Collectivized Identity Among
Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims of Calgary:
Paper For The International Conference:
In Canada for almost thirty years, the Shi'a Imami Isma'ili Muslims of Calgary are remarkably diverse in terms of countries of origin, races, ethnicities and languages. At issue is the basis of collective identity, either ethnicity, languages or religion, as well as the role of pluralism and policy in the construction of a liberal democratic society. Set within a larger study on contexts of identity formation of immigration youth which explores relationships between languages, faith, settlement patterns, community cohesion and collective identity, interviews with parents and community leaders indicate that it is religion that holds central defining value. Furthermore, the construction of a new social order in a new context and the maintenance of social cohesion among members of this community benefit from the implementation of several collective strategies. Considering this experience in light of Canadian citizenship and multiculturalism policy, the participants view citizenship as a complex process which guarantees human rights while allowing for group membership. Integration however is a difficult process to live as it involves a search for openness in the face of prejudice and discrimination. The federal policy of multiculturalism served to define the Isma'ili collectivity externally in the new country and now serves internally in the reconstruction of the group in integrating recent arrivals of considerable diversity. In conclusion, the role of the community leadership set within the multiculturalism policy is seen to be essential in facilitating individual and collective integration in Canadian society which means the creation of new hybridized identities, representative of both the linguistic violence of resettlement and of an idealized hope in new contexts.
Établis au Canada depuis presque trente ans, les Musulmans Isma'ili du secte Shi'a Imami à Calgary sont charactérisés par une grande diversité selon les pays d'origine, les races, les ethnicités et les langues. En question est le critère déterminant de l'identité collective, que ce soit à la base de l'ethnicité, les langues ou la religion, sans oublier le rôle du pluralisme et des politiques gouvernementales au sein de la construction d'une société démocratique libérale. Faisant partie d'une étude sur les contextes de la formation identitaire des jeunes immigrés qui explore les rapports entre les langues, la foi, les modèles d'établissement, la cohésion communautaire et l'identité collective, les interviews avec parents et chefs communautaires indiquent que c'est la religion qui détient une value centrale de définition. De plus, la construction d'une nouvelle ordre social dans un nouveau contexte et le maintien de la cohésion sociale parmi les membres de cette communauté bénéficient de l'emploi de plusieurs stratégies collectives. Situant cette expérience à la lumière de la citoyenneté et de la politique fédérale du multiculturalisme, la citoyenneté est considérée par les participants comme un processus complexe qui guarantie des droits humains tout en permettant aussi une appartenance collective. L'intégration est cependant difficile à vivre car elle exige la recherche de l'ouverture face à la discrimination et les préjugés. La politique fédérale du multiculturalisme a servi à la définition externe du groupe lors de son établissement et sert présentement à la reconstruction interne du groupe visant l'intégration de nouveaux arrivés d'une grande diversité. En guise de conclusion, encadré par la politique du multiculturalisme, le rôle du leadership communautaire est perçu comme essentiel à la création des identités hybridisées qui représentent à leur tour, les doubles dimensions de la violence linguistique du re-établissement et d'un espoir idéaliste dans de nouveaux contextes.
The Canadian policy of multiculturalism, first introduced in 1971, has played a critical role in the establishment of the Isma'ili community in Calgary. The policy of multiculturalism means that "although there are two official languages, there is no official culture, nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other" (McLeod, 1984). In other words, the federal government does not see multiculturalism as a threat to national identity but rather believes that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity (Samuda, Berry and Laferrière, 1984; Driedger, 1996). Enshrining the policy in section 3.1, a-j, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988) recognizes and promotes the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage. This protection is set within the provisions of the Citizenship Act (1947) which provides that all Canadians, whether by birth or by choice, enjoy equal status, are entitled to the same rights, powers and priviledges and are subject to the same obligations, duties and liabilities. Moreover, to be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians (§27), the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) provides that every individual should have an equal opportunity with other individuals to make the life that the individual is able and wishes to have, consistent with the duties and obligations of that individual as a member of society. Within this policy and legal framework, the Isma'ili community has not only found opportunities to enhance its lifestyles, but has done so without having to give up its identity or compromise on its traditions and customs.
Focussing on issues of collectivized identity within the context of Canadian citizenship and policy, this paper reports the findings of part of a larger study dealing with the identification and understanding of the contexts of identity formation of immigrant youth. Funded by the Prairie Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration as well as the University of Calgary, with Dr. Yvonne Hébert as the principal investigator and Rani Murji as one of three research assistants, data collection among Isma'ili community members was carried out in the summer of 1997. Individual semi-directed interviews of approximately an hour and half each were conducted by Rani Murji with the leaders and the parents of the Shi'a Imami Isma'ili community settled in Calgary, Alberta. As portrayed through these interviews, the Isma'ili community of Calgary is remarkably diverse, being composed of many races, ethnicities, and speaking numerous languages.
