History of CSMA

- Fareez Farook (President, CSMA, 2019-2021)

CSMA - The Origin 
The tale of mankind can be recounted in terms of migrations and great exoduses. A never ending search for greener pastures; a journey to find new places to feed oneself; a journey to save one’s life. As these journeys continue, centuries and millennia pass. While some things wear away, so many others open up… 

When we contemplate the history of Islam too, we find that migration marked the Muslim community since its beginning. Biographers of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) reported how he sent some of his followers to Abyssinia to protect them from the persecution of the inhabitants of Mecca. Hijrah (or Hegira) marks the Islamic calendar and in fact, contrary to the popular belief, the Hijrah was not a flight but a carefully planned migration which marks not only a break in history - the beginning of the Islamic era- but also, for our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Muslims, a new way of life. Prophet’s (pbuh) migration changed the organizational principle of a community from a mere blood kinship to that of a greater brotherhood of all Muslims. 

With this background, it is hardly surprising to us when we reflect on the migration of Sri Lankan Muslims to Canada. This year marks the 25th anniversary of a watershed event that transformed a modest Sri Lankan Muslim community of migrants into a most vibrant society. Canada Sri Lanka Muslim Association of Ontario or CSMA as it is fondly known was created in 1994 and no one in their wildest dreams would have imagined that the formation of such a humble organization in the rented basement of a church without any fanfare or display of pomp and splendor will turn into a catalyst event that will alter the landscape of the Sri Lankan Muslim migrants to Canada and will motivate others to establish more than ten other Sri Lankan organizations in the GTA alone. Today, in Toronto there are approximately 13 Sri Lankan Muslim organizations thriving and trying to cater to the diverse demands of the community but no one can deny the fact that it all started with CSMA and it paved the way for the other associations to flourish. 

When an institution has a strong sense of its history, undoubtedly it’ll have a better sense of identity to build on for the future. Hence, it is imperative that we should take a look back to rediscover how CSMA came into existence, what its early beginning was like, and how it has grown over the years. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of CSMA, it's also an occasion for us to tell and hear stories of the past and present. As CSMA was formed for the Sri Lankan Muslim migrants of Canada, I think it is vital that we should also be aware of how CSMA unfolded against the backdrop of changes taking place in the immigration policies of Canada.

A Brief Preamble 
In 1951, Canada initiated a quota system for South Asian immigrants, including a provision for 50 Sri Lankans annually. In the early 1960s, the Sri Lankan government recognized the significant drain of skilled workers from the country and launched a series of measures to severely restrict emigration. Beginning in 1977, it reversed the policy, especially encouraging unskilled and semi-skilled workers to seek labor opportunities outside the country. This both alleviated problems associated with domestic poverty and led to the remittance of foreign currencies.

By the mid-1980s, there were still only about 5,000 Sri Lankans of various ethnic groups in Canada. As the civil conflict between the Sinhalese and rebel Tamils evolved into full-scale civil war in 1983, the economy was destroyed, and the island appeared to become permanently divided, thus giving impetus to significant migration. Of Canada’s 87,310 Sri Lankan immigrants in 2001, almost 96 percent arrived between 1981 and 2001.

Late eighties and early nineties attested a major shift occurring not only in technology but also in the influx of Sri Lankan Muslims streaming to Canada in large numbers and thus evolved the need to launch an organization which could connect these diverse groups of people as a unique community to nurture the feeling of unity and participation. A vital aspect of the formation of CSMA was to build strong relationship to strengthen our community.

When we recognize the fact that the initial set of Sri Lankan Muslim families immigrating to Canada had its origin in the early sixties, one cannot help wondering why it took nearly three decades for this young community to come up with the concept of a social organization such as CSMA. In order to answer this question, it is vital that we should revisit that specific era and the social conditions prevailed at that time.

From the sixties to eighties there were only a few number of families living in Toronto and the need to have an umbrella organization was never felt by Sri Lankan migrants as they were all scattered in different pockets of the cities and provinces. I think in a way the Sri Lankan Muslim community’s spread was akin to the technical development that was taking place globally in the ‘80s.

 Even at the mid-eighties computer was in its infancy and internet was unknown except in a few high echelons of power. We didn’t have powerful Macs or any impressive software such as Photoshop. Digital cameras didn’t exist. When original photography or video was required, you couldn’t take endless shots and see the results instantly. Everything was on film which required developing. Smartphones didn’t exist. In fact, handheld cell phones were barely common, as most of them were the size of a brick. The idea of accessing information on a pocket-sized device was unfathomable. The real breakthrough in technology started to emerge only in the nineties and so did the establishment of CSMA.

