The journey of Muslim women in British Columbia and, in particular, as members of the BC Muslim Association is filled with stories of hard work, perseverance, cooperation, and dedication. Today, alhamdulillah, as Islamic awareness is steadily increasing, Muslim women are becoming more visible in numerous aspects of Canadian society. Masajid and Islamic schools are either present or being built in many towns and suburbs and are focal points where women of different backgrounds can meet and congregate.
Members of the BCMA Women’s Council and the branch Women’s Chapters have devoted themselves to aiding their local communities with activities such as religious and social education, promoting interfaith dialogue, as well as many charitable works. As we benefit from the current services that BCMA provides, we should take the time to reflect upon how pioneering women have played a key role in the progression of the BC Muslim community.
For those that have grown up in Canada, it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for Muslims, especially those that arrived as immigrants only a few decades ago. The experience was especially challenging for Muslim women as many were young brides who had to leave their families and native lands behind to forge a new life with their husbands in Canada. Traditionally responsible for running the household, women were confronted with issues that dealt with raising their families in accordance with Islamic values and ensuring that religious knowledge was imparted to their children. The lack of both a proper masjid and a local Muslim authority made practicing certain elements of Islam more difficult during the early years. Furthermore, the fact that many Muslim Canadians hailed from different parts of the world (as they continue to do so today) presented a unique challenge as cultural and language boundaries had to be overcome in order to unify as a community.
In 1966, several proactive local Muslims founded the British Columbia Muslim Association. Ten years later, in order to address various women’s issues and concerns, a BCMA Women’s Auxiliary, with sister Fatima Ali as the chairperson, was established. A women’s Religious Committee was also formed, headed by sisters Tazul Ali and the late Hafizan Salar Buksh.
The late Mrs. Buksh, affectionately known as “khalaji” (aunt) to some, and “nani” (grandmother) to others, was widely regarded as a maternal figure to many in the Muslim community. Respected for her knowledge on Islam, she was always a generous source of information and advice for quite a few Muslim women ever since her arrival to Vancouver as an immigrant from Fiji. Mrs. Buksh, along with sister Subratan Usman, were among the first to give demonstrations on Muslim funeral rites including ghusl, kaffan cutting, and enshrouding for women. She was also especially committed to teaching about Islam and giving Arabic lessons to young children. Mrs. Buksh continues to be fondly remembered as a dedicated teacher, volunteer, and pioneer of the BC Muslim Community.
The ability to provide masajid and schools for the growing Muslim community continually requires sufficient resources. As a result, fundraising efforts have been vital for BCMA whose female members have always been enthusiastic participants. From the time of the first women’s Social Committee, led by sisters Mehrul Aziz Khan and Kamla Habib under the guidance of the early Women’s Auxiliary, many women have volunteered to organize and take part in various fundraising projects.
The opening of the Jamia Masjid in Richmond in 1982 was quite a milestone for the BC Muslim Association. It was an exceptionally satisfying moment for the women of the community as they finally had a separate area where they could congregate for prayers, meetings, classes, and halaqas.
In 1988, there was a transformation in the role of women in BCMA with the establishment of the first Women’s Chapter, which gave the female members a broader mandate regarding their own affairs - with an emphasis on issues relating to women and female youth. The following decade saw the Women’s Chapter undertaking many initiatives that provided valuable services to the Muslim community. One such initiative was the formation of a Ghusl Committee whose work became so indispensable that in order to benefit the community as a whole, the committee was officially moved to the Burial Services portfolio of the Association. Other notable activities and achievements of the Women’s Chapter include the presentation of an Assault Awareness Program alongside the Vancouver Police Department to educate women on how to protect themselves from being victims of crime; the publishing of the BC Muslim Women’s Magazine; serving meals to the homeless in downtown Vancouver; and, participating in the building proposals for the Surrey Masjid. Raising funds for a number of worthy causes was always a focus for the Women’s Chapter exemplified by endeavors such as the purchase of a hearse, covering the financial shortfall of a hajj group, and sponsoring the home economics classroom at the BC Muslim School.
The constant growth of the BC Muslim population has led to the development of BCMA branches in various communities. Alhamdulillah, there are now local Women’s Chapters in Vancouver, Surrey/Delta, Burnaby/New Westminster, Richmond, the North Shore, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Kelowna. A Women’s Council made up of representatives from the local branch chapters was formed as a central administrative and coordinating body. In 2007, a new constitution allowed women to conduct their affairs independently and on a parallel basis with the BCMA executive. As a result, the Women’s Council and local chapters are now able to enjoy greater autonomy regarding decision-making as well as the initiation and implementation of programs. A Board of Women’s Affairs has been created with the intention of carrying out the decisions and resolutions of the Council.
