SASKATOON — Representatives of the Muslim community have participated in a series presented over five weeks in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon as a way of increasing Christian understanding of the Islamic faith.
The imam of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) spoke at the second session of the series, entitled “A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction,” providing an overview of the teachings of Islam. Imam Sheikh Illyas Sidyot also responded to a public lecture presented in the third week of the series, and hosted a guided visit to his faith community’s mosque on Nov. 8.
Born in Ravidra, Gujrat in India, Sidyot had memorized the Qur’an by the age of 10, studied under different scholars, earning many certificates and achieving formal authorization in his tradition. He came to Saskatchewan in 1997, serving first in Regina, and now living in Saskatoon “as a proud Canadian” with his wife and seven children, said Rev. Bernard de Margerie in an introduction of the imam as guest speaker Oct. 25 at the Cathedral of the Hoy Family. A Catholic priest in the diocese of Saskatoon, de Margerie is one of the organizers of the Foundations series on Islam, along with Sister Phyllis Kapucinski, NDS, and Anglican priest Rev. Colin Clay.
Sidyot began his presentation with a prayer “in the name of Allah, the most high and the most merciful,” invoking blessings on all those gathered, reading from the Qur’an. “May Allah make us the source of spreading the peace in this shining city of Saskatoon,” he said.
The imam offered a short quiz about the Islamic faith, revealing that the prophet who is mentioned most in the holy Qur’an is Moses, that the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an is Mary the mother of Jesus, and that Indonesia is the country with the highest Muslim population. He asked, “Who do Muslims worship?” confirming the crowd’s answer of “Allah.”
Sidyot explained that Allah is the Arabic word for God — a unique word, which has no plural. Allah is the one true God “of no particular image or shape,” he said, adding that Allah did not give birth to anyone, nor was Allah born of anyone.
The word Islam or Muslim means one who surrenders and submits themselves to the will of God, Sidyot said. A Muslim person “is ready to abide by the rules and regulations of Allah, the Almighty” as revealed in the holy Qur’an.
Sidyot stressed that Allah has created human beings with both a physical and a spiritual dimension, and sustains us both physically and spiritually. “Our God has made a system of spirituality from day one. Therefore, our father, the first human, Adam, peace be upon him, was not only the first human, he was the first prophet as well.”
Muslims believe that over 124,000 prophets have come into the world, Sidyot said. “Each and every nation in the past has been blessed with a prophet messenger that has been used to guide them and connect them to the creator. All these prophets have come to this world with the same message.” That message introduces the Creator, the human purpose on earth, and the destination of human beings in the next life, he said.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the final messenger of God, said Sidyot, noting that Muslims do not consider Muhammad to be the founder of Islam. Rather, Islam began with Adam, and continued through all the prophets.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in the sixth century and lived for 63 years. At the age of 40 he received his first revelation from the Angel Gabriel on the mountain of Hira — revelations that continued for 23 years, through times of persecution and a move to Medina. The revelations received by Muhammad are recorded in the Qur’an, which has some 6,000 verses.
Sidyot spoke about the five pillars of Islam: a declaration of faith; obligatory prayer throughout the day; compulsory giving; fasting in the month of Ramadan to achieve balance in life between the physical and the spiritual; and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if a person can afford it and can travel safely.
He listed six pillars of Iman (faith) for Muslims: to believe in Allah, to believe in his angels, to believe in his books, to believe in his messengers, to believe in the day of judgment, and to believe in divine destiny.
Sidyot also described teachings around food and eating according to rules provided in the Qur’an (halal, which means lawful), and questions around dress codes. “The real hijab is adopting modesty and bashfulness; this is the bottom line, and this is required for both men and women,” he said.
Muslims live throughout the world, not just in Arabia, Sidyot noted, adding that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and the second largest after Christianity. Muslims make up 3.2 per cent of the population in Canada, with the first mosque in Canada built in Edmonton in 1938. There are some 25,000 Muslims living in Saskatchewan.
Sidyot expressed appreciation for the diocesan series as a way to increase understanding and friendship, and combat fear. He decried the actions of “those people who are using the name of faith, killing and murdering and shooting people. Our enemies are those people who are bringing unrest to the global community.”
The biggest enemy is ignorance, he added. “If we (hold) open social gatherings, break bread and talk, and we put our hearts in front of each other, that’s where we are going to have better understanding,” Sidyot said. “The Christian community with open arms has come here to assemble and learn about Islam and Muslims, we also are ready to learn from you as well, and wish to set up these kind of assemblies with many well-wishers in the community,” he said. “We will try to make it possible that a better understanding will be created, and harmony, peace and better understanding will prevail all over the globe.”
Participants in the series were also invited to the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan mosque in Saskatoon on Nov. 8, with some 300 participants joining the Islamic community for presentations, the call to prayer, evening prayers, and funeral prayers for a member of the Muslim community.
The evening at the mosque also included a presentation about the history of the local mosque and the establishment of mosques and an Islamic school, as well as a reflection by the imam’s daughter, Safia Sidyot, a Grade 9 student.
“In the midst of the world which is currently fighting many pointless battles about which country is better, which religion is better, and which people should have rights, Allah has blessed us all with this beautiful gathering,” she said. “Take a look around you. There are people here of different cultures, different countries, different religions; people who speak different languages and hold different opinions. Yet we are all here together, united. This is the beauty of living in this community, living in Canada.”
Born and raised in Canada, Safia said she is proud to say that she is treated equally in her society. “I am not discriminated against nor am I targeted. Sure, I get some stares or questions about how I am dressed, but that does not phase me, not one bit. Rather, it makes me happy to know that I live in a society where people want to learn more about me rather than make judgments. I am glad that people respect me, just as I respect them.”
She added that Islam teaches all are equal before God. “My religion teaches me to show love and care, to show mercy and to be grateful, to be fair and to be just, and to neither harm nor speak ill of anyone or anything. This is my religion.”
Gathering in peace and friendship as representatives of two different faiths is a sign of hope, she concluded. “You and I together with our love, our kindness, our respect and our understanding: we can make this world a much better place.”