On Wednesday, March 22nd, anti-Islamic protesters disrupted a Peel Regional School Board meeting with Islamophobic comments and by tearing pages from the Qur’an.  They shouted comments about the Islamic indoctrination of children in schools and Sharia Law, before police broke up the meeting.  Brian Woodland, a spokesman for the school board, said “I was actually deeply shaken by what I heard. I’m not sure I’ve ever in my life seen this level of hatred.” You can read more about the protesters’ actions here, here and here .

The behaviour was ill-informed, aggressive and full of hate and fear-mongering, though committed by a very small group of people.  In recent months, however, Islamophobic behaviours have created other issues in Canada including protests outside of a Toronto mosque and the killing of six Muslim fathers, sons, husbands and brothers in a mosque in Quebec.  It’s out of hand and does not represent the real values that the majority of Canadians hold dear.

It is natural for people to have concerns about change.  It is natural for people to have concerns about things that are different or that they don’t understand.  In Canada, we all benefit from the freedom of expression and concerns should be expressed openly.  However, the cure for those concerns is honest, respectful, open discussion, education and information.  The cure is NOT the memes we see on social media.

So.  Let’s talk about it.  Let’s take a little step back and examine the statements that have been spread over social media in the last few years (particularly since the tragedy of 9/11).

Muslims are attempting to indoctrinate public school children into Islam!

No.  No-one is attempting to indoctrinate public school children into Islam or any other religion, despite fears to the contrary.

Canada has a number of faith-based schools which children may attend (but are not required to attend) including Catholic schools, Christian schools, Islamic schools, and Jewish schools.  Many of these schools are private but there is also a Catholic public school system.  Children in those schools, who are enrolled by their parents, learn a dual-track curriculum with academic studies like science, art, mathematics, history and second languages along with religious studies.

Canada also has a number of secular public schools (as opposed to Catholic public schools).  Those schools are filled with children who may not follow any religion at all or they may be Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or any number of other religions.  The children in these schools are as diverse as the communities that they live in.  They are not taught religion studies.  They are not indoctrinated.

Some are accommodated, however.  For example, Ontario’s Human Rights Act requires that employers and others, including schools, accommodate people’s beliefs and practices.  In Peel region, specifically, those accommodations have been in place for more than 15 years and are updated from time to time.  You can read their fact sheet for a detailed explanation.

Muslim children are provided time and space to conduct Friday prayers in school.  No other child is required to participate in the prayers and their studies are not disrupted by the practice.  Not only is this accommodation a legal requirement but it prevents Muslim children from having to disrupt their studies so that they can abide by their religious practices (for example by leaving school to attend at a mosque or return home for prayers).

Jewish, Sikh, Catholic, Christian and other children are also accommodated in similar ways, as meets the needs of their personal faith practices.  For example, Amritdhari Sikh youth are permitted to wear their kirpans in school and also wear keshki or turbans as appropriate.  Jewish children may wear yarmulkas and/or Stars of David.  Muslim children may wear hijab and Christian children may wear crosses.  Children who follow a religion are legally excused from school on days of that are religiously significant, like Ridvan, Diwali and Baisakhi.  Menus in school cafeterias reflect the religious requirements of students – for example, Jewish and Muslim children do not eat pork so schools that have Jewish and Muslim children have a non-pork option available.  (They do not ban pork altogether) and for Sikh, Hindu and Jain children, there is a vegetarian option.  The requirement to accommodate extends through university.  You can read about more examples here, here, here, here and here.

Accommodating children means reasonable accommodation and does not involve indoctrinating other children, though seeing the practices and beliefs of other children being respected can promote tolerance and understanding among diverse groups.

They removed the Lord’s Prayer from schools but they let Muslim children pray!

Right, they did remove the Lord’s Prayer from schools.  Why?  Because every child was required to recite the Lord’s Prayer, and that is indoctrination.  Requiring every child to recite a Christian prayer is not the same thing as providing time and space for Muslim children to pray on Fridays.

But Canada is a Christian country!

No, it’s actually not.  Canadian governing bodies are secular (the Church and State are removed from one another) and it’s population is diverse.  Also, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone the right to freedom of religion.  Not a choice between various Christian faiths but freedom of religion.  Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms expresses the values and rights that we hold most important as a society which is why it is a constitutional document, and includes the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression and, again, freedom of religion.

