Canada Toronto —”All of us should feel the pain of the indigenous communities here…because we have seen what imperialism has done to our country,” Imam Aarij Anwer of the Muslim Mosque in London, Ontario, on Friday Said in their prayers, broadcast live on social media.
On Friday, after an unmarked grave was discovered by a forced assimilation agency known as a boarding school, Anville was one of 75 imams in Canada who expressed their condolences to the indigenous people. There are currently more than 1,000 graves.
The Canadian Imam and the Justice Council led coordinated efforts to raise awareness. In a statement, the imam wrote: “Hundreds of graves of innocent children were discovered — stolen, abused, tortured and starved from their families in the name of European imperialism — leaving us suffering and Shame and numbness.”
In prayer, Anville called on his fellow Muslims to support the indigenous people and share the story of his grandfather’s escape from Delhi after the British-approved partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. “You all have similar stories, I can assure you,” he said. “So if any community should feel the pain of imperialism, colonialism, and brutal murder, it should be us. That’s why we should sympathize with the indigenous people more, and we should support them more because we know it is What it feels like.”
From the late 1800s to 1996, Canada forcibly removed 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and imprisoned them in institutions managed by church staff. They cut their long hair and prohibited them from saying they were Language or practice their culture. Many people are physically and sexually abused. They were tortured in electric chairs, starved, and subjected to nutrition experiments.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has documented the stories of thousands of survivors in a multi-year investigation, describing these institutions as “disease incubators,” and many children died of tuberculosis. Some people died from exposure after escaping from prison-like conditions; some people died in fires because these agencies ignored instructions to conduct fire drills or install fire escapes to prevent children from escaping.
TRC identified 4,100 children who died in school, but experts believe the true number is much higher. The purpose of these institutions is to eliminate indigenous culture and provide land and resources for settlers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that this practice is “cultural genocide.”
Anville said that he felt the need to act on the human level because his faith instructed him to stand with the oppressed and oppose the oppressor. “Everyone who reads this should feel sick,” Anville told Al Jazeera. “They treat these people as second-class people, our indigenous families.”
Anwer said that many Canadians are still unaware of the level of atrocities committed by these institutions. “I don’t even remember reading this in school,” he said on the phone on Friday. “I remember reading articles about the Normandy Landing, the Commonwealth, John A. Macdonald and all these characters, but I think this is just a footnote in the history book, even if it is mentioned. As Canadians, we have to face it. The liquidation of the dark history on which this country was built.
“This is not something we brushed under the carpet,” he added.
On Friday afternoon, Taha Ghayyur, Executive Director of Justice For All Canada, delivered a sermon at a mosque in Mississauga, Ontario. When he explained what happened in the “school”, some of the people present nodded, some looked upset, and some stared in surprise. Ghayyur said that when people found him, they said they had heard of the mass graves recently discovered, but did not know why this happened.
“It needs to start with consciousness, which is why recognition is the first step,” Ghayyur said. “Symbolically, this is a very powerful statement from a religious leader.”
Ghayyur said that Muslim communities can be related to this — from Palestinians to Rohingya to Uyghur communities. He said that Uyghurs in Canada told him that they were “revisiting” the experience of large-scale detention camps in Xinjiang when they learned about Canadian boarding “schools.”
Speaking to the indigenous communities, Ghayyur said: “We share your pain-we don’t know your pain-but we are willing to be with you.”
“We stand with them because they have been wronged,” Anville said at the mosque on Friday. “And, as a community, we will have to summon the courage to come forward and let this happen.”