October crowns Canadian Muslims with a glorious month of celebrating their rich heritage and history. Some of us are surprisingly even unaware that this past month is a salute to the significant influences by countless names and events that make us Muslims stand tall and proud.
But what does Islamic history month really represent? Is it just a token of our existence? Is it education or celebration? Is it progression or unknowing regression? Are we happy to take this month to our name and disappear into oblivion for the rest of the year? It’s our time as Muslims to define what Islamic history means, and whether we’re happy to be wrapped up in this beautiful box that celebrates us, or do we feel this box restricts our very existence?
Let’s get down to the facts. The origins of Islamic history month were developed and sponsored by the Canadian Islamic Congress who sought this out as an educational and cultural project. The objective of the committee was to motivate and inspire Canadian Muslims to take this month and share their history and heritage with others around them.
The initiative was championed by many notable heavyweights including Wahida Valiante and Dr. Jamal Badawi, who put a lot of work into this project, and ensured recognition by the government of Canada. As a Canadian Muslim, I definitely appreciate all the good intentions and priceless time, money and effort that were put into Islamic history month. However, as Muslims, we know that it’s on us to go higher, to reach for more, and to never settle for what we have. There is always room for improvement, and I get a kick out of asking our community the tough questions that encourage us to keep moving forward, rather than settling and standing still.
Copy and paste?
Have we just taken Black history month and changed the name to call it our own? Black history month is still being debated in the African-American community for many reasons. One of them being that great black leaders including Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, are repainted as “great” but equally rare and unlikely for someone else to come in and fill their shoes. This has proved to be extremely dangerous for their community. By distancing the leaders from “real life”, youth will never be motivated enough to excel beyond their historical ancestors because of thoughts like “that was then, this is now” and “I can’t be like them”. Should we allow our youth to settle for the same after-effects or do they deserve an admiration of Islamic history that inspires action, not compliance? If the usefulness of black history month is questionable, is it wise to copy and paste their template of a “history month” or can we raise the ranks for our own inspiration?
Is it education or celebration? Or both? Or neither?
I enjoy celebrations (who doesn’t?!), but is that the best way to commemorate our historical ancestors? And is it even necessary to make the education accessible to mainstream society? Ibn ʿAṭā’-Allāh, a prolific jurist, once stated: “The beginnings are the manifestations of the ends.” If Islamic history month begins to tread down the path of celebration instead of education, I fear we may lose touch with the primary objective: education. People will forget celebrations, but history will remember education. Let’s not lose focus here. If the month was meant to help others understand and learn about our heritage then we may be far behind as teachers.
Halal food for thought
Before you decide that Islamic history month is “just what we need” ask yourself this: Is it ALL that we need? While you’re at it, you might want to ask a few more questions…
How do we make young people feel and care about Islamic history?
What’s the difference between celebration and education of Islamic history?
How do we integrate the richness of diverse Islamic history into the mainstream education curriculum?
Let’s not let today be insignificant, because it’s the history of tomorrow. If this month is going to leave its mark on our calendars, then it’s up to us to ensure that it means a lot more than just a token of our existence. Stand up if you want to be noticed, and teach our history to others if you want them to learn it.
To learn more about Islamic history month, you can visit http://www.islamichistorymonth.com/
And to do more… well, those possibilities are just endless.
Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿAṭā’-Allāh al-Sakandarī, al-Ḥikam al-ʿAṭā’iyyawa al-munājāh al-Ilāhiyya (Damascus: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Hāshimiyya, n.d.), 67.