Winnipegger’s history of Muslims in Manitoba aims to document an era almost forgotten

As Ismael Mukhtar started researching the history of Muslims in Manitoba for his new book, he was struck by what he calls a forgotten chapter of his community.

That history stretches all the way back to the early 1900s — long before the fast-growing community hovered below 1,000 people in the 1970s and reached the roughly 20,000 strong it is today, said Mukhtar. The pre-1950s era, however, is not well known.

“I found that there is a chapter of the history of this community that has not been documented and basically has been forgotten,” he told CBC’s Up to Speed host Marjorie Dowhos.

And with few of the founders of that community still around to talk about their work, with some having died and others’ memories fading, Mukhtar said he wanted to document that era before it was lost to time.

That work became Manitoba Muslims: A History of Resilience and Growth, which traces the community’s long history from the first Muslims who arrived in the province to its first mosque built here to all the other community institutions created over the years.

The book also looks at some of the challenges the community has faced, from stereotypes to Islamophobic vandalism to issues Muslim women see in the workplace, Mukhtar said.

“The book tries to provide a deeper look into the nature of this challenge and how the community has been tackling that,” he said.

Mukhtar said he hopes the book will help demystify Muslims for people in Manitoba — and show how deeply connected his community’s history is to the province’s larger story.

“Muslims in Manitoba, they are in every walk of life: they are in the medical profession, they are in finance, they are in business,” he said.

“We are all in the same province and our history is one. Our future is one. So if the Muslim community thrives, the whole society thrives.”

Manitoba Muslims: A History of Resilience and Growth is available for purchase through FriesenPress or on the Manitoba Islamic Association website.