VANCOUVER, Oct. 28,2012/ Troy Media/ – The festival of Eid al-Adha on October 26 coincided for many Muslims with a pilgrimage, the hajj, to Mecca. Media coverage of the event in Canada focused on the pilgrimage and on the animals bought and eaten to commemorate the holiday. A Vancouver Sunreport mentions that the meat of the animal purchased by a Muslim family is divided into three parts – with one given to friends, another to the poor.
Traditionally, goats and other livestock serve to commemorate the episode, well known to Jews and Christians, when Abraham is tested by God. He is asked if he is willing to sacrifice what is dearest to him (his son), though ultimately God only requires him to sacrifice an animal.
With all this talk of meat, you might be eyeing your Muslim neighbours suspiciously, expecting to see them heading out the door with bags of freshly slaughtered flesh. This is highly unlikely. The point of the holiday is not the meat: it is the emphasis on charity. While this is highlighted during Eid al-Adha, and Eid al-Fitr (which ends the month of Ramadan), it is a reminder of what’s supposed to happen all year.
Because they don’t live in agricultural societies, Canadian Muslims have developed different ways to give.
Last December, as the scandalous housing conditions in Attawapiskat made headlines, a Toronto-based organisation called Islamic Relief Canada put together a caravan and headed up to the reserve. After consulting with Chief Theresa Spence, they brought heaters, blankets, jackets and other winter clothes. These items were donated by Canadian Muslims who felt a duty to reach out to fellow citizens in distress.
The same organisation raised funds earlier that year to help pay the rising rent costs of Toronto’s largest food bank in Flemingdon, which had been established and run by the Red Cross. It is now run by a coalition of Christian and Muslim groups. Food banks are often the recipients of large donations from community mosques during Ramadan, as the daily fast raises awareness of and solidarity with those who go hungry.
These time-honoured practices even find expression in the dishes on the table. “Generosity is not just giving money from excess, but rather sharing with the poor” reads an inscription on a 10th-century Samanid bowl from Central Asia. The same sentiment was behind the soup kitchens (imaret) in Ottoman Istanbul, which served roughly 1,500 people twice a day, notes Professor Amy Singer in her book Charity in Islamic Societies.
Singer recalls the motivation for this in the Quran itself: “True piety is . . . to give of one’s substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, the needy, the traveller”.
Here in Vancouver, Ismaili Muslims host a walk each September which has raised tens of thousands for civic charity. This year they backed the YWCA Cause We Care House which will provide shelter for single mothers and their children, as well as medical, employment, and literacy services. The Ismaili Walk has previously aided Vancouver’s Crisis Centre – which offers 24-hour support to those in emotional distress – and the Women’s Health Research Institute at the BC Women’s Hospital, among others.
But Canadian Muslims have reached out to communities far beyond our national borders. Retired UBC Professor Muhammad Iqbal and his wife founded the Maria-Helena Foundation to provide educational facilities and free schooling to children in Pakistan, especially girls.
A similar initiative was taken by Froozan Jooya. An Afghan-Canadian, she founded the Beacon of Hope for Afghan Children Society, which provides medical supplies to a children’s hospital in Kabul, and food and education for street children.
It’s about the ethics of a faith in which charity is one of the pillars. Yet, unlike the pilgrimage or even Eid, this is hardly an occasional activity. You wouldn’t know it from the news headlines, in which Muslims are frequently paired with terms like “rage”, “violence”, and “terrorism”. Those are but a small part of the story – too often, and uncharitably, taken for the whole.
Troy Media columnist Eva Sajoo is a Research Associate with the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She has a graduate degree in International Development and Education from the University of London. Her published academic writing focuses on the rights of women and minorities. She has contributed widely to publications on Islam and the Muslim world. Eva has taught at the University of British Columbia, and the Beijing University of Science and Technology. She currently teaches at SFU. Website: http://www.ccsmsc.sfu.ca/about_us/faculty/eva_sajoo. Follow Eva on Twitter @esajoo
EDMONTON – A creative surgeon made sure Eric Newell could play last week in a golf tournament that raised a Canadian record of $534,400 to fight global poverty.
The Aga Khan Foundation’s World Partnership in Golf is played in eight cities across Canada and was this year held at the Derrick Golf Club.
“Doctors said I wouldn’t be able to play golf again when I fell on ice and broke my right wrist last year,” said Newell, a former University of Alberta chancellor and CEO of Syncrude Canada.
The usual treatment for a broken, arthritic wrist is to insert a metal plate.
“But when I was out cold on the operating table, Dr. Mike Morhart knew I loved golf and that a plate wouldn’t give me enough movement to play,” Newell said.
The innovative surgeon make a workable wrist for Newell using a combination of a spare knuckle, a tendon from his arm and a screw.
