By Mansoor Ladha
I love the Canadian TV show, Little Mosque on the Prairies, shot in a fictitious town called Mercy. This is a classic example of a religious brotherhood as a Christian church which offers space to Muslims in the town to hold their services.
What a superb gesture of religious co-operation, comraderies and non-denominational brotherhood. This message of unity and harmony becomes more important against the backdrop of the attack on a New Zealand mosque in which 51 people lost their lives. Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist has been charged with the attacks.
Closer to home in Canada, a mosque in Edmonton received a nasty message – in fact, a hate mail. The letter was dropped off at the Markaz Ul Islam mosque in southeast Edmonton. It said: “ On behalf of real Albertans, we would like to advise you that you and your religion don’t belong here in Alberta,” said the letter dated Jan. 30.“We are White. We are Christians. We are Proud. Our Premier to be Jason Kenney is going to take Alberta back. So adapt if you want to stay (sic).”.
We are living in a country which promotes and believes in religious freedom. Every Canadian is free to follow whatever region they prefer and no one has the right to pass judgment whether one religion is better than the other. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.
It is unfortunate that some crazy person/persons once in a while do things that disturb our peaceful existence. What does it mean when anyone says “ you don’t belong here?” Years ago, even I was also told, “Paki go home,” on the street of Edmonton, one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in Canada.
To begin with, I am not even from Pakistan, though there is nothing wrong from being from Pakistan. “Paki go home” used to be a mantra which became popular in Britain during the 70s when British politician Enoch Powell tried to mobilize anti-immigrant lobby in the country. He failed but the battle cry has remained plaguing Muslims all over the world.
Muslims, like any other ethnic group, have come to Canada legally and after satisfying all the regulatory requirements like anyone else. Yes, granted some have come to this country as refugees but then this privilege of being a refugee is accorded to all religions and ethnicity – Muslim or Christians or whatever. So no religious group has been getting preferential treatment. Everyone has been treated equally.
Religion is a personal and intimate issue. Racialism is an equally emotional and sensitive matter and people get hurt when it raises its ugly head. Unfortunately, it has shown up in different Canadian cities from time to time. The incident of 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting that killed six people and injured 19 others is still vivid in many Muslims’ minds. A place of worship should be the safest place anywhere in the world.
The perpetrator, Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, in what a judge called an act of “visceral hate” toward Muslim immigrants, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years. The judge called the shooting a gratuitous act of fanaticism and said its date – Jan. 29, 2017 – would “forever be written in blood in the history of this city, this province, this country.”
According to Statistics Canada, reported hate crimes involving black people and other racial groups have increased by 47 per cent since 2014.
What is the root of racialism? It’s ignorance and lack of contact between the races. Majority of people have no contact with Muslims at a personal level as friends or neighbours. The solution is to invite your Muslims neighbours for coffee and get to know them. Office colleagues should do the same. It’s only through friendship and personal contacts that one would know that Muslims are the same as anyone else. Contact between different races is very important.
Muslims are hated because of the terrorist attacks undertaken by the so-called jihadists who have no legitimacy or right to unleash a reign of terror in the name of Islam. They do not represent the religion nor do they have any right in speaking for Muslims. They are a bunch of hooligans out to cause death and destruction, under the guise of religion.
As the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims, said during the opening of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, the Muslim world, with its history and culture, is still unknown to the West. “Even today, the study of the Muslim world in our high schools and universities is a specialist subject. Very little of the Muslim world features in the study of humanities in the West, where courses are essentially centred around Judeo-Christian civilizations.
“This lack of knowledge is a dramatic reality which manifests itself in a particularly serious way in western democracies since public opinion has difficulties judging national and international policy vis-à-vis the Muslim world,” he said. “The two worlds, Muslim and non-Muslim, eastern and western, just as a matter of urgency make a real effort to get to know one another, for I fear that what we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of ignorance on both sides. Insofar as civilizations manifest and express themselves through their art, museums have an essential role to play in teaching the two worlds to understand, respect and appreciate each other,” he said.
“Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other peoples’ cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world. Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development, it is vital to our existence,” he said.
Ignorance breeds suspicions and intolerance towards others. A pluralist, cosmopolitan society is one, which not only accepts differences but also actively seeks to understand it and to learn from it. Diversity is not a burden to be endured, but an opportunity to be welcomed.
Political, educational and civic leaders should be concerned about the rise in hate crimes in Canada. The best way to eradicate this venom is to initiate a campaign of an intermingling of different races in neighbourhoods and communities. At formal and informal levels, efforts should be made to allow different races to mingle as neighbours, friends and colleagues. Religious leaders should hold more inter-faith functions so as to educate their congregations about different religions.
School boards and trustees have a responsibility to devise curriculums that teach different religions and cultures so that the country’s citizens-to-be are well conversant with the make-up of Canadian society and there is no repetition of the Quebec mosque incident. While we continue trumpeting our country as the most diverse and multicultural, yet our students go through the education system without ever hearing about the plurality of our society, cultures, religions, faiths and traditions.
Little Mosque on the Prairies may be a fictional sitcom but it’s the message — all religions working for everyone’s betterment in harmony — is universal and applicable to present-day Canada.
* Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary based journalist, travel writer, editorial commentator and author of Memoirs of Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.