Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – Sheema Khan

Another good column by Khan, presenting the positive side of Canadian Muslims:

Jan. 29 will mark one year from the evening that six Muslim worshippers were massacred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Nineteen were injured, children were left fatherless and wives widowed.

The atrocity resulted in an outpouring of support for traumatized Muslims across the country. That did not last long, however. Human-rights activist Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University, have chronicled hateful incidents directed at Muslims during the rest of 2017. As they wrote in an opinion piece: “It was as though the Jan. 29 killings had never happened.” In one example, students at a Mississauga elementary school were subject to religious epithets from demonstrators denouncing Islam and prayer rooms. The year concluded with Muslim worshippers in Quebec worried once again about their safety. Quebec-based TVA falsely reported that a Montreal mosque barred female construction workers near its premises on Fridays during prayer sessions, leading to alleged hate-filled invective and death threats directed at the mosque. The network later apologized for the baseless report.

Surely these isolated incidents do not reflect the majority view. Or do they?

In November, the Angus Reid Institute released a poll indicating that nearly half of Canadians believe that “the presence of Islam in their country’s public life is damaging.” No other religion faces such widespread contempt. Let it sink in. If you do not hold a negative view of Islam, then someone in your immediate circle does.

Yet the perception of Islam is so different from the lived reality of Canadian Muslims. Some have a cultural affiliation to the faith. For others, the attachment is deeper. Across the diverse spectrum of belief, it can be argued that basic Islamic teachings contribute richly to our collective social fabric.

Sadaqah (charity) is ingrained in Islam. Muslims perennially organize drives to clothe, shelter and feed fellow Canadians. Mohamad Fakih answered a call from fellow business person Jennifer Evans to provide hotel rooms and meals for 18 homeless people in Toronto during the recent deep freeze. Islamic Relief Canada, a national charity, has launched a similar campaign.

Muslims have responded to natural disasters (e.g., flooding in Quebec and Ontario and fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.) with their time, money and emotional support. They have raised funds for hospitals and joined neighbours to clean parks. Last year, Ottawa’s Muslim community quickly collected $23,000 to fund extracurricular activities and resources for public schools lacking a school council.

The Islamic pillar of fasting, observed during the month of Ramadan, inculcates discipline, empathy, gratefulness and generosity. This year, take the opportunity to join in the sunset meal (which ends the daily fast) and experience the beauty of human fellowship.

The Koran states that saving one life is akin to saving all of humanity. In 2017, two Canadian Muslims personified this noble teaching.

Aymen Derbali directly faced the gunman at the Quebec City mosque to divert him from killing others. He was shot multiple times and lay in a coma for two months. The father of three is now paralyzed, yet grateful for the generosity of Canadians in helping him find a home that accommodates his disability.

Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old student at Brock University, was shot to death outside an Islamic centre as he tried to help a stranger who was being attacked by two men. The good Samaritan had just left the centre after participating in a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Another important Islamic tenet is forgiveness. Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., was vandalized in 2016 by three men, including Abraham Davis, who later wrote a letter of apology to the mosque from jail. The mosque board advocated forgiveness and opposed the charges against him. Nonetheless, Mr. Davis was fined and ordered to stay away from the mosque and its members. He posted a gracious note of thanks on Facebook. One member replied: “Bro move on with life we forgave you from the first time you apologized don’t let that mistake bring you down. I speak for the whole Muslim community of fort smith we love you and want you to be the best example in life we don’t hold grudges against anybody!” The story didn’t end there. Unable to pay his fine, Mr. Davis was set to enter jail for six years. The mosque intervened and paid the full amount. The members want him to succeed.

In the coming weeks, mosques across the country will hold open houses. Take an opportunity to peek in. Get to know Muslims who are your neighbours, co-workers and fellow Canadians.

And then ask yourself if Islam is damaging to Canadian society.

via Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – The Globe and Mail


The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class: Martin Patriquin

Another reminder by Patriquin of one of convenient forgetfulness:

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, with camera in hand, I walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Less than 48 hours before, a gunman had walked into the centre, killing six and injuring 19. Once the police had finished their work, mosque administrators opened the doors to journalists, if only to show firsthand the often-visceral consequences of unchecked hatred and ignorance.

It was like the aftermath of war. Men and women parishioners wandered around, dazed and weeping. Bullets, dozens of them, had splintered drywall and shattered glass. And blood was everywhere: on the carpet and prayer rugs, on the Linoleum floor outside the main room, caking the stairs to the basement and circling a storage closet drain. It smeared windows and pooled in sinks. I left with it on my boots.

‘Senseless violence’

The province’s political leaders were immediately and appropriately sombre. Quebecers “must avoid words and gestures that separate, divide and attract hate,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. François Legault, leader of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, expressed his solidarity in the face of “senseless violence” with Quebec’s Muslim community. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the most by stating the obvious. “It’s not easy to be a Muslim in the 21st century,” he told reporters.

If time weakens emotions and fades memories, the year since the shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class. Last week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia. In Quebec, the idea of questioning exactly why the shooting took place was largely met with shrugs or worse.

Both the PQ and the CAQ quickly opposed such a thing. “I think we’ve debated the divisions surrounding the presence of religion enough in Quebec,” PQ MNA Agnès Maltais told Le Devoir. The governing Liberals, who harvest the vast majority of the province’s Muslim vote come election day, utterly waffled on the idea.

Once aghast at the many Muslim victims who had done nothing but gather for prayers, these politicians now declared the deliberate targeting of Muslims passé — an isolated incident perpetuated by a crazy man. “Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic,” said a CAQ spokesperson. (Only Québec solidaire, the Montreal-centric lefty redoubt, came out in favour of the NCCM proposal.)

Clearly, the amnesia stretches beyond the last year. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Like Alexandre Bissonnette, the man currently on trial for last year’s mosque massacre, Lépine was more than just a crazy man with a gun. He harboured a deep resentment of women, which he weaponized and made homicidal in the classrooms and corridors of Polytechnique.

The Polytechnique shootings sparked a societal debate in the province about gender, feminism and the extent of institutional misogyny in Quebec society, purportedly one of the more equalitarian in the country. It was a painful but wholly necessary exercise, one commemorated by the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see why most Quebec politicians are ambivalent at best about a similar exercise for Muslims in Quebec and beyond. Lépine blamed feminists for his problems. Bissonnette left an online trail of anti-Muslim rhetoric before the mosque shootings. And as with Polytechnique 28 years earlier, the mosque shootings were but the bloodiest example of institutional enmity against an identifiable group.

Crimes targeting Muslims

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In Quebec City, crimes targeting Muslims have doubled since the mosque shootings, according to the city’s police chief.

Apart from being alarming, such statistics are fodder for Muslim extremists, who use society-wide anti-Muslim animus as a recruiting tool. If this is the case, these extremists have a veritable wellspring of recruiting material in Quebec City’s many populist (and enduringly popular) radio stations, which — with a few notable exceptions — remain largely anti-Muslim and anti-immigration a year after the mosque shootings.

A week after the deadly shooting at a mosque, hundreds took to the streets of Quebec City to honour the victims. 1:54

For its politicians, perhaps it’s less about amnesia than Quebec’s own brand of crass identity politics. The three main political parties are locked in a battle for the hearts and votes of Quebec’s lily-white, lapsed Catholic hinterland in Quebec City and beyond — everywhere, it seems, save for Montreal. The dynamics are such that even the Liberals, who have a lock on the non-Francophone vote, can demonize Montreal’s multicultural reality.

In 2013, the PQ government attempted to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone drawing a government paycheque. Though it failed, the ensuing Liberal government last year passed a ban on face coverings for anyone giving or receiving a government service. Only Québec solidaire protested the law’s blatant targeting of Quebec’s Muslim minority. Everyone else said it didn’t go far enough.

A year ago, these very politicians professed shock and sadness at a murderous hate crime perpetrated on their watch. Demonstrably, as Quebec approaches a fall election, political reality has pushed this emotion aside. Maybe they didn’t forget the tragedy. Maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of the reasons behind it.

via The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class | CBC News

Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security

Good example of communities working together even if the circumstances which compelled this cooperation are unfortunate:

From the outside, the mosque is an unremarkable, warehouse-like building in an industrial pocket of central Mississauga. Away from city lights, a few streets down from the highway, its doors are always open, the Islamic school brimming with women and children during the day, the echoes of Arabic prayer quietly streaming in its halls.

Jeffrey Brown, an Orthodox Jew from Thornhill, spent the last day of Hanukkah there meeting with three police officers, five Muslim men, and a Muslim woman. In December, the unlikely congregation had gathered in the teal-coloured carpeted prayer hall to talk about restoring a sense of security in their places of worship.

For more than 10 years, Brown has served as a community security volunteer at his synagogue. He has developed relationships with police, created a pool of volunteer patrols, and established a security infrastructure.

He’s clear-eyed about the need for security. “People in a house of worship have to be comfortable where they are,” Brown said. “They should be able to concentrate on prayers and know if something happens, plans are in place.”

But until last year’s mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, Brown had not had any close interactions with the Muslim community.

Where a shocked nation saw the faces of the six Muslim men who were killed there, Brown saw an open and unguarded door.

“There was nothing there,” said Brown. “No one there.”

For months after the shooting, a single-shooter scenario played in Mohammed Hashim’s mind every time walked into a mosque. He imagined where a gunman would come in from, where the children would hide, where the exits were.

Hashim is a crisis manager for the Canadian Muslim community — stepping in to help whenever, and wherever, they need it. He went to Quebec City the day after the shooting to witness “everyone’s worst nightmare.”

In May, he attended a rare interfaith event for the first time. Held at Brown’s synagogue, Hashim walked through metal detectors, as people with walkie-talkies stood inside, and police cars stood outside.

“I thought it was overdone at first — whoa, it’s Thornhill, not a war zone,” said Hashim. “But then, as I started thinking about it, it felt like deterrence. There was a sense of prevention conveyed to those who seek to do harm.”

Brown said that there was chatter about protests in the lead-up to the interfaith event, so he told his police contacts and made the necessary arrangements.

“Critical to community security is knowing who to work with in the police department,” said Brown. “This requires proactive work before incidents happen. It’s a two-way street — you have to learn about the police while they learn about the community.”

At the interfaith dinner, Brown surprised Hashim by offering to share his experience with the Muslim community.

“I don’t think we could’ve gotten this level of help from anyone other than the Jewish community because I don’t think any other faith group has felt under siege as much as them,” said Hashim.

“They’re so advanced in their state of security that it’s only natural that it was someone like Jeffrey,” he said.

“It’s his job now: To teach Muslims how to do security.”


Until last year, Atif Malik had never spoken to an Orthodox Jew. When Hashim persuaded him to meet Brown, Malik hesitated. He didn’t know how to speak to someone from the Jewish community. He didn’t know how he’d react if the interaction didn’t go well, if one of them got offended.

Hashim, a big brother figure to Malik, 32, connected the two because of how similar they are. Both are members of the legal profession with a desire to help their respective communities, and to learn. Malik could be the Muslim counterpart to Brown, said Hashim.

Malik’s hometown of Mississauga has one of the largest Muslim populations in Ontario. He calls in “an incubator” that has largely insulated him from racism.

After 9/11, the mosques he attended made a conscious effort to open themselves, to ensure they remained part of the community and not boxes of seclusion. Even if there was only one person inside, the doors to his mosques were always unlocked.

The Quebec mosque shooting shattered his incubator. Imams and mosque volunteers began talking about cameras and protocols.

All of this feels like “a conversation that should’ve happened a long time ago,” said Malik, who feels guilty that he didn’t prompt them earlier. “I question now why I didn’t make the effort to reach out and make connections with other communities, regardless of faith group,” he said. “Could we help them? Could they help us?”

He found empathy in Brown, who spoke about the same fears and complicated emotions. The Jewish community “has gone through a learning curve that we haven’t gone through,” Malik said. “Now, they’re handing us the information — here’s how you do it, if you have any questions come back to us, our doors aren’t closed. It’s mind-blowing.”

Now, they are working together on common security practices to be shared with all mosques, beginning with three in Mississauga and one in Brampton.

Neither will specify the practices being discussed or prevented, for fear of compromising their efficacy. Security is dealt with as quietly as possible, said Brown, apparent only to the person who wants to cause harm.

In this way, both men have become crisis coordinators for their communities, someone who, in the event something happened, would have police on speed dial and a response at the ready.


“Here in Canada, we have a complacency when it comes to houses of worship,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute. “We just don’t believe something like [the Quebec mosque shooting] can happen here.”

Farber was one of the first to respond to the shooting, calling imams and volunteers like Hashim to offer his condolences and support. The former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress oversaw security and safety for the Jewish community for 30 years, beginning in 1986.

In the 1980s and 1990s, having a security officer at large congregations of events was discomforting — an uncomfortable sign that the world had changed, and places of worship weren’t the sacrosanct sanctuaries that could be left unguarded.

Events like the Quebec mosque shooting change everything, said Farber. “The place no longer feels the way it should feel. Whether you ever regain that sense of safety, I don’t know.”

“People come to mosques to find peace, but that sanctuary was violated in the most horrific way,” said Hashim. “I think people saw that as a violation of one of our most basic provisions and rights, which is the right to practice freely and safely.”

Watching and facilitating the Muslim and Jewish community come together with police organisations to try and regain a sense of safety, however, has been a unique experience for Farber and Hashim. “I suppose between every bleak, dark avenue there is a pinpoint of light, said Farber. “This terrible tragedy brought together two communities that are united by hateful acts against them.”

Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He's training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.
Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He’s training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.  (RICHARD LAUTENS)  

Such acts can be deadly, as the Quebec mosque shooting, or just a series of less threatening acts: Putting bacon on a mosque’s door handle. Carving swastikas onto a synagogue. Graffiti of hateful messages.

Rabbi John Moscowitz, who also reached out to imams in the wake of the shooting, believes that social bonds constitute a different type of security. “When you can trust people of different faiths from you and stand together in the wake of something like the mosque attack, it deepens relationships,” he said. “And that deepens the bonds of trust, commonality and brotherhood.”

“Sometimes security feels less secure because you’re aware of why security is there” said Moscowitz. Community bonds, he added, are an “antidote to loss of faith” that heal.

At that first conversation in Mississauga, the unlikely group of one Jew, six Muslims and three police officers shook hands and promised that the conversation would continue.

“Both our faiths and our country demand a sense of respect and friendship amongst peoples,” said Hashim, “and I don’t think I witnessed that so clearly as I did that night.”