The Seed Should Be Entombed, If You Desire The Flower To Bloom 
As the large streams from little fountains flow and tall oaks from little acorns grow, so did a petite spark of a vision envisaged by two pretty ladies more than two decades back culminated in an association purely dedicated to the Sri Lankan Muslim immigrants of Canada to foster unity within themselves as one big family.

Most often, we honour women as our mothers, sisters, daughters or as our partners in life but in the process, we tend to forget that our women are the best healers and brave warriors. It is not an exaggeration if I were to say that CSMA wouldn’t exist today if not for the visionary steps taken by sister Huzaima Farook and late Sithy Thaha. Instead of being the creatures of circumstance, they became the creators of circumstance. Like many great superhero origin stories, CSMA’s too began with something of a routine visit to the Nugget Masjid by these two ladies.

 In the 90s they both were volunteering for Imam Abdullah Hakim Quick’s ISSRA (Islamic Social Services and Resources Association) and in March 1993, while volunteering at the Nugget Masjid, they noticed flyers & leaflets promoting assistance to the needy Muslims of Pakistan & India by IDRF (International Development and Refuge Foundation) which is one of Canada’s most active Muslim development agencies. To their great surprise they found out none of the brochures spread out were targeted towards Sri Lanka. When approached, the authorities told the ladies that they were not aware that Sri Lanka had any Muslim population. Dazed by this news at first but then armored with a typical determination and natural fortitude of our Sri Lankan Muslim women, these two ladies contacted Brother Hameed Shaikh, the executive director of IDRF to find out how they could pursue community development work in Sri Lanka with the backing of IDRF.

Br. Hameed, then advised them and emphasized the urgent need for a Sri Lankan Muslim organization without which it will be a tough task to get any aids. Already, sisters Huzaima Farook & Sithy Thaha were alarmed and aware of the thorny concerns faced by our Muslim brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, the pain and suffering experienced by them, their need for financial assistance, the demand for community development and were also anxious about the future of Muslim youth growing-up in Canada. Hence, they realized the positive impact an organization could make on our young community.

The initial meeting with IDRF officials took place on the 20th of March 1993 to discuss the issues involved and on the 24th of April 1993, a steering committee was established. The members of this steering committee met frequently and after much discussion came up with the drafting of a constitution. As per the existing official records, 7 meetings were held between April 1993 to January 1994 (19th June, 17th October, 7th November, 12th November, 28th November, 23rd December of 1993 and another one on 16th January 1994). 

1994 – Year Of The Family Gives Rise to CSMA 
The year 1994 was designated as the International Year of the Family by the United Nations. It was in this year that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, People’s Republic of China got its first connection to Internet, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the South Africa’s first black president, and Yasser Arafat received the Nobel Prize for Peace. 

1994 also saw the deaths of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Gamini Dissanayake, and the Hollywood actor Burt Lancaster. Jean Chretien was the Prime Minister of Canada and Bob Rae was Ontario’s Premier. It was also in this year that Canada witnessed one of the coldest winters on record but its impact was not severe on the Sri Lankan Muslims domiciled in Ontario as their hearts and souls were kept warmed by the dawn of a long awaited association purely dedicated to them.

The Sri Lankan Muslim community of Canada reserved its historic place in the annals of antiquity when on the 29th January of year 1994 (17th Shaban, Hijri 1414), members of the small Sri Lankan Muslim community gathered at the West Hill United Community Church Hall on Kingston road, Scarborough and attested to the formation of Canada Sri Lanka Muslim Association. Today, with the exponential growth witnessed by our community, gathering more than 500 people to an event is not an uphill task but I think we should give full credit to the organizers of CSMA’s inaugural meeting for assembling more than 175 people for their inaugural event way back in 1994. 

Some snippets and selected highlights leading to and from the inaugural meeting of CSMA 
The steering committee met approximately ten times to deliberate, compose and then to amend the draft constitution (including the seven meetings mentioned above). 

Copies of the constitution were hand delivered as much as possible and the rest were posted. 

Notices were posted in all the Mosques which were frequented by Sri Lankan Muslims to inform them of the upcoming inaugural meeting. 

The inaugural meeting commenced at 7.30 P.M. on 29th January of 1994. 

The proceeding of the meeting was started by the recital of the Qirath which stated “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which ALLAH (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude ALLAH’s favour on you;….” 

When originally the constitution was drafted it appeared under the name “Sri Lanka Muslim Association of Ontario” (SLMA) but at the introductory meeting, it was replaced by the name “Canada Sri Lanka Muslim Association of Ontario” (CSMA) which was adopted by a margin of 5 votes (SLMA received 35 votes whereas CSMA garnered 40 votes).

