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Imam decries Islamophobia while Pride battles homophobia

Islamic women talk at the back of the room as Dr. Bilal Philips addresses the Journey of Faith Islamic Conference in Toronto, July 3, 2011.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

For some Pride veterans, it might have been a bit of a déja vu moment: As thousands of scantily clad, flamboyantly colourful Pride marchers sashayed down Yonge Street, the ire of several was drawn by speakers at a nearby convention who noted that, according to their scripture, homosexuality is an abomination.

The conference was an annual convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre - a weekend-long series of discussions on what it means to be a devout Muslim in the 21st-Century.

But one of speakers at the weekend-long conference has got in trouble with the city's politicians before for anti-gay stands.

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Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-Canadian imam, was one of the weekend's speakers. He was expelled from Germany earlier this year for saying, documented on YouTube and elsewhere, that Islamic law teaches that gays and lesbians should be killed.

That wasn't his focus on Sunday. Like his speech in Germany, his talk centred on Islamophobia and how Muslims can combat it, and misconceptions surrounding their faith, in a plugged-in world.

But he suggested his audience take his treatment in Europe as a lesson in "vigilant" PR.

"I got expelled from Germany for life, why? Because I said I believe that according to Islamic law, homosexuals should be executed if they are caught in the act. It's Islamic law. I'm not allowed to believe that? … Just to believe that, you're a threat to the society?

"So this is how vigilant they are," he said. "We should be also vigilant with the media. When things are said, we should be responsive, we should be on Google, on Facebook, whatever. We should be responding to these things."

Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray said it was particularly important to march in this year's Pride Parade given the "pretty horrible hate speech going on … suggesting it was perfectly okay to murder people for being gay."

Mr. Murray, who was Winnipeg's first openly gay mayor, noted he has no problem with the conference itself, and has no plans to try have such speakers barred from attending. But he said he had asked police to monitor the conference, plans to meet with the event's organizers and may ask if he can speak at it next year.

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"We live in a pluralistic society," he said. "It's always disturbing when anybody brings in a speaker who tries to suggest that someone's life is worth so little, that someone can be killed simply for being who they are. That is the polar opposite of what Pride represents and about what we represent."

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