Community Profile and Challenges
Since the first influx of Isma'ili immigrants settled in Canada approximately thirty years ago, the community has established its own institutions, notably prayer houses known as Jamat Khanas, throughout Canada, and has maintained institutional contact with other Isma'ilis and Isma'ili institutions around the world as a transnational community. Two broad groups, categorized according to origin, constitute the Isma'ili community in Calgary. In the first group are those Isma'ilis who first made Canada their home in the seventies. This group traces its origins to either India, Pakistan, or East Africa. Those coming from East Africa are second or third generation migrants from either India or Pakistan. Consequently, this group, often referred to as Khojas, are conversant in various languages such as Swahili, Gujerati, Hindi, Urdu and Kacchi/Kutchi (a dialect of Gujerati). More importantly, the Khojas share many of the same practices, traditions and cultures. As the first arrivals in Canada, the Khojas established those religious practices which were familiar to them. Thus, a typical congregational gathering would consist of two main prayers conducted in Arabic, Ginans (devotional and philosophical hymns) conducted mostly in Gujerati, other prayers, as well as rites and rituals conducted in Gujerati or Kutchi.
The second group is comprised of Ismai'lis who have immigrated to Canada in the more recent years. Arriving mainly from Tajikhistan and Afghanistan in Central Asia, with a small number from Iran and Syria, this group brings with them cultures, traditions, and languages which differ significantly from the practices of the Khoja community. As a result of the recent war in Afghanistan and Tajikhistan, endeavors were taken by the community to negotiate an agreement with the Federal government allowing the community to sponsor a certain number of Afghan and Tajik refugees into the country. Consequently, in 1992, the Isma'ili community successfully negotiated an agreement between the government of Canada, the Isma'ili Council for Canada and the Isma'ili Council for Québec to sponsor Isma'ili Afghani refugees. According to the Council Member and Chair of the Resettlement Portfolio, the agreement stipulated that the Isma'ili community would take full responsibility for the new immigrants for a full year which includes financial responsibility for language training, housing, employment, education, social and religious needs of the immigrants. Since then, further agreements and protocols have been signed by FOCUS Canada and the Isma'ili Council for Canada with the governments of Québec and Canada. As a result of these agreements, approximately 2 500 Afghanis have entered Canada. Almost half of these have settled in Québec, the remainder in the rest of Canada: Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, notably in Calgary and Edmonton (Haji, 1997: 43). Since the languages, traditions, cultures and religious practices of this group are very different from those of the now dominant Khoja community, the only common component shared by the entire Jamat are the two main prayers which are recited in Arabic. Nor only are all other ceremonies (i.e., rites and rituals) different but they are also conducted in languages inaccessible to the Central Asian Ismai'lis within the Jamat.
Given such a history and context, the Isma'ili Jamat in Calgary is in the process of transformation. Two significant challenges flow from the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity within the community, one of localizing and living the multiculturalism policy and the other, of religious and social cohesion within the Calgary community. First, implementing the Canadian multiculturalism policy within its own community is increasingly important, not only to assure the voice of speakers of the diverse languages and practices, but also to allow the development of these languages across generations. A second challenge facing the community is in imparting the essence of the faith to the younger members of the community, many of whom do not understand the language or symbolism behind the practices. As articulated by the Imam of the community, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the key issue for the Tariqah, defined as faith, teaching or practice, is this:
The juxtaposition of religion and modernity, in a context where the utopia of modernity is no longer functional, as well as the tensionality linking tradition and postmodernity, situates the questioning of collectivized identities, of Muslims in secularized democratic societies in Canada and in Europe (Diop, 1997; Schiffauer, 1997). At issue are the frontiers between the collectivity and the host society as well as the everyday linkages between individuals and the common memory situated within a collective seeking to maintain its atomized ideals of accomplishments, realizations, values and progress. The placement of the frontier between a collective and the host society is not given; instead, it is unstable, moving and porous, subject to negotiation against a backdrop of conflict and struggle between groups and other social actors (Lapeyronnie, 1999). The concept of culture' is also problematic, as is the concomitant concept of identity' as these have been challenged since the mid-1980's. Earlier theoretical constructions of culture' were critiqued as homogenized and bounded, and identity' as fixed, stable and allegedly anchored in discrete, bounded cultures (Caglar, 1997). Today, in the face of massive social changes on global-local bases, it is no longer possible to continue to define ourselves in discrete, definite and limited ways. Instead, we seek to define ourselves in terms of multiple attachments and feel at ease with subjectivities that encompass plural and fluid cultural identities (Caglar, 1997). In spite of the accepted inadequacies of closed concepts, we note that the search for more open concepts is not yet realized. Not only do scholars continue to use the bounded notions of culture and identity of yesteryear, but so do national and minority intellectuals as well as ordinary people as these are part of deeply held daily discursive practices. Thus, we distinguish between what we shall term ordinary' uses of the terms and postmodern' uses, by a shift of perspective, moving from descriptive to analytic textual passages, from the voice of an in-group member writing from within, to that of researchers who recognize, by virtue of their role, that research requires some measure of objectification, of separation and distance, inevitable and even desirable in most research situations (Olson and Shopes, 1991; Hébert, 1999).
The Calgary Isma'ili community is very conscious of the changes taking place within its Jamat. As the more established and numerous Khoja group is aware that it may not be the dominant group for very long, it also recognizes that, in order to accommodate the diversity within the community, it needs to acknowledge and provide space for the articulation of different languages and religious practices within the Jamat. Intensely aware that its youth are unable to relate to the languages of the practice, the community needs, consequently, to find a means of articulating the essence of the faith in a language that the youth can understand. Within these problematics, our paper reports on the words, thoughts and tactics of community leaders and parents on five issues, notably, (1) definiting collective identity; (2) language and settlement; (3) languages and community identity; (4) strategies for the construction of a new social order and new hybrid identifications; as well as (5) citizenship and multiculturalism policy as part of collective identity in the Canadian context.