According to Statistics Canada, 108 different religions in 9 major religious groups have been declared on the 2011 census by private citizens.  26.1% gave no response to the question of religion on the census but for the remaining, 73.9%, the breakdown is as follows:

17.7% reported no religion, atheism or similar

0.8% are Buddhist and 1.1% are Hindu

49.7% are Christians and of those, 58% are Catholic

0.7% are Jewish and 2.4% are Muslim

1% are Sikh, 0.07% practice a traditional or aboriginal faith, and 0.3% reported a faith other than one already named.

Religion does not belong in schools!

Despite beliefs to the contrary children are taught about religion and religious events in publicly funded schools, without indoctrinating children.  Religion does have a place.

History classes cover the Crusades and events that occurred during the Enlightenment, it covers the Holocaust and the Holy Roman Empire.  Things like culture are also explored, which in many cases cannot easily be dissected from religion.  The curriculum of public schools in Ontario is readily available to read online at Ontario Ministry of Education.  Religion and major events with religious involvement (like residential schools, for example) have shaped the history of and the cultures that make up Canada and the rest of the world.  Children examine those issues as part of their curriculum to help them build an understanding of the world they live in.  That is not indoctrination, that is education.

Muslims are going to come here and ruin our country!

Muslims have been here for a very long time and our country is still our country.  According to Statistics Canada, fully 1/3 of the Muslims in Canada were born here, in fact.

Canada’s first mosque was built in 1938 in Edmonton, Alberta.  At that time, there were only about 700 Muslims in Canada, according to this article.  Prior to that, Muslims began arriving in the 1850’s well more than 160 years ago.  Country.  Not.  Ruined.

Also, contrary to memes we see on social media or the behaviours of a tiny minority of the over 1,000,000 Muslims in Canada, Muslims in Canada are much like any other Canadian – they work to support their families, participate in the community, and wish to live peaceful, secure lives.  Muslims have and will continue to contribute positively to the mosaic that makes up Canadian life.  They are our neighbours, family members, shop owners, employers, employees, teachers, doctors, nurses and scientists.  They include Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin, who pioneered the first North American deradicalization program in response to the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, among more than a million others who coexist peacefully among the rest of us.

For those very, very few that have become radicalized in Canada or commit criminal acts purportedly in the name of religion in Canada, the reasons for their behaviour are far more complex than simply their religion, as it is with any other extremist, any other criminal.  Those reasons can include being ostracized by the communities they live in and feelings of disenfranchisement.  Those reasons can include mental health issues, personality issues, level of education, age, opportunity, and exposure to influences that go unchecked or unknown.

The solutions to radicalization are just as complex but do not involve condemning the millions and millions of Muslims globally who, like any other group of people, go about their lives in peace, contributing positively.

Islam is a violent religion!

Islam is not a violent religion all by itself but like almost any religion it is capable of and has been abused and twisted by those who would do harm.  Islam is almost as old a religion as Christianity.  The Qur’an, the Torah and the Bible all contain their share of violent ideas.

Scholarly scrutiny and criticism explains phrases on violence in the Qur’an to be only in the context of a defensive response to oppression but because they are there, a very few extremists manipulate them into violence and cruelty.  See Sohail H. Hashmi, David Miller, Boundaries and Justice: diverse ethical perspectives, Princeton University Press, p.197. or here.  The Qur’an is meant to be read keeping in mind the historical context in which it is written.  Just as the Bible and Torah and all other texts are meant to be read.

Extreme Christians have also used phrases of the Bible (the Old Testament of which has twice as many violent references as the Qur’an) in the same way, absent any historical context, to justify the cruel behaviour we inflict on one another.

Despite the violent ideas in different religious texts, almost all Muslims, Jews and Christians live peacefully in Canada.

It is hypocritical to condemn Muslims for the actions of a few, taken and manipulated and twisted beyond context, and not do the same when in 2011, we went to great pains to explain and understand the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway.  No-one mentioned his extreme right-wing religious beliefs but we waited while psychiatric assessments were done, revealing schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder.  We do not blame all Christians for the lynchings and other despicable acts of the KKK, though they used the Bible to justify their behaviour.  Not all Christians are blamed for the actions of paedophilic priests who preyed on school children and alter boys.  Just as we don’t paint all of Quebec as racist extremists because of the actions of the Quebec mosque attacker.

There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the global population.  Of those, the US military estimates that ISIS accounts for 30,000 as of 2016.  That is 0.001% of the global Muslim population.  1 person in 100,000.  And you want to condemn people on those numbers?  Use that figure to generalize?

