Preserving stories of Muslim history in Manitoba

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It was in the early 1900s when one of the first Muslims to live in Manitoba arrived in the province.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/02/2021 (728 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was in the early 1900s when one of the first Muslims to live in Manitoba arrived in the province.

His name was Ahmed Awid, and he came from what is now Lebanon — one of perhaps fewer than 1,000 Muslims in Canada at the time.

Awid settled in Brandon, where he married a local woman and established two successful businesses before moving to Edmonton in 1928.

Awid’s story is one of many told in a new book: Muslims in Manitoba: a History of Resilience and Growth.

“Many people, including many Muslims, think the history of the Muslim community in Manitoba only goes back to the 1960s,” said author Ismael Ibrahim Mukhtar.

“In fact, it goes back all the way to the early 1900s.”

Mukhtar, a chartered public accountant, came to Manitoba from Eritrea 30 years ago. He has always been interested in history of various kinds, including about the Muslim community in the province.

“I’ve had this idea for a book about Muslims in Manitoba for some time,” he said.

One of his goals is to share those stories with local Muslims, so they know more about their history in Manitoba. For non-Muslims, he hopes it will help them learn more about their Muslim neighbours and how they have contributed to life in the province.

“I hope non-Muslims will learn about our shared values as Manitobans, whatever faith we are,” he said.

The book is also a way for him to honour and document the pioneering contributions of Muslims who helped establish and build up the community.

“I wanted to be sure those stories weren’t forgotten and lost,” said Mukhtar, a former president of the Manitoba Islamic Association and a volunteer imam. “I want to recognize their efforts.”

The book won’t shy away from the challenges, conflicts and controversies in the community over issues such as the role of women, integration, assimilation and other social issues. It will also explore how the community has been impacted by, and dealt with, Islamophobia over the years.

“We have our challenges, just like any other community,” Muhktar said of the estimated 20,000 Muslims in Manitoba. “But we have been successful in meeting them.”

One issue the book will highlight is what happened to the local community after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Ahmed Awid

That was a hard time, he said, but it “also helped us come together, become stronger and interact with others. It created opportunities to reach out and share about Islam with Manitobans.”

For Idris Elbakri, chairman of the MIA board, the book is timely.

“The Muslim community Manitoba is maturing and coming of age,” he said. “Now is the time to preserve the story of our history here.”

This includes how Muslim leaders 50 years ago transcended racial and ethnic differences in the community to start the first mosque in 1976.

“They planted the seeds for what we have today,” he said.

For Payam Tofigh, president of Manitoba Multifaith Council, a book like this is important because it shows “the diversity of our province, and the unity we have in that diversity.”

It’s also a way to “appreciate the contributions of Muslims in Manitoba,” he said.

The book will be available in April. 

faith@freepress.mb.ca

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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