By Mansoor Ladha
June 25 was a special day for Muslims. All Muslims were observing the end of the holy month of Ramadan, celebrating Eid ending a 30-day fast. Muslims gathered in mosques and other religious places to offer prayers and celebrate it with feasts with families.
On the same time, a group calling themselves the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI), was staging an anti-Islamophobia demonstration, unconcerned and indifferent about the religious significance or sentiments of Muslims marking their festival. Please note that all this was happening just five days before Canada was due to celebrate its 150 anniversary of confederation with patriotic sentiments and nationalistic emotions throughout the country.
It is being uncivilized and insensitive to others when a group decides to protest against another group, especially when they are celebrating a religious festival. In a civilized society, we are expected to respect diversity and cherish each other’s divisiveness.
An anti-Muslim incident also happened in U.S. by a co-incident on the same day when Muslims were celebrating the end of Ramadan. A man drove his vehicle into a group of young Muslims in Sterling, a suburb of Washington, abducting a 17-year-old hijab-wearing girl whose body was found later.
In London, England, a white supremacist drive into a group of Muslims as they stood outside a mosque. How can anyone be so insensitive that they would hold an anti-religious protest on one of the holiest month of another religion? It’s like staging an anti-Catholic demonstration on Christmas?
A pro-Muslim group — Calgary Anti-Fascist Action (Antifa) – held a counter-demonstration against the anti-Muslims. Groups or individuals are at perfect liberty to express their views and frustrations. That’s the essence of democracy and that’s why we live in a democratic country like Canada. Our democratic rights are enshrined in our constitution and guarded by Charter of Rights, freedom of speech, press and religion.
But democratic rights also have limitations when one encroaches on the public’s rights. One cannot, for example, run naked in the street, flouting rules of modesty and civilization. Society demands that everyone follow an acceptable code of conduct and behave within bounds of public decency.
Alberta government is concerned at the increase in hate-related incidents in the province. According to Global News, most of the victims were being targeted because of their religion or race. and incidents aimed toward Muslims saw the largest increase, followed by Arabs or West Asians. Crimes targeting Black or Jewish people were also up.
This has prompted Alberta Minister for Education, David Eggen, to begin consultations to develop a new anti-racism initiatives. While I applaud the minister’s initiative, I only hope that those attending the proposed consultations deploring hate crimes do not just share tea and samosas and forget their main agenda. These talks should go beyond tea and samosas.
Muslims are hated because of the terrorist attacks undertaken by the so-called jihadists who have to 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 destruction and death.
The non-Muslim world have no knowledge of Islam. As the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of 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 centered 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, must 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.
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. In this perspective, 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 and particularly in Alberta, our home ground. The best way to eradicate this venom is to initiate a campaign of intermingling of different races in neighbourhoods and communities. At formal and informal levels, efforts should be made to allow different races to meet informally as neighbours, friends and colleagues.
Education officials, teachers, school trustees and school boards have an awesome responsibility to launch curriculums and programs to teach different religions and cultures. How can we blame high school graduating students coming out of the school system without understanding the various cultures and religions that Canada have?
Stereotype ideas and generalizations are the outcome of ignorance about other races and cultures. Canada is renowned internationally for its sterling record of welcoming immigrants, refugees and the downtrodden. Canada’s record as a multicultural nation, portraying diversity and inter-racial performance is the envy of the world. Let U.S. follow its isolationist policy and build walls on its borders to separate people while Canada build bridges to welcome people in distress and fleeing from authoritarian regimes, seeking better lives for them and their families.
Let’s not tarnish our hard-earned image, especially when we are celebrating the nation’s coming of age and maturing as a 150- year-old remarkable nation.
** Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based columnist, travel writer and an author of A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims and Memoirs of a Muhindi.