Long before I associated myself as being a Muslim, I proudly associated myself as being Canadian. And when I finally did become Muslim, it was a long process of discovery as I tried to find how to incorporate the “Canadian-ness” of my identity with my new faith.
When I converted, I didn’t change my name, I didn’t change the style I dress in, I didn’t change the way I presented myself to the world. Visually, I looked as Canadian as anyone else. But there would be times when I would try on a kufi, of consider changing my name to “Haroon” (the Arabic equivalent of Aaron), in order to show my Islam in a more outward way. But I eventually learned that I didn’t have to, because Islam is what is inside of you, and there are many ways of presenting that to the world. It took many years but eventually I reached a point where I could outwardly tell someone “I am a Muslim”. And when my aunt learned I was a Muslim and asked me “Does this mean we can’t call you Aaron anymore?” I replied, “No, I’m still Aaron.”
It’s also important to understand that Islam is not culturally predatory. It doesn’t seek to strip people of their identity, but rather refine it. Simply look at the mosques around the world—the houses of God—and you’ll see a broad spectrum of culture infused with the faith. In his article, “Islam and the Cultural Imperative”, Dr. Umar Abd-Allah notes how the waters of Islam are “pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow.”
There are many things in Canadian culture that are easily compatible with being a Muslim. We’re known for our politeness—I mean, come on, we say sorry for saying sorry—and I don’t think anyone has given a fatwa against maple syrup and hockey. Of course, there are many aspects of Canadian culture that need to be filtered as well: beer (and any alcoholic beverage, really) is a common staple of the societal diet, as is dating and rampant materialism. It’s the difference between assimilation and integration: when you are assimilated, your cultural and moral values are stripped away and the domineering culture implants its own in their place. But when you integrate, you become part of the overall society while still maintaining your own culture and values.
Unfortunately, some converts are laden with the perception that being Canadian is somehow “un-Islamic”. After converting they are stripped of their national and cultural identity and a new, Arabic/Palestinian/Moroccan/etc. identity is implanted in them; they change their name, refuse to associate with their former friends and family, and suddenly the entire concept of being Canadian becomes evil to them. When a convert does these things, it only serves to further alienate Islam from the Canadian society. Prior to being a Muslim, I perceived Islam to be solely belonging to the world of desert-dwelling Arabs. But it isn’t: Islam is meant for everyone. Whether you are Canadian, American, Chinese, Austrialian—whatever part of the world you hail from—Islam is compatible with it.
In the seven years that I have been a convert, I have seen a shift in society towards understanding Muslims and Islam. Part of this is because Muslims have gained more favourable attention in the media (as evidenced by success of the very Canadian “Little Mosque on the Prairie“). But also because Muslims in Canada are become more socially conscious. Canada is our home, and our home needs to be taken care of. Canadians are my people, and as a Muslim I’m supposed to be the best person I can be for my people.
I am Muslim and I am Canadian.