Today, the mosque in the town of Cold Lake, Alberta was vandalized. Windows were smashed, and the vandals spray painted the walls. “Go home” was scrawled in crimson red. And if you were to ask the vandal what they meant by “home”, they would probably be as specific as “Saudi Arabia” or as vague as “the Middle East”. Never mind that the highest concentration of Muslims is in Indonesia, the implication is that somehow by virtue of being Muslim, our home is across the ocean, in a land many of us have never visited with people we have never met. That we are strangers due to our race and creed, foreigners in our own land.
As a convert, Canada has always been my home. Canadians have always been my people. My heritage, Cree Indian, is about as original-Canadian as you can get. I’m Canadian by birth, Muslim by choice. And in the 8 years I’ve been a Muslim, it’s been a hard road finding that balance between the different aspects of my identity. But that’s why I dress in jeans, never changed my name, say “God” instead of “Allah”; because being Muslim doesn’t mean being Arab.
Since moving out of my parent’s house, I’ve lived in many places. But that’s all they were: places. Whether it was a dorm or an apartment or a basement suite, all of them felt like temporary places. Places where I slept, did a bit of work, and left for most of the day. But not places I could necessarily call home. And now that I’ve moved out of my parents house, is that still my home? Where is home? What defines home?
The Myth of Going Home
For many first generation Muslims, Canada is just a place. It is a place of refuge from their homelands, or a place of prosperity. They hold onto the belief that they are only here temporarily, and one day they will go back home. This is known as “the myth of going home”.
Meanwhile, their children have been born and raised in Canada. Canada, as the anthem states, is their home and native land. And that’s not to disparage their lineage. Where we all come from is important. The houses we’ve lived in all leave their marks on us. But Muslims can no longer think of Canada as just a “place”; and they can no longer think that the people around us are just roommates. This is especially true of younger Muslims, many of whom are the first generation that have been born and raised in this society. They are trailblazers, setting the path for future generations of Muslims. More importantly, we are seeing the beginning of a solid Canadian-Muslim identity taking root here.
If we want Canada to be our home, we have to care for it and nurture it. And we have to care for its people, too.
After I moved out of my parent’s house, I moved into an apartment with my then-wife. And that was the closest thing I’d felt to having a home–not just a place, but a home. For a time, it even felt that way when we rented a house for several months. But as our marriage deteriorated, so too did the idea of home. And since then, I haven’t been able to find somewhere I could call a home.
Because home is defined by the people you share it with.
Many misguided converts, upon accepting Islam, denounce their country and their people and their life, and move across the world to a Muslim country; a place where they think they will find home. And then, much to their surprise, they find out that they were able to be better Muslims in Canada than in a Muslim country.
Thankfully I was spared that. But to a lesser degree, there are some Muslims that have a detached and pessimistic view of the society they live in. And while there is, no doubt, many things in society that are un-Islamic, there is also much good in it, too. In the people, in the society, even in the government (public health care, for instance). The issue of Muslims living in non-Muslim lands is possibly more relevant today than any other time in history, because for the first time in history Muslims have settled in countries around the globe with no defined Caliph or Islamic State (as much as ISIS would try and convince you otherwise).
Fudayk, a man from a tribe of non-Muslims, once came to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and asked if he should continue to live among them. The Prophet responded, “O Fudayk establish prayer, pay Zakâk and abandon bad deeds and live with your people wherever you like.” From this, and other hadith, scholars have said that wherever Muslims can practice their faith freely, they can settle there.
And people may do things that are un-Islamic. People may even attack Islam on talk shows, or vandalize mosques in Cold Lake. But even the prophets Noah and Lot said “O my people!” when they called to them, despite their sins and efforts to undermine these prophets. They didn’t give up in calling to their people.
Canada is my home, and Canadians are my people.
And today the people of Cold Lake came together to repair a vandalized mosque. Over the broken windows, they posted signs that read: “You are home.”