*** An excellent piece. MS ***
At an iftar get-together that Muslims working at Canadian International Development Agency arranged I and two other Muslims spoke on Islam and Canadian Muslims.
A CIDA official asked us to comment on an Ottawa Citizen article that he said he found very convincing. Two Muslims had written about “the rising tide of jihadi radicalism that is sweeping like a contagious disease among Muslim youth” and that “there could be as many as 100,000 Muslim Canadians who are hostile to Canada and Western civilization.”
We said the article was inaccurate, as a letter the next day in the Citizen stated, and that most Canadian Muslims were loyal and productive citizens and that, even if the law found those accused in the recent arrests to be guilty, they are only a few of the million or so Muslims in Canada. But the recent arrests of some Muslims in Ontario on terrorism-related charges show the deep divisions within the Muslim community, with some people worrying that Muslim youth are being brainwashed by extremists and goaded into disastrous acts of terrorism in Canada and a few stating that the arrests are just a continuation of harassment of Canadian Muslims.
Nevertheless, I have been thinking. What would happen to the image of Islam, and to the Muslims of Canada, if the Canadian security agencies faltered at some point and a real terrorist incident took place in Canada killing innocent people and causing widespread damage? It is safe to say that such an incident would cause a severe backlash that could threaten all Canadian Muslims and turn Canada into a much tougher and less gentle country.
I’m not saying that the accused in the recent arrests planned terrorism. Of course, they are presumed to be innocent till they are found guilty by due process. But it is equally true that not all those who were presumed innocent in past cases were found to be innocent by the judicial process. Some Muslims accused of plotting terrorism were found to be guilty by our judiciary system, including the majority of the Toronto 18, Momin Khawaja of Ottawa and Said Namouh of Quebec. Some had planned to harm the innocent in Europe, others targeted Canada. And of course terrorists kill innocent people every day in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
IT is disturbing that some Muslims are suggesting that the Canadian security agencies, having bungled in the past in the Maher Arar and other cases, have framed the present accused and that they are targeting innocent Muslims. These Muslims live in a fantasy world of their own, substituting their wishful thinking and illusions for reality. Equally disturbing, some Muslims have become media darlings, less for their expertise and more for their Muslim-bashing.
Canadian security agencies have blundered in the past. No security agency in any country has been error-free. Human beings make mistakes. But Canadian security agencies have a job to do — protect all Canadians. It is not an easy or a clean job, but it has to be done for the protection of all Canadians, including and particularly Canadian Muslims who could be endangered physically and in additional ways if a major terrorist attack took place in Canada. It is the religious and civic duty of all Canadians to help security agencies protect Canada. There is no trustworthy evidence that they are targeting Muslims in particular. On the other hand, I find them sensitive to the traditions and feelings of Muslims.
Canadian imams are emphasizing that Islam promotes peace, justice, compassion and security for everyone. I heard excellent khutbas by Ottawa Muslim Association Imam Khaled Al-Azhary and by Ehab El-Komy, a layman. An excellent khutba by Imam Mohamed Jebara enlightened Muslims on the Islamic emphasis on justice, compassion, loyalty, peace, and human brotherhood. Other imams in Canada are conveying similar messages.
So why would a Muslim violate the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), doom himself to hell by planning to kill himself and innocent people, endanger his own family and all Muslims of Canada and harm a country that provides him food, shelter, security and dignity?
Canada offers all its citizens religious and other freedoms, human rights and enviable social benefits. It accepts not only immigrants but Muslim refugees fleeing persecution from fellow Muslims. Millions of people around the world, including Muslims, would give anything to be able to live in Canada — the world’s best country, according to some. It seems the major reason Canadian Muslims are disturbed by Canada’s involvement in the NATO war in Afghanistan.
Canada refused to join the US attack on Iraq. But it is participating in the NATO war in Afghanistan to fulfill its treaty obligations. Canada is in Afghanistan to help the Afghans fight extremism and build their country, not to exploit or harm them. Many Canadians oppose Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan. They can voice their opposition democratically and are doing so. Canada is planning to end its combat role in Afghanistan next year but will continue to train and assist the Afghans.
It would be tragic if the harmony and tranquility of Canada were to be disturbed by innocent Muslims manipulated into extremist crimes by people who understand neither the humanitarianism, justice and compassion taught by Islam nor the blessings of living in a country which embraces all its citizens with equal warmth and provides them security, social services, human rights and dignity that are perhaps not matched by any other country. If terrorist acts took place in Canada, the backlash against Muslims would harm innocent Canadian Muslims, damage Canada’s relations with Muslim countries and close Canada’s doors to thousands of Muslims who flee persecution in their own countries from fellow Muslims and seek hope, dignity, safety and a good life in this beautiful country.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired newspaperman, public servant and refugee judge. He has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his work as a journalist, leadership of Muslims and efforts to promote understanding between Canadians of different faiths.