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To Pray, or Not to Pray?

Posted by on Jul 18th, 2011 and filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By OMAR QAYUM

TO pray, or not to pray? That seems to be the question regarding Friday prayer accommodations for Muslim staff and students within some TDSB schools. While there has been ample support, it has also been met by strong opposition from hate and fear mongering groups like Canadian Hindu Advocacy, the Jewish Defence League and the Muslim Canadian Congress. Veiling their Islamophobic agenda as a “violation” of the Ontario Education Act, they succeeded in spreading xenophobia towards Canada ’s minority Muslim population. Fortunately, their views were rejected by the TDSB’s Director of Education, Dr. Chris Spence, when he rightly concluded that “the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms supersedes the Education Act.”1 Regardless, as a Muslim teacher within the TDSB, I would like to discuss how this issue, like many others, has been exploited by special interest groups to fuel the growing epidemic of Islamophobia in the West.

It should come as no surprise that journalistic integrity is in short supply globally. Mainstream media outlets, right-wing oriented in particular, seem to be more interested in soliciting a climate of fear and hysteria than engaging in objective journalism. Through blatant misinformation, “expert” opinions and sensationalization, issues are often being tailored to suit nefarious agendas. This is especially true when issues pertaining to Islam and Muslims are addressed. A common tactic employed is the portrayal of fringe groups as legitimate voices of dissent, and the overlooking of existing concessions they sympathize with. In this case, the opposition was presented as “supporters of secular values,” whereas Muslims were portrayed as “others seeking special treatment.” Had these media outlets done their job, the general public would have seen the disingenuous nature of the arguments proposed, and the deliberate targeting of mainstream Muslims. Hence, I would like to take a moment to individually examine each of these groups.

Canadian Hindu Advocacy (CHA)http://www.canhindu.com/

The CHA is a Hindu fundamentalist group that is especially known for its anti-Muslim and Sikh rhetoric. On their website they “praise”2 the 1984 military actions of the Indian army against Sikhs, including the Golden Temple massacre that killed 400-800 civilians. This operation was condemned and apologized for by Sonia Gandhi, the president of India ’s largest political party. The CHA is also known for its propagandist statements like the “abuse of females is rare among Hindus”3 in India . Apparently nobody has informed them of India ’s female trafficking and infanticide epidemic. Even more interesting is their rejection of the MCC’s “moderate Islam,” but discovery of common grounds in spreading intolerance of mainstream Muslims. This was even noticed by a recent Globe and Mail article titled: “School prayer debate creates unlikely allies.”4

Jewish Defence League (JDL)http://www.jdl.org/

The JDL is “a violent extremist Jewish organization”5 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). It was founded by a fanatical Rabbi whose followers have engaged in numerous terrorist attacks in the US and abroad. The most famous of which was the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank while they prayed in a mosque. It truly is a wonder how the JDL is even allowed to operate in Canada .

Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC)http://www.muslimcanadiancongress.org/

Masquerading as “moderate Muslims,” the MCC rarely stands up for Muslim rights and demonizes mainstream Islam whenever it suits them. Even moderate Christians and Jews recognize the religious significance of Saturday night and Sunday morning congregational prayers. Furthermore, MCC founder Tarek Fatah stated that “Islam does not make (Friday prayers) compulsory,”6 and when asked if specific Friday prayer times were Islamic, MCC board member Raheel Raza claimed that “It is not under Islam, it is under the Wahabi/Salafi ideology which we as moderate Muslims have been fighting for the last 20 years.”7 Not only does the MCC demonstrate an incredible level of ignorance regarding the faith they claim to represent, and follow, but they waste no time in spreading fear against a segment of the Muslim Canadian population. Perhaps the MCC should read the following verses from the Qur’an before commenting on this issue:

O you who have believed, when call for the prayer is called on the day of Friday, then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. [62:9]

And when you have completed the prayer, remember Allah standing, sitting, or [lying] on your sides. But when you become secure, re-establish prayer. Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times. [4:103]

It should also be noted that the MCC is the only group “contemplating legal action”8 against the TDSB. In reality, the MCC is a branch of liberal Islam which sculpts Islam to suit its needs – often for the personal gain of its key members.

