Statements of Support
STATEMENT OF SUPPORT from Abdul-Rehman Malik; Board Member, Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto
Since veteran Toronto activist and Atkinson Foundation board member Ausma Malik told me in early 2016 that there was a distinct possibility that Five Oaks might close permanently and cease to be a site for training, healing and retreat, I felt agitated and deeply concerned. Given the political context that we are living in and the challenges we face to preserve and engender a socially just, merciful and inclusive society, the need to have safe spaces which can facilitate meaningful dialogue and cross-cultural encounter has never been more urgent. Five Oaks began as a place which was God-centered, but welcoming to all. It was a place where generation after generation of peacemakers and bridge builders were trained and given the tools to—literally—change the world. It was a place that saw itself as being stewards over land that belonged to the first nations. It was a place which created fellowship with other centres from all over the world that knew how important spaces for retreat and reflection are to the work of serving others.
As a Canadian Muslim, who lives in London, England and works and reports from all over the world, I know what spaces like this could mean for our communities. I have a long history of activism in Toronto and around the country. I know that Muslim communities need to create partnerships and meaningful bonds of fraternity with people of conscience, faith and social justice—not just to address the challenges of now, but to envision a more inclusive and richer tomorrow.
When I began to engage with members of the Five Oaks family, my initial hope was to try and convince some of the more significant Muslim philanthropic donors to invest in Five Oaks and be involved in taking stewardship for the site. Based on the conversations I began to have with Muslim activists, teachers, organizers, religious and civil society leaders, I wanted Muslim communities to be involved in stewardship of:
PLACE—the sacred site on which Five Oaks sits and the legacy of those who have created such a unique physical environment;
PAST—to honour the work of generations of people who came, used and built the site and left part of their spirit there;
PEOPLE—to harness the creativity, experience, skills of the people who guide and run the site now and have contributed to it in the past; and
PURPOSE—to preserve the sacred purpose on which Five Oaks was founded and expand its aspiration.
A group of us—Canadian Muslims like Toronto School Board Trustee and Atkinson Director Ausma Malik, University of Toronto’s Muslim Chaplain Amjad Tarsin, educators Naushaad Suliman and Sian Midgley, CBC journalist Nazim Baksh—began to dream about what we as individuals from within Muslim communities could bring to the site. New communities of use certainly, more revenue streams along with new programs and educational opportunities.
But we wanted to dream bigger: we imagined
National Interfaith Leadership Institute for Social Justice which would bring people of many faiths and confessions together to train for peace and non- violence (a kind of Highlander Institute for 21st century Canada);
We are imagining a new kind of space that builds on everything that Five Oaks has been and everything it has represented since its inception.
We are imagining the first space, the first site, the first centre in the country that *intentionally* brings together First Nations with Canadians of different faith in a desire to make a better home and to find not only common ground and common cause, but a renewed common language of spirituality and faith that is authentic to our traditions, but that is universally accessible.
We dream that Five Oaks will be a place of retreat, and will provide unique moral and ethical leadership in these fraught times. That it will model inclusivity. That it will model the best kind of dialogue and that will create a place for all people and all faiths to find spiritual home and authenticity. We are honoured to have helped shape this new vision and we want to continue to grow and develop it.
We already have financial commitments and are speaking to individuals and several Muslim charities to increase this amount to ensure the preservation and more importantly the future development of Five Oaks.
Abdul-Rehman Malik Board Member, Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto
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