27 March 2017

- A report by 2014 scholar Tammara Soma

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in Canada, with the number of its adherents projected to triple within 20 years. Those on the far right argue that Islam is incompatible with Western civilizations; they also perpetuate the rhetoric that Daesh/ISIS represents all Muslims. The resulting spike in Islamophobia and anti-immigrant/ anti-refugee rhetoric is threatening the future of global peace. Indeed, even as Canadians pride themselves on pluralism, diversity and inclusion in Canada, on 30 January 2017 six Muslim worshippers were killed at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City. And a recent motion in the House of Commons (Motion 103) proposed by Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid requesting that a Commons committee study Islamophobia led to thousands of hate mails and death threats. 

On 20 March 2017, 2014 Trudeau Scholar Tammara Soma and colleagues convened Sunni, Shi’i Ithna Ashari, Ismaili, and Ahmadi Muslim perspectives at a symposium in Toronto to provide an overview of the tenets of their faith, identify common misconceptions, and share their communities’ contributions to pluralism. Entitled Pluralism and Islam: Muslim Citizenship in Western Liberal Democracies, the symposium set out to explore whether concerns about Islam and the freedom of speech are legitimate, and whether Muslim identities are really in conflict with Canada’s values of pluralism, free speech, and democracy. The event was sponsored by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, Massey College, and the Munk School of Global Affairs (Islamic and Global Affairs Initiative).

Opening remarks were delivered by Richard (Dick) Fadden, former national security advisor to the prime minister of Canada and former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), who emphasized the need for more dialogue and story-sharing by Muslims, especially in times of peace. Fadden also argued that events like the symposium can promote understanding and by extension, national security. Fadden was followed by former senator Lois Wilson, member of the board of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Distinguish Minister in Residence at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto, who spoke of the importance of intra- and inter-faith dialogue and pointed out that people seem easily to understand the diverse nature of Christianity but tend to scapegoat Islam as a monolith. The symposium keynote was delivered by Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies Dr. Shafique Virani, who criticized the ways that Muslims are often framed in the media.

Different Islamic faiths were represented by four faith leaders: Dr. Liyakat Takim, Sharjah Chair in Global Islamic Studies at McMaster (Shia Ithna Ashariyya); Dr. Aman Haji (Ismaili); Amjad Tarsin, a Muslim chaplain at the University of Toronto (Sunni); and Farhan Iqbal, Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (Ahmadi). Also present were former senator and current master of Massey College, the Honourable Hugh Segal; 2014 Trudeau scholar Wendell Adjetey; students; faculty members; and members of the public. The participants discussed jihad, the place of Muslims and Islam in Western liberal democracies, the separation of mosque and state, and a call by the Muslim speakers for voices of reason to challenge both the growing threat of Islamophobia (as exemplified by the Quebec mosque attack) as well as sectarianism within some Muslim communities. The speakers argued that far-right extremism and sectarianism alike threaten pluralism, diversity, and inclusion in Canada.

Another panel featuring international security experts Dr. Aisha Ahmad (assistant professor at the University of Toronto) and Dr. Melissa Finn (political science, University of Waterloo) warned that national security is threatened when governments invest significant sums to support racist and ineffective policies in the name of national security. Examples include racial profiling, banning visitors from majority Muslim countries, and banning hijabs/niqabs. In response, Finn called for reforming the criminal justice system and investing in more community-based programming to help Muslim and non-Muslim wayward youth who might be leaning towards violence to seek a path out of radicalization. Saima Hussain, author of The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim, challenged the trope of the “oppressed Muslim woman,” arguing that Muslim women are fighters not in the physical sense but in that they are outspoken and ready to protect the freedoms afforded to them by Canada’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

According to the symposium’s co-organizer, Rizwan Mohammed of McGill University, the day proved to be the beginning of an important conversation to promote intra and inter-faith dialogue. While the speakers were diverse, and may held diverse theological perspectives, the symposium confirmed the need to protect the value of pluralism enshrined in Canada’s Charter, and affirmed the belief of Muslim faith leaders and Muslim academics that pluralism is a quintessential Islamic value.

Tammara Soma

Tammara is studying the factors that influence food consumption and food wasting in urban Indonesia and ways to end the dumping of food waste in landfills.

2014 Scholars