The struggle for the soul of Islam in Canada

In yesterday’s post, I spoke of the struggle for the soul of Islam. The struggle is certainly underway in Canada, as illustrated by the following two news items.

Imams meet with Prime Minister,
promise to help root out extremism

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

Praising the decision to stay out of Iraq, Canada’s leading imams promised Prime Minister Paul Martin last night that they would help root extremists out of the Muslim community.

“It’s been a rough road after 9/11,” said Riad Saloojee, who helped organize the meeting with the PM. “We’re not going to make Canada safer if there’s mistrust and alienation.” Mr. Martin drew attention to a declaration from 120 imams last week that denounced terrorism, calling it “a very important statement.”

“They said that those who advocate violence against innocent civilians and the taking of life represent a perversion of the Koran,” Mr. Martin told reporters after more than an hour behind closed doors with 19 imams from across the country. …

Mr. Martin did not give details of the discussion, but did say that there is a mutual desire to improve the relationship between government and Canadian Islamic leaders. In that context, he was reportedly urged to address allegations that security officials have intimidated members of the Muslim community. …

Mr. Saloojee, executive director of the Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations, said the imams also brought up the issue of Iraq, praising the “moral course” charted by the government in staying out of the war there.

Meanwhile …

Leaders clash over who speaks for Muslims in Canada

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

As a small group of conciliatory Muslim leaders met with Prime Minister Paul Martin last night, a war of words broke out between two other leaders whose irreconcilable world views stand as bookends to the diverse opinions of nearly 600,000 Canadian Muslims.

“Imams like Aly Hindy are holding the entire Muslim community as a hostage. A vast number of Muslim Canadians don’t want to have their leadership from almost medieval imams,” Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress told the CBC yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hindy — who has given more than 20 news media interviews this week urging Muslims not to co-operate with Canadian security agencies — once again took to the airwaves to say that people like him, and not Westernized Muslims like Mr. Fatah, are the true voice of Islam in Canada.

The controversial imam defended his decision not to put his name on the recent sheaf of signed statements from Islamic leaders condemning recent terrorist strikes in the United Kingdom. “We’ve already condemned terrorism, this is obvious,” Mr. Hindy said. “Why don’t the churches, for example, condemn terrorism done by George Bush and Tony Blair?”

So, while the Prime Minister held a meeting that organizers called historic, crucial conversations are taking place in mosques, basements and banquet halls as Muslims in Canada debate what it means to be Muslim in Canada.

In Islam, as in all religions, factions wage a perpetual battle for souls. Within Canada’s burgeoning community, debate rages as to how the seventh century’s Prophet Mohammed would have wanted his followers to live today. …

Many Muslims find it difficult to say what is mainstream.

“Who speaks for Canadian Muslims? I would say any Muslim in the sense that there is no Vatican in Islam,” said Salim Mansur, a newspaper columnist based in Southern Ontario.

He added that the differences are so great that “any organization that claims that they are the legitimate spokesman for a body of people that are so diverse as Muslims — for that very claim they should be dismissed as a buffoon.”

Nader Hashemi, a political scientist who teaches Middle Eastern studies at the University of Toronto, said the dominant strain of Islam in Canada is a harder-line version of the religion than most people realize.

“The imams who have been preaching in Canadian mosques have been imports, people not born and raised in Canada, and their training tends to be in the theological seminaries of the Muslim world,” he said.

“When they come here, there is an intellectual chasm between the training they’ve received in the Muslim world and the reality of secular modernity here in Canada,” Mr. Hashemi said. “It’s not changing yet but it’s going to have to change.”

He said that younger Muslims who were born in Canada are seeking a newer generation of leaders whose opinions are more in keeping with their own. In fact, he said, young people cringe at the “often embarrassing” remarks of older leaders.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack's Shack
    Jul 29, 2005 @ 10:51:00

    Praising the decision to stay out of Iraq, Canada’s leading imams promised Prime Minister Paul Martin last night that they would help root extremists out of the Muslim community.

    This comment bothers me because it makes it sound like they would not have helped if Canada had sent troops to Iraq and to me that is just wrong.

    One of my big complaints is the hypocrisy I see in some of these statements.

    Suicide bombers are indiscriminately murdering people in Iraq. Percentage wise they have murdered a substantial number of Iraqis who are presumably Muslim, so it makes it very hard to reconcile the Imam’s word with actions like this.


  2. Q
    Jul 29, 2005 @ 11:10:00

    The point you make in your final paragraph is certainly valid, Jack. The imams should condemn the murder of civilians regardless of Canada’s decision on Iraq.

    But I’d like to offer a more charitable interpretation. The imams are taking a courageous stance in the face of opposition from within their own community. Their position is controversial; they have to justify it and seek support from as broad a range of the Muslim community as they can achieve.

    Canada’s decision on Iraq makes their position a little easier to defend against criticism from hardliners like Ali Hindy, and gives them a way of appealing for support from Muslims who are unsure which way to turn. I’m sure that was the purpose of the reference to Iraq.


  3. Jack's Shack
    Jul 29, 2005 @ 16:50:00


    I can agree with your position. I suspect that there are more people who would speak out but they are afraid/intimidated by the radicals.

    At least I hope so.


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