Indigenous – Muslim Relations and ‘Knowing One Another’

By Lucy El Sherif

“I look at Muslim traditions, and we reflect each other a lot,” was the main message of Elder Joanne Dallaire’s talk during an event on Indigenous-Muslim relations, organized by DawaNet on April 29th.  Elder Joanne is the Elder for Ryerson University and spoke at the Native Canadian Center of Toronto on links and similarities between Indigenous people and Muslims.  At the outset, the event organizers underscored that there are Indigenous Muslims, however the context of this event was to educate non-Indigenous Muslims on relations with Indigenous people.

Elder Joanna illustrated similarities between Indigenous and Muslim worldviews, such as valuing family, honoring community, and embodying our spiritual worldviews as a daily practice of life.  She highlighted how concepts such as living with multiple generations in one home are not unusual for either community, as well as traditions of repaying ill treatment with kindness.  She described how both communities have similar experiences of being “blamed and shamed” on the basis of race, and pushed to the margins of society because of who we are. Both cultures highlight the ongoing links between mind, body and spirit, the importance of intentionality, and to enter into relationships with a good heart.

As has been highlighted in the media recently, the federal government appallingly fails to provide basic social services to Indigenous communities: no clean running water and nutritious food priced at outrageously expensive prices compared to other Canadian cities- all while alcohol can be bought on Indigenous reserves for prices comparable to the rest of Canada.

For those who wish to engage with Indigenous communities and support them in their social justice struggles, Elder Joanne highlighted specific steps and mindsets that are important to keep in mind to engage Indigenous communities respectfully:

  1. Know the treaties that pertain to the land you are living on. Find out specifically whose land you are living on, and think through your treaty obligations seriously. These obligations are often forgotten as we take our citizenship in Canada as a relationship to the government, and forget those who lived on the land.
  2. Establish relationships with Indigenous people in your community and their Elders. To ask an Elder to offer an opening ceremony or prayer for an event requires that one visit the Elder and make an offering (often tobacco, but it varies by community) in a respectful way, and seeks the Elder’s wisdom.
  3. Many people show up at Indigenous reserves and start their ‘helping’ by telling Indigenous people what to do. Elder Joanne stressed that rather than doing so, explain what your skill set is and what you have to offer, and ask them if they see a need or a fit for how you can help.

Jeewan Chanicka, Central Coordinating Principal of Equity and Achievement in the TDSB, spoke next.  Chanicka, formerly a TDSB school principal, described how he and his staff scoured the school library and threw out any book that portrayed Indigenous people in unfair or absent ways.  Chanicka stressed how it is our Muslim duty as an obligation of justice, not charity, to support Indigenous people, saying, “We can’t go sleep with our stomachs full, clean running water and our brothers and sisters whose land is taken from them [don’t have this].  This is something we know in history they have had their land taken away, [and are] being positioned as bad ones in the conflict…We know this. And we know this as people in the shadow of Ramadan.”

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ISNA Canada is an Islamic organization committed to the mission and movement of Islam: nurturing a way of life in the light of the guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah for establishing a vibrant presence of Muslims in Canada. ISNA exists as a platform for all Muslims who share its mission and are dedicated to serving the needs of Muslims and Muslim communities.

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