Gone are the days when Canada’s Muslims held the dubious distinction of being more politically apathetic than the average Canadian.
But they are unfortunately swimming against a discouraging tide of apparent indifference, as shown by declining levels of voter participation. In 1958 79.4% of Canadians voted. By 2004, that number had plummeted to 60.9% and the downward trend continued in 2008 with a only 59.1% turnout.
Gone also are the days when the key issues among Canada’s Muslims centred on immigration and peace in the Middle East. Today Muslims have mirrored those of all politically engaged Canadians — health care, the environment, Afghanistan, the economy, child poverty, proportional representation, etc. – and yes the rise of Islamophobia.
And gone are the days when Canada’s young Muslims automatically voted Liberal because their parents had always voted that way. Now they are established professionals who contribute to the public good and look closely at the track record, principles and ideology of each and every candidate, regardless of party affiliation.
Throughout the weeks and months leading up to the federal election of October 14, 2008 I participated in Muslim community political action meetings right across the country, either in person or through teleconferencing. I was also busy on the phone and by email, discussing and debating the issues and candidates’ track records. For the past five weeks, I have given Friday sermons (Khotbas) in Canadian mosques, in which I encouraged, urged, and even begged congregations to get out and vote. I told them over and over; "You must be informed, committed, and multi-issue voters."
Admittedly, it sometimes felt like fighting an uphill battle, for it is hard to convince Canadians — especially the young — that politicians, like any other group of humans, are a varied mix. Some are good, others are bad, still others are simply incompetent.
But as tax-payers, we are far better off making an informed choice and casting our votes. After all, we pay the salaries of our MPs whether we like them or not. My motto as a committed voter is: "Democracy is a verb. It has no value unless the people, all of the people, participate."
In that vein, I am delighted to have witnessed an increased level of political engagement from the Canadian Muslim community. It is now higher than the national average, and has steadily increased over the last two federal elections (2004 and 2006); I have no doubt that the 2008 figures will continue that hopeful trend.
The past three federal elections have also shown an increase in the number of Muslim candidates, both men and women, running for the main federal political parties. Some won and some lost, but their willingness to step into the public forum to serve their ridings has been enlightening.
Canadian Islamophobes (among them, both Muslims and non-Muslims) tried very hard during this election to smear their records, discredit them, and even force them out of the race. They also used negative media spin to disinform and misinform the public, but in all these undermining attempts they failed.
As Canadians woke up to another Harper minority on October 15, Canada’s right-wing National Post newspaper smugly declared; "The Conservatives won a majority in political power if not in name." But I would strongly advise Mr. Harper not to let all that media spin make him dizzy with self- grandeur.
Canada’s Muslims are staunchly left of centre, progressive, and pro-Canada. They want to see their country reclaim its rightful place as a world peace-maker and peace-keeper. They want all Canadians, regardless of wealth, influence, age, ability, culture or belief, to be treated as if they matter.
They want to make Canada a better country and they are doing it; one step at a time, one election at a time.