“This is about new communities getting established and getting comfortable,” said Brown. “We too were once strangers in a strange land.”

“When we had that meeting, we felt God’s presence.”

via Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security | Toronto Star

A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste: Regg Cohn

Good profile by Regg Cohn on the Muslim community’s successful effort to increase political participation and voting (Liberals won a massive majority of the Muslim vote in the 2015):

Every political party gets out the vote on voting day.

Their vote. And only their vote.

GOTV, as it’s called, is an axiom of democracy. And yet the better that parties get at GOTV, the less democratic the turnout tends to be. From one election to the next, a political movement masters the technique or musters the technology to outhustle all rivals on voting day. But do we really want elections decided on the strength of a well-oiled electoral machine rather than a well-honed democratic impulse?

What if we got out the full vote (GOTFV) with a full pull — motivated not by partisanship but participation?

That’s what the Canadian Muslim Vote tried in the last federal election — and plans again for the coming provincial ballot. Mindful that Muslims vote far less than others, the group’s volunteers focused on their own faith group — but without trying to divine anyone’s partisan loyalties.

“We didn’t care who they’d vote for,” said Seher Shafiq, part of the leadership team at the non-partisan, non-profit organization.

As long as they voted for someone. For too long, too many of Canada’s 1.3 million Muslims voted for no one, she told a panel on democratic engagement that I moderated at Ryerson University on the weekend because this issue is crucial for me. Her group tried to understand how Muslim participation in the 2011 election was a mere 35 to 45 per cent in key ridings, compared to the national turnout of 61 per cent.

“We were shocked by this research . . . and we wanted to know why,” Shafiq told a couple of hundred democracy activists at the conference sponsored by Ryerson’s Leadership Lab and the Open Democracy Project.

The reasons were both banal and discouraging; people didn’t know who to vote for, how to vote, how to master the issues, and how to get engaged. In short, how they could make a difference.

Focused mostly on ridings in the Greater Toronto Area — where most volunteers, and most Muslims, happen to live — the group attended hundreds of grassroots events, paid for robocalls, mounted a social media push, and knocked on thousands of doors. Celebrity endorsements were part of the campaign, including Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.

The bigger stars, however, were influential imams at local mosques. Her group persuaded them to praise the virtues of civic engagement and democracy in their regular sermons.

“For the first time ever, people saw the Muslim community was organizing politically,” she told the audience. “We really felt the buzz.”

It added up to a dramatic increase in the Islamic turnout — 79 per cent in the 2015 election versus 45 per cent in the previous vote, according to public opinion research commissioned by the group. In nine GTA ridings targeted by the group, the Islamic turnout averaged 88 per cent.

The Canadian Muslim Vote doesn’t take full credit for the improvement. Community concerns were bubbling up over perceived anti-Islamic rhetoric after the Stephen Harper government talked about banning religious face coverings, and proposed a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line.

But I asked Shafiq if lessons learned from the Muslim mobilization could be transferable to other groups in the next provincial election. She is already comparing notes with Black Vote Canada and other organizations that motivate voters.

“Without talking to them — and having people who look like them talk to them — I don’t think they will be as engaged as they could be.”

Fellow panelist Dave Meslin, a grassroots activist trying to reform the electoral system, dismissed traditional GOTV as “a scam” that merely harasses people on election day, with little evidence that it improves democratic outcomes.

“Are we really building these lists (of supporters) to make sure we increase engagement, or are the lists designed to make sure we don’t pull the wrong people — that the Liberals don’t pull Conservatives, that Conservatives don’t pull New Democrats” he asked rhetorically.

Our third panelist, ex-MP and mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow (full disclosure: like me, she is a visiting professor at Ryerson), talked about the power of motivation in democratic engagement. Participatory movements are fine in theory, but a top-down approach may leave the grassroots as unmoved — and unmotivated — as ever.

“We talk about winning hearts and minds, not minds and hearts,” Chow reminded the activists. “Hearts come first.”

But Shafiq won a round of applause when she projected an image onscreen of her grandmother voting for the first time in the 2015 election at age 85. And then came a public confession from Shafiq about herself — the great persuader.

It turns out that she had never taken an interest in politics before she took on the role with the Canadian Muslim Vote. But at the age of 25 she finally joined her 85-year-old grandmother in focusing on the election, figuring out the issues, and making up her own mind.

Because a vote — from anyone, of any persuasion — is a terrible thing to waste.

via A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste | Toronto Star

How Newfoundlanders are taking a remarkable stand against Islamophobia

Interesting vignette:

Islamophobia haunts the nation, slinking into hearts and minds and laws, and some say if we could just learn from the ethnic diversity of Newfoundland—Newfoundland?—we could become more tolerant, too.

“We wanted to present Newfoundland as a role model,” says Mahmoud Haddara, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, who feels he lives on an anomalous island of peace. “This is what we wanted to tell, the story of Newfoundland.”

