By Rabia Khedr
(January 24, 2011) – Reflecting on the headline of the week and pondering the state of affairs of the Muslim community in the Greater Toronto Area, I’m obligated to put my words down for contemplation.
I’m coming from a perspective of an activist experienced in building community capacity to respond to issues faced by marginalized individuals.
I appreciate the efforts of people who recognize a need and dedicate their careers to address that need risking the reality of being subject to public scrutiny.
I am proud to be an immigrant child, having arrived at the age of four in the mid-70s, well before the mushrooming of Muslim institutions in the greater Toronto area.
This was a time when there was one mosque and one halal meat shop, at least known to me.
Today, I’m afraid to count the number of empty structures our community has erected across the skyline with our generosity.
Let me clarify why I dare describe them as empty”.
We are booming on Friday afternoons and at least two additional particular days of the year, spilling into a nuisance on public streets and our neighbours’ parking lots without feeling at all apologetic.
We are offering plentiful space for five prayers, seven days a week, but are not managing to attract the crowds we represented when we challenged zoning authorities to construct our houses of worship.
However, we continue to plow ahead and construct new castles for fallen kings when matters are disputed in their original kingdoms and they feel an impulse to abdicate and move their followers to another location.
The desire to establish a new structure of worship nobly masks egos and false dreams of a reality that has passed and is deeply rooted in discrimination.
It is a last-gasp attempt to hang on to “what was” for us.
It is a final attempt to keep the culture alive, concealed beneath Islamic aspirations.
It is a hope to maintain the past into the present without realizing that we need to think about the future of the next generation and their needs, not our misplaced dreams.
However, we are stuck with institutional mandates trapped in the past.
Many of our beloved leaders are driven to establish institutions that will preserve means of educating the next generation, activities that are necessary to preserve our children’s faith, tradition and language, that we often insist is of the ultimate importance.
I applaud the community’s resilience and efforts to mobilize and strive to ensure Islam is our way of life in our present homeland.
But I appeal to those of us with the burden of power and authority within existing and emerging institutions to objectively critique our motivation and evaluate the real needs of present and future generations.
I beg us to consider the impact of yet another divisive space that fragments an already disunited critical mass.
Unfortunately, the establishment of another centre only divides us further along cultural and linguistic lines and perpetuates racism among Arabs, Indo-Pakistanis, Somalis and West Indians and many in between.
The pioneer establishes basic institutions, in our case mosques, but at some point in time there is a need to move beyond.
I and many of my contemporaries ask the question “Do we not have enough mosques?”
This brings us to the next question.
“Isn’t it time to organize and collectively address the social crises that a place to pray alone cannot address?”
I appeal to us to recognize the crises and turmoil our single-parent families, youth, seniors and people with disabilities are experiencing.
It is time not to establish a new brand and crown a castle’s founder.
It is time to address real issues including addiction, bereavement, caregiver burn-out, depression, identity crises, social isolation and violence.
It is time that we put our money where our mouth is and save the next generation.
The time is critical today to develop programs and services that can be hosted in existing centres.
After all, I am certain these existing centres are pretty empty Monday to Thursday.
Perhaps, the reality is that our brothers cannot confront social issues as they are often academics, accountants, engineers and scientists leading community institutions.
Emotional and psychological matters are not their cup of tea.
Perhaps our sisters need to take the reins and drive programs and services to address social issues within the walls of our existing institutions.
Let the mothers bring the nurturing back to our institutions.
Let the fathers lead prayers.
Let’s give our community a fighting chance.