Category Archives: History

Interview- In Search of Muslims to Tell Their Stories (Globe and Mail Story- Feb. 2010)

By Amira Elghawaby

Aminata Diallo, the fictional protagonist in Lawrence Hill’s bestselling novel The Book of Negroes, realizes early on that she had better cling to the details of her bondage so that she can later recount what she endures. “See, and remember,” she tells herself as her painful journey into slavery begins.

Years later, she fulfills her vision, becoming a djeji, or storyteller, sharing details of her life with people of myriad backgrounds and persuasions. Her story humanizes her to those who would otherwise view her as either a threat or a victim. Continue reading

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Interview- Tradition or Science: Muslims Debate Official Start of Ramadan (Metro Story- Aug. 2009)

Published on August 20, 2009

It is known as the pre-Ramadan headache. But, for Muslims in Toronto, the ailment has nothing to do with anxiety around fasting from sunrise to sunset in the coming days.

Instead, it is caused by confusion that every year precedes the month of fasting, prayer and self-reflection.

Simply trying to answer the question: When does the month officially start?

“It’s a not an easy question to answer,” said Taha Ghayyur, the coordinator of the Muslim information portal Torontomuslims .com, which attempts to sort out the messy details for community members on its website.

“This year it is pretty much between Friday or Saturday … and for some in Toronto, it could also be Sunday,” he said.

Traditionally, Muslims in Toronto have literally looked to the skies on the eve of Ramadan — the month the Quran was revealed — for signs of the new moon to determine when the holy month begins. A second group, mostly from the Arab world, used global moon sighting, and start fasting when Muslims in Saudi Arabia do.

But in recent years, scholars in North America introduced a new idea to use scientific astronomical calculations to predetermine the first day of Ramadan. When introduced in 2006 by the Fiqh Council of North America, an organization that makes legal opinions on Islam, it was meant to unify the community.
Instead, it ended up doing the opposite.

“It has added to the confusion,” said Ghayyur. “Since most people see all three as Islamically correct, now people have too many options in a way.”

Many in the community say within the issue of moon sighting is a deeper debate. A debate between the those trying to find ways to modernize Islamic traditions within the bounds of Islam, and those struggling to hold fast on to tradition.

Original Story Published on Metro News
Copyright Free Daily News Group Inc.

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Dale Marcell’s Departure: A Great Loss to the Muslim Art Community

Taha Ghayyur (a MuslimFest Organizer & Sound Vision Director)
Dec. 12, 2008

I write this tribute with a heavy heart.

I can recall his sparkling smile and extraordinary energy in lifting people’s spirits.

He was a performing artist of remarkable calibre. He was the leader of the Fletcher Valve Drummers, who were first introduced to the Muslim community at MuslimFest 2004, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

The meaning of his Muslim name, Jamaluddin (“Beauty of the Deen”), did not only reflect in the beauty of his personality, but also in the beautiful art he so passionately shared with the world.

Dale Marcell at MuslimFest 2007

Dale Marcell at MuslimFest 2007

Brother Dale (Jamaluddin) Marcell, who embraced Islam about 3 years ago, passed away at his home in Kitchener, ON, on December 11th, 2008. He was in his mid-50’s.  

Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon (To God we belong and to Him we return). May Allah erase his past mistakes and give him the glad tidings of Paradise, Ameen.

Many of us could recall his public declaration of Shahada (acceptance of Islam) at MuslimFest 2005 as he shared the stage with his drumming companions and Dawud Wharnsby: “I love Islam and I love Muslims!”.

Born and raised on a farm on the St. Lawrence in Iroquois, Ontario, Dale Marcell, who was of Aboriginal descent, always had a special interest in the use of drumming in Aboriginal cultures for emotional and spiritual healing.

The layers of rhythm and energetic percussions of the Fletcher Valve Drummers brought a new dimension to the live Nasheed / Musical stage in the Muslim community.

Dale and his group were the all-time favourites at MuslimFest in Canada and at several major events in the UK, as they shared the stage with renowned Muslim performers, including Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Native Deen, 786, and Ashiqe Rasul.

You may watch two of his live performaces at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3GKx-IDW6Q

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8KWexu1pKg 

Hundreds of attendees have been enchanted by and have learned from their drumming circles, drumming workshops, and live concert performances.

His first and only album after he embraced Islam, “A Different Drum”, was produced by Sound Vision. In this album, Dawud Wharnsby Ali joined forces with the Fletcher Valve Drummers for a unique and totally new style of Islamic songs.

Although Dale was at times disillusioned by the growing pains of the Muslim entertainment industry and was disappointed by the lack of appreciation of his art in the Muslim community, he always remained optimistic and focused on his service and talent.

The most inspiring aspect of his work was not known to many in the Muslim community. Dale had a ceaseless schedule of drumming circles and workshops in prisons, seniors homes, and shelters for battered women as well as programs for kids with physical and cognitive disabilities in public schools.

Dale Leading a Drumming Circle

Dale Leading a Drumming Circle

He loved raising the spirits of people who had lost hope. He had his ways of relating to the lonely and less fortunate with his positive spirit that often baffled qualified social workers in the GTA. He had a unique way of doing Dawa to such people.

I remember seeing him in tears once as he narrated his experience with a senior who had not smiled for ten years until he got him to beat the drums.

Several disabled persons began to regain their mobility as they joined these therapeutic drumming circles. Dale’s spirit of love breathed a new life and hope in so many.

He described his mission in a Maclean’s Magazine interview, “I think of myself as a drumming guide — helping people remember the beat they were born with.”

