*** The media will be sure to relegate this to another headline and a few days later, the public AND the media will ask: are Muslims condemning extremist violence. It's a vicious cycle that perpetuates alienation and mistrust. MS ***
OTTAWA — The imam of Ottawa’s largest mosque has appealed to Muslim youth to reject terrorism and not import Middle East conflicts to Canada.
In an interview following Friday prayers, Imam Khaled Abdul-Hamid Syed said Muslim Canadians “live in the best country” in the West, one that gives its citizens the freedom to express differing views.
“We don’t need to go in the direction of violence.
“I appeal to the Muslim youth not to get involved in any acts of violence or terrorism or other criminal behaviour,” Khaled said. “Keep away from this.”
He said that he did not perceive a widespread problem with Muslim youth in Ottawa.
“I think we have good youth. They are active and co-operative in this community.”
The imam’s comments follow the arrest of a fourth terrorism suspect in Ottawa on Friday. He has not yet been identified or charged.
Two other Ottawa men, Misbahuddin Ahmed and Hiva Alizadeh, and a London, Ont., doctor, Khurram Syed Sher, were arrested Wednesday and face terrorism charges related to alleged plot to bomb Canadian targets. Sher appeared in Ottawa court Friday.
In general, Khaled said, “we denounce any criminal behaviour or act of terrorism.”
But at this point, he said, he wasn’t in a position to “denounce or defend” the men who’ve been arrested.
“We trust in the Canadian justice system. So we should wait until the justice system concludes its work. If they are guilty, we will denounce them.”
Young Muslims should not get dragged into the conflicts of the Middle East, the imam said.
“We live in a safe and secure country. Our religion commands us to protect the land where we live.”
Terrorism or radicalism come from “strong emotion and a lack of knowledge,” Khaled said. The solution is for youth to seek education from imams and other scholars so they can “understand the reality of Islam.”
Naeem Malik, the president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, which operates the mosque on Northwestern Avenue, said Ottawa Muslims “are a bit worried” that the arrests could provoke a backlash similar to the one that occurred after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
At that time, he said, Muslim women were harassed, told to remove their headscarves or go back to where they came from.
“People are saying, is it safe to come to the mosque to pray? Are we now going to be attacked?’”
Nobody has been harassed yet, Malik said. “So far everything is under control, and I hope things will stay that way.”
Friday’s sermon at the packed-to-overflowing mosque dealt with the fallout from this week’s arrests, though they were never mentioned directly.
Ehab El-Komy, a member of the board of the Muslim Association of Canada, delivered the sermon because Khaled, whose wife just had a baby, was too exhausted.
Using stories from the Koran to convey his message, El-Komy said upholding peace and security is a “fundamental principle” of Islam. So too, he said, are the presumption of innocence, the rule of law, and due process.
“It’s our responsibility as Muslims and as Canadians to uphold all those principles.”
When things such as this week’s arrests happen, El-Komy said, Muslims have a duty to speak up.
“It is very important for us to understand that we have a responsibility to speak up, not as victims, not as suspects, but as Muslims. And as Muslim Canadians, we have a responsibility to speak up. We have to act when such incidents happen.”
“Every single one of us is at a checkpoint,” El-Komy told worshippers, who filled the mosque and spilled out on to the surrounding property. “And that checkpoint has to be guarded.”
He said some Canadians harbour fears and suspicions in the wake of the arrests, and some are well-founded.
“It’s our responsibility, not theirs, to understand those fears and deal with them in an appropriate manner.”