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January 13, 2010

Canadian Muslims, a book review

Reuel S. Amdur

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In Canada - a photo journey among Muslims, by Karl Griffiths-Fulton, Judith Miller, and Mohamed Elmasry, Pandora Press, 2008.

Reuel S. AmdurIn Canada - a photo journey among Muslims, by Karl Griffiths-Fulton, Judith Miller, and Mohamed Elmasry, Pandora Press, 2008.

Griffiths-Fulton is the photographer.  The photographs are truly striking.

Ottawa’s mosque is shown more than once, but the shot that catches my fancy most is the one with a house in the foreground.  The house could have been built in the 1940’s or even earlier, but the mosque with its towering minaret is a solid eye-catching contrast. 

Muslims are seen in various situations—at mosque, in a multi-cultural fair, in school, at a café.  There is a cutesy shot of men taking off their shoes before going in to pray, with a shy girl in the foreground, slightly out of focus, looking bashfully at the camera. 

These photos are not “typical.”  Griffiths-Fulton has focused on what is interesting to the eye, not just what speaks of Islam. 

Several pages display art work on mosques. 

The characteristic Muslim arts are architecture and calligraphy.  Muslim art has often avoided human and animal forms because of concern about idolatry, and so intricate stone work and calligraphy have been dominant traditions. 

Canadian Muslims have not forgotten this cultural element, and Griffiths-Fulton has provided a healthy dose of intricate geometrical design work on mosques.  There are some examples of calligraphy, both in stone and on paper, but I would have liked more with pen and brush.

Speaking of architecture, the Ismailis are aiming to complete a massive community centre and museum in Ottawa in 2010, but the design will be largely untraditional.  The modern building complex is designed by the firm of Morayama & Teshima.  You can find a model on the web if you look for “Ismaili centre, Ottawa.”

In Canada is an understated portrait of Muslims and Islam in Canada.  Its physical dimensions are too small for it to be a typical coffee table book, but it nevertheless has that quality about it and would not be out of place on a coffee table. 

The book leaves one with mystery.  Who?  Where?  But above all it leaves you with a sense of beauty.

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer living near Ottawa.

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