Overwhelmingly the victims of terror groups like ISIS, who claim Islam, are Muslims themselves.  Among Muslims there is little support for such groups and for acts of terror generally.  See here, here and here.

So what is the really going on with the impulse to paint all Muslims, the entire Islamic world, with the same brush because of the actions of a fraction of 1% of them, while insisting on treating men such as Anders Behring Breivik as anomalous individuals?  What failure in thinking is at the root of this hypocrisy?

They are terrorists!

Well so were members of the FLQ and they were Canadian.  Quebecers weren’t painted with the “terrorist” brush for the actions of the FLQ.  Instead, the FLQ was treated as a terrorist group.

According to the Centre for Research on Globalization, non-Muslims have committed 90% of all terrorist attacks in America. But by focusing too much on Muslim people generally, we ignore the real threat.  Extremists of all shapes, sizes and religions.

Terrorism is a real and serious threat.  All of our efforts should be focused sharply on minimizing and eliminating that threat, not on helping to increase the threat.

By condemning Muslims generally and focusing on the entire group, you are doing good work for groups like ISIS (Daesh) who are better able to recruit people who feel disenfranchised and who believe that they are targeted and hated by non-Muslims.  So, you know, good job there…

The solution is to ban religion!

Banning religion all together is not the solution to violence and conflict.  It’s really naive to believe that eliminating religion is going to bring peace to the world.  Whatever your beliefs, and whether or not you disagree with religion generally or a particular religion specifically, religions provide their benefits.  They provide community, support and togetherness, expressions and sharing of values, and other benefits to diverse communities.

More than this though, is that religions tend to be very personal and deeply ingrained and are not going to disappear any time soon.

The truth is that humans get involved in violence and conflict for complex reasons but primarily due to imbalances in power and self-interest and humans will use whatever means necessary to justify the violence and conflict.  We have hurt each other over differences in politics (are we going to ban politicians?), skin colour, gender, sexuality, culture, one side has more resources and we feel entitled to them… We have used and manipulated all manner of things to justify our misbehaviour – from religion to science.

Science, which can hardly be banned, has been twisted and perverted to justify eugenics programs, forced sterilization, injecting syphilis into unsuspecting people and other human experiments, and in case anyone is forgetting, the extermination of Jews and other folks during the Holocaust.  But, we can keep the good science and reject the bad, you say?  Okay, then if you’re going to keep the science baby, why must the religion baby be thrown out with the bathwater?

Banning religion would not have stopped Anders Behring Breivik, the Quebec mosque attacker or … deep breath in, Islamic extremists.  Extremism would find its way out with or without religion.  Without religion, it would just find another excuse to justify itself.

For those interested in understanding why we fight a little more, there are endless materials about the nature and causes of conflict available in libraries and on the internet.  I will try to compile a thorough reading list and share it soon.  Let’s get to some of the other myths, shall we?

Muslims demanded that pork be removed from schools and restaurants because it offends them!

There is no credible report of Muslims demanding the removal of pork from any place in Canada.  There are reports that have been thrown up on social media that have been proven untrue.

The fact is there is halal food available in many groceries and restaurants, halal meals available in schools that have Muslim children.  In the case of the schools, there is a legal requirement to accommodate children of many faiths, as explained earlier.  In the case of every thing else, businesses cater to their markets.  That is what businesses do – cater to their markets.  It’s how they stay in business, generate revenue and create jobs.  Whether it be SuperStore selling halal lamb in their stores (which also sell pork) to specialty shops in areas more densely populated with Muslims having halal grocers.  It is no different than having kosher stores and restaurants that serve the Jewish community, and vegetarian stores and restaurants that serve the Sikh and Hindu communities.  Or even religious stores that sell items specifically for any religious group.

So relax, if you’re a pork eater, your pork is safe… and by that I mean available because you know… it’s still pork.

I can’t walk around covering my face and committing crimes!

No, you can’t.  Neither can anyone else.  Covering your face for the purposes of helping you conceal your identity while you commit a crime is a separate offence set out in the Criminal Code.  That law applies to everyone, no matter what religion or lack thereof.  Being covered with a burqa?  Not a crime all by itself.

I can’t even say “Merry Christmas” because it offends them!

Nope.  There is no war on Christmas.

