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Speeches

Q. Khanson: Muslim Integration in Canada

Text of a presentation at a UPF Interreligious and Multicultural Family Festival in Toronto, Canada
December 20, 2009

Muslims constitute approximately 2.5 percent of the total Canadian population. The bulk of the population lives in major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, though not limited to these cities only. The majority of the Muslims are economic immigrants from Pakistan, India, the Arab world, and other parts of Asia, but those coming from Somalia, Lebanon, Kosovo, and Afghanistan are mostly asylum seekers who escaped the tragedy of war and its retribution. While taking a permanent residence in Canada, Muslims did bring their cultural, linguistic and religious bonds together and face enormous challenges to settle and integrate. However, most of the Muslim immigrants have coped well and made good use of their inherent educational expertise to settle, and those born and trained in Canada have nothing to complain about.

The events of 9/11 have had a significant impact on Muslims in Canada, as did the arrest of 18 Muslim youths allegedly involved in a terror training camp in June 2006. The community as a whole saw such incidents as a threat to their acceptance and integration, but they remain confident of security and justice while making Canada as their home. That terrorism was a threat in Canada was a revelation to the whole community. After almost four years of psychological wrangling over the threats and repercussion, today the community is united against any sort of terrorism that makes them and their fellow citizens victims. The security agencies and Muslim communities across Canada have improved their working relationships, and wisdom prevails upon both sides to move forward constructively against the threat of terrorism. Now the Muslim community in Canada is an integral force in thwarting any attempt at terrorism against their fellow citizens. The Muslim community is to continue the efforts that started toward improving integration and the sense of civic responsibility.

Eradicate feelings of victimization

The new Muslim immigrants and those who failed to find better opportunities among the citizens definitely complain of victimization, but such complains do not need expression in gossip but rather an effort to fulfill what is missing in a rightful action. The politics of grievance, combined with the reliance on victimhood espoused by a minority do little to empower the Muslim community. Feelings of despair and helplessness must be replaced by proactive and cutting-edge actions to achieve what is achievable by any Canadian resident and citizen. We never forget that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada, and in the presence of such a bill do not feel victimized.

Cutting edge actions are decisive deeds which enable one to achieve where others fail. In day-to-day life, tasks are sometimes unfinished because of inaction. Unfinished tasks cause regret and can lead to depression, anger, and misfortune. Every Muslim, just as any citizen, should carry out tasks according to their best capability. People fail because of inaction, and Almighty God desires people to act knowledgeably, wisely, and with certainty in Him. By walking in the footsteps of well-established successful fellow Canadians, Canadian Muslims can achieve what they desire. Cutting edge action is a prescription to act; otherwise, life will be meaningless. To rise above lassitude, tiredness, sluggishness, indolence, and lethargy ensures success and offers hope to all.

Support public services

The other part of complete integration of Muslims in Canada is to be present in every sphere of life where public services are needed. Our Canadian law-enforcement agencies have a difficult challenge, and we need to be supportive of them as they seek to prevent the kind of carnage we have seen in Bali, Madrid, New York, and London.

Security agencies cannot achieve their goals of ensuring public safety without community cooperation. In that sense, the Muslim community is effectively the first line of defense against the sort of extremism that may come from a source affiliated to rare Muslim extremism or affiliated with anti-Islamism. The challenges they face in pursuing leads and deciding when to intervene must be difficult, indeed. The risks of waiting too long or ignoring a threat that might lead to something serious are too high. Muslims should fill such gaps in security to strengthen our resolve against fear arising due to terrorist acts by a rare minority in Canada.

Support interfaith dialogue

Interfaith dialogue is cooperative and positive interaction between the people of different religious traditions and beliefs at both the individual and national levels with the aim of deriving a common ground in similarities of social values, mutual respect, and commitment to national peaceful integration. This formulation is a key to peace among communities.

The Catholic theologian Hans Küng once said, "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions."

Islam has long encouraged interfaith dialogue and action, with historical examples coming from Muslim Spain, Mughal India, and even starting as far back as Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) time, where people of the Abrahamic faiths lived in harmony.

