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Islamic History Month in Canada: Gift of fear

Why not a First Nations, European or Jewish history month?

By Madi Lussier – Published November 30, 2007/Updated October 2011

In 2007, the Canadian government decided to celebrate the Muslim presence and “contribution” to Canada in the form of the world’s first Islamic History Month.

Why such an exquisite gift, and why such questionable timing? The newfangled “Islamic History Month” seems to ride on the coattails of the perpetually offended Muslims, this time by the recent reasonable accommodation hearings held in Quebec. Some questioned the purpose of the Quebec hearings in fear that they might trigger similar actions in the rest of the country. 

This new annual “celebration of Islamic culture” is intended to reassure Muslims that, no matter what people in Quebec say, they are loved, wanted and their presence highly valued by all Canadians.

Covertly, with an Islamic History Month, Canada hopes to keep Muslims placated by official recognition.

The rise of Islam in European lands is a not a distant page in our ancient history books. The more recent turmoil in Europe is also well known to our government and politicians. 

Photograph by Madi Lussier

But is it extended to every group? Are other groups celebrated for a full month?  

For instance, a European History Month in Canada would be a justified recognition of the centuries-old genuine contributions made by the European immigrants to the development of this country, culturally, scientifically, socially and economically.

Canada, in addition to the already established Black History Month (celebrated in February in Canada and the USA), also has a South Asian Heritage Month, celebrated in May as, according to the 2001 Census, almost 10 % of Canadians are of Asian descent. 

Muslims in Canada

The first mosque in North America was built in Edmonton in 1938. 

Significant numbers of Muslim began to move to Canada in the 1970s. The first census year in which Muslims in Canada were specially included was 1981 and there were 100,000 of them. By 1991, the number soared to more than 250,000; in 2001, there were almost 600,000 Muslims living in Canada.

In 2007, when Ottawa officially proclaimed October as Islamic History Month, the Muslim community had only a few decades of presence in Canada.


Photograph by Madi Lussier

After contacting The Assembly of First Nations, I was informed that there is no such thing as First Nations History Month in Canada. 

Tracy Lavallee, a First Nations woman, stated: “There is no month dedicated to the First Nations in Canada – we do have “National Aboriginal Day”, June 21st that has been proclaimed by government. It would be nice if Canada would declare some month First Nations history month – this might prompt the various provincial governments to look seriously at having “proper” history taught which ought to include First Nations’ history, contributions, etc.”

When it comes to the First Nations, Canada considers that one day is sufficient to celebrate the historical presence of the native peoples.

I have also contacted the Jewish community.

Enza E. Martuccelli, Director of Community Relations for Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region, declared: ”We have had Yom Hashoah recognized by Parliament and from October through November the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre runs a series of programs on the holocaust. The Sephardic community also runs a month long cultural program focusing on their community in Quebec and elsewhere. However no proclamations of the kind that are found on the Muslim History Month website exist for the Jewish community.” 

There has been a Jewish population in Canada since the 1700s. The 2001 census listed 370,505 Jews in Canada.


European Christian Orthodox community

Another significant community in Canada is the European Christian Orthodox community which numbers 479,620 (2001), counting as 1.6% of the population (the Muslim community is 2.0%).

Considering that the first Orthodox Church in Canada was erected in 1898, 40 years before the first mosque,  the Orthodox community is also entitled to be honoured with a History Month.

Since Canada has decided to offer the Muslims an Islamic History Month, it would not be surprising if other communities, with older and more important presence in the Canadian history, asked for the same recognition.


 Even cancer is opportunity for proselytism (Dawah)

One of the activities carried out during the Islamic History Month and meant to “educate” the Canadian population about Islam was the “National Pink Hijab Day”, not a sincere initiative to raise funds for breast cancer, but a devious method of advertising the religion itself. 

The Canadian Islamic Congress had announced that they were giving away pink hijabs to 200 Canadian women across the country. In exchange, the women would volunteer to wear them on October 26th to raise funds for breast cancer research. To request a free pink hijab, those interested were supposed to send an e-mail before October 22nd, including “a short personal biographical statement”. 

Why such ”biographical statement”?

Is the Canadian Islamic Congress building a data base of potential converts?


Call for a Canadian year

If the Canadian government decides to offer one month to every single ethnic, religious or linguistic group, there is only one tiny problem: the length of the year. Since there are only 12 months and more than 20 large ethnic groups and over 100 other groups, I suggest the creation of the Canadian year so that every single community gets a celebration! 

The Canadian week would become 3, 04 days long. Thus, the 120 ethnic groups could each get an equitable representation in the Canadian calendar of official events.