Defining Collective Identity
Over the years, there has been considerable debate on ethnic identity and the role of language and cultural retention. As summarized by Herberg (1989), the academic debate of the 1980's focussed upon culture as a closed system of symbols and considered language as an important element in that system. In order to maintain and grow within a particular culture, some argue that it becomes imperative for the language of that culture to be functional or employable in all areas of life. Consequently, "culture and the language that serves as its vehicle cannot be disassociated" (Herberg, 1989: 100-101). Yet other scholars argue that language is only one aspect of cultural survival. According to this postulate, "language is a desirable cultural attribute, but not theoretically a sine qua non for maintaining ethnic-group culture" (Herberg, 1989: 101). In other words, language does not always have to be the central value in defining the identity of a particular ethnic group. Indeed a culture can be expressed in a language different from the original language; moreover, speaking the dominant language of the society, such as French or English, does not have to constrict a cultural group from expressing its thoughts, and ethnic way of life in that language (Corson, 1993: 49).
In the eleven interviews that were conducted with the Isma'ili community leaders and parents of adolescents, it became very clear that the community was composed of many cultures and spoke many different languages. The identity of the community, however, rests on the ethos provided by its faith: "I mean definitely the one thing that binds us is our religion, and that is what initially brings us together. .." states one Council Member also responsible for the Women Development Portfolio. Working closely with the recently arrived immigrants, another member adds that it is the Imam (religious leader) that holds and binds the community together.
If the community's identity is based on religion and the leadership assigned a unifying function, how do individual cultural identities maintain themselves without coming into conflict with each other or with the ethos of the religion? Reflecting on this dynamic, Driedger notes that, "Religious or political ideology can rally followers to a goal beyond cultural and institutional values" (1996: 153). Such an ideology can provide life-giving symbols which integrate humans socially, establish creeds, beliefs, ritual and ceremony as well as provide enduring elements of community solidarity. A charismatic leader, moreover, can adapt that ideology to a "current situation linking it symbolically with the past and using the media to effectively transform the present into a vision of the future" (Driedger, 1996: 153). The Imam of the community has a firm policy on matters of diversity within the Jamat. His Firmans stress strength in diversity and urge the members to learn from the diverse practices within the Jamat. For the Isma'ilis in Calgary, and indeed around the world, a delicate balance has to be achieved between ethnocultural identity and religious identity, as markers of collective identity. For the Isma'ili Muslims, religious ideology can provide a common vision that allows its followers to look beyond their individual cultures. In other words, it is the religious faith, and not culture, which becomes the primary mode of identification. For example, the principal author, Rani Murji, who was born in East Africa and traces her origins to India, voices her transformed and transformative sense of identification:
Within an ensemble of multiple identifications, religious identity remains constant as it holds central defining value, collectively and individually, whereas the geographical, ethnocultural, political and linguistic affiliations are subject to change and adaptation to new and changing contexts.
Language and Settlement
First settling in Canada as a result of the Ugandan exodus in the early seventies, the main focus of the Khoja community was to integrate within the new society. Successful integration meant becoming fluent in the dominant language which, in Western Canada, is English. The pioneers of the community spoke English and could make themselves understood; however, they did face challenges of overcoming accents, improving grammatical skills, and honing writing skills. As reported in various interviews, these linguistic skills were important to successful integration into the main stream society. Moreover, parents retained their languages but not so their children. Most children of the earlier group to arrive to Canada were in their pre-teens or early teens and could converse fluently in their mother tongue; however, within a relatively short period of time, the children could still understand their mother tongue, but could no longer speak it fluently. The first generation of Ismai'lis, raised in Canada, have very little or no understanding of their first language since English became their dominant language as they experienced language shift.
According to a Council Member and Chair of the Resettlement Committee, the Khojas did initially attempt to reinforce the language so that their children would retain their mother tongue. However, it soon became apparent that, if one was to access opportunities within Western Canadian society, priority had to be given to mastering English. To adapt faster, one had to speak English and speak it well. It was within the families that the linguistic struggle was most difficult. One family, for example, had two children, both born in Calgary. Although both parents speak Kacchi and were determined to pass on the language to their children, when the children went to school, the parents were strongly advised by the teachers to speak English at home. Reflecting now on the situation, the mother says,
Today, both children speak faultless English, but neither one understands nor speaks Kacchi. As a result, the parents have decided to reintroduce Kacchi and a collective effort is being made to speak Kacchi as a home language.
For another family, the reasons to switch to English were many and compelling. To begin with, the husband worked within the public sector where communication was a vital component of his job duties; however, he had a heavy accent and poor grammatical skills. Therefore, the couple decided to communicate in English in the hopes of improving his oral skills. With the birth in Canada of their two children, the parents decided to make a conscious effort to teach them Kacchi. As a result, both little children spoke fluent Kacchi but little or no English. Later on, with the onset of public schooling, the mother became concerned when she discovered that her son was ignored because he could not communicate his most basic needs in English. When they started school, the son in kindergarten and the daughter in daycare, both were speaking what the mother described as pigeon language':
Their response to the crisis was to isolate the language of origin and speak predominantly in English. Today, notes the mother, "they both speak English without accent, very much into the mainstream."
