When Mohamed Bayoumi was planning this year’s Islamic History Month in Kingston, he once again turned to Queen’s students to make the events possible.
“I have a leg in the community and a leg at Queen’s, so it was very, very easy to get students involved,” said Bayoumi, professor emeritus and planning committee coordinator for the month. “You can’t really do it without students. Students are, you can say, the backbone of what we are doing.”
The Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA) provided many of the informational materials available to visitors at Sunday’s open house, held at the Islamic Centre of Kingston. A second open house was held on Monday for local elementary and high school students.
Displays at the open house included a 3D model of Al-Masjid al-Haram, the mosque that surrounds the Muslim holy place of Kaaba, which was created by fourth-year PhD students Mahmoud Quiqut and Abdallah Alma’Atiah. They stayed up all night last year to surprise the Centre with the model, and reconstructed it to display again this year.
Kingston has proclaimed October Islamic History Month since 2007, making them the first city in Ontario to do so.
Bayoumi said the purpose of the month is to “try to find some shared values between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
The Centre’s origins go back to 1982, when the growing Kingston Muslim community led to the registration of the Islamic Society of Kingston as an official non-profit organization. Community members also noticed a need for a central place of worship and gathering.
“At the time, our activities were all over, at the [Queen’s University] International Centre, St. Lawrence College, public schools, homes,” he said.
This led to a 16-year process which included buying land in 1987 with the money they had, and fundraising to design and build the centre which opened its doors in 1996 and was officially completed in 1998.
Since then, the centre has provided space for prayer, social events, lectures and inter-faith events for a number of Muslim and non-Muslim Kingstonians, including many members of the Queen’s community. Kingston is currently home to around 300 Muslim families, many of whom have ties to Queen’s, according to the Islamic Society of Kingston.
In 2010, the Centre hired Imam Sikander Hashmi.
In September, Hashmi wrote an opinion piece for the Kingston Whig-Standard on violence in Muslim countries and its separation from the Islamic belief system. In the piece, he mentioned a Kingston Muslim mother who was handed a comic strip mocking Muslims at her son’s hockey game earlier this year.
Awareness of Islamic history and beliefs has a long way to go in the community, according to PhD student and QUMSA President Mustafa Mohamad.
“I think we definitely need to work harder. I don’t think everybody is aware or is understanding,” he said.
Mohamad said QUMSA has about 20 official members, with additional students showing up for the observation of the five daily prayers.
Opportunities to learn more about Islam in Kingston aren’t exclusive to October; each Wednesday and Thursday, QUMSA leaves an informational booth in the JDUC beside the AMS offices, for anyone who is interested.
He said QUMSA promoted Islamic History Month events on campus in an attempt to encourage students to attend.
“It’s a way for Muslim students and the Muslim community in general to reach to other members of the Kingston community through education,” he said. “One of the main goals is just to interact with others and let others know what we believe in and what our values are.”
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