Time To Lead: Islam in Canada

Publication Date: 
July 6, 2011
The Globe and Mail
Natasha Fatah

This summer, thousands of people will become new Canadian citizens. Many of them will be Muslims. They have come to Canada from every corner of the globe and, like my parents did 24 years ago, they will make this peaceful, progressive nation their home.

My parents left behind Pakistan and chose Canada for the same reasons many other Muslim immigrants came here 20, 30 or 40 years ago: for democracy, freedom, stability and modernity.

And herein lies a common misconception amongst “mainstream” Canadians: They’re convinced that, in the average Muslim household, it’s the parent who represents conservatism and tradition, and the Canadian-born children who are modern and fighting against this oppression. This is a falsehood.

Many of our parents, who immigrated here from Muslim countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, did so specifically out of their respect for Western values. Elder Muslims may be modest and socially conservative in their personal lives. But, by and large, the parents in Muslim-Canadian households believe in the core values of this society. Their values systems were not based on religion but on political freedom and the desire to separate religion and state.

It’s their children – in desperate need for identity – who have turned to conservative, hard-line and politicized Islam for the answers. This trend to embrace a politicized Islam has led to bloodshed in many parts of the world and is growing rapidly – and going unchecked – in Canada.

There are exceptions to the rule. We saw just a few years ago what happened to Aqsa Parvez, the Mississauga teenager who paid the ultimate price when she refused to wear the hijab. Her life was taken away by her family’s “honour killing.”

But, as most young hijabis will defiantly tell you, “it’s my choice to cover my hair.” If they’re making that choice for themselves, then it’s a choice their mothers from India, Turkey and Uganda rejected.

When the Toronto 18 were arrested, they weren’t middle-aged men – they were young guys. At the Islamic “conferences” where hatred against Jews, Hindus and homosexuals is preached in Canadian cities, the attendees are university students, not senior citizens.

I’ve spoken to many parents in the Pakistani and Somali communities who’ve “lost” their children to the jihad. Fathers, in tears, because they haven’t seen their sons for weeks. Convinced their boys have been recruited to Pakistan’s Taliban or Yemen’s faction of al-Qaeda or to Somalia’s al-Shabaab youth movement. Mothers who’ve watched their Canadian-born children turn into angry, militant Islamists.

And here I must stress something: There’s a difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam is a religion, a faith, as beautiful and as flawed as any other, which can be practised as liberally or as conservatively as we choose. Islamism, however, is a doctrine that uses Islam as political ideology, mandating sharia law, armed jihad against all non-Muslims and, ultimately, a domination of Islamism over the West. It’s this Islamism that’s seizing young Muslims.

I’ve attended two universities in Toronto and, at both, joined the Muslim students associations. I was told to sit behind the men, not next to them. That it would be better if I covered my hair. That sharia is the optimal way to resolve personal, legal and political issues. I was even told that, when filling out a form, the ink from my pen should not touch the ink of a “brother’s” pen. Is this the modernity and freedom that brought my parents here?

Muslim youth have fooled themselves into believing there was a golden age of Islam they’d like to bring back to Canada, a golden age that could bring us all into the Dark Ages. And their parents don’t know what to do.

Islam is the religion I practise and the reason I wanted to join the Muslim students association. Islamism is the ideology spreading throughout our campuses, and the reason I left the group.

Natasha Fatah is a Toronto-based journalist and writer.