Language plays an important role in the settlement process of any community in any given country. To participate effectively, fluency in the dominant language provides the key to social mobility and economic prosperity. Some insight is provided by John Ogbu's (1983, 1991) distinction between voluntary' and involuntary' minorities, which helps to explain why some immigrants can adopt school strategies that enhance academic success and produce social adjustment. The main difference between the two groups is their history and their response to their particular position. Involuntary minorities are those that have had a history of subordination and exploitation. They are constrained by societal, school and classroom structures that have denied them equal opportunity over many generations. Unable to leave their setting of oppression and exploitation, they see the differences between their culture and the dominant culture as being insurmountable. Voluntary minorities, in contrast, are new minorities' who see their own cultural differences as barriers to be overcome in achieving their own long-term success in employment or lifestyle. They are able to look back to their former countries as places of fewer opportunities, where opportunities for education are worse than the worst forms of schooling that they experience in their new homeland. The differences are so clearly contrasted, that the voluntary minorities have an easier time adopting schooling strategies that will enhance academic success and social adjustment (Corson, 1996: 50).
The Isma'ilis may be placed in the category of voluntary minorities'. They certainly have found better opportunitiessocially, economically, and politicallyin Canada. However, does adjusting to a new environment necessitate abandoning the culture(s) of origin? A Council Member and Chairperson for Communication and Publications portfolio observes that, as a youth and an earlier migrant to Canada, he was more willing to conform to the values of the new society:
As the community has resettled in its new homeland, it has re-established many of the institutions that were a dynamic part of the community in the countries of origin. As a result, the community has organized local and national councils composed of volunteer professionals in charge of many portfolios such as Youth, Resettlement, Arbitration, Social and Welfare, and Women Development. In consultation with the Imam, these institutions address many of the issues facing resettlement within the community. Today, the Youth portfolio attempts to balance out the social mirror' by juxtaposing another mirror for the youth. The Chairperson for the Youth portfolio defines his mandate as "looking after the interests of the youth...to provide an environment where the Isma'ili Muslim youth will be a dynamic, successful, balanced individual who embodies ethics, values, and traditions of the Tariqah." This portfolio concentrates on five main areas so as to:
To actualize these areas of responsibility, the portfolio is organized in committees, such as the Peer Network Program' established to provide the youth with the peer-to-peer support and an opportunity to discuss social issues. There are also the High School Associations' as well as the Calgary Isma'ili Student Association (CISA) which represents the university student body. Each of these committees organizes events such as camping trips, sport meets, social activities, and plan celebrations around religious occasions. The values of the Tariqah are reinforced by stressing volunteerism, serving non-alcoholic drinks, and demonstrating ethical principles. The Council Member who is also Chairperson of the Youth portfolio describes the process as fluid, trusting, and leading to individual autonomy and responsibility:
It could be argued that the Isma'ili community is losing its language(s); however, it would be a mistake to conclude that, by changing its language, the community is losing its identity. As noted earlier, it is faith, and not language, that is the central collective identity marker for this community characterized by its multiplicity. Nevertheless, it is through language that the affective and symbolic meanings of the faith are communicated within the community. Since the Isma'ili community in Calgary is composed of members who share more than one language and or culture, the main source of the community's collective identity is articulated in many languages. Thus, the practices, rites and rituals are conducted in a diversity of languages, not comprehensible to all members of the whole congregation. The choice of language(s) of wider communication, therefore, becomes an issue of cohesion and integration within the collectivity.
Languages and Community Identity
Language ties us together and is a means of conveying our histories, knowledge and culture (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981: 2). It is through language that one is able to embed all the cultural and historical associations resulting in a "rich underpinning of shared connotations" (Edwards, 1985: 17). It is, however, a mistake to emphasize only language for group identity is more complex and rests not on a single marker such as a particular language, but on the:
As experienced by the two families cited earlier, language shifts often reflect pragmatic desires for social mobility and an improved standard of living. The reasons for non-transmission are not related to some personal repudiation of the language as some scholars propose (cf., Berry, 1996; Camilleri, 1990), but rather, in this community's lived experience, to pragmatic assessments of the likely utility of competing varieties (Edwards, 1985: 50-51). Among the Isma'ili in Calgary, most established families speak English with their children; as a result, most youth have little understanding of their mother tongues and are unable to communicate fluently in their parental language. The more recently arrived Isma'ili immigrants are trying to retain their language of origin, but in order to succeed academically and professionally, they must also master the dominant language of the society. The impact is quite clear, according to the Council Member and Chair for the Resettlement Portfolio who observes that those children who have been in Calgary for six years or more are speaking more English than their mother tongue at home.
Meeting twice daily for evening and morning prayers, the Isma'ili community practices its faith regularly and tries to cope with the two challenges identified earlier: first, giving voice to the diverse practices and traditions of the Jamat conveyed through the many languages existing within it, and secondly, articulating the essence of the faith in a language which is the language that the youth will understand. Although the faith is practiced in a variety of languages, the two main evening prayers are conducted in Arabic. The rest of the prayers, the devotional and philosophical hymns and the rites and rituals of the Faith, are conducted in either Gujerati and/or Kacchi. This results in a situation in which Isma'ilis, arriving from other parts of the world, who do not share the practices rooted in the Indian tradition, find themselves at a loss as many of the latter groups do not understand the Ginans or the prayers conducted either in Gujerati or Kacchi. Moreover, the youth are increasingly unable to understand the languages currently in use, and therefore, do not see the value in these practices and ceremonies.
