Open Doors Spiritual Matters: Honouring the Hosts of the Land on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

The Danforth Islamic Centre has formed the Muslim-Indigenous Connection (MIC) program as part of Truth and Reconciliation efforts. Photo: Submitted.


September 30 marks the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation known as Orange Shirt Day. Although it is declared as a statutory holiday by the federal government, the day cannot be treated as another day off from work to enjoy a long weekend.

Orange Shirt Day carries dark memories from our past that has crept into our present realities. It is a day of reflection, a day of introspection, and a day of sincere admission that we have failed the owners of this land Turtle Island.

The discovery of the mass graves of Indigenous children made the stories we read in the books very real. We don’t need another mass grave to be unearthed to recognize the trauma the Indigenous community face every day.

It is a generational trauma. The repercussion of the systemic oppression and the cultural genocide still continues as social inequities. Data on incarcerations, poverty levels, suicide rates, homelessness, education attainment, etc., shows how Indigenous communities are failed by the people who they welcomed with open hands to their lands.

The inequities will take generations to fix. We can’t expect the state alone to heal the wounds. We as faith communities have a moral responsibility to build authentic allyship with Indigenous communities that are neither performatory nor transactional nor self-promotional.

When more than 75 Canadian Imams read out a statement in the summer of 2021 in the aftermath of the unearthing of the mass graves, I, as an imam at the Danforth Islamic Centre, too read the statement to my congregation.

The last paragraph of that statement confronted me. “Our pledge to you as Relatives: We will stand and work with you to bring healing, justice and peace with Truth and Reconciliation.”  It questioned my integrity and bare laid in front me to the bitter truth: “Can I truly stand by this statement?”

I’m a Muslim settler on the Turtle Island. My duty towards Indigenous communities is mandated by the religion. We are reminded in our tradition of the first Muslim migrants who, fleeing oppression in Makkah, came to Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) and then on to Medina. The example of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was to acknowledge and honour the hosts and leaders of the lands wherever they went.

In fact, when the first refugees visited Abyssinia, they recounted the story of Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an as a way of honouring and accepting the Christian traditions of the reigning King. These traditions magnified the sense of guilt I had of not doing enough to acknowledge the Indigenous peoples and traditions of this land.

That self-reflection led me to start my own contribution to the National Truth and Reconciliation effort and begin my journey as an ally to the Indigenous brethren. It gave birth to the “Muslim-Indigenous Connection” program.

As Muslims we follow the Prophets of God in terms of their actions and the model that they stood for. All prophets from Abraham to Noah to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad stood against injustice and advocated for the marginalized and the oppressed. They were sources of light, love, and reconciliation when the world was engulfed in darkness.

The Muslim-Indigenous Connection (MIC) program is a small candle lit in the hopes of achieving great outcomes. Running in its second year, the program trains 25 Muslim youth to embark on the journey of reconciliation by providing them with multiple opportunities to learn from Indigenous elders about native spirituality, values, beliefs and struggles.

MIC participants also get to do a site visit to an Indigenous reserve to internalize what they learned. They also engage as small groups to implement micro projects in consultation and partnership with local Indigenous organizations to bring about a change in the community.

It is apparent that the legacy of residential schools caused Indigenous brethren to lose trust in faith institutions. The young participants in the Muslim-Indigenous Connection program attempt to rebuild that trust through authentic engagement and relationship.

Because MIC believes, at its core, trust building takes time, sometime generations, and cannot be achieved by participating in advocacy and relief activities only when the challenges faced by the Indigenous community hit the headlines.

Hence, the premise of our program is “planning for seven generations” which is a sacred concept among the Indigenous peoples. It urges current generations to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. This is akin to the Islamic concept of accountability, sustainability, and stewardship.

The reconciliation work I started last year attempts to get everyone in the Muslim community involved in this moral responsibility. I’m hopeful the vibrant Muslim youth will set the stage and inspire others to join hands.

Imam Irshad Osman is with the Danforth Islamic Centre.

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