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Madrid newspaper El Pais reports on Sharia in Canada: "The Limits of Multiculturalism"

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  • Tarek Fatah
    23-10-2005 LOS LÍMITES DEL MULTICULTURALISMO [The limits to Multiculturalism] La sharía desafía el modelo de Canadá [Sharia challenges the Canadian
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2005

      LOS LÍMITES DEL MULTICULTURALISMO [The limits to Multiculturalism]
      La 'sharía' desafía el modelo de Canadá
      [Sharia challenges the Canadian Model]

      El intento de aplicación de la ley islámica en
      la provincia de Ontario divide a los musulmanes
      [Muslims are divided by the intent to apply
      Islamic Law in the province of Ontario]
      Diario EL PAÍS, Madrid

      Last September the government of the province of Ontario, the one with the
      largest number of inhabitants in Canada, cut short a controversy that had
      been going on for two years: family arbitration will not be allowed- spousal
      separations, child custody, inheritance- based on Islamic law or sharia..
      The topic had divided the Canadian Muslim Community, 700,000 people strong,
      into those who thought that the measure was a mistake based on a"fear of
      Islam" and those that considered that sharia was defying the countries
      Constitution and was an assault against the rights of women. The Canadian
      controversy poses the limits of multiculturalism and serves as a precedent
      to Europe.
      In Canada (32.3 million inhabitants) there are almost 700,000 Muslims. At
      two in the afternoon, groups of young people wearing white caps are chatting
      on the large sidewalk of Danforth street, near Toronto city centre. They
      have left the prayer sooner than the grandfathers who are sporting beards,
      Kaftans and worn out jackets and who are taking their time wearing their
      shoes. One arrives at the office of the Mufti of the Madina Masjid- the
      mosque of Medina- by simply asking.
      Abdullah Mangera was born in India 27 years ago and was trained until 15 in
      Great Britain and the USA. He invites us to enter while he is talking on the
      phone to someone that wants to help build the new mosque, a million dollar
      project. Abdullah apologizes for not offering anything, it is Ramadan. And,
      afterwards, he apologizes "for not being very up to date in political
      issues", because he believes that the decision that there should not be
      family arbitrations " has been a political one ".
      Last September 11, Dalton McGuinty, first minister of the province of
      Ontario, ended a controversy that had been dragging on for almost two years:
      there would not be sharia tribunals. There would not be either, said
      McGuinty, arbitration for Jews and Christians, a system that was set in
      motion in 1991 to relieve judicial backlog and resolve family
      conflicts-separations, custody of children, inheritance- outside tribunals.
      * "I'm very happy. We have fought a lot, almost 24 hours a day", says
      Homa Arjomand, coordinator of the International Campaign against Sharia in
      * "It would have been a catastrophe: the first privatization of the
      judicial system in the world", assures the Muslim activist Tarek Fatah.
      * "It is not a step in the right direction, it's a step backwards",
      laments Wahida Valiante, vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
      The Arbitration Law of 1991 was a victory for multiculturalism, the system
      adopted by Canada in 1971 to counter Quebec Nationalism and better integrate
      For Homa Arjomand, the debate over sharia questions the model. "I came to
      Canada because of its multiculturalism, but now I think it must be
      demolished. It fulfilled its objectives, it is now a barrier because it
      respects cultures and beliefs more than it respects individuals. A 13 year
      old girl can be taken out of school to marry her off because the culture she
      lives in allows it".
      In Canada (32.3 million inhabitants) there are almost700,000 Muslims. The
      muftis and Imams intervene in conflict mediation and will keep on doing so.
      What unleashed the debate was the lawyer Mumtaz Ali's initiative to start
      the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to intervene in arbitration. Contrary
      to arbitrations their agreements have a legal endorsement.
      A report from the former attorney general Marion Boyd accepted the
      initiatives, although with control and protection mechanisms that sharia
      opponents considered insufficient and as proof quoted cases that Homa
      Arjomand 's clients denounce. " He kept my pictures, my dowry, the jewels
      and my Iranian ID card, he gives me no money for the children", complained
      E. "I found out that he remarried in Pakistan and he wanted money to grant
      me talaq" laments S. who says that, at the mosque, she was threatened " that
      the community will break off with me and my family if I do not meet his
