Toronto

TDSB's Islamic Heritage Month wraps with film about unlikely friendship

Islamic Heritage Month at the Toronto District School Board came to a close with the screening of The Sultan and the Saint, a movie about the crusades and an unlikely friendship between a Muslim and a Christian.

Activities during October created to increase dialogue, bridge gaps and combat Islamophobia

The activities for the TDSB's Islamic Heritage Month were created by volunteer parents and teachers. (The month's planning committee from left to right: Qaiser Ahmad, Haniya Sheikh, and Nazerah Shaikh). (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Islamic Heritage Month at the Toronto District School Board came to a close Friday with the screening of The Sultan and the Saint, a movie about the crusades and an unlikely friendship between a Muslim and a Christian.

The film is about the meeting in 1219 between Malik Al-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt, and the man who would become St. Francis of Assisi.

For all of October, the TDSB held events meant to inspire students and bridge the gap between religions and ethnicities. All over the city, there were comedy nights, Islamic art events and talks about Islamophobia.

Mothers Nazerah Shaikh and Haniya Sheikh used their own personal experiences to brainstorm different interactive events.

"It was in response to Islamophobic comments made to my kids," said Sheikh. "We thought, 'How can we make this a into a learning experience?'"

Both women are on the TDSB's Parent Involvement Advisory Committee, so they reached out to other parents and teachers and got the ball rolling.

It took a year of planning and about 50 volunteers, but they came up with dozens of activities and even a resource guidebook about Muslims and Islam that educators can use when they have questions or when they want to plan a project.

Curriculum should reflect the diverse group of students

There are also interesting facts for teachers to incorporate into the daily curriculum. 

"I never knew Muslims invented algebra," said Shaikh, a mother of two. "We came up with points like that because it's important for students to hear positive points and it's good for Muslim students to know and see themselves reflected in the curriculum."

After the movie screening at Ryerson University Friday night, the evening ended with an interfaith discussion with the film's associate producer Daniel Tutt, an Imam and two Friars.

Tutt says media is a powerful tool to bring diverse groups together and get them talking about divisive issues.

"A lot of radical Islamic clerics are actually citing medieval events like the crusades as motivation for their activities. So an example of peacemaking, like in The Sultan and the Saint, during this dark, brutish and short time period is worth telling," said Tutt.

Shaikh agrees and in her role as a volunteer on the Parent Involvement Advisory Committee, she encourages educators and students to ask her questions.

"For me as a Muslim I'm open to conversation. The only way we're going to learn from one another is if we're open to dialogue."

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