The Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies has been established at Simon Fraser University to encourage the academic discussion and public understanding of the cultures and societies of Muslim peoples in the past and present. The Centre works through a variety of programs to broaden the discussion of this important subject and to introduce more complexity and comparison in the analysis.
Muslim societies and cultures have increasingly become the focus of public and academic attention, although much of the discussion has centred narrowly on contemporary issues of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The variability and flexibility of Muslim practices and perspectives have not featured in this discourse, leaving the public largely unaware of complexities, achievements and challenges.
The Centre has worked to redress this imbalance by broadening the discussion to introduce more comparison and complexity in the study of Muslim societies and cultures from Africa, through the Arab and Persianate world, and into Asia and the West. By focusing attention on Muslim (not Islamic) societies and cultures, the Centre has encouraged a shift in analysis from the notion of a single unitary religious ideascape defined by Islam to a more complex view of Muslims as agents in the construction of their own history.
The Centre is also unique in comparison to other Canadian "Islamic" Studies centres, in that it regularly engages with local Muslim communities and even has staff to direct Community Engagement Initiatives.
From 2017 to 2018, the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies hosting a series of community conversations on what it is to be Muslim in the Lower Mainland. The events were gatherings of Muslim individuals in order to build relationships and unpack the experience of having complex Muslim identities in our current context. This was not intended to be conversations centred on Islam, theoretical or religious perspectives but rather a dialogue centred around people's lived experience.
Over the course of 2017-2018, the Simon Fraser University Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies hosted a series of "Being Muslim" community dialogues. These dialogues, including "Being Black and Muslim in Metro Vancouver", "Being Muslim on Unceded Land", "Being a Muslim Artist", created a space for self-identified Muslims from various backgrounds to engage with one another around their lived experiences.
What emerged was the importance of spaces like this where Metro Vancouver's Muslims could gather and reflect on their different experiences, as documented by researcher Laura Kapinga, and deepen their relationships with each other.
The idea of a cohort that would meet regularly to build relationships and share in a learning journey has a long tradition in various settings. It was important when designing this program that we had a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences. A diverse Fellowship Design Team, comprised of young Muslim leaders living in Metro Vancouver, began to meet and think about their own experiences, what type of learning had served them and what would be useful to share with others. Part of the intention behind the design team approach was to recognize the different experiences and to learn together through difference.
In addition to regular meetings, the design team received funding from the Contemplative Justice Network to undertake a retreat. At this retreat, together they created the Fellowship structure, envisioned the potential outcomes and began the process of building a relationship between the Muslim Community Fellowship and the Indigenous peoples.
The 2019 cohort was recruited through applications. Each fellow must community project that reflects the learnings of the Fellowship and aligns with the values and vision of the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies.
Meet members of the 2019 Cohort and Design Team Below: