It is perhaps one of the most jarring moments in the "highlight" reel of the rally held at the Canada Christian College after introduction of motion M-103 in Parliament. As the camera spans a boisterous, overwhelmingly Caucasian crowd, a middle-aged, bespectacled woman comes into focus. Grinning, she raises her right arm in what appears to be a lingering Nazi-salute. Four Conservative leadership hopefuls appeared at this event.
The same week, a sombre House of Commons listened to MP Iqra Khalid share samples of hate mail and death threats sent her way for introducing M-103.
Supporters and detractors of M-103 clashed in many Canadian cities this past weekend. Opponents worry about the inability to publicly criticize Islam and sharia, while supporters accuse opponents of underlying anti-Muslim bigotry. Irony hit its peak in Toronto, where M-103 protesters played K'naan's Wavin' Flag as a show of patriotism. The rapper suggested an alternate chant: "We want the work, not the force, we want the knowledge, not the source; we want the fruit, not the tree, let's sing the song! Oh God, don't tell me it's by a Somali refugee."
This year is on track to becoming an annus horribilis for Canadian Muslims. The toxic anti-Muslim rhetoric south of the border has spread north, unvetted, through all firewalls.
Following the killing of six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque, Muslims are facing a "Taif" moment. Ten years into his Prophethood, Mohammed visited the town of Taif, after facing increasing hostility in Mecca. The nascent Muslim community had just emerged from a harsh three-year boycott by the Meccans. His wife and closest confidante of 25 years, Khadijah, had died that year, as had his uncle who had provided tribal protection.
Seeking refuge, he entreated the leaders of Taif for protection and an opportunity to share the beauty of faith. Instead, he was literally chased out of town, under an onslaught of rocks and debris. As he rested, bleeding and exhausted, he humbly prayed, acknowledging his weakness and humiliation by the town's people. Instead of blaming others, he beseeched God: "As long as You are not angry with me, I do not mind," reaffirming his commitment to faith and humble service. Soon afterwards, he was given the opportunity to punish the people of Taif. He declined, hoping one day that they would embrace the faith.
The Prophet's magnanimity in the face of hostility was recently exemplified by Imam Hassan Guillet, who delivered the eulogy at the funeral of three of the Quebec City victims, Azzedine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry. After paying tribute to the six victims of the massacre, the imam reminded us of the humanity of the alleged killer. He also noted that while six Muslim families were destroyed, so too was the family of the alleged shooter. From the depths of pain emerged recognition of our common humanity.
While Canadian Muslims are not a persecuted minority (as they are in, say, Myanmar), events of the past few weeks should give pause for self-reflection, and an accounting of weaknesses, rather than calls for revenge or blame. The Prophetic example demands it.
It is also the time to reach out to those who exhibit hostility rooted in fear, or as the Koran counsels: "Repel the evil deed with one which is better" – even to those who might salute Nazis. Let us recognize that some of this fear is genuine, due to terror attacks in Europe, the United States and here in Canada. While Canadian Muslims seek protection of their rights, they must also emphasize their love and defence of this nation.
Those who worry about an erosion of "Canadian values" should be engaged in an honest manner, rather than with denunciation. The cultural values surrounding women, critical inquiry, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience in many Muslim countries are often at odds with prevailing Western norms. Canadian Muslims must begin to have meaningful debates on how to reconcile these two world views.
What are the universal tenets of the faith that can be translated from society to society? And what are the cultural norms of the old world that must be replaced with the new? Such deliberations must be made with great care, with recognition that Canada is a diverse nation, bound by shared values, as defined by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.