“As Canadian as a hockey rink.”
That’s the way Idris Elbakri, President of the Manitoba Islamic Association, hopes people in Manitoba will one day view mosques in this province.
Elbakri, 41, is in the last year of his term as President of the Association. Following Ramadan, he posted his hopes and dreams for the Muslim community in Manitoba.
“To many of us the mosques are like a second home, and like our homes, in the mosques we seek to preserve the cultures and practices of our countries of origin,” he wrote.
“While this may give us some emotional comfort, it is counterproductive and it contributes to the alienation of many. The mosque must feel as Canadian as the hockey rink. If our faith is not rooted in its local culture and history, it will not survive past the waves of immigration.”
In an interview, Elbakri, a medical physicist at Cancer Care and father of four, elaborated further on his goals of seeing Manitoba Muslims reach out to others, serve the wider community, be inclusive and show kindness to all.
“I’m looking forward to a day when non-Muslims in need of peace, quiet, reflection and prayer feel just as comfortable going into a mosque as they do going into a church, that it won’t feel foreign or awkward,” he said.
One way local Muslims are doing that is by holding open houses at mosques, inviting people in to visit, learn more about Islam and about Muslims, he added. But more needs to be done, he said.
The challenge is that there are so many newcomers—over 1,000 people from Syria in the last 12 months alone. For these many new Canadians, adjusting to a new country is hard; the mosque is the one place where things feel familiar, just like back home.
As an immigrant himself, Elbakri understands the desire to have something familiar when people go to worship. The problem is that while the mosque feels like home for Muslims, it and the faith it represents can feel very foreign to other Canadians.
If that happens, he said, Islam will always “be an alien implant and we will have failed our most precious mission and role in life, which is to share the beauty of Islam with everyone around us. We need to help a Canadian Muslim culture take root . . . we need to see a Canadian Muslim culture emerge.”
And how will they do that? For Elbakri, it means Manitoba Muslims need to “figure out what our core values are, versus those that are more cultural.”
With as many as 80 different nationalities represented in the community, and with so many newcomers arriving each year, this is a big task.
Two areas where this can happen is in the role of women, and the use of English or French for sermons.
When it comes to women, “there is a lot of cultural baggage,” he said, noting that the Prophet “was always giving women space” and that the Association has two women on its board.
As for the language issue, “what good is it [a sermon] if it can’t be understood by everyone?” he said.
The language of prayer won’t change, though, he stated—prayers will always be in Arabic.
“It [Arabic] is the universal language of prayer for Muslims,” he said. “It means I can go to a mosque in any country and the prayers will be the same. It creates a global sense of unity.”
What about terrorism—how will the community deal with that?
“Most of the Muslim world is peaceful,” he said with a sigh. “It only makes the news when violence happens. That is unfortunate.”
His desire is that the Muslim community won’t be defined by terrorism, or feel it constantly has to respond to terrorist acts.
“When something bad happens, we condemn it, again and again and again,” he said. “I don’t want condemning violence to become a way of life for us, to define us as a community. We don’t want to be solely defined by terrorism.”
Instead, he said, “want to focus on the positive aspects of our community, worship, faith community, by our efforts to serve anyone in need . . . God has blessed our community and we want to address the needs of those who are less fortunate.”
From the Aug. 27, 2016 Free Press. Photo by John Woods, Winnipeg Free Press.