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« on: Mar 22, 2010 10:12 PM »

Islamic centre receiving infusion
Ramadan dinner to raise $15,000 for Carleton facility
By Amira Elghawaby, The Ottawa Citizen
March 18, 2010
An Islamic studies centre at Carleton University is receiving a big fund-raising boost from renowned Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan.

The Swiss-born Oxford University professor, once named one of the 100 most important innovators of the 21st century, is speaking at a $75-a-plate dinner tonight, rallying the city's diverse Muslim communities around a project they have only given lukewarm support until now.

"It's absolutely great to have him," says Fatma El-Mehelmy, an engineer who is the main force behind the emerging institute.

While the Centre for the Study of Islam has begun operations -- it's a notional gathering of academics with common intellectual interests, not a physical building -- there isn't yet enough money for an official launch, says Professor Farhang Rajaee, its first director. He says a centre like this will need about $2 million to carry out meaningful research and dialogue. The university has promised to match donations dollar for dollar.

El-Mehelmy says garnering financial support for the centre has been a tough sell. "Because we all have all these issues around the globe, people prefer to give back to the country of origin," she says.

Still, the chance to hear one of Ramadan's provocative lectures on the need for greater Muslim engagement in Western societies has prompted area Muslims to open their wallets. Tonight's dinner, with 200 seats, is sold out. Ramadan will also speak at Carleton University on Friday, when he delivers the 26th annual Davidson Lecture on the subject, "Identity and Engagement: Western Muslims and the Public Sphere."

"We have a good representation of the different sects (in Ottawa); that in itself shows how important this initiative is for the Muslim community in general," El-Mehelmy says.

Both El-Mehelmy and an advisory board are working closely with Carleton to raise money for an endowment fund to allow the centre to employ a full-time professor, as well as to host public lectures and conferences exploring issues as current and as volatile as the debate over the niqab head-covering in Quebec.

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, head of the Muslim Co-ordinating Council in Ottawa, says it's about time Muslims started creating and supporting such institutions.

"I think we have so far thought mostly of building mosques and have neglected institution-building," Khan says.

There are at least four mosque-building projects on the go across Ottawa and Gatineau, each with its own fundraising drive.

Khan, whose term with the umbrella group ends later this year, says it has been a struggle to get Muslims of various persuasions to unite around common causes because they usually carry a lot of cultural baggage and they tend to associate primarily with others from the same national and precise religious backgrounds.

However, Ramadan, who once advised Canadian Muslims to "forget about being a minority because there is no minority citizenship," highlights issues far beyond bricks and mortar development, focusing instead on promoting greater Muslim participation in society.

"If we don't have a vision for our future in Canada, I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot," she says.

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