Developer behind ‘Muslim housing project’ in Montreal says anyone with shared values welcome

The latest political debate over integration in Quebec, where PM Couillard has appropriately rejected such separate housing developments:

At a time when restricting religious attire is a recurring theme in Quebec political debate and when some municipalities have blocked proposals for new mosques, the proposed housing project could be seen as a defensive gesture.

But Warda said that is not the case.

“I didn’t hear people say, ‘OK, we have to go and defend ourselves against these nasty Québécois by going and living alone.’ That is not at all my motivation,” he said in an interview.

What he has heard are people who have been renting for 30 years and wish they had something to show for all the money. Although views differ about what Shariah law dictates for Muslims living in a society where mortgages are the norm, many refuse to take out loans that charge interest.

“A lot of Muslims have problems with the idea of interest, which in Arabic is called riba,” Warda said. “That means if you pay more than you were loaned, you are doing something that is very, very, very, very bad from the Muslim point of view.”

He said interest can be circumvented thorough an arrangement in which a house is bought by the bank and then the resident buys it back over time, paying a premium that is considered the bank’s profit, and not interest.

“Let us call it a technicality, for me as an accountant, but for the believers it is not a technicality,” Warda said. Similar arrangements have been used at Muslim housing developments in Ontario and Alberta.

We are here in Canada. We came of our own will. Our intention was not to come to isolate ourselves from society

He said non-Muslims would be welcome to move into his project of prefabricated homes, but they would have to share the values of their Muslim neighbours.

“You don’t drive drunk on the street. If you want to drink alcohol, you drink it in your house,” he said. Women could choose whether to wear the headscarf but they could not walk around in a halter-top and shorts.

“There must be some modesty in the way you dress. We don’t want women living there going half-naked down the streets. We don’t like that,” he said. “If they want to do that, let them go and live in downtown Montreal.”

He has scheduled a meeting Friday evening at the Brossard mosque, the Islamic Community Centre of South Shore, to see if there are enough takers. He said he needs a critical mass of 50 potential buyers before the land can be purchased.

But he has heard opposition closer to home, including from the imam of the Brossard mosque, Foudil Selmoune.

“We are here in Canada. We came of our own will,” Selmoune said in an interview. “Our intention was not to come to isolate ourselves from society or from the community.” He said it would be more constructive for Warda to use his financing proposal to help Muslims buy existing homes rather than creating a Muslim neighbourhood.

The social climate in Quebec can be difficult for Muslims, Selmoune acknowledged.

“It doesn’t mean we have to hide ourselves and get away from the challenges we are going through,” he said. “We have to face them.”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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