Presently the dominant group within the community, the Khojas recognize the diversity within the Jamat. The community leaders are also aware that there won't be an easy solution or a singular solution to address the challenges. There are many emotions within the Jamat that need to be acknowledged, fears that need to be put to rest, and misperceptions that need to be addressed and corrected. The Imamate does not wish to establish Jamat Khanas separating the members based on language or prayer practices for to do so would be to fragment the community. The community's collective identity does not come from language, practice or culture but from the tenets of its faith, and is strongly based on the concept of Imamate as a spiritual leader or guide:
The Isma'ili faith is an individual quest for enlightenment. It is up to each individual member or family to attend or not the twice daily meetings, seven days a week. The ceremonies and prayers are processes which facilitate and contextualize this quest and as such, hold personal importance to members of the Jamat. The Khojas, for example, are concerned that the Qasidas recited by the more recently arrived immigrants may replace the Ginans. Both the Qasidas and the Ginans are devotional and philosophical hymns that share the same themes and ideologies, but have evolved in different historical and cultural contexts. Here, the challenges for the maintenance of social and religious cohesion are manifold: first, it is to acknowledge the emotional attachment to both of these hymns; second, to manage prayer time in such a way that both can be practiced; third, to find the means of conveying the meaning, the cultural and historical context behind the hymns and/or the rites and rituals; and lastly, to ensure that the youth understand and can participate in these ceremonies.
The affective attachment to particular prayer traditions and their languages of expression is very strong. The Council Member and Chair for Aga Khan Education Board expresses some of this emotion, when describing her participation in prayers:
One of the Mukhi Saheb of a Jamat Khana, a male religious leader observes:
Losing the language of the Ginans would mean irrevocably loosening ties with a certain culture, a certain history, and losing some of the linguistic encapsulation of philosophic thought that has provided comfort and understanding to people through the ages. Although the reasons are pragmatic, this process is lived as a cultural loss, as a source of emotional grieving for some, especially the dominant group, and yet also an occasion to provide solace, to facilitate the passage to another language so as to assure community cohesion and continuity.
The community has tried many tactics and continues the attempt to find viable solutions to address some of these concerns. Many see English as becoming the binding language, eventually becoming the dominant language of the Faith. For one community leader, looking ahead does not mean letting go:
The principles of the faith may be the same, but integrating the various languages and practices of the faith can be a difficult task. Diversity must be accommodated for in the words of one religious leader:
Strategies for the Construction of a New Social Order and for Hybridized Identifications
Human beings socially construct their world and organize experiences into meaningful order, with the resulting structure then imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals (Berger, 1967). In practice, the human construction of experience, of knowledge and of the world requires participation and some degree of sharing among members within the society. Thus, it behooves a community group desirous of collective cohesion to provide a "stable community where in-depth sharing and participation can take place" (Driedger, 1996: 154). To share in this social construction, it is therefore essential that all members of the community feel that they are part of the Jamat and are able to share and participate in all the rituals, practices, and philosophy that define the community.
Exploring the sacred canopy' metaphor as a symbol of protection for another community for whom religion has a central organizing value (Berger, 1967), it may be viewed as "a tent like roof used by the Jews as a symbol of protection. It was a large blanket with long stakes attached to each of the four corners to hold it up" which serves as "a roof that protects those who are inside from the onslaughts outside" (as cited in Driedger, 1996: 155). Serving important functions of support, flexibility and mobility, metaphorical stakes can be removed and replaced, shortened or lengthened to reflect the needs of the people using it at any given point in time. The stakes also enable a community to fold, transport and pitch the canopy in new locations. Moreover, a community within the canopy does not have to feel imprisoned by the stakes holding the canopy up. By sharing and participating, they can modify and/or replace the stakes to meet the needs of the time. There have to be adequate number of stakes, however, to hold the canopy up, and it must be understood that the stakes are in a symbiotic relationship with each other, and therefore, a balance must be achieved between them.
If the Isma'ilis are to remain a community, in a similar metaphoric sense, there must exist an environment where all members, regardless of their race, culture, or language, can participate and share in the process of upholding the canopy. "It is a very very slow process" notes the Council member in charge of the Resettlement Portfolio, referring to the Khojas as the larger community:
Over the last few years, the community has implemented several tactics to facilitate a better understanding of the diverse practices within its Jamat. On one hand, the tactics are an attempt to facilitate the retention, maintenance and growth of the various languages and practices within the Jamat; and on the other, an attempt to facilitate the passage of the community towards the use of a common language, in an effort to maintain a balance between these two linguistic approaches. Some of the tactics used both in the past and in the present have revolved around teaching the key languages within the community, sensitive and inclusive use of labelling, the addition of new prayers, the provision of translations and multilingual practices, as well as the celebration of diversity. Each of these is exemplified below in list format.
Teaching some of the key languages within the community.
Adding a Ginan and a Qasida in the elementary religious curriculum.
Providing Translations and Multilingual Practices of Ginans/Qasidas and Bulletins
Celebrating Festivals in a manner that reflect the diversity within the Jamat.