After a very healthy and drawn out discussion, Alhamdulillah, CSMA was born at 9.15 P.M. on that crucial day of January 29th of the year 1994. 

It was followed by a lavish dinner of Ghee Rice, Veal Curry, Potato Curry, Green Peas with Cashew & Liver, Salad, Ice Cream, Soft Drinks, Tea and Coffee. The cost of the dinner & premises (approximately $400 to $500) was collectively borne by the committee members. 

The minutes of the General Membership meeting held on 29th January, 1994 was adopted at the executive committee meeting held on 20th February, 1994. It was proposed by Mrs. Huzaima Farook and seconded by Mr. Reyyaz Salley. 

Till August 1994, tapes were used to record the meeting minutes but after a consultation with a lawyer, this practice was scrapped as it violated the people’s privacy act.

CSMA – The Growth
This is not just a simple tale of an association that we could meekly leave behind as another humble saga in the memoirs of Sri Lankan Muslim Immigrants to Canada. This is not just an episode that you find inscribed in the chronicles of our history linked to this great country; it is life, a life that blazes with heartfelt emotions and deep passions. It contains sweat, tears, untrammeled desires, undimmed excitement, all mixed together. It’s all carved in our minds and veins.

As society becomes more diverse, there are both opportunities and challenges. Experiences of discrimination on the basis of one’s socio-economic, cultural or religious background continue to be commonplace. CSMA has always considered as one of its chief priorities was to promote the means for intercultural dialogue and pave the way for the inclusion of Sri Lankan Muslim migrants into the economic, social and cultural lives of the Canadian society. 

CSMA continuously stands for, and in many ways exemplify, an education of self-reliance and self- confidence. If I were to identify only one of the most significant achievements of CSMA over the years then undeniably it will be the manner in which it quickly gained, and subsequently maintains a reputation for innovation for the past 25 years. 

CSMA was the FIRST Organization In Our Community to… 
  • * Organize Annual Quran & Qirath Recitals
  • * Annual Eid Celebrations & Dinners
  • * Entrepreneurial Development Projects
  • * Annual Summer BBQ’s
  • * Cricket Tournaments
  • * Scholarship for Higher Education
  • * Ontario Science Center Tour
  • * Clothing Projects
  • * Computer Workshops
  • * Internet Seminar & Souvenir Publishing
  • * Women’s Workshops
  • * Family Picnics
  • * Boat Cruises
  • * Sports Events
  • * Kids Entertainment Activities
  • * A Career Event for Youth
  • * Assembling the community to actively participate in the MuslimFest of Mississauga and Sri Lanka Day at Wonderland
  • * Community Bus Excursions
  • * A “Soup Kitchen” with a Sri Lankan menu at the Islamic Foundation’s weekly Soup Kitchen event
  • * Coordinating a food drive for Muslim Welfare Centre
  • * Annual free Ifthar Events for approximately 250 guests. It is interesting to note that CSMA has been continuously organizing its            traditional Ifthar get-togethers since 1994. The chief guest for the initial Ifthar event organized on 26th February, 1994 was none            other than Imam Abdullah Hakim Quick and it was attended by 150 to 160 members from the Sri Lankan community and a few          Muslim friends from other communities as well. Proceedings of that 1994 get-together were started off at 5.35 p.m. at the United          Westhill Church premises and all three prayers, Maqhrib, Isha, and Tarawih were also conducted at the venue. 
  • * Publishing the first Newsletter of the Sri Lankan Muslim community of Canada
  • * Initiating Annual Winter Festivals which encourage the growth of budding young entrepreneurs
  • * Conducting a Janaza workshop for the ladies 
  • * Annual Ladies’ Event 
  • * Sponsoring a Seniors Event with free lunch, tea, games and gifts
On top of being the vanguard of innovative and creative concepts, for more than two decades, CSMA has always been at the forefront when it came to charity work. 

