Islamic Heritage Month
If you’re anything like most Canadians, you probably woke up this morning and poured yourself a cup of coffee before beginning your day; that first perfect sip helped jolt you into full consciousness and prepared you for the work ahead.
You can thank a Muslim for that moment. Coffee, like so many other things, came to Europe via its interactions with Muslims and their civilizations. In fact, in nearly every field of endeavour that we study and teach at Athabasca University, Muslims have made an indelible mark. And yet, we seem to know so little about these contributions, or about the various way in which our world and the way we experience it has been shaped over many centuries by Islam. These days, you are far more likely to find people who think of war-torn nations and extremists when they think of Islam than of great mathematicians, scientists, and scholars. And yet, for the majority of its history, and even for the majority of its adherents today, the latter is much more indicative of Muslim perspectives and contributions.
This gap of knowledge about Muslims and the history and impact of Islam is one of the main reasons why October has been designated as Islamic Heritage Month. At a time when it is both easier and harder than ever to find accurate information about our friends and neighbours, this month is an important reminder of how critical it is for us to learn about the people we share this world with, in all the fullness of their authenticity. Stereotypes of angry Arabs and oil-rich Sheikhs hardly capture a population of nearly two billion people. In fact, the majority of Muslims aren’t even Arab—they are East Asian, South Asian, and African. Indonesia, not Saudi Arabia, is the most populous Islamic nation in the world, something that surprises most people nearly as much as the fact that it also had a female President in the early 2000s.
As with all groups of people, Muslims are incredibly diverse, with rich histories and communities that stretch across vast territories and times. They speak different languages, eat different foods, even practice and understand their faith in a variety of different ways. This month presents us an opportunity to dip our toes into that depth, to explore the ways in which our own lives have been shaped by narratives that, until now, may have seemed distant and alien. It is an invitation to get to know one another, a chance to learn about how others in our community see and understand the world. And in times like these, it’s more important than ever, because, as the Qur’an reminds us, it’s precisely through our differences that we can come to know one another:
Indeed We created you male and female
And We made you [diverse] peoples and tribes
So that you may come to know one another.
Indeed the noblest among you
In the sight of Allah is the most pious.
Indeed Allah is All-Knowing and All-Aware.
Religious studies at AU
Learn more about the Islamic Tradition in Religious Studies (RELS) 206. AU offers a religious studies program, with six courses you can take. Within these course, you can learn about the diversity of religious expression in the world’s religious traditions and how these forms of religiosity have been continually shaped by the larger social context in which religious practitioners live.
More about the author
Salima Versi (she/her) is a PhD Candidate & Instructor in the University of Alberta’s Religious Studies Program, where she specializes in contemporary Islam and Ismailism, and the Tutor for RELS 206: The Islamic Tradition at Athabasca University. Salima is also a psychotherapist and has her own practice, Rahma Counselling & Consulting, where she specializes in working with Muslim women and women of colour.