By Sheema Khan
15 January 2018
Jan. 29 will mark one year from the evening that six Muslim worshippers were massacred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Nineteen were injured, children were left fatherless and wives widowed.
The atrocity resulted in an outpouring of support for traumatized Muslims across the country. That did not last long, however. Human-rights activist Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University, have chronicled hateful incidents directed at Muslims during the rest of 2017. As they wrote in an opinion piece: "It was as though the Jan. 29 killings had never happened." In one example, students at a Mississauga elementary school were subject to religious epithets from demonstrators denouncing Islam and prayer rooms. The year concluded with Muslim worshippers in Quebec worried once again about their safety. Quebec-based TVA falsely reported that a Montreal mosque barred female construction workers near its premises on Fridays during prayer sessions, leading to alleged hate-filled invective and death threats directed at the mosque. The network later apologized for the baseless report.
Surely these isolated incidents do not reflect the majority view. Or do they?
In November, the Angus Reid Institute released a poll indicating that nearly half of Canadians believe that "the presence of Islam in their country's public life is damaging." No other religion faces such widespread contempt. Let it sink in. If you do not hold a negative view of Islam, then someone in your immediate circle does.
Yet the perception of Islam is so different from the lived reality of Canadian Muslims. Some have a cultural affiliation to the faith. For others, the attachment is deeper. Across the diverse spectrum of belief, it can be argued that basic Islamic teachings contribute richly to our collective social fabric.
Sadaqah (charity) is ingrained in Islam. Muslims perennially organize drives to clothe shelter and feed fellow Canadians. Mohamad Fakih answered a call from fellow business person Jennifer Evans to provide hotel rooms and meals for 18 homeless people in Toronto during the recent deep freeze. Islamic Relief Canada, a national charity, has launched a similar campaign.
Muslims have responded to natural disasters (e.g., flooding in Quebec and Ontario and fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.) with their time, money and emotional support. They have raised funds for hospitals and joined neighbours to clean parks. Last year, Ottawa's Muslim community quickly collected $23,000 to fund extracurricular activities and resources for public schools lacking a school council.
The Islamic pillar of fasting, observed during the month of Ramadan, inculcates discipline, empathy, gratefulness and generosity. This year, take the opportunity to join in the sunset meal (which ends the daily fast) and experience the beauty of human fellowship.
The Koran states that saving one life is akin to saving all of humanity. In 2017, two Canadian Muslims personified this noble teaching.
Aymen Derbali directly faced the gunman at the Quebec City mosque to divert him from killing others. He was shot multiple times and lay in a coma for two months. The father of three is now paralyzed, yet grateful for the generosity of Canadians in helping him find a home that accommodates his disability.
Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old student at Brock University, was shot to death outside an Islamic centre as he tried to help a stranger who was being attacked by two men. The good Samaritan had just left the centre after participating in a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.
Another important Islamic tenet is forgiveness. Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., was vandalized in 2016 by three men, including Abraham Davis, who later wrote a letter of apology to the mosque from jail. The mosque board advocated forgiveness and opposed the charges against him. Nonetheless, Mr. Davis was fined and ordered to stay away from the mosque and its members. He posted a gracious note of thanks on Facebook. One member replied: "Bro move on with life we forgave you from the first time you apologized don't let that mistake bring you down. I speak for the whole Muslim community of fort smith we love you and want you to be the best example in life we don't hold grudges against anybody!" The story didn't end there. Unable to pay his fine, Mr. Davis was set to enter jail for six years. The mosque intervened and paid the full amount. The members want him to succeed.
In the coming weeks, mosques across the country will hold open houses. Take an opportunity to peek in. Get to know Muslims who are your neighbours, co-workers and fellow Canadians.
And then ask yourself if Islam is damaging to Canadian society.