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Muslim Non-profit Organizations

Decision Making

Muslim Charities

Canadian Muslims

Muslims make up about 3.2% of the total population of Canada (Census 2011, Statistics Canada), and are one of the fastest growing segments. The population of Muslims is increasing, and so is the need to get services for the community. The most important issue facing the Muslim community is treatment by the broader society. It accounts for poor treatment (discrimination), Islamophobia, and stereotyping by the media. Issues of international terrorism which media has portrayed as the reflection of the teachings of Islam have augmented fear among Muslims in Canada. Many fear their safety in public places, for example, possible attacks in parking lots, or on the street.

Almost seven out of ten Muslims in Canada are foreign-born, mainly originating from Asia and Africa. Initially, as landed immigrants, they wanted to retain their culture, beliefs and principles adopted from abroad, or their counties of origin, and at the same time catch up on education and the Canadian lifestyle. Integration, while not necessarily a means of assimilation into Canadian life, is among the essential ways for foreign-born Muslims to adopt. This adjustment is less likely foreseeable by Canadian-born children who have inhaled the life of Canada from their first breath. Now, a family which combines the two groups is living in the same era, albeit, in different ways of viewing things, and is embracing entirely different values. The story rolls out and reaches a broader range of Canadians, including other cultures, beliefs, faith affiliations and socio-economic status, and how Muslim families who have already endured a disharmonious pattern within their household, are able to integrate with communities from other backgrounds.

Muslim non-profit organizations and charities (NPOs) shoulder tasks to bridge the gap and assist through different programs. The NPOs’ understanding of the community they serve is vital. It is through sharing and communicating the values, belief and principles of Islam with the mosaic of Canadian communities, rooms for understanding are given a place. The Muslim Coordinating Council of the National Capital Region (MCC-NCR) recorded over 40 organizations in Ottawa–Gatineau who either serve Muslims as direct program beneficiaries or whose organizations consist of Muslim groups that develop activities benefitting general Canadians. Among them they are established in the form of mosques, schools, international humanitarian organizations, advocacy, culturally-related and settlement services.

“WE”

Knowledge of the community being served is essential for the NPO leaders to serve the community adequately. An in-depth knowledge and strong relationship with community helps the leaders to voice the needs and concern of the people they serve, and to integrate them within the multifaceted life of Muslim communities, and with Canadians at large. Well-resourced leaders who make decisions after connecting with their communities have the opportunity to use the knowledge for the benefit of their community, and are also believed to be able to synergize more positive changes. On the other hand, the community members resonate with the invitation, feel represented, and ultimately grow a desire to take part in the program or activities.

As diverse as the community, Muslims NPOs face multiple challenges from their own members for different views of perceiving religious rulings and teaching. Canada is coloured by different Muslim schools of thought, including Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadi, where each of these schools has mosques. Amongst the Sunnis alone, there are four different schools of thought that offer services for followers. A plethora of choices of sources of information are available; for instance, when a believer needs information about inheritance, marriage, organ donation, and special festivities. Nevertheless, this brings consequences as it also enlarges the already-emerging holes for intra-Muslim feuds – because one feels truer than the other. Many organizations hold activities from which other groups chose to abstain, due to different points of view.

Islamic schools bring unique content to the teaching materials to match Canadian standards whilst planting the seed to grow good Muslims. They enable children to expand horizon with strong foundation of Islamic roots. Still, however, some teach rather rigid content that prohibits the children in taking part in celebrating festivities, many of which are cherished by Canadians of all ages. For example, prohibiting the children to go out for trick-or-treating in Halloween, or playing egg-hunt in the backyard during Easter, or help decorating Christmas trees with neighbours. These kinds of acts trigger fear within the Canadian community as well. By the increased numbers of children who adopt the teaching, there is fear that less and less children will take part, and those childhood cultures will be extinct. The schools are preferentially to be connecting the children with Canadian culture, and creating the “WE” environment for the children to be able to develop closer bonds with other Canadian children, while not losing the roots of being Muslims.

Some Muslim NPOs advocate classic issues of polygamy and how they affected the life of Muslim Canadians. The conversation goes around connecting and integrating between Islamic law and Canadian law. It is quite interesting even though it is prone to creating ambiguity of the Muslims themselves between following the Islamic law while living in Canada in such cases. Here, decision-making on implementing the “WE” remains a topic of discussions, as less to no solutions have been established. Human rights activists blame Imams for allowing polygamy to happen. This is not allowed in Canada. The Imam would argue that it is his religious duty to perform the nikah (Islamic marriage) when all criteria have been fulfilled. This alone can be a trigger for the haters to create Islamophobia. There is a long road ahead, to reach where “WE” is supposed to be placed properly and comfortably.

All the above examples are reflective of the picture of Muslim NPOs’ decisions making on community issues. In reducing the gap among internal Muslim communities, and with Canadians at large, many Muslim NPOs are carrying out activities involving members of other communities: Intra-faith and Interfaith dialogues, multicultural events, and events involved in sharing a sense of ‘good neighbour’, celebrations of other faiths’ festivities. ‘WE’ conversations should have allowed identifying what have been the contributing factors that enable people who mentioned the name of God while going out and ending lives of innocent people. Most importantly, the sharing of the view and plan of activities that Canadian Muslims are a part of Canada, and work as other Canadians to make the life in this country better and safe for all. Non-profit leaders can decide to take a lead on shifting the conversation from ‘why’ to ‘what’ Muslim Canadians can do for the country, because ‘WE’ are Canadians. They can feed forward conversations. These are cherished approaches. While doing this, Muslim leaders choose to invest in the community, leading them to be more open to pluralistic life in Canada, allow opportunities to explain and clarify what Islam is about, and where the misinterpretation of it has been portrayed thus far. They can invite diverse Islamic NPO stakeholders into the conversation on how ‘WE’ as citizens of Canada envisage the life in harmony in this country.

As the leaders vanquish challenges that present themselves, commitment to building a healthy and caring community grows stronger. Decisions they made as a result of understanding the community being served well may shift to match new circumstances, which is certainly for the betterment of the community itself. New knowledge may have been gained while conducting a series of conversations within the community and with Canadians at large. Again, a well-defined knowledge, and placement in a proper “WE”, opens opportunities for positive change.

Ida Rafiqah, Non profit practitioner
Ida Rafiqah