Muslims predict it'll soon be their turn to shine in the Canadian sun - Canada.com
- Muslims predict it'll soon be their turn to shine in
the Canadian sun
Monday, June 16, 2003
CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
When will Muslims in Canada wield some clout? Given
that last month's census revealed Muslims now make up
the second largest religion in Canada after
Christianity, many are wondering why the Muslim
community doesn't have more influence on the country's
The answer lies in part in how hard it is for a
religious community to forge a cohesive voice when its
membership looks and sounds like the arrival lounge at
an exotic international airport. It also doesn't help
that the majority are working-class people from Third
At Friday prayers at any given Vancouver-area mosque,
you will see faces from Pakistan, Tanzania, Fiji,
Iran, Yugoslavia, Algeria, Kenya, Afghanistan and a
host of other far-flung, often-poor nations. Muslims
in Canada hail from more than 140 countries.
Islam might be a religion that unifies people, but
Muslims still face a gargantuan challenge in bringing
together their disparate cultures in Canada, where
most Muslims are visible minorities and where English
and French are invariably their second languages.
The recent national census shows an amazing 70 per
cent of Canada's 579,000 Muslims were born outside the
country. Muslims' 129-per cent growth rate in the past
decade has been fuelled almost entirely by
Contrast this with Canada's well-established,
relatively cohesive and influential Jewish community
of 329,000, of which only six per cent arrived in the
past decade. Even Canada's 278,000 fast-growing Sikh
population is more organized and politically active
than the country's Muslims -- in part because they
nearly all hail, in one way or another, from the same
corner of India and share the same Punjabi language.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their
aftermath have also set back Muslim efforts to become
more involved in Canadian public life. Increased
suspicion and immigration restrictions have
exacerbated the feeling they're still outsiders.
Some Canadian Muslims are frustrated. They don't see
many Muslims in Canadian political office and they
can't boast of having a lot of high-profile lawyers,
doctors, journalists, TV entertainers, movie producers
The Muslim mosque opened in Edmonton in 1938. But it
was an anomaly. The vast majority of the country's
Muslims did not begin arriving until immigration laws
were liberalized in 1967 so more people could come
here from non-Judeo-Christian countries.
It's still early, as a result, for most of Canada's
many Muslims to be assuming leadership roles. Says
Wahida Valiante, a Montreal-based director of the
Canadian Islamic Congress: "Our lawyers are not in the
thousands. Our social workers are not in the
thousands. We're not in the government. Nobody calls
us and says, 'Listen, we've got this problem in the
Middle East, can you come and consult with us?' So we
don't have that kind of clout."
Although organizations are popping up to express
Canadian Muslims interests and combat stereotypes,
most Muslim immigrants arrive in the country with more
pressing problems on their minds than shaping the
country's cultural and political policies, suggests
Ottawa demographer Daood Hassan Hamdani.
Most have come to escape racial or ideological
intolerance, flee religious and political persecution,
or avoid famine and pestilence. As Vancouver's Itrath
Syed, who was born in Pakistan, says: "Many Muslims
are refugees. They came here when there was conflict
in Somalia, when there was conflict in Bosnia and when
there was conflict in Iraq during the Gulf War. When
they first arrive, they're just getting their lives
set up. It takes a while to identify as a Canadian.
Sometimes it takes until the second generation."
Most Muslim immigrants spend their first years simply
getting themselves and their children established in
jobs and schools (mostly in public education, with a
minority in Muslim separate schools).
Many also put energy into their mosques. The country's
more than 200 mostly new mosques serve as sources of
both transcendent support and pragmatic networking.
Governing the mosques is not without controversy,
either. Islam operates without a central authority
figure. So when a religious institution is run by
people from vastly different global cultures,
conflicts easily arise.
A typical mosque dispute is over whether women should
be allowed to worship with men at Canadian mosques,
with Muslims from the Middle East generally saying yes
and those from South Asia and India saying no.
There are signs, however, Muslims' time to shine in
the Canadian sun might be coming.
Today, Muslims can find their native foods in grocery
stores and order special meals in airplanes and
hospitals. Schools, businesses and professional
associations take Muslim holidays into account, the
Koran is sometimes quoted in public meetings and Prime
Minister Jean Chretien and other politicians attend
Muslim events. Individual Muslims, meanwhile, have
achieved great things in manufacturing, engineering
and other areas.
As well, the median age of Muslims in Canada in 2001
is 28. The national median age is 37. Young Muslims,
says Valiante, could soon be maturing into some of
Canada's next leaders. Aziz Khaki, of the Muslim
Canadian Federation, says a surprising number of young
Muslims are obtaining higher educations, particularly
Muslim immigrants, notes Khaki, who was born in
Tanzania and is active in interfaith dialogue, are
grateful to be living in a country that grants them
economic opportunities, freedom of speech, freedom of
religion and a trustworthy police force.
In response to Canadians' generosity, Khaki predicts
the country's diverse Muslims will want to
increasingly contribute, not just to their own faith
group, but to public charities, schools, businesses
and the political system -- becoming a creative force
in Canada's wide and fast-changing multicultural
- - -
TOTAL MUSLIMS IN CANADA: 579,000
Place of Birth
Saudi Arabia 6,575
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