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Muslims predict it'll soon be their turn to shine in the Canadian sun - Canada.com

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  • Zafar Khan
    Muslims predict it ll soon be their turn to shine in the Canadian sun Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun Monday, June 16, 2003 CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 18, 2003
      Muslims predict it'll soon be their turn to shine in
      the Canadian sun

      Douglas Todd
      Vancouver 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
      World countries.

      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
      or professors.

      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


      - - -


      Place of Birth

      Canada 164,300

      Pakistan 66,715

      Iran 51,155

      Lebanon 24,645

      India 21,910

      Afghanistan 20,825

      Somalia 18,090

      Bangladesh 18,010

      Algeria 15,530

      Tanzania 15,390

      Morocco 12,915

      Guyana 12,105

      Iraq 9,865

      Kenya 9,440

      Turkey 9,210

      Egypt 8,240

      Bosnia 7,760

      Saudi Arabia 6,575

      Kuwait 6,370

      Uganda 6,180

      Yugoslavia 5,890

      Syria 4,900

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