I love hockey.
My parents emigrated to Canada in the 1970s from East Africa. They were fortunate to avoid the mass expulsion in Uganda when Idi Amin was in power, but nevertheless, that was enough for them to leave shortly after to seek a better and more stable life in the West.
This story is similar to that of a lot of immigrants, but they gravitated towards hockey as their way to immerse themselves in Canadian culture. The NHL was big for my grandpa and his sons—my dad and my uncles—but it was really Team Canada hockey that was the big draw.
Whether it was the Olympics, World Championships, the World Cup, or the World Juniors, every member of my childhood household was a massive Canadian hockey fan. Even my mom would watch the big games with us.
Liking hockey was synonymous with being Canadian, and they embraced it wholly.
I’m part of the Ismaili Muslim community, and we call our places of worship a Jamatkhana, a Persian word that means “house of gathering.” It’s essentially a mosque, but like it is with many other communities, the Jamatkhana is more than just a place of worship. It serves as a place for the community to gather for social events as well, and evening prayer services are always followed by hours of socializing with other members of the community.
The group of community members are called the “jamat,” an Arabic word that refers to an Islamic assembly or congregation. Jamatkhana remains an essential part of my life and one of the primary places where I get to talk about the Flames and hockey.
I only became a serious fan of the Calgary Flames during their run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004. However, it was my involvement in Jamatkhana that made me into the hockey fan I am today.
During that run to the Cup finals, every Flames playoff game was streamed in the foyer of the Jamatkhana. The jamat gathered in front of a projector screen to watch the game, and this included dozens of rows of chairs set up to allow the seniors to watch the game as well.
It turned into a routine—we would all head down to Jamatkhana for Flames playoff games and gather together to watch our hometown team. Normally, people dress up nicely to attend Jamatkhana, but during this run lots of people either wore or brought their Flames jerseys with them. Volunteers prepared chai and cookies for the jamat to enjoy, and it was a lot of fun getting to celebrate the Flames win together.
That started a tradition of streaming Flames playoff games that still carries on to this day.
So, when the newest member of the Calgary Flames, Nazem Kadri, chose to bring the Stanley Cup to his hometown mosque in London, Ontario last week during his day with the Cup, I can say for certain that a sense of pride was felt by every hockey fan in the jamat here in Calgary, and all around the world.
It was indescribable to see the Cup enter the same type of space that we had all gathered in to watch teams fight for that very trophy so many times after evening prayers. Hockey isn’t a sport that boasts a high number of minority players or executives, so seeing the most successful Muslim hockey player choose to honour his jamat was truly special.
Kadri is the representative of Muslims in the hockey world. It’s not a torch he asked to carry, but he understands the importance and has done so much to grow the game in communities like the ones he, and I, grew up in.
It isn’t always easy to be a Muslim in the West. Balancing a dual identity can be extremely challenging at times, but it seeing two of the most important parts of my life, hockey and Jamatkhana, come together was something that I’ll never forget.
I will be forever grateful to Nazem Kadri for the work he’s done to grow the game in minority communities. With role models like him, I know we’re moving in the right direction.
I hope that this story and this feeling is something minority communities get to feel a hell of a lot more often.
Thanks Naz, and welcome to Calgary. We’re so happy you’re here.
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