Tarek Fatah, the outspoken, controversial communications director of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has resigned, citing concerns for his safety and that of his family.
Mr. Fatah said he will also resign from the MCC's board, severing all official ties with the organization he helped found.
"It's not just for me. It's for my wife and my daughters," he said in an interview.
"Part of it is also to get out of the limelight."
Mr. Fatah's socially liberal views have always been controversial within the Muslim community, and in the past month he has been the subject of an e-mail campaign aimed at the Canadian news media.
In his resignation letter to the board, Mr. Fatah wrote that he wanted to step down because of "an increasing heavy load of work." He said he will stay on in his current capacity until the MCC finds a replacement.
Along with his resignation, Mr. Fatah has filed a report with Toronto Police detailing what he says are a number of threats he has received since 2003. A police investigation is under way.
"This has been a particularly stressful three months and I have tried to do my best and times I have succeeded and at other times messed up," Mr. Fatah wrote in his resignation letter.
Mr. Fatah has always carried a high profile, both with the Muslim Canadian Congress -- known for its liberal interpretations of Islam, including its support of homosexuality -- and as the host of Muslim Chronicle, a CTS TV current-affairs show that focuses on the Muslim community.
But in recent months, he said, he has been coming under increasing fire. There was the e-mail campaign and he is more worried than ever about threats after the arrests of 17 terrorism suspects in Toronto in early June.
Mr. Fatah's unpopularity among conservative segments of the Muslim community is not surprising. He is a strong advocate of gay rights for Muslims and the inclusion of secular voices in the Muslim community. He publicly and vehemently opposed the adoption of sharia law in Canada.
Recently, many Muslims were angered by his very vocal campaign against British imam Sheik Riyadh ul Haq, who ultimately was refused a visa to attend a conference in Toronto. Mr. Haq's address was transmitted live by satellite instead.
Many Muslims have also accused Mr. Fatah of hogging the media spotlight.
He is frequently a subject of animated discussions on blogs and Internet chat forums, and early last month, a student group based in Montreal began bombarding five news outlets -- The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, CBC and CTV -- with e-mails insisting that he does not represent the Muslim community and should not be recognized as a legitimate voice.
Mr. Fatah was quick to respond to accusations about his views.
"My position is that same-sex marriage is a human right and whether someone believes it is valid from a religious perspective is not the question. Most Muslims do not believe homosexuality is permitted but that is not the question," he said.
Mr. Fatah has fiercely advocated for a separation of church and state, although he said he has no issue with sharia arbitration as long as it is not part of the state legal system.
Still, Mr. Fatah is controversial even in liberal circles.
"He has alienated a lot of people," said Tariq Amin-Khan, assistant professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Dr. Amin-Khan said Mr. Fatah's understanding of current events is limited by his dismissal of the imperialist global agenda. "I don't agree with many of the policies of the state, with right-wing agendas, white supremacist or mullah parties. But I find [Mr. Fatah's views]appalling. I find some of the stuff he says very, very disturbing."
On June 30, Mr. Fatah was identified by the Canadian Islamic Congress as one of four people who are anti-Islam in an article in the CIC's weekly Friday Magazine, which is sent to e-mail subscribers. The article, "Smearing Islam and Bashing Muslims, Who and Why," was penned by Mohamed Elmasry, the CIC's director and an adjunct professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo.
The list, which also included Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente, was led by Mr. Fatah, whom Dr. Elmasry wrote "is well known in Canada for smearing Islam and bashing Muslims."
Dr. Elmasry levelled similar accusations against the Muslim Canadian Congress last October.
Mr. Fatah said he is concerned because he understands the implication of statements such as "anti-Islam" and "smearing Islam."
He said they are akin to fatwas, pronouncing blasphemy, a crime that under sharia law is punishable by death.
"Anyone can issue a fatwa," Mr. Fatah said. " And anyone can issue a counter- fatwa. There is no clergy that oversees the process. This is a complete hijacking of the system, and everyone is complicit."
Wahida Valiante, vice-chair and national vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said there are "different versions and different ideologies" when asked whether the assertion amounted to a fatwa.
"We're not into fatwas," she said. "We are not a religious body. We are looking into issues. If someone is misrepresenting facts, we simply address that."
Mrs. Valiante said she had not read the article and could not refer to it directly. But she said that through her intimate exposure to the Muslim community, she felt confident that many people believe Mr. Fatah is smearing and misrepresenting Islam.
"Tarek Fatah's views are diametrically opposed to most Muslims. There is a tremendous amount of discussion in the community. His point of view contradicts the fundamentals of Islam," she said, refusing to elaborate on what she meant.
"The nature of the work we do implicitly entails that there will be people who don't like what we do," said El-Farouk Khaki, secretary-general of the Muslim Canadian Congress. The articulated hostility is par for the course for those who feel threatened by them, he said.
Mr. Khaki warned that police have to be sensitive to the reality that people who challenge established views so overtly are often in danger of being attacked.
Mr. Fatah has been attacked both physically and verbally, he said -- at an Islamic conference at the former SkyDome in 2003, dozens of young Muslim men mobbed him while a cleric shouted out that he had insulted the Prophet Mohammed's name. In 2006, he said, was accosted on Yonge Street by a man who accused him of being an apostate. His car windows were smashed.
He also wrote a letter to the RCMP about the article sent by e-mail by the Canadian Islamic Congress.
"This is as close as one can gets to issuing a death threat, as it places me as an apostate and blasphemer," he wrote.
Mr. Fatah says it is this concern for his safety that has pushed him to hand in his resignation. He said he is planning to write a book.