Muslim's in the west

November 24, 2010

Some Personal Observations of a Muslim who migrated to Canada

Ali H. Rajput, O.C., S.O.M., M.B.B.S., MSc (Neurology) FRCPC, Professor Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan

This is based on the talk given at the Saskatoon Inn, October 30, 2010, celebrating the Islamic history month.

Like everyone else I have several identities. I was born in Sind Province, India/Pakistan before the subcontinent was divided.  I am not sure if I should call myself Indian, Pakistani or Indopakistani.  I grew up in Pakistan and got all of my under graduate education and a medical degree there.  I attended the University of Michigan where I got Masters degree and did specialty training in Neurology.  I wear my Michigan T-shirt when there is a football game and my son wears his Iowa jersey.  Last week he beat me.  I have lived in Saskatoon for 43 years.  Sometimes I am known for coming from Saskatoon and in some Neurology circles, Saskatoon is known as the place that Rajput comes from.  By profession I am a Neurologist, I am a Canadian citizen and by religion I am a Muslim.  I wear none of my identities on the sleeve.  For this talk I will wear the hat of a Muslim who migrated and has lived in North America for 50 years. 

In keeping with the main theme of the evening - the environments, I use both sides of the paper to write notes.  I have done that for some time.

Yesterday around 4:00 p.m. Dr. Ahmed Shoker came to my office and asked to give a talk this evening.  When I asked him about the topic, he had no suggestion, when I asked about the duration of my talk, he left it open ended. That made it hard for me to choose the topic and length of my talk.  If you see me rambling a bit I hope you will understand, why. I will eventually come to the subject that I want to talk about.

Coming to North America:

After graduating from Medicine, I did an internship and about 9 months of general practice in Pakistan.  I accepted a position of Internship in Chicago.

 I had friends who were doctors, lawyers and professors.  They all helped me prepare for my travel and stay in the U.S.A. The weather in Pakistan was hot.  We all knew that Chicago was a cold city and in preparation for that I had to dress appropriately.  I had a three piece woolen suit and a heavy woolen double breast coat. I was ready to challenge Chicago’s cold weather.  I landed at O’Hare airport on July 1, 1960.  It was a hot muggy day and I was wearing my woolen suit and overcoat, perspiring buckets.  People were looking at me, thinking where did this thing come from.  So my first emotional experience of North America was, a major embarrassment.  There were many more to come, whether it was my dress, language, actions or nuances.

I was an educated man and was advised by highly educated and knowledgeable people, yet, I looked like a fool.  I sympathize with those that have less education and move to North America.  Moving to a different culture, language, environments is not an easy process.

Coming to Canada:

I wanted to get specialist degree from Canada as it was recognized in Pakistan by way commonwealth bond, while the U.S. degree was not recognized.  Therefore, in 1966 I decided to come to Canada.  One of my friends advised that instead of coming as a student I should apply for an immigrant visa just in case Plan A did not work out.  I wrote a letter to the Canadian Immigration. There was no interview and I received Immigration visa.  When I arrived at the Detroit - Windsor border with my Volkswagon and a small U-haul trailer and less than $100.00 in my pocket, the border agent said “Welcome to Canada, we need Doctors”.

I moved to Saskatoon in July 1967, fully expecting to leave at the end of June 1968, but here I am 43 years later.

Our Marriage;

As the preparations of our marriage in May 1969, were proceeding someone told my wife, that I could have four wives.  I had to assure her that the other three would stay in Pakistan and she would never meet them.

 I have looked into my family history for the last 200 years or so, and there is not a single case of polygamy in my ancestry.  When someone who is unhappy or unwell, is asked “how are you doing”? It is not uncommon to hear, “I could be better”.  In Sind where I grew up when someone like that is asked how he is feeling, the common answer is “I am better than the man with two wives”.  Thus, polygamy which may have attraction to some people, is in fact one of the most miserable state for men and no doubt for women.  But then we have our own Bountiful B.C. situation.

Our marriage was the first Muslim wedding in this city.  It was held in a Unitarian Church.  My wife’s bridesmaid was a Christian and the Sari my wife wore for the wedding was put on by our friend Nahid Ahmad.  My best man was a Sikh, Dr. H. Sodhi.  There were Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs at the wedding.  My best friend in the U.S. A. who was a Jew from Pittsburgh, was unable to attend. 

There is a natural fear of unknown individuals and the unknown and different ways of life.  New immigrants fall in the unknown and different category - especially those who come from non-European countries. 

Immigrants to Canada:

If you look at the world population and the immigration to Canada you will see a  pattern.  The largest country by population is China, followed by India.  The largest number of immigrants to Canada are from China, followed by India.

If you consider the world population by religion, Islam is the largest religion after Christianity.  You would therefore expect that the largest number of immigrants to Canada, by religious affiliation, would be Muslims.

