Reaction at globeandmail.com to Monday’s article on Muslim youth in Canada was swift, and divided. Many online commenters expressed fear about how growth in the Muslim population will change Canada. In response, Muslim readers went online to address misconceptions about how they reconcile their faith with their citizenship. In one exchange, Sameer Zaheer, a 23-year-old Muslim who grew up in Mississauga, connected with two non-Muslim commenters dubbed BlaqueJacqueShallaque and Dyssiden.
BlaqueJacqueShallaque: If they were forced to choose between obeying Canadian law and Islamic law, which would they choose? And once there are 3.1-million Muslims in Canada, will it even be possible to enforce Canadian law?
Sameer Zaheer: In a country where the Constitution (Charter of Rights and Freedoms) protects freedom of religion, why would a Muslim (or Christian or Jew) ever be asked to choose between his/her religion and following the law?
Dyssiden: I must admit that BlaqueJacqueShallaque`s point has me (and many, many Canadians) a little worried as well. Sameer, tell me – Is there room for two sets of laws in one country?
Sameer Zaheer: Dyssiden, there is room for only one set of laws in Canada. And that is all the laws enacted by the Parliament and consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result all Canadian laws must respect, amongst other things, the freedom of religion.
As another commenter put it, “My only worry is that this religion is their ‘lifestyle.’” To delve deeper, The Globe contacted that commenter, business analyst Davis Simpson, to explore his anxiety.
What’s your greatest concern about Muslims living in Canada?
From what I have seen, Canadian Muslims are peaceful, moderate people. My major concern is that Islam is generally far more conservative (from a religious viewpoint, not political) and all-encompassing religion than what we see in the west.
Small groups assimilate into the national mosaic. Large communities can stand apart and reinforce beliefs that can be fundamentally opposed to our liberal Canadian values. I am at a loss to understand why we would deliberately import those problems.
What's your reaction to the views of the young Muslims interviewed in Monday’s Globe and Mail about their faith?
They appeared to be fine young people. I never heard one of them comment on Canada's secular nature and confirm that it’s a quality they appreciate.
Religion is not something with which you're born. It is a belief system and like any belief system, we should be allowed to challenge it. The state nurturing and protecting a belief system is wrong.
Do you consider yourself religious?
I am an atheist.
Do you personally know any Muslims?
Acquaintances and work colleagues.
This interview has been edited and condensed.