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September 8, 2009

Canadian Muslims post-9/11, A Photo Journey

The Canadian Charger

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People wandering past a classroom at the University of Waterloo's Renison University College a few months ago

Photo JourneyPeople wandering past a classroom at the University of Waterloo’s Renison University College a few months ago were surprised to see one professor of English and one documentary photographer on their hands and knees among photo proofs.

It all began with a meeting at Al Medina, a wonderfully welcoming Egyptian restaurant in Waterloo, Ontario.

An Egyptian professor of engineering (Dr. Mohamed Elmasry), an Irish documentary photographer (Karl Griffiths-Fulton), and a professor of English who grew up in Quebec (Dr. Judith Miller) were drinking mint tea. At first glance, it might seem unlikely that they would have anything in common.

Of course, it’s easy to see the things which make them different. As they spoke, they discovered concerns which link them.

Perhaps, most basically, they share a conviction that art has great power to shape our lives, that it arises from a strong sense of the spiritual and that it can be a unifying force.

It followed that they were deeply concerned about the images which surround us, especially the images of Muslims as hostile, strange, warlike and threatening.

Muslims have been living among us in Canada for a long time. The first baby born to a Muslim family that we know about was born in Ontario in 1854, before Confederation.

The first mosque, the al-Rashid Mosque, was built in Edmonton in 1938.

In follow-up conversations, they discovered that all three care greatly about social justice and human compassion. They have lived with varying degrees of social misunderstandings, of cultural conflict.

“I want to do all I can to keep from repeating those old mistakes,” Karl said. They all know that the differences between people can be deeply divisive, and dangerous, but they had also seen such differences form the basis for creative collaboration.

So began the project to photograph our neighbours, as they live their quiet family lives. Many people welcomed Karl into their homes, fed him and gave of their time to help with this ever-widening project.

Some people, especially those in difficult financial straits, chose not to have their pictures taken. Pride seems a fundamental human characteristic, and Karl respected their privacy. Nevertheless, it is true that many Muslims in Canada are living on meagre resources. Many of them have come to Canada from war-torn countries, following a dream of peace. We all sincerely hope they find it here.

One by one, the pile of photographs grew. Fulton, Miller and Elmasry had many debates about how to gather them into a book. The scrambling among them on the floor was a part of making that decision, as they found arrangements and juxtapositions which pleased all three.

The end result is In Canada, a photo journey among Muslims. It is a modest contribution to a continuing search for understanding, and a reminder of how Canadian citizens live within family and community.

In Canada, a Photo Journey Among Muslims is a welcome and much needed journey into the lives of Canadian Muslims,” said Professor M. Darrol Bryant, Centre for Dialogue & Spirituality in the World’s Religions at Renison University College/University of Waterloo, “Muslims have been part of the Canadian mosaic for over a century, but they are often little known to other Canadians.  Today there are three-quarters of a million Muslims in Canada and they come from across the world and all the varieties of the great tradition of Islam.   This journey shows us the warmly human face of this rich and diverse community.   As we see here, Muslims are mothers, fathers and children at prayer, at play, and at work.  Most are Sunni Muslims, but there are Shia, Sufi, Ismaili, and secular Muslims too.  They are our neighbours and this volume will help us to know them better.”

In Canada, a Photo Journey Among Muslims is the Canadian Charger’s book of the month. To order your copy please contact:

Debbie  Loney  

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