Friday reflection - The success of Canadian Muslims lies in our relationship with Indigenous peoples

Friday reflection - The success of Canadian Muslims lies in our relationship with Indigenous peoples

By Muneeb Nasir

We are all settlers on Turtle Island.

As settlers on Turtle Island, I believe we have much to learn about right relations, reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous peoples and their traditions.

The Indigenous peoples have always been gracious and welcoming of newcomers.

This welcome has been extended with the expectation that we, the newcomers, will recognize that we are treaty peoples, and as such, we will educate ourselves about these treaties, honor these treaties and we will exercise responsibilities towards the indigenous peoples and the land.

We must move to a position where we acknowledge the historical and current injustices of Indigenous peoples, educate ourselves about their histories and practices, and become their allies.

The arrival of settlers in this land led to the near destruction of the Indigenous civilization and people who have lived here for thousands of years – wars, disease and starvation nearly wiped out the Indigenous peoples.

Treaties were abandoned and Indigenous peoples were confined to small reserves; they were regarded as “savages” whose souls needed to be saved, and whose children were taken away and put into residential schools to be civilized.

Although this country today has become an open and inclusive society for immigrants, it has not always been so for the original peoples of this land.

We are all settlers who have migrated to this land.

We, or our fore-parents came, mostly from developing countries – the ‘third world’ – to live in this developed land – the ‘first world.’

However, many Indigenous peoples of this land continue to live in ‘third world conditions’ or experience ‘third world’ conditions.

They have undergone injustices brought on by colonization and centuries of successive immigration.

The tragedy of children and young people wishing to commit suicide, boil water warnings on reserves, and Indigenous women being killed remind us, every day, of the conditions faced by the First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in this land.

We are now settlers in this land and, as a growing religious community, we must now find ourselves on the right side of history.

There is a growing consciousness among some settler Muslims that our current conceptualisations of justice from the Islamic tradition and Canadian-ness needs to be challenged.

Justice is a defining moral virtue in our religion.

God calls us to enjoin justice.

Justice, and consequently the struggle against injustice, as a divine decree, must be the primary focus and objective of Canadian Muslims.

This call to justice requires us to search out the injustice in this land and be on the side of the unjustly treated.

We would be morally compromised when we speak about the injustice of occupation, settlements and open-air prisons in other parts of the world, yet we are silent about similar situations in this land.

The way of Muslims is to be with the broken hearted in the society, the way of Muslims is to be with the downtrodden.

The sign of the health of the Canadian Muslim community on Turtle Island is to look at how we are responding to the weak and how we are uplifting them.

So the future of the Muslim community has to be in engaging with the Indigenous peoples.

Our sense of belongingness (i.e. how we feel attached to this land) is tied to our relationship to Indigenous peoples.

As such, our Muslim Canadian identity is tied to our relationship to the Indigenous communities.

These are the people that give us our ‘urf’ (our local customary precedent) not by replicating or copying the customs from our homelands.

In reconciling our relationship with Indigenous communities perhaps our starting point should be to understand the values in Indigenous teachings.

The following is a Traditional Code of Ethics formulated by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Youth Secretariat which summarizes the most important values and teachings that are considered universal to all nations.

Traditional Indigenous Code of Ethics

  1. Give thanks to the Creator each morning upon rising and each evening before sleeping. Seek the courage and strength to be a better person.
  2. Showing respect is a basic law of life.
  3. Respect the wisdom of people in council. Once you give an idea it no longer belongs to you, it belongs to everybody.
  4. Be truthful at all times.
  5. Always treat your guests with honour and consideration. Give your best food and comforts to your guests.
  6. The hurt of one is the hurt of all. The honour of one is the honour of all.
  7. Receive strangers and outsiders kindly.
  8. All races are children of the Creator and must be respected.
  9. To serve others, to be of some use to family, community or nation is one of the main purposes for which people are created. True happiness comes to those who dedicate their lives to the service of others.
  10. Observe moderation and balance in all things.
  11. Know those things that lead to your well-being and those things that lead to your destruction.
  12. Listen to and follow the guidance given to your heart. Expect guidance to come in many forms: in prayer; in dreams; in solitude and in the words and actions of Elders and friends.

These are values we wholeheartedly agree with and which is the basis of building our relationships with Indigenous communities.

In reconciling our relationship with Indigenous communities we should look to the commonalities shared by our collective traditions.

1. Our respect for nature and the natural environment,

2. Consultative assemblies and restorative justice,

3. The emphasis placed on oral traditions,

4. And sharing and community practice are all examples of values and practices shared by both communities.

Let us continue to build relationships with Indigenous communities as the future success of Canadian Muslims depend on it