Sunday, 12 April 2009

Good Friday, Canadian Muslim Style


It's not just Christians who flock to houses of worship at Easter.

Muslims do it, too.

"In Canada, Easter has become the third Muslim holiday, after the two Eids," says Nadir Shirazi, a Toronto multi-faith co-ordinator at the University of Toronto.

Friday is the traditional big day for Muslims to attend afternoon prayers, but the North American work week can make that difficult. Most observant Muslims end up at a mosque near their place of work each Friday, rarely able to be at their family mosque on Islam's primary day of worship.

But that changes every spring with Good Friday, a statutory holiday steeped in Christian tradition to mark the day the Bible says Jesus was nailed to the cross.

The day off gives Muslims a rare chance to pray at their neighbourhood mosques, alongside family and friends.

"For many Muslims, this is the only time they get to pray with their families, instead of a place near their work," says Shirazi, who also helps companies make their workplaces more accommodating to people of faith.

Across Toronto, mosques are bracing for their biggest prayer day of the year with added events such as lectures, discussions, games for the children and dinners.

Farhad Khadim, vice-president of the Islamic Centre of Toronto in Scarborough, says his mosque expects to see about twice as many worshippers today, estimating that there will be between 1,000 and 1,500 coming through the doors around lunch time.

"Normally, we get about 600," says Khadim, whose mosque includes families from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

As a result, there will be a special lunch prepared today, with foods from many different countries, and pizza for the children.

There will be added lectures for the adults, and a forum to seek input from youths on how to engage them more in the life of the mosque.

"This is a traditional thing we do every Good Friday," he says.

Khadim, an active member of the Muslim community, says other holiday weekends such as Christmas and Thanksgiving have also gained importance in the Muslim calendar by providing an ideal time to hold conferences, such as the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference held in Toronto every Christmas.

"It's a matter of convenience," Khadim says, adding that with Christians busy with their holidays, finding meeting space for thousands of Muslims gets easier.

"You often find that large venues are much more available."

Atheist and Humanist groups also tend to hold conferences during religious holiday weekends – not out of a sense of irony, but because long weekends make travel easier.

For Muslims, though, Good Friday has evolved into a community and family day, with the emphasis on local events and needs.

Theologically, Good Friday is no different from any other day of worship in the mosques. But its status as a day off work has made it a big day to spend with friends and family – much as the church picnic has long been in many Christian churches – and a day many Muslins look forward to all year.

Many imams also take Good Friday as a chance to talk about Jesus and his place in Islam, says Shirazi.

"He's part of our religion, he's a prophet," says Shirazi, who'll be at the Pickering Islamic Centre today.

Khadim says he has also heard imams use Good Friday to talk about the role of women in society, drawing on the stories of the Virgin Mary and Khadijah, the wife of the prophet Muhammad.

"All the prophets were surrounded by strong women," says Khadim.

By coincidence, this weekend is also Passover, when Jews mark the Exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As well, it's the start of the Buddhist New Year.

"Thousands of people across Canada will be taking part in religious or spiritual events over these few days," says Shirazi.

"It's a wonderful convergence of our multiculturalism."


You may also find Ahmed Deedat's research on Good Friday an interesting read. The article is available here.

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