  • * CSMA donated in 1995 a total of $19,796 towards a women’s entrepreneurial development project in Thihariya, Sri Lanka. This              rotating fund helped the women to start their own ventures in gold industry, stuffed toys, goat rearing, bag making, and the                cultivation of betel & mushrooms etc. CSMA organized bake sales at Abubakr Siddique Masjid & Taric Islamic Centre to raise funds      and joined hands with CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) to make this possible. 
  • * It contributed $3000 in 2006 towards a free eye surgery campaign initiated by Al-Muslimath. 
  • * $4000 was collected in 2008 as donation & Zakat to feed the needy Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Puttalam during the last 10    days of Ramadan. This money was used to procure dry ration which was then distributed to over 120 families residing in the IDP      camp. 
  • * CSMA was always in the forefront and took immediate actions when our brothers & sisters were the victims of senseless racist            attacks. It financially helped the Mawenella riot victims and met the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Canada to lodge a formal                    complaint regarding the riots in Mawenella. It also met the Canadian Prime Minister and parliamentarians at the Parliament Hill          and made official written complaints about the backlash suffered by all the Muslims after the infamous 9/11 attacks of 2001. 
  • * In 2016, considerable donations were made to CAM-D (Canadian Association for Muslims with Disabilities) and Rohingya Burmese      Muslims.
  • * In 2019, we have handed over $1000 to Nisa Homes (115 Matheson Blvd W., Mississauga), a group of transitional/long-term                shelters for Immigrant, Refugee and Muslim women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Nisa Homes is a project        by National Zakat Foundation. 
  • * For the first time ever in the history of CSMA, with the help of Almighty ALLAH and your generous support & genuine love towards      CSMA, we were able to fund 6 Tube Well projects in the drought ridden areas of Sri Lanka at the cost of approximately Rs 1,000,000    (One Million) Sri Lankan Rupees in 2019. 
  • * Another first for CSMA if not for the whole Sri Lankan Muslim community and in order to celebrate CSMA’s 25th year                  celebration in 2019, Alhamdulillah, we donated $10,000 to SHN (Scarborough Health Network) which operates the Centenary    Scarborough General, and Birchmount hospitals. All three are major community health hospitals affiliated with the                      University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.
CSMA - The Path To Glory 
Mawlana Jalauddin Rumi, in one of his beautiful couplets says: “Knock, And HE'll open the door; Vanish, And HE'll make you shine like the sun; Fall, And HE'll raise you to the heavens; Become nothing, And HE'll turn you into everything”

While I was going through the archives, I was heartened to note that in as early as 1993, even before the formation of it, the steering committee of CSMA has unanimously accepted that the volunteer members should collectively bear the costs incurred in the process of getting the organization functional. In fact, $80 was collected from the members gathered in the 12th November, 1993 meeting held at Sister Huzaima’s residence to pay as a deposit for the West Hill United Church premises and other miscellaneous expenses. 

That legacy still lives on. I am proud to say that even after 25 years, till today, not a penny from CSMA’s coffers has been spent needlessly nor for any personal aggrandizement by any of the successive CSMA Presidents or the committees since its inception. As with all the other impressive legacies of CSMA, this practice of preserving and then bequeathing its funds to charities and other worthy causes is an exemplary act of CSMA. Alhamdulillah! 

When I glimpsed at a few of the old photographs of CSMA’s early members I couldn’t help myself comparing their youthful looks of the nineties to their graceful postures of today and my heart brimmed with gratitude at the realization that it was only their sacrifices and hard work that made CSMA possible. I strongly believe maybe that’s why Almighty ALLAH has bestowed them with an inner calm and happiness as HIS reward for a job well-done that contribute toward their elegant deportments today. 

If you get to a point in your life to where you know what you want, know what you need, know how to accomplish it and know what it is to succeed for yourself, then I’d say you are on the right track. You use what you know to help people because you’re satisfied with your life. You understand what love is and have no use to hate because you know it’s a waste of time. You know how to communicate and enjoy life. To me, that’s the right track and I avidly believe that’s the track CSMA too has chosen as its path to glory. It is only when we start to walk on the way, the way will appear. 

CSMA is run by volunteers who devote their precious family time to assemble, discuss, organize and then to execute its events in a grand manner. All these volunteer members don’t get paid, and as the saying goes, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless. Irrespective of our myriad & divergent outlooks on most of the things, what unites us as one is that four letter mantra named CSMA and the collective vision we have for it. In Sha ALLAH, going forward, CSMA will strive hard to further integrate charitable activities and facilitate communication and cross-pollination of ideas across our community and beyond it via its diverse events. In order to achieve these lofty goals, CSMA needs your unbounded and continued support and love. Today we live in an ever-more connected world and CSMA possess the skilled, talented and creative manpower to make it a more hopeful, steady and serene place. Come and join us and let’s march together.

Almighty ALLAH created each of us unique, the way HE aspired us to be and each of us have a set destiny pathed ahead of us. Our lives maybe a mystery but they are precious and should be cherished because each of us are masterpieces of ALLAH’s creation. My tenure as the 25th President of CSMA has taught me to appreciate every little beautiful things, help to build something good to humanity that will endure even after we’re gone, and to be a good influence, because whether you know it or not you maybe an influence.

In conclusion, I am forever grateful to Almighty ALLAH for all HIS blessings and for empowering me to compose this brief write-up. Alhamdulillah!