Canadian Muslim organizations not consulted on new Office of Religious Freedom

The Toronto Star – January 20, 2012

The Canadian Conservative government has launched a new office meant to promote religious freedom worldwide through a foreign policy focus to aid oppressed religious minorities in places such as Egypt, Pakistan, China and Iran. But in the months since the federal election, when the Office of Religious Freedom first appeared on the Tories’ platform, the foreign affairs department has released few details about how the new body will operate or when, exactly, it will come into being.

The new entity — which will cost $5 million, employ five and, Lavoie said, launch in early 2012 — has rankled a number of Canadian religious organizations, human rights groups and academics, who remain unsure of what it hopes to achieve and whose interests it will serve. Muslim groups especially have lamented the lack of information. Wahida Valiante, past president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said it was self-defeating for the ministry to stand behind a “wall of secrecy,” since religious issues are often racked with controversy. “We know very little,” echoed Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There is concern over how this is going to operate and what its methodology is going to be.”

A closed-door consultation between the minister and roughly 100 religious leaders and politicians, held in Ottawa on Oct. 3, drew criticism over the ministry’s invited speakers list: representatives from major Christian and Jewish organizations participated, while members of Eastern religions, like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, were left out.

Also present at the October consultation was Thomas Farr, first director of the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom, a component of the U.S. State Department since 1998. Farr’s involvement signaled to some that the Canadian office would be heavily modeled on its American counterpart. That body was originally pushed by the evangelical Christian lobby, said University of Toronto law professor Karen Knop.

Canadian Muslim hip hop artist releases commercial album

CBC – January 20, 2012

 

Lyrical Militant aka Omar Zulfi is launching his first commercial album Prelude to Revolution in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Zulfi was born and raised in Thompson. His parents immigrated to Canada from Pakistan.  This article features an interview with the artist about the acceptability of Muslim in Islam, about what his parents think about his rapping, about his sources of inspiration and how a portion of the sales of his album will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Mosque in Gatineau, Quebec attacked for second time

News Agencies – January 5, 2012

A second attack in three days on a local mosque is prompting renewed calls for a hate-crime investigation from a Canadian Muslim organization. The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the move after the mosque was found spray painted with hate messages earlier this week. The attack follows the smashing of windows at the mosque and an attempt to torch two cars in its parking lot.

The organization says it is not the first time the mosque has been the target of vandals and it cites similar attacks on mosques in Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Waterloo and Vancouver. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also condemned the attacks.

Canadian Muslim Group Condemns Nigerian Bombings

CTV News – December 27, 2011

Islamic Supreme Council of Canada founder, Imam Syed Soharwardy, has spoken out against the church bombings in Nigeria.

 “This is an extremely deplorable crime that has been committed by those people who follow the hate-mongering ideology of Wahabism. It’s not Islam. This is an un-Islamic action”, said Imam Soharwardy.

Canadian Muslim leaders speak out against violence towards women

News Agencies – December 5, 2011

A broad coalition of Muslim leaders, some of them shaken by allegations emanating from the Shafia family murder trial, have seized on the Dec. 6 anniversary of the killings at Montreal’s École Polytechnique to speak out about violence against women. Nearly 60 Muslim associations have issued a statement condemning domestic violence, particularly honour killings, saying the practice has nothing to do with Islamic teachings and “[violates] clear and non-negotiable Islamic principles.”

As a first step, it encourages imams to address the issue during Friday prayers.

Muslim Protestors Disrupt Amsterdam Debate about Liberal Islam

7 December 2011

During a public dialogue about a ‘liberal approach to Islam’ held in Amsterdam’s cultural venue de Balie, a group of Belgian Muslims entered the hall and disrupted the program. The debate featured Canadian Muslim activist Irshad Manji and Dutch Green Party parliamentarian Tofik DIbi. During their presentation, a group of about 20 Muslims entered the room shouting ‘ Sharia for Holland’. The group came from Belgium, and AD later reported they represented the Saria4Holland organization. Police were called to the hall after the disruption, during which the disrupters spat and threw eggs at Dibi and Manji. The two panelists remained on stage. Two members of the disrupting group were arrested.

Canadian Muslim Leaders Condemn Domestic Violence

Toronto Star – December 1, 2011
Islam does not condone domestic violence. The Qur’an does not sanction the idea of honour killings. This is the loud and clear message from almost 60 prominent Muslim organizations, dozens of community leaders and activists from all over Canada, and a sermon that will be delivered from mosque pulpits next Friday even as the high-profile Shafia trial continues in Kingston.
“This is a call to action within the Muslim community,” said Samira Kanji, CEO of Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto. “We want to make sure that no one can cite Islam as validation over horrific crimes or rights over anyone else.” It’s the first time since the London bombings in July 2005 that this many community leaders and organizations have come together in Canada to issue a statement and tackle a problem head-on.
Domestic violence is a huge problem everywhere and the Muslim community has its share, she said. “But it’s important to tell people that Islam doesn’t sanction it.”

Canadian Muslim Students Enrolling in Catholic Schools

The Globe and Mail – September 6, 2011

At a time when progressive sex education and gay-rights clubs are becoming an increasing part of the secular curriculum, many devout families in Canada’s most populous province are looking for a faith-based approach to learning. In Ontario, however, the only publicly funded faith-based option is Catholic schools – and that’s just fine for some Muslim parents, even if it’s someone else’s faith.

Though at least one parent must be Catholic in order for a student to enroll in a Catholic elementary school, at the high-school level faith doesn’t matter as long as there’s room. Declining high school enrolment has meant that there often is room – about 10 per cent of the pupils attending Catholic boards in the Greater Toronto Area are non-Catholic. In the Catholic board, religious accommodation hasn’t ignited controversy like it has at the Toronto District School Board.

Canadian Muslim artists talk about identity

The Globe and Mail – July 4, 2011
This article profiles three Canadian Muslim artists: Sabrina Jalees, a lesbian comic of Pakistani-Swiss heritage who grew up in Toronto; Yassin Alsalman, a Montreal rapper known as The Narcicyst who uses the aggressive language of hip hop to denounce the heavy hand of U.S. Homeland Security and the war in Iraq; Boonaa Mohammed, a spoken word poet of Ethiopian extraction who celebrates Islamic history in his artwork when he is not teaching at an Islamic school in Scarborough, Ont.
But people who want to blend in rarely become artists: Jalees, who points out she could pass for Portuguese, began making jokes about her Pakistani heritage because she wanted to confront people’s new discomfort with Muslims.
The artists disagree about how well this work is received in Canada and how much Canadian attitudes are shifting. Alsalman, for example, argues that racism is still very prevalent and that the image of Muslims is generally a negative one; others perceive a gradual change in attitudes since the panic of 2001, precisely because people have been forced to confront the prejudices expressed against Muslims, and add that the popular rebellions of the Arab spring have helped build a more positive and diverse image.

Young Canadian Muslim women describe how they are stereotyped

The Globe and Mail – July 3, 2011
This Globe and Mail article describes the experiences of young Canadian Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area and how they are often negatively seen in Canadian public space. High-profile stories, including the Toronto 18 terrorism bust, the murder of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez by her father and brother, and tales of radical youth travelling overseas on jihadist missions, have left many non-Muslims with a skewed understanding of the religion – a faith whose diversity, especially within Canada, is immense, with differences across sect, ethnocultural or national origin, and levels of adherence. The article follows young people who stress that adhering closely to the Qur’anic tenets of the faith does not automatically lead to extremism.