2014 August, Identity: Who We Are, Dr Emdad Khan


Identity: Who We Are, Dr  Emdad Khan
We live in Canada. Wherever we go to do a business or official transaction, we require two pieces of identity; a driver’s licence or citizenship card or passport, etc.

As we live our lives, knowingly or unknowingly, we often seek an identity for ourselves or an identity given to us by others; sometimes we do not like it. Without an identity or a sense of belonging, we are often lost or confused or feel marginalized or discriminated or depressed. Our identity is a means to try and understand ourselves, the society we live in and work, the world around us and give some meaning and useful purpose to our lives.

We are primarily immigrants or children of immigrants living in Canadian cities.  Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions migrated from Makkah to Medina for preserving and propagating the Islamic way of life. They adopted Medina as their new home land. We migrated as refugees, or for a better standard of living, or to get education, etc. We should also adopt Canada as our new Medina, our adopted new home land.

As immigrant, each one of us has 3 important identities; national identity as Canadian citizen, values and way of life identity as Muslims and ethnic identity of ancestral root, such as Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Somali, Arab, African, Caribbean, or Chinese, etc.

In Canada, our new adopted country, we are law abiding Canadian Muslims. Unlike many countries, Canadian charter of rights guarantee us to preserve our Islamic identity.

Let us define the three identities.

National identity is a person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation or to one country. National identity implies a country with a geographic boundary with its flag, anthem, culture, traditions, languages, politics, government, etc.; such as Canada or Bangladesh

Ethnic identity refers to a distinct category of people in a larger society with a different culture. It describes the relationship that exists between an individual or families or groups, who believes, they have common ancestry based on a common cultural, linguistic and or religious values; such as Bangladeshis or Somalis or Indians in Canada.

Our Islamic identity is in relation to the Al-mighty God.  We submit to the Will of our Creator and the relationship to our Creator, defines our understanding and knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. This also guides us to believe, how we came to be in this world, whom and what we are here, where we will be after our death and thus what the purpose of our life. Our identity, the Islamic Way of Life – as defined in the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – gives our Islamic identity; the identity of being a Muslim.

Assimilation, Isolation, Multiculturalism and Integration with Identity.
Assimilation, when one abandon his/her own cultural habits and values in order to be accepted by the new adopted country and the ambition is to become accepted as part of the main stream culture. The assimilation assumes new ethnic groups over the years get assimilated to the existing dominant cultures: such as in Canada, two dominant European immigrant groups white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Catholic or English Canada and French Canada.

In assimilation, main stream society is a melting pot, where diverse ethnic groups merge and eventually assimilate, to the adopted country in different degrees, such as New York in America or London in Britain.

In marginalization, immigrants become marginal persons, sandwiched between two cultures; the marginal individuals or groups become confused, depressed and marginalized in the society, such as a section of Algerian immigrants in France.

In isolation, when an ethnic group focus on keeping their culture and values in ghetto area and avoid contact with the majority culture. Some Muslims in England live in this way. However, recent globalization allows immigrants to keep ties to the ethnic origin using social media, the internet, cheap phone calls, and time to time traveling to back home. The new immigrants are likely to maintain a tie to back home and feel less pressure to assimilate.

In integration, ethnic immigrant groups preserve the religious, cultural, and linguistic identities and also fully participate in the adopted country’s culture, language, and political activities. In multiculturalism, like fruit salads; a strong interaction exists, in the cultural and social activities, between the immigrants and their new adopted country.  In Canada,multiculturalism maintains and permits pluralist religious expressions and diversity of cultures.  Multiculturalism is accepted as a logical policy to accept and accommodate immigrants of different ethnicity.

First generation Canadians, more strongly identify with ancestral root than next generations born in Canada; they develop a hybrid identity, where primary focus becomes to the main stream culture with an influence by parents to maintain ancestral cultural identity. The new wave of immigrants, with distinct ethnic, cultural and religious identities, moved into major Canadian cities. They started interaction with each other at  schools, playground and work place, hence integrated with main stream culture but kept strong ethnic and religious identity.

Preserve Islamic identity
As Muslims, we should maintain our identity; who we are, what we do and why we do it. To do this we should have a strong relationship with Almighty God through sound knowledge of the Quran and teachings of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), establish regular salah and differentiate between right and wrong with moral and ethical values and finally adopt Islamic behaviour in our day to day life. Maintaining an Islamic identity is  also being active in society in family and social issues, having a voice and organizing events, interacting, discussing and  helping out by volunteering in school, hospital, library and so on.  Show our positive behaviour to our neighbours and work colleagues in action not based on color, ethnicity or languages.

Application of Islam in our individual and social life does not imply we abandon the contemporary issues or modern inventions; we accept what is beneficial and avoid what is harmful from modern invention such as internet, face book, twitter, email, etc.

Our creator has given us Islam as a complete way of life that requires no addition or deletion. It is ok for an individual or a group to use some cultural habits and traditions which are compatible to Islamic values. We should be careful in viewing and using social media and secular education system. Let us be careful with whom we socialize, gather together, live and stay with. We pray and hope we live and die as Canadian Muslims.

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