 Activities during the Islamic month (2007)

 During the Islamic month, of 31 days, 10 days were without events. As for the events, they were basically a handful, shuffled over a period of 21 days: 

 – Free Public Performances on Qanoun By Dr. George Sawa 

 – Film: Damascus and the Umayyads, people of the 9th and 10th centuries 

 – Film: Istanbul, capital of the Ottomans in the 15th and 16th centuries 

 – Film: Glories of Islamic Art, Part 2; Cairo, the cockpit of the early Islamic struggles between Sunni and Shiia faiths 

 – Islamic History Month Canada (IHMC): Its Goals, Its Methods, Its Themes 

 – Cairo, traces of the 12th and 14th centuries 

 – Eid-ul-Fitr- Canadian Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr across Canada, ending the Islamic month of Ramadan 

 – Expo Islamia- Displays from around the Muslim World, books, CDs, DVDs, films on Islamic History, Arts, Architecture, Heritage, Games and Prizes 

 – The Ottawa Muslim Women’s Organization- Multicultural Show, Dinner & Entertainment 

 – A Mystical Journey – Sufi Music and other Expression of Devoton from the Muslim World

 – Islamic Civilization – A Very Short History- A presentation by Dr. Jamal Badawi, delivered by Dr. Safaa Fouda 

 – The Canadian Muslim Artist Ibrahim Shalaby in a Special Solo Show: Longing for the divine – an artistic tapestry 

 – Islamic Architecture, Science, Art and Spirituality: A Lecture in Celebration of Islamic History Month Canada- By Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University, Washington DC in his first Canadian Lecture Tour 

 – Friday October 26th- “National Pink Hijab Day”- to raise funds for breast cancer research “

– The Canadian Islamic Congress Annual Ottawa Gala Dinner- with the speech: “Creativity in the Medical Sciences during Medieval Islamic Times” by Dr. Ingrid Hehmeyer, MSc, PhD.


 Activities during the Islamic month (2011)


On islamichistorymonth.com:

Canada’s national cultural heritage is the sum total of the way Canadians from every background and every walk of life identify and express themselves. Islamic civilization does not belong only to Muslim Canadians, but to all Canadians. In fact, for more than 1,000 years
(about 600 AD through 1600 AD), Muslims made significant contributions to the well-being of humanity in numerous fields of endeavour. There are so many good stories to share and new learnings to experience; we intend to do all that, and more, during Islamic History Month Canada.

– Senator Mobina Jaffer, Honourary Chair, Canadian Islamic History Month Canada

Honourary Chair: Senator Mobina Jaffer

Chair: Mrs. Wahida Valiante

Islamic History Month Canada is an educational and cultural project originated, developed and sponsored by the Canadian Islamic Congress.

The objective of IHMC is to motivate and inspire Canadian Muslims to annually share their history, heritage and culture with fellow Canadians during one month, to be called the Islamic History Month Canada (IHMC).

This goal would be achieved through community and public events such as; exhibitions, lectures, celebrity tours, book fairs, and other complementary activities.

This will be a month in which Canadian Muslims celebrate and share our diverse civilization, including our contributions to the arts, sciences, medicine, architecture, humanities, music, spirituality, and every area of human knowledge. It will become a permanent part of Canada’s multicultural calendar with similar events across the country and will build bridges of understanding and appreciation between Muslims and all other Canadians.

Moreover, IHMC will enhance Canada’s ties, both economically and culturally, with other Muslim countries.

The IHMC Advisory Board includes senators, public figures, academics, inter-faith activists and Muslim community leaders. They include:
Dr. Hussein Amery (IHMC Chair – Alberta),
Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub,
Prof. Dr. Jamal Badawi,
Prof. Dr. Pierre C. Bélanger,
Prof. Dr. Muneer El-Kassem,
Salam Elmenyawi (Chair IHMC – Montreal),
Dr. Bachar El-Solh, (Chair IHMC – French Language Committee).
Prof. Dr. Tim Goddard,
Dr. Amin Elshorbagy (Chair IHMC – Saskatoon),
Prof. Rick Haldenby,
Sikandar Khan(Chair IHMC – Vancouver)
Dr. Soha Moussa,
Prof Dr. Anthony Hall,
Prof. Dr. Judith Miller,
Dr. Youssef Mroueh,
Prof. Dr. Andrew Rippin,
Wahida Valiante (National Chair)
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Yousif.
Dr. Maha Zubaidi

IHMC is sponsored by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), Islamic Circle of North America-Canada (ICNA), Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF), the Muslim Council of Montreal (MCM), Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), the Coalition of Muslim Organization (COMO), the Ottawa Muslim Association (OMA), the Human Concern International (HCI), the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), the High Commission and the Government of Malaysia, AlBukhary Foundation and the law firms of McCarthy Tétrault, Philips & Vineberg, Michel W. Drapeau Law Firm, Quadra Systems Corporation as well as many Canadian and international corporations and individuals, both financially and in-kind, too many to list. To all of our generous sponsors, we are gratefully thankful.


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