Canada is a county of immigrants. They came in different waves, English, French, Scots, Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, etc.  The current immigration is different from the previous ones.  My wife is of Austrian/German/Ukrainian/ Swedish background.  I speak of Ukrainians with the greatest of fondness.  When Ukrainians came to Canada they originated from one country, they all spoke the same language, they had similar physical features, they had similar social and ethical values and they went to the same church.  The citizens of the host country, Canada, therefore had a reasonably good idea of what a Ukrainian immigrant would look like and behave like.  By contrast, Muslim immigrants are as diverse as the world population. In their physical appearance they range from blonde, blue eyed, Nordic look, to classical dark, African features.  I estimate that in the city of Saskatoon, Muslims have migrated from 30 different countries.  In addition to their physical differences they bring with them different traditions, foods and even the concepts of what is ethical. Unlike the Ukrainians, the Muslims do not share the same social values.  We cannot even speak in our mother tongues to each other, because we do not speak the same language. Thank God for English, we can talk to each other.

A common misconception is that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs. Neither of those is true. There are many Christians who are Arabs and the majority of the world’s Muslims are not Arabs. The only common feature among the Muslims of diverse origin coming to Canada is, that they have the same religion and they go to the same Mosque.  The essential part of the mandatory prayers is an Arabic language.  The sermon, however, is in English because all of us understand that.

Thus comparison with immigrants of one ethnic group or one country of origin does not apply to Muslims.  They are extremely heterogeneous. 

We have had Muslims settled in Saskatoon who are an integral part of the society.  For example, our host of the evening Dr. Ahmed. Shoker is a world class kidney specialist, Dr. Amin Elshorbagy is Professor of Engineering and is now working in voluntary advisory capacity for the future development of the City of Saskatoon.  Dr. Assem Hedayat is an Engineer and a prominent businessman.  I could give you dozens of similar examples of such individuals, right in this room.   

Muslims have bad apples just as any other large group does.  A maladjusted citizen is a danger to everyone.  If such an individual were a Muslim, of say, Pakistani origin, Muslims will be embarrassed and I being of Pakistani origin would be more embarrassed but I do not have anything to do with that individual’s behavior.  The harm caused by such individual would not be restricted to Muslims but could be to any member of the society.  Therefore we have a collective responsibility to do our best to educate such individuals to become law abiding citizens of Canada while maintaining their religion.  When needed the justice should be done regardless of the religion.

Because of the heterogeneous nature of Muslims in Canada it is unrealistic to expect that a certain group of individuals who happen to be Muslims and settled in the country would be able to exercise such influence as to control behavior of all other Muslims.  Muslims also have diverse political views and there is no single person including local Imam or an elected executive member of the Islamic Association who speaks for all of them.

Immigration Policy and responsibilities of the host and the Immigrants:

Canada has an immigration policy.  Except for a very small minority, the immigrants come to Canada, through legal channels. The process begins with the individual applying for permission to come to Canada.  Our representatives and civil servants take careful look at the applicant.  While there are a small number of refugees who are accepted on compassionate grounds, most immigrants are chosen by our representatives based on what they will likely contribute to Canada.

When individuals apply to come to Canada it is implicit that they wish to abide by the laws of the country and become productive members of the Canadian society. Our representatives in the Immigration department in their best judgement allow only those who would make a positive contribution to the good of Canada. As in all religious/ethnic groups migrating to Canada, there are immigrant Muslims who are less than ideal citizens.  Those of us Muslims who have been living in Canada, had no role in granting such members permission to migrate and we do not have the ability to modify their behavior. 

Perhaps the indoctrination of the would be immigrants should begin before the individuals arrive in Canada. They should know that they have rights and they will have responsibilities.

The primary responsibility of adjustment and integration in the society at large rests with the immigrant.  If the immigrant fails to make proper adjustment he/she would be left behind.  Since it has an impact on the rest of society as well, we must help them integrate and become productive citizens.

Adjusting to new society takes a long time.  I can remember numerous occasions that I was embarrassed, by my actions or words as I did not fully understand nuances of some of those.  You feel like a fool, however you dust yourself up, learn from the experience and hope to do better in the future.

I remember my children correcting my English or telling me that I was not pronouncing my vs and ws properly.  Sometimes old habits are hard to change.  When I go grocery shopping with my wife and want to buy grapes I like to test before I buy.  That is when my wife’s Swede comes out.  That is an absolute No NO.  I can’t see anything wrong with testing one grape while am trying to buy 2 or 3 pounds.  However that is not appropriate. The end result is that I do not go grocery shopping.  Now, there is some valuable tip for those of you who do not want to do grocery shopping!

Finally, I want to urge you all to work together to help the Muslim immigrants integrate into society.  One group alone cannot handle that job. 

Thank you.

 Dr. Ali H. Rajput, O.C., S.O.M., M.B.B.S, FRCPC