“A Common Word between You and Us” was an open letter dated October 13, 2007, from leaders of the Muslim faith to leaders of the Christian faith. It called for peace between Muslims and Christians and working for the common good. It called for understanding between both faiths in line with the Biblical and Qur'anic commandment to love God and one's neighbor. The letter was signed by 138 prominent Muslims from a large number of countries on several continents. In fact, the future of our nation and the world depends on peace between all religions. Beside Muslims' historical approach and the promotion of such a dialogue by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the following Qur'anic command is a milestone for Muslims in Canada and elsewhere:

"Oh people! Behold, We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another (through dialogue). Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware" (Qur’an 49:13).

Seek unity for a cause

While Canada is a welfare state, it is not free from misdemeanor by miscreants. Domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol addiction, child molestation, sexual harassment, gang violence, and other crimes of various types make newspaper headlines. Muslims by their inherited religious values could volunteer with social groups, religious organizations, security agencies and law enforcement authorities in stopping crimes.

Such volunteering by Muslims would help stimulate awareness of the evils of addiction and disease arising out of such addictions. Volunteer programs are essential for creating a healthy, open, and friendly neighborhood. Addictions such as to alcohol, drugs, and illicit sex harm the individual and society. Addiction brings diseases, spiritual malady, and depression. Muslims who have the time, especially youth and the retired, could motivate themselves through divine guidance and be part of such a volunteering.

Understand Canadian culture

Muslims from conservative societies experience a culture shock that may lead to violence. By keeping our religious values intact, we can live, gain an education, and prosper in Canada as exemplary modern Muslims. If your children wish to adopt a different lifestyle, it may be because you were unable to inculcate your cultural and religious values into them or did not do your homework before immigrating to Canada. Canadian residents and citizens need to accommodate in some matters of choice. Muslims are urged to shun extremism and adopt the path of moderation without eroding religious values while working for socioeconomic uplift. Those who adopt extreme ways to settle their passions are vying for apprehension under Canadian law.

Aqsa Parvez (1991–2007) was the victim of cultural shock, which resulted in an alleged honor killing in Mississauga, Ontario. Apparently, she was killed after she refused to follow certain conservative rulings about her way of dress. Of course, this horrific crime within the family did not take place all of a sudden but grew out of months of simmering.

The best advice I could give to the conservative Islamic families in Canada is to show resilience. If resilience were not a human virtue, then humans would have been certainly annihilated themselves from this planet earth through wrangling among themselves. We are thankful to the Lord for giving us the resilience to absorb many shocks of life and enjoy its benefits. Resilience enables us to accommodate humans of different colors, cultures, religions, languages, and ethnicities. We have not reached this stage without a history of bloodshed and animosity yet this century provides us the opportunity to reflect on our divine book where Almighty God did not differentiate the humans on such diversities but gave prime recognition to the pious. It is well said in a Qur'anic phrase: "Your job is to inculcate righteousness; it is God's job to give guidance."

Interact with fellow Canadians

Muslims who try to follow the religious tenets seriously often find themselves isolated in their own world of unplanned seclusion, ignoring the very concept of Islam to socialize and give a living example of being a Muslim. Such secluded Muslims thus unknowingly declaring a wedge of separation between practicing Muslims and non-practicing Muslims ignore even fellow Muslims who are less religious. Immigrants can find ways to preserve their Islamic tenets without leading to such seclusion and segregation.

A bunker mentality deprives the Muslim community of opportunities to intermingle and share their values with others, which would pave the way for a better understanding and remove the shadow of mutual doubts. Such a mentality clogs the exchange of knowledge, enhances ignorance, and increases seclusion, giving a wrong representation and damaging the real value of Islam. It deprives the community of equal participation in local and national affairs.

Conclusion

In general, most Muslims are satisfied to be residents and citizens of Canada. Most Muslim youths would not like to go back from where they came from; they feel that Canada is their home. However, a desperate minority needs the support of fellow their Canadians in finding opportunities to be a part of integrated society. Certain Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Association of Canada and Young Muslims Canada are non-profit organizations that provide religious and educational services for the Muslim community in Canada.

The Young Muslims Canada works closely with the Canadian government and receives support from government initiatives that encourage the integration of Muslims into Canadian society.


Qamrul A. Khanson is Freelance writer and author of several books on spirituality and interfaith studies. He can be reached at www.qamrulkhanson.net