Intended to facilitate participation and enhance collective cohesion, tactics and activities such as those above, figure among those identified by the sociologist, Isabelle Taboada-Leonetti within an inventory of strategies of identity formation. Assuming a perspective of identity as a structured ensemble of elements, these permit the individual to define him/herself in a situation of interaction and to participate as a social actor (Taboada-Leonetti, 1990: 44). The notion of identity strategy, as she articulates it, assumes a certain freedom of action on the part of the actors, to determine the outcome of social or existential problems and to act capably in a process of self-definition (Taboada-Leonetti, 1990:45). This perspective goes beyond an assumption of identity formation as resulting from a set of reflexes, or mechanical assignations by others, but rests upon an important part given over to individual and collective choice and indetermination as to the forms and issues of strategic processes, without claiming that the entire process and problematic of immigration can be resolved by problem resolution within the purview of a particular individual. Nonetheless, identity strategies are sensitive to the actors themselves (individuals or collectives), the variety of situations and the issues that flow from them, as well as the individuals' goals and available resources. Actualized on a daily basis, by an individual or groups of individuals, adjustments become an object or subject of study when they involve an important transformation, conflict or contradiction, for example, in negotiating, modifying, contesting or rejecting an identity that Others assign.
In analyzing the range of tactics and activities implemented by the Isma'ili community in Calgary, according to Taboada-Leonetti's inventory of strategies of identity formation, four strategies may be identified: collective action, internalization, semantic reversal and identity recomposition. The nature of collective action assumes primary importance to modify images held by others within the group and in the larger Canadian context. These are consciously taken and articulated via tactics such as festivals, language instruction, seminars and social events planned within the community's administrative infrastructure. More specifically, a keen sensitivity to processes of internalization of group identity, both positive and negative, motivates some forms of community action and discourses, for example, consciously selecting words to serve as inclusive labels for others and providing for translations and multilingual practices. Here, the experience of previous generations and of previous migrations highlights the destructive power of devaluation of self/others and allows the current leadership and membership to better understand the necessary collective and individual actions which need to be undertaken, given the strength of the faith comunity's goals and resources. As tactical examples of this specific strategy, we note the inclusion of prayers from a diversity of cultural traditions as well as the creation of safe, respectful spaces that allow the youth to acquire, challenge and modify assigned gender roles and discourse patterns in the new context.
Closely akin to the processes of internationalization is another strategy, semantic reversal, inherent in backtracking and in instilling pride in one's culture of origin, one of the Isma'ili community's tactics. Taking stigmatized traits so as to reverse them, this strategy focusses on objects of discrimination and prejudice and allows the transformation of negativity into positivity. Finally, given the awareness of community leadership which seeks to optimize social positioning (Bourdieu, 1984) and to facilitate passage to a common language, that of the new social environment, as has been done before in other regions of the world, it is the conscientization of identity recomposition which allows for the creation of new hybrid identities in the Canadian context, with an integrative passage to English as the eventual language of prayer and of daily interactions both within and outside the Isma'ili community, with sustained symbolic links to languages of origin, of their restricted use, rather than practical daily usage in all rites and rituals. Within the processes of recomposition and of the resulting hybridization also lies a painful negativity. Rupturing the emotional attachment to languages of origin is a form of the linguistic violence, an analysis and term first proposed by Skutnabb-Kangas (1981) to express the essence of the loss of affiliation to a language of origin. In the case of the Isma'ili in Calgary, linguistic violence is painfully inherent to the resettlement processes and yet also mirrors the idealized hope in a better future and in new identities, as the underlying double dimensions of hybridization in new contexts.
Collective Identity, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Policy
Given the transformative processes of collective identity of the Isma'ili community in Calgary, in all its diversity, how then do members articulate their relationship to the state and position themselves with respect to citizenship? Becoming a citizen entails the formation of a political identity, i.e., a relationship to the state and to others within that state, this being the conceptual essence of citizenship. Developing a collective identity includes not only groupal attachments but also a strong attachment to the state, the latter being quite importantly for minorities, whether involuntary national ones or voluntary polyethnic ones (Kymlicka, 1995; Hébert et al, 1999). In a speech given at a Banquet in Toronto, Canada, on August 19, 1992, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV observed that:
The Isma'ili leaders and families that were interviewed echo these sentiments. For many, citizenship is an individual matter as well as a transformational process, requiring an effort to hold onto the core of one's personal and community identity, to allow oneself to be perceived as different and not the same. Yet, there needs to be stability as well as a necessity to identify with the community at large, to be Canadian, for pluralism, integration and citizenship need very careful balancing if there is to exist harmony and solidarity in societies where members are free and equal (Bernard, 1999).
The priority for the early settlers of the community, many of whom came as refugees, was to establish themselves economically, academically and socially within Canada. For those who came as voluntary immigrants, it was important to be accepted and to have the freedom to practice their faith without fear or constraints. As individual stories unfold, it is possible to see that within liberal communitarian conceptions of citizenship (Taylor, 1994; Kymlicka, 1995; Klusmeyer, 1996), the understanding of what it means to be a citizen is not a static one, but rather constitutes complex evolving phenomena.
So is the understanding of religion for it too can vary over time and across spaces (Callan, 1996). For Muslims, the Navroz festival, mentioned earlier, exemplifies the possibilities. Celebrated in Iran as the New Year, it is also celebrated traditionally by the Isma'ilis in numerous countries (ex., East Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Canada, and possibly Syria). Its significance varies however, as it is not the New Year for all Muslims around the world, and yet holds greater significance for the Afghanis, who as part of the Calgary Isma'ili community now hold responsibility for the organization of this particular festival. Also under discussion within this community are gender role assignments, situated within the critical question What is the relationship between culture and religion?' A reflection by a Council member, Chair of the Women Development Portfolio, upon what is changeable and what isn't, is revealing:
between faith and cultural traditions. More specifically, young Isma'ili girls and women question the preponderance of male roles in rituals and female roles in supporting tasks and wonder why. Community leaders also reflect upon the matter and as a result, the gender balance in public roles is undergoing change. About one third of the Council are now women and more females are taking up leadership in rituals and other activities, either in their own name or as part of a couple.
