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Toronto Ontario school board’s Muslim support fuels hate, threats

During a Peel District School Board meeting on April 12, a supporter of religious accomodations wears a t-shirt with the saying ‘Respect existance or expect resistance.’

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Tensions over a suburban Toronto school board providing space for Muslim students to pray as a group every Friday have bubbled into a death threat and an online call to burn down a mosque.

Ibrahim Hindy, an imam in Mississauga, said he received an e-mail on Friday with a death threat that included a picture of men being hanged. He also received a message on social media that called the mosque "one of many satan safe houses that need to be burned to the ground."

Mr. Hindy said he contacted police, who promised patrols around the mosque. A spokesman for Peel Regional Police said in an email on Wednesday that police are investigating a complaint made by Mr. Hindy. "We are treating this incident very seriously and have allocated the appropriate resources which include increased patrols at the Islamic Centre," said Constable Harinder Sohi.

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Read more: Anxiety intensifies in Toronto's suburbs as anti-Muslim rhetoric escalates

Mr. Hindy is a member of the Peel District School Board's multifaith group, which meets four times a year and advises educators on how to accommodate students on significant faith days.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has intensified in the area in recent months over schools providing space for prayer. Some residents in this quiet suburban community, west of Toronto, have been left shaken and concerned for their safety.

Mr. Hindy said he is worried for his wife and children after receiving the threats. "It's also an attempt to silence Muslims. The response has to be to just talk more," he said in an interview.

He posted a statement on Facebook on Tuesday about the threats made against him and the mosque and also called on the community to fight extremism and hate.

"The extremist mindset that we have worked so diligently against in our own community, exists in other communities and is gaining prominence," he wrote on Facebook. "This is not Canada. We have to make this stop. People's lives should not be threatened for speaking to their local school board."

Critics argue a secular school system should not accommodate religion. But Ontario boards, both public and Catholic, are legally required to provide religious accommodation when it is requested.

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Devout Muslim students have observed congregational prayers, known as Jummah, in Peel schools for more than two decades. But the issue came to the forefront in the fall, when the board began reviewing whether to allow students to write their own sermons, approved by a school administrator, or be required to choose from six prewritten ones.

After some pushback from community members and students who said the decision to limit their sermons violated their right to religious freedom, the board earlier this year revised its procedure and allowed students to deliver their own sermons or choose from several prewritten ones approved by local imams. Mr. Hindy was involved in this process.

Vocal opponents have used the issue to step up their anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The Peel board tightened security at its board meeting last week.

At an earlier school-board meeting, audience members shouted anti-Muslim rhetoric, tore pages from a Koran and stepped on the religious text.

Brian Woodland, a board spokesman, said on Tuesday that school staff have been asked to be "extra vigilant." He added that if there were safety concerns by a student or staff, the board would immediately involve police.

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"We have had the privilege to work with caring, committed leaders of many faiths, including Imam Hindy. Their advice and input should be welcomed with appreciation, not threats," Mr. Woodland said.

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