Somali-Canadian families are asking what happened to their sons after a group of young men apparently disappeared from Toronto two weeks ago. They left without notice, and have not contacted home since. “They didn’t even tell their parents,” said Omar Kireh, administrator of the Abu Huraira Centre, the Toronto mosque where the men occasionally worshipped.
Canada is home to about 150,000 ethnic Somalis, according to a report by Canada’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre. Most are moderates but the report says that, “Some Somali-Canadians have fought as Islamist extremists in Somalia.”
A circle of friends in their twenties leaving town together might not ordinarily be cause for concern, but following recent events in the American Somali community, their disappearance has set off alarm bells. More than 20 Somali-Americans who similarly vanished from Minneapolis have turned up in Somalia as members of Al-Shabab, an Islamist youth militia aligned with al-Qaeda and often likened to the Taliban.
The RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service are still puzzling over their fate. Investigators have been showing photos of five men to members of Toronto’s Somali community. Ahmed Gure, who runs the Ottawa-based Somali news website Hiiraan Online, said he had spoken to relatives of the parents. He said they fear the men have gone to Somalia to fight.
A Toronto imam said yesterday he did not intend to insult non-Muslims during an address at his mosque on those who want the niqab and burka banned. Said Rageah, the imam at Toronto’s Abu Huraira Centre, said that only someone who did not understand Islam would have come away from last Friday’s prayers thinking that anyone at his mosque hated members of other faiths.
Imam Rageah yesterday said in a brief interview that in both references he was not literally meaning “destroy” but rather to confound or weaken those that would infringe on their rights. In last week’s address, he used the word “kuffar” repeatedly, a word some say is highly derogatory of non-Muslims, especially Christians and Jews. Tarek Fatah, a Canadian Muslim commentator, likened the word to a racist slur. Walid Saleh, professor at the study of religion at the University of Toronto, said this week that kuffar could be seen as a neutral term.
A Toronto-area imam is under fire for using derogatory language against Jews and Christians, calling for Allah to “destroy” the enemies of Islam from within and calling on God to “damn” the “infidels.” The address by Imam Saed Rageah at North York’s Abu Huraira Centre and then posted on YouTube, is an attack on those who have been calling for a ban on the niqab and burka, both of which cover the faces of women. The Abu Huraira Centre attracts about 800 to 1,000 people to a typical Friday service.
Walid Saleh, professor at the University of Toronto, said much of what Rageah said must be taken in the context of how Muslims may use terms in the midst of a religious service. Saleh said it was important to note that he was asking his members to write letters to the government to make their objections known, and therefore clearly appreciates democratic responses to controversy.