You can say “Merry Christmas”.   You can say “Happy Holidays”, “Happy Kwanzaa”, “Happy Holi”, “Seasons Greetings”  or any number of seasonal greetings that you wish.  However, governing bodies, which are rightly secular, have determined that they will say “Happy holidays” for the most part.  It’s not because other terms might offend someone.  It is because the term Happy Holidays is inclusive and recognizes that in the late part of the year, there are many, many important holidays for a diverse population.  Also, as an employer no governing body is able to force an employee to greet people with any religious greeting whatsoever or force them to celebrate any religious holiday.

I am Sikh.  If you say “Merry Christmas” to me, I might well say it back to you though I don’t celebrate the holiday.  More likely, I will say “Happy Holidays”.  In speaking with friends of mine, the unanimous consensus is that you can say whatever greeting you like and no-one will take offence but you should never be forced to greet others with a particular greeting.  We all, with our diverse faiths and no faith, understand the greeting to intend good wishes and warm greetings during the holiday season.

Further, we have been unable to find any credible report of anyone in Canada taking offence if you say “Merry Christmas” to them.   The perceived offence seems to be defensiveness on the part of folks who celebrate Christmas (in response to governing bodies and other employers becoming more inclusive) and not the other way around.  Demanding that it be said in return, however, that’s an entirely different story.

So relax and enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate and don’t be upset if someone greets you with “Happy Holidays”.  No-one at all is trying to take Christmas away from you.

M-103 will criminalize people for criticizing Islam!  There goes our freedom of speech!

M-103 which was approved last week by the federal government does not criminalize anything.  It is not a law and does not create any new laws.  Please read the text of the non-biding motion that calls on the government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”.   It further asks the government to collect data on hate crime and consider what it can do to quell an increasing public climate of hate.

It’s not law and it came with a lot of political game playing and posturing from the parties.  It’s one of those things that though well intended, became so politicized that it caused needless division.  Read here, here, here and here.

Here’s the thing folks.  Discrimination against Muslims and any other religious group is already illegal in most ways.  Hate crimes are covered in the Criminal Code by providing for more serious sentences for crimes that are motivated by hate.  Your speech, if it does not amount to hate speech or inciting a riot, is still protected by the Charter (as is speech which calls racist speech and propaganda out for what it is).  Quelling the public climate of fear and hate which seems currently aimed at Muslims but has been pointed at others before and will find a new target again… that is the responsibility of governments.  Governments have a vested interested and in my opinion, an obligation to those they serve, in ensuring that people live safely and peacefully together.  When politicians don’t, there is always an underlying reason for why they are attempting to create, allow or exacerbate divisions.

But Sharia Law!

Okay.  What is Sharia Law?  It’s quite odd to me that of all those who rail against Sharia Law, most have not been able to define it.  They can use the term as a scare tactic though.  In the recent kerfuffle over non-scary M-103, we heard people saying that its a slippery slope to Sharia Law.  It seems anything that has to do with Muslims is a slippery slope to Sharia Law.

Sharia Law takes different forms in different locations.  Why?  Because laws are made to suit the ruling classes of the places where they are enacted so they are anything but consistent.  Sharia Law generally are the laws set out in the Qur’an, the Sunnah (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) and the Hadith (the collection of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad which includes the Sunnah) and fatwas or rulings by Islamic scholars.  Like any other system of laws they are meant to cover things like inheritance, marriage, divorce, what constitutes a serious crime  (“hadd”) and what is less serious (“tazir”) but Sharia Law is also meant to guide Muslims in leading their daily lives.  Sharia scholars may be consulted with questions by Muslims, to help them ensure that they remain in line with their faith.

In the West, Sharia Law is associated with harsh laws such as amputation and stoning but remains little understood.

Jewish people have a set of religious laws called the Halakha, which also includes stoning, decapitation, burning and strangulation as methods of capital punishment.  Just as with Sharia Law, Halakha is treated differently in different places by different groups. And Christians had their own Biblical laws, which were also harsh.

Realistically, we are unlikely to adopt any Sharia Law in Canada.  The development of law in Canada has been away from religious law and toward secular, inclusive laws that respect the rights of all people.  Where laws are religiously oriented these days, they are meant to protect the personal beliefs and practices of an individual and not impose those on anyone else (for example, allowing a Jehovah’s Witness to refuse blood, accommodating Muslim children so that they can pray on Fridays without leaving school).

And for those of you who just went “what religious law in Canada?”  Laws that prohibited abortion and homosexuality in the past are gone now but were based on Christian beliefs.  Laws that required aboriginal children to attend residential (most often religious based) schools came to being in part with the Christian belief that Christianity must be adopted to civilize others.

