"Rooting a Canadian Muslim Identity” was the theme of Dr Ingrid Mattson’s speech delivered to a packed lecture hall at Emmanuel College on January 22, 2013. Mattson was there to support the launch of Emmanuel’s new Muslim ablution facility and prayer room.Who could be better placed to spark an interesting discussion on Canadian Muslim identity than Mattson, born in Kingston, grew up in Waterloo, and converted to Islam while at university? Her decades spent living and teaching in the United States offered an interesting comparison. Mattson argued that the significant percentage of African Americans in the US, as well as her sense that American society was more accepting of public religious expression than Canada, affect the development of both American and Canadian Muslim identities.
Holding up her dog-eared (literally) John Raulston Saul book (“like those who say the dog ate my homework,” she joked), Mattson challenged the Canadian Muslim community to build their identity on an ethical base, not on an “us” versus “them” identity. This meant standing up for justice and opposing oppression, not just when it concerned Muslims, but any community. She mentioned having travelled to Ottawa to show her support to Chief Teresa Spence and the Aboriginal Canadian community’s quest for justice.
In his opening remarks, Principal Mark Toulouse welcomed the audience, especially for having braved what was a bracingly cold winter night in January. Toulouse explained the new Muslim studies venture at Emmanuel stemmed from its “belief that the concepts of justice, goodness and love are much larger than any one particular religion or tradition can fully define.” Muslim Studies, he continued “is part of our effort to create forums where persons representing diverse faiths can engage one another, discover common concerns and interests, and learn to respect and appreciate the differences that provide fullness to our experience of what it means to be human.” Toulouse introduced Dr Nevin Reda, now an Assistant Professor in Muslim Studies at Emmanuel, and the one who initially articulated the need that the development of Emmanuel’s Muslim studies program has been designed to meet.
The prayer room launch was supported and co-sponsored by a few on-campus and off-campus associations. Amjad Tarsin, the University of Toronto’s new Muslim Chaplain, whose office is also in Emmanuel’s basement, gave a beautiful recitation of the Qur’an to open the event. Dr Katherine Bullock, who was wearing two hats (or headscarves, she joked) that night, on behalf of the Tessellate Institute, which had co-sponsored Mattson’s lecture, noted that this was an historic night, and that all who were present would remember it as the night the only prayer space on the east side of campus was opened. Wearing her Emmanuel hat, as the Coordinator of the Canadian Certificate in Muslim Studies, she described the recent re-vamp of the program, which now emphasizes skills-based knowledge combined with theoretical knowledge of Canadian society through the lenses of Canadian Muslim religiosity. She introduced a few instructors who were present. The evening was rounded off with delicious light refreshments courtesy of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre and a tour of both the ablutions facilities and the new prayer room.