The recent activities of the BCMA women in the past few years reflect how much the organization has evolved and adapted in order to meet the needs of the community. Since raising Islamic awareness has been an important goal, the BCMA women have participated in events including the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha at the Provincial Legislature and interfaith dialogues with sisters of other faiths. The successful launch of the first annual Women’s Conference in 2007 was a major step towards promoting the role of Muslim women in Canadian society. Future aspirations of the Women’s Council and the local chapters involve expanding community work to local food banks and women’s shelters, generating support for Muslim women who wish pursue a higher education, and creating a greater sense of environmental awareness in the community.
The current female membership of the BC Muslim Association have demonstrated that they are committed to continuing the hard work and upholding the visions of their predecessors. Over the last forty years the wonderfully diverse group of Muslim women in British Columbia have risen above cultural and language barriers among many other challenges to unite together as sisters and volunteers to provide services that benefit both the Muslim community as well as Canadian society.
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These are the activities that we have done:
1. Sept. 08/2007 “Lets get to know each other” held in Richmond Masjid. Over 100 Youths and sisters participated. Collected $1500. in donation that went towards Richmond Masjid renovations.
2. Sept.07/2007 Ghusul Team went to Nanaimo Chapter to give a demonstration and Kaffan Cutting.
3. Oct.22/2007 Interfaith Dialouge and Eid-Ul-Fitr Celebration with the High Croft Women, UBC.
4. Nov.17/2007 First Annual Conference “Journeying into Brighter Horizons” held a Kwantlen University/College in Surrey . Over 200 sisters and youths from various diverse communities of the Lower Mainland participated. The speakers chosen were sisters, Fatima Khanzada, Hafsa Dean, Zein Ali, Faiza Ali, Ayesha Merchant. Positive feedback and great review.
5. Dec/2007 Acknowledgement of 19 years of Women Chapter and Volunteerism in the community.
6. Breast Cancer Awareness launched at three local Masajids with the Breast Cancer Agency.
7. Feb.23/2007 At Masjidul Haqq, Vancouver
8. Feb.9/2007 At Jamia Masjid , Richmond
9. Jan.26/2007 At Surrey Jamia Masjid, Surrey
Alhamdulilah many sisters and youth girls participated eager to learn and gain more insight into the prevention and symptoms of breast cancer. It was also in turn a daw’ah for the non-muslim doctors and professors of the BC Cancer Agency. They got a tour of the masajid. A cheque of $500 was made out to the Cancer Agency towards Breast Cancer research by the Women’s council.
1. Mar.16/2008 Qur’an Competition held at Masjid Jamia. It was a great turn out of about 100 mothers and youth girls. Prizes were given out.
2. May.17/2008 Conflict Resolution and Directors Portfolio Outline: Educational and informative session.
3. Aug.9/2008 Blessings and Virtues of Ramaadan Held at masjidul Haqq, Conducted by 3 speakers. Mufti Sujjad, br. Fahim Khan, youth speaker: Arif Khan. The speakers focused on preparing ourselves for Ramadaan and how to attain taqwa/piety. Positive response, about $1,000 + was generated from the ticket sales
Sept.3/2008 -donation cheque of $500. given to Human Concern International, Canada , for Al-Ihsaan Women’s Vocational Centre in Bangladesh .
Involved in Food banks, women’s shelter home, violence against women, inshaAllah making more awareness in the community to empower Muslim Women.
Ghusul demonstrations have been requested by various organizations
· To encourage and promote sisters who are pursuing Islamic Studies through various universities. So far there is no Muslim organization that aids in this area.
· Promoting and creating awareness in Global warming and re-cycling.
· To give cloth bags in 2008 to the Hujjaj who will be going for Hajj, Insha Allah.
· Planning Future conferences for youth/sisters regarding unity and sisterhood
· To be more visible as a minority (Women in Hijab) by getting involved in the community and politics.
· Providing articles to foster awareness of the role of Muslim Women, in Muslims and Indo-Canadians periodical magazines.
· Breast Cancer Awareness in all Masajids.
· Acknowledgement and appreciation of sisters who have been volunteering in the community for last 20 years.
· A plan to produce a magazine to outline their commitments.
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