As Dale’s beloved wife Chris and his two dear children, Nate and Kattie, deal with this tragedy, let us make a sincere Dua (prayers) for him, his soul, and his family.

He was always happy about his family’s support for his practice of Islam. 

It’s obvious, despite all the raving fans who surrounded him at the Muslim events, Dale himself was a strong lonely Muslim. Perhaps the Muslim community could have done more to assist him in his difficult times.

May Allah bless Br. Jamaluddin with the highest rank in Jannah (Paradise), Ameen.

May Allah truly reward him for his social work and for lifting the spirits of people around him, Ameen.

May Allah give his family members fortitude to endure this loss, Ameen.

May Allah inspire a new generation of talented Muslim artists and percussionists like Dale to beautify our gatherings and touch the lives of people, Ameen.

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From Slavery to Leadership: Muslims in North America

By Taha Ghayyur

Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Jameel Al-Ameen are perhaps a few names that cross our minds when we consider the evolution of Muslim identity and community in North America. What often escapes notice is the sacrifice, discipline, social justice, leadership, and cooperation modeled by such individuals and their communities.

The organized struggle of North American Muslims begins over seven centuries ago with the civil rights movement led by multitudes of Muslim African slaves. The spirit and movement continues today with the millions of Arab and South Asian Muslim immigrants, as well as the Latin and First Nations indigenous Muslim converts in North America.

Keeping Faith Alive in the ‘New World’

In the story of early African American Muslims, we find fascinating and empowering historical events. The story of Job ibn Solomon Jallo, in the early 1700’s, who was a well-mannered, intelligent, literate trader and Imam, reminds us of the Quranic and Biblical story of Prophet Yaqoob’s (Job) life. Captured in Gambia, Job wrote out three copies of the entire Quran from memory. He was later freed and reunited with his loving son and family[i].

The account of Bilali Muhammad (Ben Ali), an African scholar in the early 1800’s, captivates many as we read about the vibrant Islamic community he built in Georgia, as a slave[ii]. His determination to hold on to Islamic principles, regardless of his circumstances, inspires awe and admiration. In many ways his life parallels the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah, an early African slave convert to Islam in Makkah.

As Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad explains in Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of History (1312-1998):

In the ‘New World’, some of the African slaves suffered doubly tragic fate. Initially, they were enslaved because they were African, but when it was discovered that they were also Muslims, their suffering was compounded. They were tortured, burned alive, hung, and shot unless they renounced their religion and their names. At least 20% of the Africans brought to the U.S. were Muslims from ….the coastal and interior regions of the Islamic empires of Songhai, Ghana, and Mali.[iii]

Early Muslim Participation in America

We discover with pride that there were Muslims, who, in the War of 1812, helped defend America against the British[iv]. In a lecture held at Concordia University, Montreal, Imam Khalid Griggs, a political activist and leader of a North Carolina mosque, highlighted the role Africans played in the American Civil War. He related the stirring account of one African Muslim named Mohammad Ali Ibn Said, who moved to the U.S. from Africa to volunteer for the all-Black 55th division:

“Mohammad Ali said, ‘I do not want to just sit back and not do anything, I want to do something to help my brothers. The blood that joins me is deeper and stronger than the water that separates me from Africa to the United States,’…So he chose to come into a slave country at a time when he was risking his own freedom.” [v]

Did You know?

  1. The first person to request the freedom of all slaves in America was a Muslim.
  2. Muslims fought in many of the early wars.
  3. Muslims were known to live in at least 7 of the 13 original colonies, including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
  4. The early American Muslims have contributed many Arabic words found in English today, such as, admiral, algebra, atlas, banana, cable, camel, checkmate, coffee, cotton, jasmine, lemon, magazine, mask, rice, sofa, sugar, syrup, and zero to name a few.
  5. Columbus was not the first adventurer to travel from Europe to the Americas. Around 986 AD, Moors (people from North Africa) crossed the Atlantic Ocean in ships, bringing back with them people from the new world.

Sadly, the impact of Black, African, and Muslim cultures on world history is often neglected in historical discourse. There are pages of history which tend to get ripped out.

Towards Contribution & Leadership

While, it could be argued that faith in today’s secular world is receding to the private quarters, North American Islam is manifesting itself as an urban phenomenon. Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Philosophy at the College of Geneva, in his monumental study, To be a European Muslim, reminds us of our role and responsibility in the secular context today. He explains:

At this time of globalisation and internationalisation, when all nations are subject to a new world order which denies or forgets God,…based on an exclusive economic logic, Muslims are facing the same responsibilities… Assertive and confident, they have to remind people around them of God, of spirituality and, regarding social affairs, to work for values and ethics, justice and solidarity. They do not forget their environment but, on the contrary, once in security, they should influence it in positive way.[vi]

Contemporary North American Muslims possess a rich seven-century old legacy of dedication, activism, community empowerment, justice, peace, and tolerance, inherited from their Muslim forefathers in this land. They must now change their outlook from the reality of “protection” alone to that of an authentic “contribution” to the society. It is at this unique juncture of Islamic history, constituting the largest and most diverse Muslim minority that we need to study the contribution of African American Muslims as the models that produced the great leaders we long for today.

Endnotes:

[i] Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad, Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of History, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1998), 11.
[ii] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America xi.
[iii] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America, xiii.
[iv] A. Muhammad, Muslims in America, xi.
[v] The McGill Daily, Issue 46.
[vi] Tariq Ramadan, To Be A European Muslim(Markfield, Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999), 144-145.

Also Re-published in The Muslim Voice (University of Toronto MSA)

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