The National Post – September 11, 2012
A Muslim Canadian activist has founded a new group that will promote moderate Islam, saying there are too few progressive Muslim voices countering extremism in Canada. Raheel Raza, the Pakistan-born author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out, was once a member of the progressive Muslim Canadian Congress, but this month is formally launching Muslims Facing Tomorrow. Ms. Raza notes that, “The moderate Muslim voice is very few in number and we felt that the more organizations out there doing this kind of work, the better. We have a very similar mandate to the MCC [Muslim Canadian Congress], and our goal is the same, but we at Muslims Facing Tomorrow plan to go about it in a different way.”
Raza added, “We want to provide an alternative for Muslim youth. It’s not just a question of slamming the extremists; it’s also about providing a different voice. We want to hold workshops and conferences — one thing that’s never been done, as far as I know, is a conference of moderate Muslims in Canada.
A Canadian author will become the first Muslim-born woman to lead a mixed-gender British congregation through Friday prayers tomorrow in a highly controversial move that will attempt to spark a debate about the role of female leadership within Islam.
Raheel Raza, a rights activist and Toronto-based author, has been asked to lead prayers and deliver the khutbah at a small prayer session in Oxford. She has been invited by Dr Taj Hargey, a self-described imam who preaches an ultra-liberal interpretation of Islam which includes, among other things, that men and women should be allowed to pray together and that female imams should lead mixed congregations in prayer.
Raza, 60, is part of a small but growing group of Muslim feminists who have tried to challenge the mindset that has traditionally excluded women from leadership roles within the mosque. They argue that nowhere in the Koran are female imams expressly forbidden. Instead scholars rely on the hadiths (the words and sayings of the Prophet Mohamed) to exclude women — although Muslim feminists and some progressive scholars argue that even these are not clear enough to say with confidence that women are altogether banned.
After months of balancing a woman’s religious beliefs with her desire to learn French, the Quebec government stepped into her classroom to offer an ultimatum: take off the niqab or drop the course. The woman opted to keep her Islamic face-covering and has filed a human rights complaint against the government. In the province of Quebec where the government frequently faces accusations of doing too much to accommodate minorities, these actions have prompted a fair bit of praise.
The woman began taking a French course designed for immigrants at a Montreal college in February 2009 but she refused to remove her niqab while men were present. The college was initially willing to accommodate her, but eventually balked as her demands escalated. In what appears to be a highly unusual move, provincial Immigration Minister Yolande James intervened. Officials from her department, acting with the minister’s knowledge, met with the woman to discuss her options.
Several groups, including several teachers’ unions, applauded the government for drawing a line in the sand. So did moderate Muslim groups. “When people come to Canada, we’re not coming to the Islamic Republic of Canada,” said Raheel Raza, a Muslim women’s-rights activist who has argued for a public ban on religious face coverings. The Canadian Muslim Forum, which claimed the woman was intimidated by other members of her class, said the move amounts to a misreading of the situation.”In Quebec people have the right to wear what they want,” spokeswoman Kathy Malas said.