop a society where people of diverse faiths and cultures can live together in peace and harmony. This is an important part of being Canadian; knowing one another, learning from one another, celebrating our differences and contributing together for the well -being of this great country.
Multiculturalism became an official Canadian government policy in 1971. Since then, Canada has been cited as a world leader in diversity issues and a model of social engineering and institutional arrangement.
The Qur’an also very clearly speaks of this:
"O people! We have created you from a (single pair) male and female, and made you into, nations and tribes that you may know each other (Li Ta’arafu) … ” (Qur’an 49:13)
In summary, IHMC 2010 was a resounding success due to its timely topic and the speakers’ knowledge of both the scientific and Qur'anic principles of the delicate environmental balance of creation. This would not have been possible without the support and help of volunteers, Muslim organizations and Centers. I extend my thanks to them and look forward to working with them.
(Wahida Valiante is National President of Canadian Islamic Congress and Chair of IHMC. She is a social worker and family therapist. She is also a cyber-counselor with Islamonline and among the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World)