For those of you concerned with how Sharia Law may play out in Canada, please read this legal article which covers what happened when Sharia Courts were proposed in Ontario in 2003.

Chill.  What we have in Canada is Canadian law.  Everyone will have their opportunity to say their piece (in any number of ways) regarding proposed changes in the law.  A little hint though:  your input will be best received if it is well-informed, not based on propaganda, and is addressed to the appropriate people.  Fear-mongering by shouting “Sharia Law” at every opportunity – well, that’s just not effective unless your aim is to create division and avoid discussion.

Muslims believe in raping little children!

No, just stop.  This idea began with the story of Aisha, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives.  She was six or seven when she married him, so it is said, and lived in her father’s home until she was nine or ten when she reached puberty, moved to her husband’s home and the marriage was consummated.  However, there is a great deal of question around her actual age with modern scholars suggesting that she would have been somewhere between thirteen and even nineteen when she became engaged.  There is a suggestion that her early age was given falsely to remove any doubt that she was a virgin on marriage.

Practices around the age of consent, arranged marriage, and forced marriage vary from society to society and with the time.  Concepts around consent also vary from society to society and with the time.  These concepts and practices have less to do with religion than they do with how any particular culture views the status of women and other factors like local tradition, life expectancy at the time.  Religion is just one factor which, again, is often twisted to justify the ends sought.   The Qur’an itself has no set age for marriage but does talk about not consummating a marriage until the female is physically prepared for sexual relations.  In the Bible, Rebbecah was married to Isaac at 3 years old, and King Amon was married at 14.  These questions all make the issues around cultural practices very complicated.  We are not going to get into what happens elsewhere in this blog today except to say that laws relating to the age of marriage, the age of consent and sexual assault are improving globally according the data from the United Nations.  Saudi Arabia reports that the average age of a female on a first marriage is now on par with the United States, at approximately 26.  What we can say is that none of this determines what any particular Muslim believes nor can we say that Muslims as a group believe in raping children.  That is a massive, ridiculous leap.

Just as we cannot say that all Christians believe in raping children because of the actions of some paedophilic priests, or the teachings of extreme Christians who advocate for marrying as young as possible to prevent premarital sex.   We also cannot say that all Latin American folks believe in raping children though 29% of girls there are married before the age of majority (see Child Marriage) or that married men generally should be condemned because almost half of the women who are murdered globally are killed by their husbands.  Those leaps would be just as tenuous.  So why are we taking these leaps when it comes to Muslims?

In Canada, young children are protected by the various Marriage Acts of the provinces and territories, the Criminal Code  and other laws, from early marriage (for example, 16 is the youngest you can be married in Ontario with parental consent), sexual assault (the age of consent is 16 generally, though it can be as low as 14 if the other party is close in age, and 18 in other specific circumstances), and forced marriage.  There is no exception for custom, tradition or religion.  That is the law of the land and is enforced, though enforcement comes with a variety of difficulties that cross cultural and religious lines.

Concerns around the safety of women and children are obviously legitimate, but the focus should be on those concerns and how best to address them and not on condemning an entire class of people.

They should fit it and conform to our customs and values!

What customs and values are those, my friend?  Canada is a mosaic and not a melting pot, so pray tell me what customs are we talking about?  And maybe also tell me about the time that you and/or your ancestors arrived in North America and conformed to the customs and values of the people who were living here.

Canada has a wealth of customs and a diverse set of values.  That’s the beauty of a free country.  It’s what allows you to be you, me to be me, and everyone else to be just who they are.  So long as your not committing a crime, infringing on another’s personal rights and freedoms, or causing harm to another you, and me, and every Canadian should feel safe and secure in going about their lives without hate.

Why don’t they stand up and condemn the terrorists? 

They do.  Do a quick check on Google, see this website at muslimscondemn.com and read the reports that I’ve provided above.  Muslims condemn terrorists and terrorist acts on a regular basis.  Many imams have spoken out.  Many, many people of Islamic faith stand side by each with others to condemn terrorism and terrorist acts.  Many have shown up to help when things have gone wrong.  Many have put their own lives on the line to fight ISIS, to rescue people caught up in the fighting, to help others flee ISIS held territory to safety.  Unfortunately, when they are the victims of the terror, they don’t seem to get the same level of support.

Now do you think posting some ugly meme condemning all Muslims is the same thing as standing up and condemning terrorists?  That it’s the same as doing something about it?  It’s not.