Muslim Heritage Day celebrates Calgary's diverse community

Muslim-Albertans invited all Calgarians to the 10th-annual Muslim Heritage Day to learn about their religion and dispel misconceptions surrounding Islam.

Education Minister says Albertans can fight racism by 'coming together' and using a 'sense of empathy'

A group of children perform at Olympic Plaza in Calgary during the 10th-annual Muslim Heritage Day celebrations. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Muslim-Albertans invited all Calgarians to learn about their religion and dispel misconceptions surrounding Islam at the 10th-annual Muslim Heritage Day celebrations.

Hundreds gathered to take in some Muslim culture at Olympic Plaza on Saturday, including food, art, performances and even installations teaching the history of the Islamic faith.

There have been a number of anti-Muslim rallies in Calgary this summer, but Imrana Mohiuddin, president of the Islamic Circle of North America Calgary (ICNA), says Muslim Heritage Day is a chance to strengthen the ties between communities in Calgary.

"It's been good discussions and lots of misconceptions have been cleared," Mohiuddin said. "It's been wonderful. People are so open."

Clearing the air

Mohiuddin said the most common questions she is asked are about women's rights in Islam and the religious head coverings worn by some Muslim women.

Imrana Mohiuddin, president of the Islamic Circle of North America Calgary (ICNA), says Muslim Heritage Day is a chance to dispel misconceptions about Islam. (Mario De Cicco/CBC)

"We are proud Canadians like each and everyone of us and we are so happy and grateful to be in this beautiful country of ours," Mohiuddin said.

Shadi Sakr, a volunteer at the Muslim school Horizon Academy, said the event is a chance to show the greater community that Muslims are just like the "average Calgarian" who "like poutine" and  "like playing hockey."

Even with recent incidents of racial violence making headlines, like when a white supremacist killed a 32-year-old woman when he allegedly drove a vehicle into a crowd of anti-Fascist protesters in Virginia, Mohiuddin said she feels safe and secure holding pro-Muslim events in Calgary.

"We are a religion of peace. We promote peace. It's basically about bringing everyone together and living in this world as fellow Canadians, fellow human beings," Mohiuddin said.

Shadi Sakr, a volunteer at the Horizon Academy, said Muslim Heritage Day is an outreach event to show the people of Calgary that Muslims "are peaceful, fun loving folk." (Mario De Cicco/CBC)

Sakr said the rise in racial tensions is troublesome but Calgary's Muslim community are determined to "break down barriers and build bridges."

"Anything related to Nazis or swastikas…it's unfortunate but it's also on the border of hate crimes. So I think I'll let the law makers that care of that," Sakr said.

 "But as a community we believe in equality and justice and I think that's where we stand."

'We can push back'

Education Minister David Eggen attended as part of the province's strategy to combat racism in schools and across the province.

"We know that just a few weeks ago we had hate groups organizing here at Olympic plaza," Eggen said. "Calgarians are coming together to celebrate Muslim culture, show their allegiance and support."

Alberta's Education Minister David Eggen has met with "more than 60 community organizations" for a report being submitted to the province this fall to better combat racism in Alberta schools. (Mario De Cicco/CBC)

On Friday, Eggen said in a Facebook post he has met with more than 60 community organizations at the request of Premier Rachel Notley "to gather their ideas and discuss the challenges they face."

Eggen will be submitting a report to the province in the fall and said the government "will take some practical steps that will demonstrate a positive direction for our province."

"I think it's important for all of us to stand up to it. People will use hatred or discrimination for their own political gain or their own gain of power," Eggen said. 

In addition to attending Muslim Heritage Day, Eggen met with a group of parents and educators from Calgary's Chinatown Lion's Club and the Asian Heritage Foundation on Saturday to discuss race-related issues students face.

"So if you use that sense of empathy, that sense of putting yourself in other people's shoes, we can push back and build something we can be proud of here in Alberta."

With files from Terri Trembath and Mario De Cicco