Haddara flew to Ottawa in October to testify before the standing committee on systemic racism and religious discrimination, part of the federal government’s attempt to stem bigotry. While Quebec’s Bill 62 proposes to ban people wearing face coverings from using public services, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have instead stood in solidarity with Muslims who live in villages as remote as Nain. They have become so curious about Islam that the one-mosque province must move its overflowing holiday prayers into a hockey arena. Hate crimes still happen, but when other provinces wonder how to promote interfaith understanding, the answer may be blowing in the brisk, Atlantic wind.

“We don’t want this bubble to be contaminated,” says Ayse Akinturk, a colleague of Haddara. “Our only worry is how long are we going to be able to preserve this beautiful experience, whether [or not] it will be spoiled by the outsider negative experience.”

The 3,000 Muslims in the province say they are the only congregation in North America to include both Sunnis and Shias, the two largest sects of Islam. In 1990, St. John’s simply didn’t have the Muslim population to support two mosques, so they created a uniquely diverse hub on Logy Bay Road, where neighbours include a carpet factory and a liquor store.

“I was reared up by my grandparents pretty good,” Ashley Smith of Norman’s Cove told CBC when the local station did an entire series on Islam in the province. Smith has converted to Islam and wears a hijab; and though she still cooks a traditional Jiggs’ dinner, and fish and brewis, she said after her conversion, “I finally feel at peace.”

Muslim immigrants are some of the best-educated citizens in the province. They serve as much-needed doctors in rural areas, engineers for oil rigs, and teachers. Although some Muslims arrived in the 1960s, immigration increased when Newfoundland ended its denominational school system in 1998, the last province to do so. There are now Muslims in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador City, Nain—“they are everywhere,” says Haddara. The RCMP in St. John’s has requested Islam 101 sessions from the Muslim association, which also considers itself a friend of the clergy.

On 9/11, Newfoundland refreshed its code of hospitality as the town of Gander hosted about 6,200 airline passengers from around the world. And when six worshippers were shot and killed in Quebec last year, Newfoundlanders created a human shield around their own mosque in solidarity. “We were praying inside, and all these 1,500 Newfoundlanders were surrounding the mosque and waiting until our prayer was over,” recalls Haddara. “We live in complete confidence and harmony with each other.”

However, the mosque recently received $46,000 from the government for requested security equipment, including surveillance cameras, and research by Jennifer Selby*, an associate professor of religious studies at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, has documented hate crimes including graffiti of racist slurs. Islamophobia does exist.

“We see many narratives of positive navigation and negotiation related to religious difference,” says Selby. “At the same time, micro-aggressions are pervasive and we must become more attuned to the institutional and structural Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racisms within daily life” in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is also discrimination in employment in St. John’s, she notes.

The province is still 97 per cent white and 90 per cent Christian. Among the Muslims Selby talked to, one student from Kuwait was referred to as  “Osama,” and said a professor assumed he would be a devout Muslim and arranged a prayer room for him. Another person arrived for dinner at a local’s house and was served bacon bits.

Locals have also complained that Muslim refugees are draining resources, although one refugee, 14-year-old Mohammad Maarouf, reports an unwavering welcome. He spends time with his friend Connor and by the sea: “We catch herring and catfish and sometimes we catch something called sturgeon,” he says.

Muslims in Newfoundland are not excluded from the tradition of getting screeched in. Instead of drinking rum, Haddara explains, they kiss the obligatory fish, paired with a glass of apple or orange juice.

via Macleans

ICYMI – Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | DW | 03.10.2017

Understandable concerns of German Muslim communities:

On a day celebrating German unity, many Muslims have reason to wonder if “German unity” applies to them in light of recent federal election results. The third strongest party in the Bundestag will be the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party which has rejected the Islamic faith as part of German cultural identity.

October 3 is the country’s national holiday and, for many Germans, just a day to sleep in or earn some extra cash at work. For mosques around the country, however, it’s the day of their national open house: neighbors can take a tour, satisfy their curiosity about Islam and local Muslims and – of course – eat.

To be Muslim and nonpartisan

Indeed the smell of oil and charcoal wafting into the prayer room is the only indication that something different is going on at this Cologne mosque. The plush Bourdeaux carpeting of the sacred space seems to absorb all outside sounds – and our feet – as Tarik Yilmaz and Mustafa Karatas talk community outreach.

“Our religion is at the forefront of our work. Not politics,” Karatas tells DW.

Germany’s mosques began annual open houses in 1997 and have carried forth the tradition ever since. Technically, though, most mosques in Germany are open year round to the public upon appointment

Muslims have become the center of many heated debates over public safety, women’s rights and even loyalty to the German state in recent years. Hence, dispelling misconceptions is one of their priorities. However, they emphasize that this work is nonpartisan, just like their cooperation with local religious groups and charities.

“It’s a mosque community so it’s a good idea not to be politically active,” the board’s representative explains.

