Twelve years ago, the Parliament of Canada recognized October that year as Islamic History Month. Kingston was among the first municipalities formally to declare Islamic History Month and has consistently renewed its commitment annually to mark the month.
This year was no exception, and City Hall was illuminated in green on the evening of October 2 to celebrate the start of the month. I am delighted and honored to have the opportunity to serve as guest editor of this newsletter to introduce and launch Islamic History Month at Queen’s, a tradition I have proudly participated since its inception in 2006.
Like Black History Month several decades ago, this initiative by community and civic organizations responded to the need to educate the public and celebrate the achievements and contributions of a community too often poorly understood, ignorantly portrayed in public media, and discriminated against in various ways. Also like Black History Month, this program has served multiple purposes: to redress through knowledge common stereotypes that undergird prejudice, to promote a civic and public culture of multicultural and religious diversity, and to give recognition to achievements and contributions that have been ignored or underrepresented in a predominantly Euro-centric perspective on history and culture.
As is very often the case, the community activists made important achievements far in advance of the universities. Since my arrival to Queen’s in 2005, for example, no full-time professor with a primary specialty in Islam; Muslim societies of the Middle East, Africa, Asia; or of Muslims in Europe and North America has joined Queen’s to teach and research in these major fields to my knowledge. This curricular gap is particularly acute for the modern Middle East and Islamic world across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. In response, in 2012 my colleague in Ottoman history Dr. Ariel Salzmann and I developed the Muslim Societies-Global Perspectives (MSGP) project.
Again this year, partnering with the Islamic Society of Kingston in the community, we have organized a program of public events for Islamic History Month this October. MSGP has sponsored public lectures, workshops, film screenings and discussion forums on campus and for the community to commemorate Muslim contributions to culture, to learn from diverse histories ranging from the multi-religious society of Muslim ruled Spain and the Ottoman Balkans in the medieval and early modern eras, to understand developments in the Middle East and Islamic world today, and to share the experiences of Muslim communities in modern multicultural societies of Europe and North America.
Much more could be done to make this month successful each year in achieving its diverse purposes at Queen’s. We are especially eager to institute and endow, with support from donors in the community and beyond, a major annual lecture for Islamic History Month that would allow us to bring a prominent and internationally renowned scholar to Queen’s each October as a focal point for both campus and Kingston community commemoration.
Islamic History Month provides an opportunity not only to learn more, share knowledge and experiences publicly, and promote greater understanding, but it is also an opportunity to think more about how the university can and should embed such extracurricular learning more fully into its regular curriculum. As the university continues to implement the goals of the Principal's Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI) final report and the many previous recommendations of earlier reports and initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, programs and departments can take the initiative to redress the remarkable absence of scholarly knowledge of the culture and history of Muslims in our university.
What areas are particularly underrepresented? We urge students and faculty to consider what contributions Muslims and their diverse cultures have made in the visual arts, literature in numerous languages from Arabic to English, architecture, philosophy. What majority Muslim societies and Muslim minorities could be better understood and represented through scholarship and teaching in the disciplines of sociology, geography, anthropology, political economy?
Dr. Adnan A. Husain
Associate Professor, Department of History
Medieval Mediterranean and Islamic World
Director, Muslim Societies-Global Perspectives