Thus, developments may occur within Islam that would liberalize its cultural and civic aspects without forfeiting its distinctiveness as a potent source for individual and group identity (Bilgrami, 1992), making possible amiability between this religion in its diversity and the Western liberal thought.
Citizenship for the most recently arrived immigrants means accessibility to the rights and privileges of the country. Council member and Chair for the Resettlement Portfolio notes, "it allows those who wish to travel, to do so without any penalty." A possible explanation for this is that the newly arrived immigrants:
In contrast, the newly arrived immigrant youth are actively debating the issue. At a session at a youth camp designed to facilitate relationships between Khoja youth and newly arrived immigrant adolescents, the discussion on citizenship was a heated one. The Khojas were quite willing to marry within the newly arrived community but were adamant about remaining in Canada. In the words of one participant responsible for the Resettlement portfolio, in referring to the newly arrived immigrant girls, he aptly voiced the attraction that being free and equal in a democratic society elicits in response, "We don't know whether we want to go backafter living in a society like this with so much freedom, being independent, we sure will not be allowed ... such freedom if we went back."
Coming to Canada as a refugee as a result of the Ugandan exodus in the seventies, the Chairperson for the Youth Portfolio explains that "there is a concept of freedom" in citizenship. In terms of being a Canadian, "you take that a step further, freedom to practice your culture, and yet still have the privileges of being Canadian. Safety, Health Care, all the benefits of being Canadian. I think the two are tied together. You can practice your faith and culture and still be loyal to your country." Citizenship in Canada, a liberal pluralist democracy, offers important human rights, such as freedom of mobility, freedom of belief and expression, and freedom of assembly, thus safeguarding the individual while allowing for membership in a religious community.
Others also see a seamless mesh between individuality, group membership and citizenship. For example, the Council Member for the Outreach and Publications portfolio does not see any conflict between ethnicity/culture, religion and citizenship. His understanding of the symbolic significance of the July 1997 opening of the newly built Jamat Khan in Calgary exemplifies an additive, flexible view of collective identity including citizenship. He refers to the raising of three flags, the Canadian, provincial and religious ones, symbolizing intertwining multiple allegiances. The red and green standard, termed My Flag', holds historical religious significance for the Isma'ilis and its use is sensitive to the political context. In Tanzania, for example, it was hoisted to mark a celebration or a special event. Although the practice of raising this flag could be miscontrued and become politically dangerous as occurred previously in some other contexts, this is not the case in Canada. Thus, in new situations where the sociopolitics of recognition are positive, symbols may also be transformed, shedding negative aspects to maintain the power of positive affiliations.
Looking at yet another dimension of the development of a sense of belonging, a parent of two children agrees but adds that acceptance comes from individual attitudes, in considering that Canada is open to different cultures, races, and ideologies as long as these ideologies are respectful to Others and don't break any laws.
A basic question unfolds from our analysis of these quotes and the poignant experiences they represent. Is there then a conflict between ethnicity, race and citizenship? On one hand, there is a great appreciation of being able to hold on to one's culture and to freely practice one's faith, i.e., to enjoy the rights granted by citizenship in a pluralist society. On the other hand, there seems to a resentment of not being identified as being Canadian' because of one's colour or practice, of being the other, of experiencing discrimination and prejudice, as expressed by the parent above, for the representation of the Other as different stems initially from superficial characteristics. For one Council Member echoing the metaphor of the sacred canopy', Canada is a fabric that is made up of many different colours. The point of convergence is not racialized colour but citizenship principle:
The Council Member for the Youth Portfolio agrees and claims that the principles of faith and of Canadian citizenship complement each other and therefore there is no conflict: "..Ethics, morals, and principles solicit the good, humility and faith, faith in one's religion, not only that but faith and dedication to one's country."
The Canadian policy of multiculturalism, first introduced in 1971, played a critical role in the establishment of the Shi'a Imami Isma'ili Muslims of Calgary. Initially framing the possibilities for the external definition of the group, it permitted the negotiation of the frontiers between the community and the host society. Continuing to do so internally as part of the process of integration of recent diversity, the policy permits the negotiation of the inner fabric of the community. As we have seen, the construction of collectivized identities and their recognition were both complementary and contradictory. Constructing itself with and against the dominant host society meant differentiating the community from the majority while affirming its right of affiliation and sense of belonging. And yet, inversely, it also meant weaving itself from within, affirming its own cultural, political and symbolic content, without allowing itself to simply be an undistinguishable Other for the majority, for the Isma'ili have their own specific histories and heritages. Making extensive use of their own organizational social and collective infrastructure, the leadership sought to comfort its own, to protect emerging and transforming identities, to obtain recognition and to affirm its legitimacy within the host society, both politically and religiously. It is with the creation of public places of worship, of internal and external transactions of cultural practices, and the attainment of public visibility, that the community succeeds in symbolizing its own collectivized identities and those of the dominant Other.