Yilmaz, a 27-year-old theologian who recently started working at the primarily Turkish house of worship, agrees: “People come here to pray or because they have friends here and to eat some food. We don’t really talk politics.”

Still, in a community where they have strong partnerships, what do they make of the AfD winning over 9 percent in their constituency? An answer is out of the question.

Feeling the pain of neo-Nazi terrorism

Just a few blocks away from that mosque and theology school in northeastern Cologne is the site of a nailbomb attack perpetrated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU). It was a hit on the Turkish community and an attack on social cohesion and multiculturalism in Cologne.

The wounds of the attack lie much deeper than the shrapnel that left over 20 injured in June 2004. The terrorist attack on Keupstrasse was one of a dozen the NSU carried out between 2000 and 2007. Yet, despite the attackers’ identities being known to police in the late 1990s, it wasn’t until a botched robbery brought the right-wing terror cell to light in 2011 that officials cleared members of the Turkish community of suspicion.

The bomb planted by the NSU sent over 700 nails flying through Keupstrasse. For several years, officials interrogated locals suspecting the crime to be linked to Turkish mafia

The case has raised questions about right-wing sympathizers among police and a how large the blind spot to right-wing extremism in Germany is.

And, with the rise of the a party like the AfD – one whose leaders have made racist and Islamophobic comments, as well as relativized the Holocaust and have been known to use Nazi rhetoric – critics worry that a far-right party in parliament could embolden the country’s radical right-wing scene.

Rising violence toward Muslims

For Ahmed Erdogan, like many on Keupstrasse, the swift rise of the far-right AfD has been a shock. “Where will this lead?” he wonders.

Tucked away from the frilly bridal dress shops and bounteous bakery display cases that line Keupstrasse, the local mosque is easy to overlook. It’s one of the oldest in the Cologne neighborhood of Mühlheim, where over 40 percent of the population has foreign roots. According to Erdogan, who’s on its board, it has been and remains very active in community outreach and cooperation – making the AfD’s popularity all the more puzzling.

Infografik AfD Bundestagswahl 2017 Bundesländer ENG

This year, there have nearly 20 attacks on Muslims and nearly 400 incidents of “Islamophobic crimes,” ranging from hate speech, threats and damage to property, according to a governmental inquiry from the Left party. As it’s the first year officials have assessed the crime rate against Muslims, no previous data for comparison has been analyzed.

Meanwhile, the AfD’s rhetoric surrounding Islam has also raised concerns. In addition to dismissing the religion – one practiced by over 4 million people in Germany – as being a part of German society, the AfD also wants to prohibit minarets and the call to prayer.

“The AfD sees a great danger to our state, our society and our set of values through the spread of Islam and the presence of over 5 million Muslims, whose numbers are increasing,” the AfD said in its party platform, which states that Muslims who obey the law and are “integrated” are “valued members of society.” The far-right party denies all accusations of Islamophobic or racist rhetoric.

Given the need for dialogue these days, mosques can choose to stay out of politics, but as a Muslim it’s hard to “keep out it,” Erdogan tells DW.

The Keupstrasse mosque doesn’t participate in the national open house because it’s open to anyone everyday, just like most mosques. And if there’s one point Erdogan and his colleagues at the neighboring mosque agree on, it’s this: dialogue – and not fear – is the only way forward.

Source: Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | Germany | DW | 03.10.2017

Over a quarter of British people ‘hold anti-Semitic attitudes’, study finds – BBC News

Despite the headline, a more nuanced poll and study than most on antisemitism or other forms of racism and prejudice:

More than a quarter of British people hold at least one anti-Semitic view, according to a study of attitudes to Jewish people.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research said the finding came from the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in Britain.

But it said the study did not mean that British people were anti-Semitic.

Researchers also found a correlation in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes.

The study found a relatively small number of British adults – 2.4% – expressed multiple anti-Semitic attitudes “readily and confidently”.

But when questioned about whether they agreed with a number of statements, including “Jews think they are better than other people”, and “Jews exploit holocaust victimhood for their own purposes”, 30% agreed with at least one statement.

Despite this, the researchers said they found that levels of anti-Semitism in Great Britain were among the lowest in the world.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which has recorded high levels anti-Semitic crime, said: “We believe the new findings, data and nuance in this study will help us to work even more effectively with partners inside and outside the Jewish community to tackle this problem.”

The report said about 70% of the population of Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews and did not hold any anti-Semitic ideas or views.

Muslim views

The IJPR’s researchers questioned 5,466 people face-to-face and online in the winter of 2016/17 – 995 of these were Muslims, although a smaller number of Muslims were included in the statisticians’ nationally representative sample.

They found more than half of Muslims (55%) held at least one anti-Semitic attitude.

Dr Jonathan Boyd, director of the IJPR, said: “Our intention here was not to make any broad generalisations about the Muslim population and their attitudes towards Jews.

“There does seem to be some relationship between levels of religiosity in the Muslim population and anti-Semitism.”

