Counterflow is a concept developed by the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) that represents the voices of culturally diverse communities that have not been amplified enough in the mainstream to counter our western conception of community.
It’s about holding spaces where communities are present as a conscious act—celebrating their contradictions, struggles, and successes as active agents building cultural bridges for a better city, a better society. It’s where people from different cultural backgrounds start learning from each other, and sharing with each other, in a non-threatening manner, the products of their ancestral knowledge.
More importantly, it’s about celebrating life and the sense of community. The story that we tell matters because stories are the engine of human understanding. Promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding enriches the cultural, social, spiritual and economic fabric of Victorians.
Welcome to Masjid Al-Iman. I want to greet everyone with an Islamic greeting: A-salaam-alaikum. I greet you with peace, peace unto you. That is how Muslims normally greet each other in our community. I’m sure you have heard it many times! And how we respond is: Wa-alaikum-salaam. Peace be with you as well.
In this session held at the Majid Al-Iman, Shazia Rashid, Education Director of the BC Muslim Association (BCMA) of Greater Victoria, explored the intersection between Islam beliefs and the sense of community within the diverse Muslim communities. Using a non-didactic methodology, Shazia described the programs the BCMA has been working on, the cooperation with City facilities, and involvement of local organizations to hold safe spaces for the development of both Muslim children and women to express themselves without feeling threatened.
What about Masjid Al-Iman in Victoria? Who does it serve? Mosques serve different purposes based on where they are. Masjid Al-Iman was completed in 2012, the same year I moved to Canada. It is currently the only established Masjid in the capital of B.C., which means that the members are one of the most diverse Muslim communities. We have members from all over the world, from South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Syria, Kenya, Sudan—just name it—Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia…
At the end of her presentation, Shazia opened the floor and passed the torch to her fellow Sisters (a term used within the community to refer to Muslim women) and they started speaking out about the sense of community they felt practicing Islam, and how vital the need for cross-cultural and cross-institutional collaboration is. Many Sisters also reflected on how proud they felt about their heritage and beliefs.
We are raising a new generation and embracing all of our identities. We hear so much rhetoric out there, so much hate speech, so much negativity, but one evening, a guy named Chris walked into the Masjid and distributed roses to all the men. An act of kindness. Just so random, but it went a long way. Not only did it make the men smile, but when they went home, imagine how their wives felt!
The audience was engaged by their speeches and established real conversations, accompanied by a spread of traditional foods from the different cultures under the Islam umbrella, such as semolina, humus, Arabic coffee, Ginger Milk tea, and dates. It was a blissful evening of heritage exchange amongst Victorians, kindling community conversations of respect, inclusion, and celebrating diversity in our city.
Tap an image to view a larger version.