Active and collective processes, integration and identity formation are negotiated by groups such as the Isma'ili Muslims, upon the basis of religious practices mitigated by languages and cultures, yet firmly situated within the specific policies and laws of the host country. Integration is a difficult concept to live and to experience, either individually or collectively. Considered a process by several leaders, there is a need initially to assimilate, to conform to the larger society. This was especially true for one Council member when he was growing up. "I think to some extent there is a tendency to conform. ¼It is easier to be same than different." However, for the Council Member and Chair for the Resettlement Portfolio, there are two kinds of integration, first, integration within the religious community and secondly, integration within the larger community. Integration, for her, is about being well informed, taking others seriously and overcoming stereotypes, both within and beyond the community.
Further defining the notion of integration, it also means being able to access resources outside the community. The Council Member and Chair for the Women Portfolio notes that the community is atomized, like a "segregated cocoon¼.We need to integrate and I think that is one of the biggest challenges that we have. We have to stop reinventing the wheel for the community, to stop giving them programs that are already available outside." For this member, the Isma'ili community is very important, but recognizing the limitations of boundedness and being involved outside the community are equally important. She is an Isma'ili, but "I'm also Canadian, well maybe, that's what I am, a Canadian Isma'ili rather than just Isma'ili."
New identities forged within a dynamic, self-reflective community in a mid-sized city in Western Canada, are set in the context of double challenges resulting from group diversity, so as to live within the intent of Canadian multiculturalism, respecting the voice and participation of all sub-groups within the Isma'ili community, while assuring the strength, wisdom and practices of the faith community wherein the religion holds central defining value. Employing a range of tactics and approaches at the community, familial and individual levels, our analysis reveals that these are instances of collective identity strategies for the construction of a new social order and of new hybrid identities which include (a) taking collective action to modify the images of others; (b) being sensitive of the internalization of marginalizing labels; (c) implementing semantic reversal of views of one's own culture and faith, thus turning negativity into positivity; and (d) consciously recomposing collective identities of social positioning. As social actors, the Isma'ili community leadership and membership engage in an internal policy of integration, set in the context of considerable community diversity, mirroring the state's policy of integrative multiculturalism, by facilitating passage to English as the language of broader communication and by sustaining the retention of languages of origins in family and community settings, to the extent that this is possible. Lived according to faith and civic principles, the resulting processes of hybridization internalize both the violence of language shift as well as the hope that new identifications bring. Having sought refuge from war-torn countries characterized by life as strife, resettling in Canada conditions and lessens the pain of linguistic violence as this tensionality is lived in a country that has never known major warfare, in which individual and collective human rights are protected, and in which living ordinary lives in peaceful times is to be blessed.
Given the significance of human rights, multiculturalism as well as the critical role of community leadership, and learning from the experience of this collectivity, it is recommended that pluralistic conceptions of citizenship and policies continue to balance individual human rights and group membership. The preservation and enhancement of collective identities as well as a commitment to democratic representative government within a communitarian understanding of liberal democratic citizenship are key to the successful integration of groups such as the Isma'ili Muslims. Although the Isma'ili community is more extensively organized than other Muslim sects as well as many other polyethnic groups (cf., Musuku, 1998), a communitarian approach to integration and citizenship is equally relevant. This means legitimizing different ways of belonging to a common polity; preserving essential defining elements of personal and collective identities such as language, gender, ethnicity, religion and race; protecting the nature of communities without unduly burdening them; and allowing for differential identifications and permeable, movable boundaries; while supporting collectivities and emphasizing collective identities; as well as enhancing collaboration between socio-educational institutions and ethnocultural community groups.
Noorani Murji. Moving to Canada from East Africa in her early adolescence, Rani Murji resides in Calgary, Alberta, and is a member of the Shi'a Imami Isma'ili Muslim community. She completed her B.A. in Educational Studies with a minor in South Asian Studies at the University of Calgary (1994). In 1995, she moved to London, England to pursue studies in Islamic civilization and then went on to complete her M. Phil. at the University of Cambridge, England, UK in 1998. Her thesis looked at conceptualising Islamic education within the context of western liberal education. The thesis argues that Islam as a faith is amiable to liberal values as long as it is understood that its interpretation is as diverse as its followers. Consequently, the existence of different interpretations encourages a critical study and evaluation of the precepts and practices that define it. Currently pursuing her interests on identity, adolescence, schooling and immigration, she serves as research assistant within the project on Strategic Competence: Identity Formation Among Canadian Adolescents, funded by SSHRC and Canadian Heritage, under the direction of Dr. Yvonne Hébert (U Calgary).
Yvonne Hébert (Ph.D., UBC, 1982) is a full professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, where she teaches courses dealing with language methods, bilingualism, literacy, immigration and integration. Author or editor of 15 books or monographs, and author of more than 50 articles, she is interested in issues of language, culture and diversity in the classroom. Her current research activities include a three year international and interdisciplinary study of identity formation among immigrant youth, funded by SSHRC and Canadian Heritage, another study of citizenship values as part of a Project on Trends jointly funded by SSHRC and the federal Policy Research Initiative, and a third one, a recently completed state of the art review concerning identity and citizenship education with respect to the needs of francophones in a minority context, contracted by Alberta Education under the Western Canadian Protocol. An experienced speaker and active member of numerous organizations, she has completed a mandate as national president of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (1996-1998). Responsible for the education domain, she is an affiliated member of the Prairie Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration, a six-year federal project (1996-2002). She also coordinates the newly formed Citizenship Education Research Network (CERN), which has benefitted from financial support from Canadian Heritage.