GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – Two communities living in Grand Falls-Windsor came together on Saturday, Nov. 4 to build a friendship bridge.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Qalipu First Nation Band came together to celebrate both cultures with prayers and passages from the Quran, as well as the Qalipu’s honouring song, drumming circle and travelling song.
The event was hosted by Dr. Mohamed Boodhun at the request of Lal Khan Malik, national president of the Ahmadiyya Community, who was travelling across Canada to meet with Indigenous people.
“We are a persecuted community and whenever we come to know of another community that is facing similar treatment at the hand of people, we feel a natural affinity for them,” said Malik. “In addition to the other reasons that we have to interconnect with every other community to build bridges, we feel special feelings for the Indigenous people of Canada.”
The groups’ leaders say they have a lot in common at the root of their belief systems. The motto of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is “love for all, hatred for none.”
Qalipu chief Brendan Mitchell says this is similar to the seven sacred teaching of the Mi’kmaq people: humility, honesty, respect, truth, courage, wisdom and love.
“I think we have a lot in common tonight as these two groups come together,” said Mitchell.
The Indigenous community faces persecution within Canada, said Mitchell. In particular, he said the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland have had a hard time gaining recognition within the province.
When Newfoundland joined Confederation, Joey Smallwood told the Canadian Government there were no Indigenous people living in Newfoundland, said Mitchell.
The Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) was formed in 1972 in an effort to gain recognition. When the Qalipu band was formed on Sept. 22, 2011 there were 23,877 members. The current membership is 24,454 people.
Before the formation of the FNI, Indigenous people faced discrimination, leading them to deny their heritage to fit in with their communities, said Mitchell.
“When Qalipu was formed there was an incredible renaissance, an interest in things Mi’kmaq by people in Newfoundland,” he said.
“An additional 75,00 people came forward trying to become members of Qalipu First Nation, self-proclaiming and self-identifying as First Nation people in this province.”
That brings the total number of Indigenous people living in Newfoundland to 103,000, said Mitchell.
The band now finds itself facing a difficult time as membership and qualification issues are dealt with.
“Families are upset, families are broken, and communities are hurt,” said Mitchell. “People are being denied their ancestry and heritage as members of the Mi’kmaq community. I meet with government regularly on this particular process and I’m saddened to tell you that the Government of Canada really doesn’t care too much about our particular situation as we sit right now.”
Similarly, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community faces a similar situation in Pakistan, said Malik, as the government of Pakistan has amended its Constitution “to say that Ahmadiyya is not Muslim.”
“Not only that – if you say I’m not a Muslim, I live with that, but I claim to be Muslim and (that) is a sin which should be punished by imprisonment of three years. This is what happening in Pakistan,” said Malik.
Misunderstandings have developed in the word of Islam, including the concept of violence, he said.
“Some Muslims have unfortunately developed the view that when people are wrong, and you are right, we have the right to forcibly bring them to the right way. But that is against the Islamic teachings. No (religion) has monopoly of being the only true religion.
“All religions are true at their source and Islam demands that not only do you have to believe in your own Prophet Mohammed, you have to believe in Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, Prophet Buddha – any prophet that appeared … in the history of mankind, we would say ‘peace be upon him.’
“We would consider him of our own prophet. The difference of religion should not be made the reason for hatred with one another.”
The purpose of the friendship bridge is to listen to others speak about their beliefs. Malik has attended hundreds of similar events throughout Canada.
“We believe this is a very effective way of bringing about peace,” he said. “If the aim of my life is to please God, I cannot please Him unless I love all members of the human race.
“The summary of the modern teachings of all religions sums up in the slogan we have – love for all and hatred for none.”