*** Shows you the disconnect some of the Imams have from the reality of the situation. While he may not find people talking jihad in coffee shops - I doubt he's ever been an angry young Muslim seeking to rectify the world's problems at the point of a gun - or IED. Trust me, there's a whole bunch of 'em & no, they're not all goody-two-shoe university students just looking for everyone to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya". Several of the Toronto 18 were ATTENDING university at the time, remember? MS ***
The picture was one of dark coffee shops and murky conversations, a sort of secret society where members of the Muslim community in a Toronto suburb came together to discuss dreams of jihad.
In the eyes of Shareef Abdelhaleem, a member of the so-called "Toronto 18" terrorist group whose trial wrapped up yesterday, this is the reality in his Mississauga neighbourhood.
The court has heard that Abdelhaleem not only discussed jihad, but watched videos of insurgents overseas, and spoke freely of his desire to return to his homeland in the Middle East to perform "the ultimate duty for God."
During two days of animated testimony last week, he suggested "Muslims in general" spoke, and dreamed, of the same thing -- an assertion that has upset Muslim leaders both in Mississauga and on the national stage.
"We Muslims are harmed double ... when people come forward with such nonsense," said Zijad Delic, an imam and executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "We are harmed as Canadians and we are harmed as Muslims, because our image has been distorted."
Dr. Delic says 99.9% of Muslims in Mississauga and elsewhere are dedicated, engaged citizens who strive to contribute positively to the Canadian fabric. The same figure was cited by Abdelhaleem in court, but to an opposite purpose.
"I had the same outlook to almost 100% of the Muslim community," Abdelhaleem said, noting he often heard older men in Mississauga coffee shops discussing how, if only they were younger, they would sign up for jihad overseas. Such talk really flared up, he said, in the wake of controversial incidents, such as the death of children in Iraq.
"You hear about it, you're upset, and you talk."
But "nobody goes," he pointed out, suggesting his own talk of jihad, which he had been spouting for a decade, was the same sort of pipe dream. "Everybody always goes home."
One of the coffee shops where Abdelhaleem and undercover police agent Shaher Elsohemy frequently met was a Second Cup within a big-box plaza at a key Mississauga intersection. Far from the grim picture Abdelhaleem painted, the shop was bustling during a recent afternoon with customers of diverse ethnicities, the air filled with light chatter.
At another of the pair's regular haunts, Mississauga's Cafe de Khan, an employee said patrons "come and go" and discuss normal things; in other words, he added, not jihad.
"I don't think people talk on this topic," agreed Muhammed Madeem, who teaches at an Islamic centre in the city. "People sitting in coffee shops and talking about jihad, I don't believe that. ... Not just in Mississauga, but all the Muslims are very peaceful and very friendly. The meaning of Islam is peace, to love all mankind."
A representative of the Muslim Welfare Centre in Mississauga said religious conversations in the community, rather than focusing on jihad, examine questions such as how to live a humane life, how to socialize with others, and how to pray to God for the necessities of life.
If Abdelhaleem were engaged in the "real world" of Muslims, Dr. Delic said, "he would find out thousands of young people are in universities so they don't have time to talk about nonsense. They talk about the possibility of bridging gaps, not wars or conflicts with people."
Dr. Delic said he attends numerous Islamic groups and the notion of jihad is never mentioned in the context of how to be a good citizen, though some "nuts" may suggest otherwise.
"People who are engaged in such activities, these are people who cannot reconcile the role of Islam in the modern world."