One of the many blessings of working as an archivist at MiCA is the chance to connect with a cornucopia of wonderful people that I may not have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise. Although we use different avenues to do our work, the brilliant ribbon that ties us all together is our shared passion, commitment, and drive to amplify the stories and lived experiences of Canadian Muslims into the mainstream and, simultaneously, reshape current narratives.
One of these lovely people is Shagufta Pasta. A great supporter of the work we do at the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS), she and I had been interacting on Twitter for awhile when she contacted me about the Digital Iftars initiative. Here was a chance at last to work together! The first time Shagufta and I spoke was virtually through Zoom in order to brainstorm how the iftar could potentially be structured.
She had the great idea to join forces (Digital Iftars + Muslims in Canada Archives) and, thus, MiCA began preparing a casual, informal digital iftar that we hoped would be attended by our friends, community partners, and the public. As an archive, one of MiCA’s goals is to be a platform for storytelling so, naturally, I thought that this iftar would be the perfect space to share stories and connect with our community.
May 3rd was the target date and we had roughly a week to plan and promote. One of the first things we did was connect with some of MiCA’s biggest supporters and friends to invite them to join us. Furthermore, we encouraged all storytellers to also have with them a record or artifact that was relevant to their story – if they wanted! The record was meant to complement and add nuance to the story but there was certainly no pressure.
A few days before the event, Shagufta and I met virtually once again and were joined by Nabeel of Tessellate Institute and Aslam of the SFU Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, both part of the Digital Iftars team. They committed to supporting the event and helped me prepare for May 3rd. Many other digital iftars had occurred by then so their combined wealth of experience was priceless.
May 3rd, 2021 – Digital Iftar night!
On the night of the event, Shagufta, Nabeel, Aslam, Anver (Director of the IIS) and I were the first to jump onto the Zoom. Our friends trickled in slowly and we finally began!
One of the first storytellers was a longtime friend of the Institute, Professor Faisal Bhabha, who had brought with him a letter and shared a story in connection with it. We were immersed in a story that went back to 1992 at Camp Al-Mu-Mee-Neen (now renamed Camp Deen), a Muslim co-ed, overnight summer camp that was located around Keswick, Ontario at the time. Prof Bhabha told us about how he went to camp as a child in the 1980’s, eventually becoming a camp counselor in his teens. The letter (pictured) was written to him by a more senior camp counselor, praising him on his hard work that summer in 1992. This story undoubtedly led to many of us reminiscing and sharing our own stories about different camps we attended in our own lives or, as was in my case, not being able to go to camp at all!
Some of us were dumbfounded. A Muslim summer camp in Ontario in the 1980’s?! How had I not known of this before? Prof Bhabha’s letter and story highlights how the Muslim presence in Canada goes farther back than many believe and also provides just one glimpse of everyday life as a Muslim in Canada.
On that note, I wanted to focus on a comment made by another one of MiCA’s friends, Hassam Munir. He made a great observation that most Muslims believe that holding onto and valuing material things (such as documents, photographs, videos, etc), especially those that highlight their own rich lives, is shirk. In other words, essentially, many Muslims may view the placing of value on material items (and, in our case, the value of such collections of materials) as a distraction from the Muslim duty to focus our spirits and attentions only to love of Allah. While we agreed that we understood this sentiment, we also came to a consensus that preserving our history into the future and telling our stories are also important duties as Muslims. Otherwise, how else will our voices, experiences, and existences inform our futures?
Types of Ramadans?
As the iftar came closer to its end, we found ourselves talking about how some of us have experienced Ramadan in Muslim-majority countries in comparison to Ramadan in Canada. Stark differences came to light: we realized that Canadian Ramadan is far more private and focused on family while Ramadan in Muslim-majority countries were much more public affairs, encompassing all facets of daily life. I certainly have never experienced the latter (Ramadan in a Muslim-majority country) so I listened in wonder to those attendees that had, realizing that I had never really taken the time to think about how Ramadan might have been different for me if I was not in Canada. What kind of Ramadan do you prefer?
The clock struck 8PM (EST)…
As iftar (for us in Eastern Standard Time) neared ever closer, we realized how much more we wished we could share with each other. Alas, the event ended 7 minutes later than planned (8:07pm to be exact). Nevertheless, the connections we made through our intimate sharing of stories – sharing of selves – have undoubtedly bound us ever closer. Indeed, an attendee admitted to feeling nourished from the wonderful tales they heard that night. I can’t help but thoroughly agree.
Stories shape how we see ourselves and our pasts, ultimately shaping our futures. What stories do we want to tell that represent us as individuals, families or a community?