“Dr. Morhart was grinning like a Cheshire cat when I came around,” said Newell. “He’s a true artist.”
Newell said he’s driving the ball about 20 metres less, but was delighted to play in the tournament.
“Global poverty is one of the most pressing issues of our times,” tournament convener Ali Sachedina said. “Some 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related diseases. We are delighted Edmontonians have raised the most funds in the country to help.”
The funds will be quadrupled by grants from the Canadian International Development Agency and will be used to improve the quality of life in several countries, mostly in Asia and Africa.
“Among some 44 projects, we will teach girls in Afghanistan, help farmers in Mozambique and help train entrepreneurs in many countries,” Sachedina said.
Former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan is dedicated to helping the foundation, too. She played eight holes, dashed off to attend a Royal Alexandra Hospital Charitable Foundation meeting and returned at 7:15 p.m. for the tournament’s dinner and auction.
Stockbroker Angus Watt, another veteran supporter, said: “I like the fact the foundation is keen to improve the lives of thousands of women by giving them micro-loans to help them start their own businesses.”
On the bucket list
RBC’s Dave Majeski and his guest Phil Wiedman, the Focus Equities real estate developer, were the biggest spenders at the auction. They paid $38,000 to take four people to visit Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, Arusha and Zanzibar and three game parks during a two-week African safari. “This has always been on my bucket list,” Wiedman said.
A one-week stay at C.J. Woods’ luxury villa in Cabo San Lucas sold to Todd Bish for $21,000.
Two tickets to Paul McCartney’s concert went for $2,100.
A golden occasion
Canada was one of many countries wondering after the London Olympics if it had done enough to support its athletes, Majeski said.
“Canada’s goal was 22 medals and we won 18,” he said. “Are we doing enough to support our athletes on the world stage? Generally, no.”
Majeski, who attended the Olympics, is a driving force behind this year’s Gold Medal Plates Dinner and says the Oct. 18 event at the Shaw Conference Centre is sold out.
“If Canada wants to do better on the world stage, we have to support out athletes,” he said. “Net proceeds from the dinners across the country are handed to the Canadian Olympic Foundation, which supports athletes and high performance programs such as Own the Podium. To date, more than $6 million has been raised at Gold Medal Plate dinners.”
Adam van Koeverden, a multiple medallist in kayak, will emcee the event, supported by Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies and Canadian musical icon Barney Bentall.
A new auction item is an eight-day South African trip with singer-songwriter Jim Cuddy, his rock counterpart Sam Roberts and Olympic gold and silver triathlete Simon Whitfield.
Another hot item, pun intended, will be a trip to Chile led by Steve Podborski, chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and former “Crazy Canuck” downhill skier.
A helpful ear
Hairdressers hear everyone’s story, but Irish-born Joseph Scully was particularly moved by one. “When I heard school teacher Lana Pol tell of the dreadful plight facing abandoned young children, or children orphaned when their parents died of AIDS, I knew I had to do something practical,” he said. “Weeping wasn’t an option.”
He is helping Pol back the work of Dr. Mark Kumleben, an Edmonton doctor who returns home to South Africa for six months every year to help The Clouds of Hope non-denominational orphanage near the cattle community of Underberg in KwaZulu Natal. “Funds are needed for beds, bedding and appliances,” Scully said. “But primary concerns are school fees and housing.”
He is helping to screen an award-winning BBC documentary about South African orphans on Oct. 4 at the Paramount Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Tickets ($20) are available at Scully’s salon in the Sawridge Hotel, or by calling 780-708-3892.
On 21 March, Ismaili Muslims worldwide observe Navroz (Nowruz), a festival celebrated in many Muslim communities and cultures, particularly those belonging to the Shia. For many communities, it marks the beginning of a new year and the first day of spring. More generally, it signifies a time of spiritual renewal and physical rejuvenation, as well as the spirit of gratitude for blessings and an outlook of hope and optimism towards the future.
The festival of Navroz commemorates a centuries-old, agrarian custom that over time was integrated into various cultures and faith traditions. Today, Navroz is celebrated in many parts of the Middle East and Central and South Asia, particularly among peoples influenced by Persian and Turkic civilisations. In countries such as Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, Navroz is observed as a public holiday.
In Surah Ya-Sin of the Holy Qur’an, Allah says:
Let the once dead earth be a sign to them. We gave it life, and from it produced grain for their sustenance. We planted it with palm and the vine and watered it with gushing springs, so that men might feed on its fruit. It was not their hands that made all this. Should they not give thanks?
Ismailis across the globe celebrate Navroz with the recital of devotional poetry in the form of ginans, qasidas, and manqabas. Dried fruits, nuts and grains are distributed among Jamati members, symbolising blessings of abundance and sustenance. Navroz is also a time of family gatherings and celebratory meals, thus strengthening family bonds and fraternal ties.