The institute said it wanted to promote an “elastic view”, making a distinction between people who are clearly anti-Semites, and ideas that are perceived by Jews as anti-Semitic.

In December 2016 the government adopted an internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”.

Questions on Israel

The researchers also questioned people about their views on statements about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Their report said fewer than one in five people questioned (17%) had a favourable opinion of Israel, whereas about one in three (33%) held an unfavourable view.

The report said: “The position of the British population towards Israel can be characterised as one of uncertainty or indifference, but among those who hold a view, people with sympathies towards the Palestinians are numerically dominant.”

Dr Boyd said: “Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish views exist both together and in isolation.

“The higher the level of anti-Israel attitudes measured, the more likely they are to hold anti-Semitic views as well.”

The study also revealed that anti-Semitic attitudes were higher than normal among people who classified their politics as “very right-wing”.

Among this group they were two to four times higher than among the general population.

The researchers said the prevalence was considerably higher among right-wingers than on the left.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, from the Liberal Judaism movement, said: “The report is important for helping us understand where the anxiety comes from within the community at large and for understanding why anti-semitism seems to be the prevailing discourse within the community.

“We must be really careful that it does not come to define us and that we celebrate the positive interactions with society at large.

“What is arguably more important … is to educate and interact, to be more outward facing and open to discussion than inward facing.”

Source: Over a quarter of British people ‘hold anti-Semitic attitudes’, study finds – BBC News

ICYMI: ‘Deeply Worrying’ Fears Around Muslims And Islam Revealed In Damning Report | HuffPost UK

Not too surprising:

Britons’ attitudes towards Muslims and Islam have “worsened” with more than half of all respondents to a new survey believing the religion “poses a threat” to the West.

“The fear and hostility displayed towards Muslims is deeply worrying, despite most people claiming that they stand firm against extremists’ attempt to conflate their heinous actions with that of an entire religion,” Hope not Hate (HnH) chief executive Nick Lowles said of the finding’s of the charity’s Fear And Hope 2017 report which was released on Wednesday.

“Clearly there is a lot of work to be done here, both by those tackling hate crimes and misinformation, and potentially by Muslim communities themselves.”

The report, billed as “one of the most comprehensive studies of English attitudes towards contemporary issues”, found that despite views on immigration “softening”, attitudes towards Muslims and Islam have “simultaneously worsened among the more hostile sections of society”.

The report, based on a Populus survey of 4,000 people in “six identity tribes” across England, found that 52% of respondents believe Islam “poses a threat to the West”. As a result of recent terror attacks 42% of those surveyed were now “more suspicious” of Muslims and a quarter of Brits believe Islam is a “dangerous religion that incites violence”.

The study found older people were more prone to Islamophobia, “painting a worrying set of views” which HnH said would require “significant effort” to address.

Anti-hate charity Tell Mama told HuffPost UK that it was not surprised by the survey’s findings and called on mosques and Islamic institutions to do more to “break down barriers”.

“We know, given the levels of aggression towards victims, that there is a foothold taking place within small sections of the UK, around anti-Muslim hatred,” Tell Mama director Iman Atta said.

“For the survey to show that 25% of Brits believe that Islam is a dangerous religion, is concerning and we need more mosques and Islamic institutions to engage with their neighbours and break down barriers that there may be. Also, for 52% of respondents to believe that Islam poses a threat risk to the West shows that a lot more work needs to be done by Muslims and NGO’s to counter such growing divisions.”

Atta added:  “We are the vanguard of trying to tackle anti-Muslim hatred and we call upon others to join us in standing against all forms of hatred, including anti-Muslim hatred. There is much work to be done and clearly, there is a long road ahead. If we do not challenge this, it will strengthen Islamist extremism as well as alienating large numbers of Muslims.”

Source: ‘Deeply Worrying’ Fears Around Muslims And Islam Revealed In Damning Report | HuffPost UK

ICYMI: Gestes haineux envers les musulmans: les autochtones interpellés | Camille B. Vincent | Société

Good bridging and connections between new Canadians and First Nations:

La communauté musulmane se reconnaît en nous comme nous nous reconnaissons en elle.» Interpellés par la vague de haine dirigée actuellement envers la communauté musulmane de Québec, des dirigeants autochtones se sont levés vendredi pour lancer un appel à la tolérance et à l’ouverture.

«La ville de Québec traverse des périodes assez éprouvantes, et on sait tous que les racines de l’intolérance sont profondes», a laissé entendre le chef de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador, Ghislain Picard, lors de la cérémonie d’ouverture du tout premier événement KWE!, qui se tiendra jusqu’à dimanche à la place de l’Assemblée-Nationale. «Et j’aimerais reconnaître le courage du maire de Québec, M. Labeaume, qui a décidé de confronter la haine. C’est le geste qu’il nous faut poser.»

