Beyond condemnation, What are Canadian Muslims really doing?

Following last Thursday’s (July 7, 2005) series of terrorist bombings in central London, Canadian Islamic organizations swiftly issued statements of condemnation, some within hours of the horrific news.

During Friday sermons the next day at mosques across this country, Imams — including myself — passionately expressed the pain felt by Canadian Muslims, a pain made all the deeper in knowing that those who committed the atrocities in Britain claimed Islam as their faith. Once again, Muslim leaders found themselves explaining to their own congregations and to society at large that the killing of civilians is abhorrent, contrary to Islamic teaching, and not part of the history of true Muslim believers.

Once again, Canadian mosques were filled with people praying together that such terrorist bombings would not happen in Canada. But are Canadian Muslims really doing more than praying and discussing how to keep this country safe and secure? The answer is yes, absolutely.

Behind the scenes, and sometimes in the spotlight as well, Canadian Muslims serve as career professionals in the military, in the RCMP, in CSIS and with local police forces in every major city coast to coast. They work on the front lines in Canada’s war on terror and take the same risks as their non-Muslim colleagues. Day in and day out, they provide unique, irreplaceable skills and services that benefit our nation.

At the community level, Canadian Muslims help our national and local law-enforcement agencies in many specialized and practical ways. For example, experienced Muslim lawyers work proactively with community members to assure them that their rights are protected, while simultaneously cooperating with enforcement authorities at all levels.

Canadian Muslims are also actively involved in educating their communities, as well as the RCMP, CSIS and local police, on how to deal with one another and to avoid tragic mistakes like the Maher Arar deportation case. There is a growing realization in Canadian society that racial profiling or discriminatory treatment of law-abiding minorities by police and other agencies is counterproductive and demoralizing.

Canadian Muslims are continually promoting sensitivity and understanding — not just mere tolerance — among Canada’s diverse multifaith and multicultural communities. They have spoken out promptly and boldly against hate crimes committed against all places of worship and religious schools, regardless of the faith groups they serve; they have voiced strong and consistent support for our First Nations citizens, and to the Black community in their ongoing struggle against historical injustices. Canadian Muslims have built a respected track record of working hard against the negative stereotyping of all Canadian cultural and religious minorities.

A massive effort is now underway to reduce the Canadian Muslim community’s dependency on imported foreign ideologies, organizations, and Imams, as well as popular teachers, preachers and speakers. This fall, the Canadian Islamic Congress will hold an intensive short course on Canadian history, law, media, and political systems. Through education and understanding, the CIC hopes to further the goal of achieving smart integration, so that Canadian Muslims can fully interact with society as proud citizens without sacrificing either their faith or identity.

Complementing the goal of smart integration is a parallel movement to involve our communities more actively in Canada’s public square; to pursuade politicians to work for world peace with justice by staying out of Iraq; to help oppressed peoples such as Palestinians and Kashmiris to gain their self-determination without violent conflict; and to further educate both community and society that peaceful political activism is the true Islamic way of being a caring Canadian citizen.

During the last federal election, many of our community leaders delivered the message that voting in a liberal democracy is a religious as well as a civic duty. Canadian issues related to social justice — including child poverty and the crisis of homelessness — were given high prominence for the first time among issues of special interest to Canadian Muslims. A CIC-sponsored report card on the recent performance of MPs seeking election was published in many media and widely debated. A clear message emerged that dissenting voices should use polls, not bullets.

Muslim leaders in this country are continuing to offer more educational programs for adults and youth alike, on themes such as moderation, the true meaning of Jihad, how to understand non-Muslims, and above all, the sweetness of universal Islamic spirituality. These are the topics I myself have shared at least 100 times a year through sermons, speeches, seminars, interviews, letters, articles, and books.

The list above shows how Canadian Muslims work daily with their government and with fellow Canadians of all faiths and cultures in trusted behind-the-scenes roles that contribute to a larger, more long-term vision of Canada’s peace and security. Such roles do not inspire the kind of headlines that accompany the sickening perversion of terrorism, but their cumulative power for good should never be underestimated.