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Islamic life showcased

Culture day looks to dispel myths

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Mohammad Haider (left) and Lubna Usmani display the gulab jamun they made for Sunday's Islamic Culture Day.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mohammad Haider (left) and Lubna Usmani display the gulab jamun they made for Sunday's Islamic Culture Day. Photo Store

With dozens of cultures and close to 50 languages spoken, Winnipeg's Muslim community could host its own Folklorama. This Sunday, it's going to do just that -- but on a smaller scale and in just one location, the Winnipeg Grand Mosque.

The Manitoba Islamic Association is inviting the public to its first Islamic Culture Day.

The purpose, said Louay Alghoul, is to help people understand the diversity of Islam in Winnipeg.

"We really want to open the Muslim community up to the public," said the lawyer and member of the association executive. "They can ask 'Who are you really? What do you do when you're not at the mosque? What country do you come from?' "

With increased immigration, the Muslim population in Manitoba has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in the last decade.

Yet the only knowledge of Islam some people have is when an Arab or Middle Eastern country is in the news -- Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria -- and not often is the news good, he said.

Culture and the Muslim faith are often mixed up in the media and popular culture, said Alghoul. "It's our job to explain the difference," he said. "We can't just say 'Oh well, people don't understand.' "

They'll be sharing dishes and modelling costumes from diverse cultures, including different styles of women's head scarves from different parts of the world. Connecting with non-Muslim neighbours is at the heart of the event, said Alghoul.

"Why do some people act the way they do?" is a question he hopes the day's events will answer.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive because of their culture, not because they're Muslim, said Alghoul, who was born in Palestine and left at age 17.

Other practices that have been linked to faith have roots in geography and climate. Bedouin women covered their faces in the desert for practical reasons long before Islam was founded, he said.

It's a faith that has been adopted around the world and its practices have had to adapt to local realities, he said. In Yellowknife, for instance, when the sun never sets in summer, observant Muslims would starve during Ramadan if they had to wait until sundown to break their fast.

France banned overtly religious dress and signs from public schools. Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and Muslim head scarves can't be worn. Alghoul said the faithful there carry on.

"We're dealing with everyday activities."

Sunday's event will showcase Muslim contributions to civilization such as advances in math and science, as well as some culinary creations.

University student Lubna Usmani and her husband are making gulab jamun -- a kind of Pakistani Timbit soaked in syrup -- for the event.

Usmani was born in Winnipeg to a Polish-Canadian mother and a father from India. She is helping to organize the event and has contacted churches, synagogues, temples and dignitaries in trying to get the word out to the general public.

"I think it would be great for the whole community."

The event is free and runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Winnipeg Grand Mosque at 2445 Waverley St.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 B4

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