      Wahida Valiante says that "in places like Iran or Pakistan there are acts of
      injustice with sharia, but it wasn't about bringing it to Canada, which has
      its Charter of Rights, its tribunals...It was an excuse to scare people. It
      was about bringing some sort of control to religious arbitration, which was
      not there". And adds that one must not confuse the Koran with" those imams
      that open their mouths and say horrors like the one in Spain that said that
      women could be beaten. Oh, my God, that is not in the Koran. What the Koran
      says is that when there is a conflict between a husband and a wife they
      should talk. If that doesn't work, they have to find people that would
      represent them and act as mediators. If that doesn't help they must
      Anver Emon, professor of Islamic law, explains: In Canada there is a Charter
      of Rights and Freedoms and a multicultural system and religious freedom. Its
      obvious that Islamic law treats differently men and women. Is there room in
      the Charter to accommodate all this? I belief that yes, if a mechanism is
      created for all religious arbitrations and if those who want to arbitrate
      are accredited".
      Emon recognizes that one problem remains exposed: "What is the role of the
      State? If it wants to protect citizens it must eliminate the autonomy of
      cultural groups, but if multiculturalism is to be guaranteed, a certain
      level of autonomy is to be given". Solution?." The problem is to be served
      as it is done in economy: with liberty, but with State regulations for
      fundamental matters. Multiculturalism can work, but the State must guaranty
      that individual rights are respected."
      The office of the mufti has various shelves with sacred books and a piece of
      furniture with files and binders (divorce, families, charities). A big canon
      NP6550 photocopy machine, that is to be found in no other office, is turning
      yellow under a picture of Jerusalem viewed from Mont Olives. Abdullah
      strokes his beard and speaks softly above the whisper of the prayers. "There
      was no need for the clamour raised. There is no contradiction between the
      Canadian legal system and the sharia. I am not aware of all the details of
      Canadian laws, but I know they are based on justice, like sharia. How would
      there have been a contradiction? "It's an attempt against women"
      -Homa Arjomand spearheads the movement against sharia. She was born in Iran
      52 years ago, escaped repression in 1989 on a horse with her two children,
      one and six years old. Social assistant in Toronto, Homa believes Islamism
      wants to "interfere with the justice system of countries and attempt against
      the rights of women and children". And she has a long list of cases: "I have
      just learned of a 14 year old that is about to get married to get married to
      her cousin, a marriage agreed on when she was born. What kind of equality is
      that? What sort of life is this woman going to have?".
      -Tarek Fatah is 56 and was born in Pakistan. He says that his two daughters
      are sushi, because" I am Sunni and my wife is Shia". Sharia was stopped
      because we the Muslims said that it was a challenge to the Constitution and
      that it would put us in a ghetto", says the founder of Muslim Canadian
      Congress, that believes that "multiculturalism is the new tribalism, the
      multi-segregation". Fatah who presents Muslim Chronicles on television says
      that "Islamism, well aware of Canadian tolerance, wanted to introduce sharia
      not to resolve family conflicts with religion, but to validate its agenda in
      a democratic society".
      "Religion is not oppression" .
      -Wahida Valiante, vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress is 50. She
      arrived to Canada in 1961 from Great Britain were her parents lived. She
      married an Italian converted to Islam, one of her children is neurosurgeon
      and the other is consultant. "The idea that sharia was coming to Canada was
      an excuse, a propaganda manoeuvre to scare people". The plan was to
      introduce some sort of control in religious arbitration. We have lost the
      opportunity; it could have been a model for Europe and for the rest of the
      world". Valiante, a psychotherapist, assures that "religion has not been nor
      is an element of oppression".
      -Anver Emon, 34 years old and professor of Islamic Law in Toronto was born
      in California from parents who had immigrated from India. He believes that
      it was a mistake to ban sharia in Ontario and that there is a confusion
      between "stupid husbands and incompetent imams" and Islamic Law. The problem
      lays within those "that have poorly studied it in Pakistan, Middle East or
      Maghreb; they learn how to lead prayers and arbitrate disputes. And what do
      they do? they go to Spain or Canada and lead communities". Instead of
      focusing on how to better train imams, the debate was centered on" the fear
      of Islam, the green danger".
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