R'11 Day Twenty Two: Building an Ummah

In an ideal world, the Muslim Ummah (i.e. community) of Calgary would be united. Yet as much as we strive to be, advertise to be, and try to be...I don't think we are. And it's unfortunate because we have SO MUCH in common with respect to what we're striving to accomplish, yet we seem to all be working in isolated spheres, and allow politics and games to get in the way of unification.

And why do we do this? So that any new Muslim that moves to Calgary has to struggle to figure out the multi-layered and complex nature of what makes this community tick? It's unfortunate.

I truly don't understand why we have multiple organizations representing the Muslim community in this city. Let's take the top three with predominately religious pursuits and goals: Muslim Council of Calgary (MCC), Islamic Information Society of Calgary (IISC), and to a lesser extent, Islamic Circle of North America - Calgary Chapter (ICNA - CC). If I were to ask a non-organization affiliated Muslim to name the differences between these organizations, I doubt that they would be able to tell you. So that raises the question of whether each is doing its job in representing the community as a whole?

In my version of Muslim organization utopia, while separate organizations would (and may have to) exist, collaboration would be seamless and transparent. Each organization undoubtedly has its strengths, so why not build upon these to ensure that ALL community needs are being met? Why not one organization focus on fundraising for mosque renovations and future plans, instead of two? Why not another focus solely on providing global social needs in the community, from Arabic classes to Zakat options? And yet another focuses on religious education of children, youth, and adults? It seems like everyone is trying to do a little of everything and yet not ALL the needs are being met. Hence other organizations have been developed, such as Muslim Families Network Society (MFNS), Western Muslim Initiative (WMI), and more recently Muslim Social Development Initiative (MSDI). These organizations are more than happy to collaborate and work together without the need to create boundaries and loopholes. Yet it seems that the three aforementioned religious organizations (MCC, IISC, and ICNA - CC) are not at that stage yet...both with each other and with other programs.

Another trend that I've noticed is the female to male "in power" ratio with the various organizations. MCC, IISC, and ICNA - CC are all predominately run by males. MFNS, WMI and MSDI are predominately run by females or in the case of WMI, have an equal male to female ratio. It's not that hard to extrapolate why this is the trend. It would seem that women have had a hard time "breaking into" the three religious organizations (and I mean by being on the boards and in decision making positions, not solely delegated to "Sister Affairs"), and so the next logical move would be for women to start something new...which then leads other women joining, since there are MANY who are eager and ready to create change. And with MFNS being the most established of these organizations, the success of this process is quite evident.

But then there is a concern. Individuals such as myself are trying to dabble in everything and collaborate with everyone. My job role requires me to work alongside MCC. On behalf of MSDI, I'm interested in collaborating with multiple organizations to ease access of services by Muslims overall. I volunteer my time to MFNS and will continue to do so, and most recently WMI is partnering with MSDI for a few initiatives. MSDI is starting CIMAP which we are hoping other organizations such as MCC and IISC will support to get the word out. WMI has supported CIMAP, so why not?! Are these acronyms confusing you yet?!

So in essence, the Calgary Muslim Community (CMC - any takers for a new organization name?!) is a patchwork quilt that doesn't quite match up. Some of the patches overlap on many sides, and some are farther away with empty spaces waiting to be filled in. Ideally, we need ONE main organization with MANY different initiatives that would meet ALL the needs of this community. And I mean branches for social programs, immigrant and refugee needs, religious education, support for converts and reverts, fundraising, international program collaboration, Muslim arts and media, matrimonial services, etc etc etc. Now THAT'S an Ummah!

Yet since this idea doesn't seem feasible in the near future, I have a few suggestions for existing organizations, based on my observations of this community as a newer participant.

1. MCC is looking to add social programs to its menu of services. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they can learn a lot from (a) existing programs such as MFNS who have been around since 1998; and (b) Muslim professionals who work in this field for a living. Community assessments should be a priority as well, as I am not sure that the voice of the community if being heard. How much money does MCC have to use towards programming? How are these funds allocated? Is there an annual report that could be published showing the trends over the years? Just a few questions to consider since organizations do often make the answers to these available to the general public.

2. Both IISC and MCC are fundraising to build new mosques in the SE and NW, respectively. That is going to cost a LOT of money. Both are using different methods of fundraising: one is waiting to fundraise the full cost of purchasing land first before buying, whereas the other has already bought the land and SubhanAllah the community is scrambling to come up with the funds prior to October. Two very different approaches towards the same cause...another dire reason for collaboration.

3. Currently, there's no cross-organization program or initiative support between MCC, IISC, and ICNA - CC. I haven't seen IISC advertise an MCC event, and vice versa. Which is unfortunate considering none of these organizations represents the whole population of Muslims, but only a certain fraction. Wouldn't a larger population of Muslims be reached if there was transparent support and collaboration?

Please don't get me wrong. I love being a Muslim, and especially here in Calgary, since we're a city with so much promise and growth. I have NOTHING against any of the organizations I mentioned. What concerns me is that as the population of Muslims increases, existing organizations seem to struggle to meet the broader needs of the community.

So let's put aside organization pride, power, and control and for once DROP politics, since that seems to RUIN Muslims everywhere...let's stop nicknaming mosques for the predominant culture of Muslims it serves...let's say "YES! when another organization asks to have an initiative advertised by another, without asking any questions...let's ASK Muslims in Calgary which of their needs aren't being met...let's EMPOWER WOMEN to take a more dominant role in organization's decision making...let's STAND behind decisions made with the community's donated money and actually publish reports so that we know how much of and where our funds are going...

And most importantly, let's recognize that it's not about which organization has the most clout in this city...it's about ensuring that that we unite ALL Muslims in Calgary under one Ummah.

So let's say we start?

For more information on the organizations mentioned above, please check out the following links:

Muslims of Council of Calgary (MCC)

Islamic Information Society of Calgary (IISC)

Islamic Circle of North America, Calgary Chapter (ICNA - CC)

Muslim Families Network Society (MFNS)

Western Muslims Initiative

Muslim Social Development Initiative

Calgary Islamic Marriage Assistance Program (CIMAP)


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