Rappelons que la voiture de Mohamed Labidi, président du Centre culturel islamique de Québec, a été incendiée dans la nuit du 5 au 6 août. Si la police refuse de confirmer la nature haineuse du geste, le maire de Québec, lui, affirme qu’il s’agit là d’un acte dirigé vers la communauté musulmane de Québec.

Lui-même présent vendredi soir à la cérémonie d’ouverture de KWE!, Régis Labeaume a semblé touché par le message positif que véhicule l’événement. «Je trouve ça magnifique. […] Ça ressemble à Québec, ça ressemble à la Capitale-Nationale.» Mercredi, il avait dit littéralement l’inverse du geste posé à l’endroit de M. Labidi.

«Les mots vivre ensemble, découvrir l’autre, tendre la main, se connaître, s’aimer… Ça prend une connotation un peu particulière cette semaine, parce que j’ai l’impression que ma ville n’est peut-être pas celle tout à fait que je croyais qu’elle était. […] Sans vouloir être alarmiste, j’ai certaines craintes. Il va falloir qu’on apprenne à se découvrir, à se tendre la main, à s’aimer, et surtout, à se comprendre.»

«Prendre une part de responsabilité»

Konrad Sioui, grand chef de la nation huronne-wendat, a quant à lui dénoncé la banalisation des gestes haineux posés contre la communauté musulmane. «C’est pas vrai que c’est des cas isolés. […] J’entends les radios, j’entends des commentateurs. Ils sont tous sur ce mode-là. “On est parfait, c’est un cas isolé, il n’y a rien là.” Arrêtons de parler de même et de penser de même. Je ne veux pas dire qu’il faut se rendre coupable, mais prendre une part de responsabilité.»

Par des spectacles, des discussions et des démonstrations, pour ne nommer que ça, l’événement KWE! propose d’aller à la rencontre des 11 nations autochtones québécoises. Il s’agit d’une première pour la ville de Québec, se réjouit le porte-parole Stanley Vollant. «Pour moi, c’est un événement marquant, et j’espère que c’est la première d’une série de plusieurs années.» Ce à quoi le maire Labeaume a déjà acquiescé vendredi en terminant son discours par : «Je vous dis déjà à l’an prochain!»

Source: Gestes haineux envers les musulmans: les autochtones interpellés | Camille B. Vincent | Société

U.S. Muslims are religiously observant, but open to multiple interpretations of Islam | Pew Research Center

Usual interesting survey results from Pew, along with some comparisons with Christianity and Judaism in America:

For American Muslims, being highly religious does not necessarily translate into acceptance of traditional notions of Islam. While many U.S. Muslims say they attend mosque and pray regularly, sizable shares also say that there is more than one way to interpret their religion and that traditional understandings of Islam need to be reinterpreted to address the issues of today.

By some conventional measures, U.S. Muslims are as religious as – or more religious than – many Americans who belong to other faith groups. Four-in-ten (43%) Muslim Americans say they attend mosque at least once a week, including 18% who say they attend more than once a week, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. An additional 32% say they attend once or twice a month, or a few times a year. These attendance levels are comparable to those of U.S. Christians, 47% of whom say they attend services weekly or more, and greater than the 14% of American Jews who say the same.

A majority also say that they pray at least some or all of the salah, or ritual prayers required of Muslims five times per day. Among all U.S. Muslims, fully 42% say they pray all five salah daily, while 17% pray at least some of the salah every day. A quarter say they pray less often, and just 15% say they never pray.

And nearly two-thirds of U.S. Muslims (65%) say that religion is very important in their lives, similar to the share of U.S. Christians who say the same (68%), and higher than the share of U.S. Jews who say this (31%). An additional 22% of Muslims say that religion is somewhat important in their lives, while fewer say that religion is not too or not at all important to them.

At the same time, American Muslims openly acknowledge that there is room for multiple interpretations of the teachings of Islam. A majority (64%) say there is more than one true way to interpret the faith’s teachings, while just half as many (31%) say there is only one true way to interpret Islam. And it’s not just less-religious Muslims who express this sentiment: While 72% of Muslims who say religion is somewhat (or less) important in their life say they are open to multiple interpretations, a majority (59%) of those who say religion is very important in their life also say there is more than one true way to interpret the faith. Among U.S. Christians, there is a similar balance: 60% say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion, while 34% say there is just one true way.

About half (52%) of all U.S. Muslim adults also say that traditional understandings of Islam must be reinterpreted to reflect contemporary issues, while 38% maintain that traditional understandings of Islam are all that are needed to address today’s issues. On this question there is more of a difference of opinion among Muslims when it comes to how important religion is in their lives. Those who say religion is very important in their lives are evenly divided (43% say traditional understandings should be reinterpreted vs. 46% who say traditional understandings are all that is needed), while about seven-in-ten (71%) of those who say religion is less important express the view that Islamic teachings need to be reinterpreted.

Source: U.S. Muslims are religiously observant, but open to multiple interpretations of Islam | Pew Research Center