Review: Meeting The Neighbours

By 2021 one of the nation’s largest observant religious groups will follow the Koran. Canadian Muslims already outnumber Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Mennonites, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Within seven years they will outnumber Anglicans and United Church members.

Professor Abdolmohammad Kazemipur, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, asks The Muslim Question: how exactly will this work out? Never before in Canadian history has national life been directed in no small part by Muslims. For generations officialdom frankly considered the group irrelevant; in 1944 the Dominion Bureau of Statistics deleted “Muslim” from its census questionnaire. “Canada’s encounter with Muslims is unlike that of any other major immigrant-receiving countries,” he writes. “It has a very short history with no colonial past, and Canada has a Muslim population that is both diverse and carefully selected.”

Dr. Kazemipur is originally from Iran. The Muslim Question is candid and compelling. It chronicles a society grappling with a fundamental change. Note Kazemipur’s plea for his co-religionists to be freed from hectoring: “The amount of media coverage they receive is a distinct feature of the lives of Canadian Muslims,” he writes; “One find’s one faith community and identity almost constantly under discussion, mostly in a negative way.”

In evidence Kazemipur cites the Herouxville Town Charter, a snide proclamation endorsed by six Québec municipalities in the manner of the Red Deer Legion that once insisted Sikhs remove their “hats” as a sign of respect for the Queen. Among the Charter’s declarations:

  • •“We consider that killing women in public beatings or burning them alive are not part of our standards of life”;
  • •“We listen to music, we drink alcoholic beverages in public or private places, we dance and at the end of every year we decorate a tree with balls and tinsel and some lights. This is normally called ‘Christmas decorations’”;
  • •“You may not hide your face as to be able to identify you while you are in public. The only time you may mask or cover your face is during Halloween”;
  • •“No law or work condition imposes the employer to supply a place of prayer”;
  • •“If our children eat meat for example, they don’t need to know where it came from or who killed it. Our people eat to nourish the body not the soul”.

Professor Kazemipur explains: “This perceived unwillingness and/or inability of Muslims to live peacefully in secular democracies is tied to a set of perceptions about Muslims: for example, their strong attachment to their faith, the illiberal contents of their religion, the ‘all-encompassing’ nature of Islam…their proclivity for violence, the predominance of tribal-like loyalties among Muslims, and so on. Such perceptions heavily inform the debates involving Muslims and, from time to time, result in the advocacy of harsh and extreme measures.”

Of course there is more to this. Many Canadians outside the town limits of Herouxville know Muslims as neighbours, co-workers, employers and sweethearts who celebrate traditional Canadian values: hard work; self-reliance; community; family; mind your business and live-and-let-live. “If your fundamental values are not in danger,” one Muslim tells Kazemipur in an interview, “then I think associating yourself with the country you live in is of paramount importance.”

Canada is so big there is room for everybody. This is so fundamental they wrote it into the Constitution.  We have no state religion, no official culture, no prohibition on the right of mobility. Kazemipur’s timely book asks, is Canada big enough for 2 million Muslims, too?

By Holly Doan

The Muslim Question in Canada: A Story Of Segmented Integration by Abdolmohammad Kazemipur; University of British Columbia Press; 224 pages; ISBN 9780-7748-27300; $32.95

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