Canada prides itself in being a diverse country with the greatest number of foreign-born citizens among the G8 countries. The London attack, however, has shone a spotlight on the rising challenge of Islamophobia in the country
When Iqra Khalid, the Pakistani-Canadian member of the Canadian parliament introduced the motion in the parliament for condemnation of Islamophobia and a climate of fear and hate against Muslims in Canada since 9/11, she faced allegations of being “fanatic” and “terrorist” among others. She received over 50,000 emails, including some that were highly offensive, Islamophobic, xenophobic, racist, threatening, and had sexist comments. Even some Muslim immigrant groups disapproved of it as a “stunt” to gain projection.
There was a surge in Islamophobia in North America soon after 9/11. Despite several incidents of hate crime against Muslims, everyone other than the victims seemed willfully oblivious until three generations of a Muslim family of Pakistani origin were killed on June 6, in London city of Ontario. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Islamic faith of the victim family was the cause of their killing and said “Islamophobia is real, racism is real”.
On January 29, 2017, in a mass shooting at Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, six worshippers were killed and five others were injured. On July 13, 2021, a resident of Cambridge hurled death threats and anti-Islamic slurs at the wife and daughter of a prayer leader in Hamilton city of Ontario. On June 25, a Muslim man was attacked with a knife and his beard was forcibly cut in an attack for being Muslim in Saskatoon city of Saskatchewan. An Ahmadiyya worship place was vandalised with a hate symbol of Swastika on June 15 in Edmonton. While in the recent incident of Islamophobia, an Ahmadi worship place in the city of Cambridge was broken into during broad day light on July 14, 2021. Mubashar Numan, the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya Cambridge president tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that the accused damaged their property including kitchen appliances, turned their library items upside down and completely destroyed their CCTV recording system. He says that they took ice cream from the fridge and sat around the dining table to eat during the vandalism spree.
Lal Khan Malik, the president of Jammat-i-Ahmadiyya Canada, in a press statement termed it “an act of hate” that resulted damage of tens of thousands of dollars.
On Saturday, the police announced charges of break and enter, possession of stolen property, property damage over $5,000 as well as Controlled Drug and Substances Act offences against a 35-year-old Cambridge resident. Knowing about the accused and his motive behind the incident, the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya announced pardon for the accused and removed all press statement from its website related to this incident.
Before the London attack, Muslim groups with doctrinal differences were not condemning Islamophobic incidents against each other. Due to doctrinal differences, different Muslim immigrant groups do not mix with one another or agree on much. They celebrate Eids and start the month of fasting on different days. Although Ahmadis have been issuing condemnations of Islamophobic attacks on Muslims in Canada with the rise of Islamophobic incidents in Canada this is the first time any Muslim body has issued condemnation over vandalism of an Ahmadi worship place. The Coalition of Muslim Women (Kitchener Waterloo) in a statement said “We strongly condemn the hateful attack on the Baitul Kareem mosque in Cambridge. We stand by the members and worshippers of the mosque and offer unconditional support to them to get through this very traumatising period”, it added.
Muslim families have expressed a sense of fear and insecurity due to the recent uptick in Islamophobic incidents. Muhammad Saleem, a Pakistani Canadian, says that after the sharp increase in Islamophobic attacks after the fatal London attack, he is very much concerned about safety of his family, let alone the security of mosques. He, however, expresses satisfaction over the response of the government after Islamophobic attacks saying that not only local members of parliament but also the prime minister had categorically condemned Islamophobia.
He says that for an Islamophobe or a xenophobe, all Muslims and mosques are alike. They would not ask about sect before attacking, he adds.
Jenkin Philip in God’s Continent says that Muslims, particularly those in the West, are considered as uniformly pious, primitive, fundamentalist and docile to clerical whims. Some of the Western scholars wrongfully define Muslims as homogeneous. Jenkin quotes Bawer defining Muslims in the West as: “The people outside of them were living in democracy, but the people in them were living in a theocracy, ruled by imams and elders who preached contempt for the host society and its values. They were against secular law, against pluralism, against freedom of speech and religion, and against sexual equality. Husbands believed it was their sacred right to beat and rape their wives. Parents practiced honour killing and female genital mutilation. Unemployment and crime rates were through the roof.” Rogers Brubaker’s observation in Note on the Study of Muslims in Europe is pertinent to mention here; he highlights the fact that Muslims are heterogeneous and not a homogeneous monolith. Jose Casanova, too, finds Bawer’s definition of Muslims removed from reality. He says the issues in Muslim societies are more social, economic and cultural in nature and not religious per se and thus cannot be associated with Muslim societies having different ethnicities and social backgrounds. In Reza Pankhurst’s The Inevitable Caliphate? he too explains how Islam is decentred and dispersed as a “collection of little Islams” having no central living authority unlike the Church.
Casanova explains the similarity of portrayals of Islam to Catholicism in the past as he critiques the “fundamentalist”, “anti-modern” and “incompatible with democracy in North America today” depictions of Islam. He also notes that Protestants are fuelling anti-Muslim discourses, and the most alarming manifestation of this emerging anti-Muslim discourse is the series of blasphemous and defamatory literature in Christian bookstores of North America.
After 9/11, a community-based study of Canadian Muslim women reported the fear of a backlash, and concerns for personal safety and the future of their children in Canada. The participants raised concerns about their sense of belonging in Canada based on their religion.
Canada prides itself in having the highest number of foreign-born citizens than in any other Group of Eight (G8) countries. By opening doors to immigrants and people from persecuted communities across the world like Ahmadis, Ismailis, Bahaiis, Rohingias, Jehova’s Witness, Sikhs, Mennonites, Syrians among others, Canada has created a society of mixed religions. It aims to position itself as a country which respects the religious and cultural values of diverse segments of its society, having the separation of state and religion at the core of its policy. However, Islam is often at the centre of prejudiced and unfairly controversial debates.
Javeria Toheed, another Pakistani Canadian Muslim, says her family came here a decade ago to make Canada their home but recent Islamophobic incidents have compelled them to give a second thought to their plan. She says that she is worried about the future of her children who would go to universities next year. She says that although at public level they are treated equally, systemic racism and anti-Islam rhetoric are palpable.
The writer is a journalist and studied religion, culture and global justice