Now that we know who we are dealing with, here are some of the main “concerns” raised by the above trio:

Segregation:

The separation of boys and girls during prayer is considered to be the promotion of “sexism” in a publicly funded school system. If that is truly how they feel, principle demands that they first stop the following longstanding traditions in the Canadian education system:

  • gender segregated gym classes and sports teams.
  • publically funded Catholic schools for only boys and girls.
  • an annual boys only talent show at my school.

Special Treatment:

Religious accommodations are not new or unique to the TDSB, and they are most certainly not exclusive to Muslims. My school hosts a “Teens4Christ” club that holds weekly meetings for students interested in exploring their Christian faith. In addition, we have a Chinese Parents Association, and used to have a Tamil Students’ Association, which assists in accommodating the diverse needs of our student body. These programs have never created a divide at my school, or within our educational system. Rather, they have helped create an environment of tolerance, respect and understanding within our students. To state otherwise would require evidence that simply does not exist.

Propagation of religion:

While it is true that the Ontario Education Act prohibits the indoctrination of religion, it does not prohibit non-indoctrinating religious instruction or scriptural readings during opening and closing exercises. At my school we have Christian invocations every year during our Remembrance Day assemblies and during the Christmas holidays through carols- nobody complains! Furthermore, some schools partake in Hanukah, Diwali and Kwanza to honour their Jewish, Hindu and African-American students.

The Lord’s Prayer was often invoked by the opposition as a point of comparison, but failed to realize its indoctrinating nature and imposition on everybody. However, if Christians feel so disenfranchised by this practice, there is nothing preventing them from seeking accommodations if they involved students with parental consent. This is precisely what the Muslim parents and students have done. Personally, I think the Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful supplication and most Muslims have no qualms with it.

Hate speech and discrimination:

The MCC’s president, Farzana Hassan, said “We are concerned that there are some Muslim groups that are not seen as Muslims and may not be invited to pray.”9 Meir Weinstein of the JDL said “We worry if they will extend their prayers to include religious ideology.”10 I have bolded key words to show the type of fear mongering these groups often engage in. At my school we often have various denominations attend prayers – even non-Muslims. Furthermore, students are not left without adult supervision, so why create unfounded hysteria? However, I do agree that local Imams should not conduct prayer services. This is not because I worry about “possible hate speech,” but because youth should be empowered by taking responsibility for their spiritual needs and conducting these prayers themselves. Shaykh Yusuf Badat from the Islamic Foundation of Toronto said “I trained students from Lester Pearson Collegiate near our centre in Scarborough to do that and they’ve been running their own Friday service for years.”11 Hopefully, other Imams will follow Shaykh Yusuf’s lead.

Disruption:

Ron Banerjee of the CHA stated that he was concerned about “disruptions”12 being caused to all students because of these prayers. The reality is that disruptions are a normal and healthy part of our education system. Whether it be trips, vacations, religious holidays, assemblies, sports, contests, dances, clubs or other school activities, these disruptions help students acquire valuable time management skills. Students are always expected to be responsible for material covered regardless of the nature of their absence. Why is this absence being treated any differently? It is also interesting to note that no media outlet made mention that the Hindu Canadian Alliance (HCA) and the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) endorsed the TDSB’s decision13.

That reality of the matter is that groups like the CHA, JDL and MCC consistently strive to present mainstream Islam and Muslims as a fifth column within Canada. Of course they rarely make their hate blatantly obvious, but disguise it as a “genuine concern” for upholding Canadian values.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is what has made Canada the beautiful nation that it is today. We should all celebrate that our true Canadian values prevailed last week. Furthermore, we must ensure that groups like CHA, JDL and MCC remain on the fringes and are exposed for what they really are – bigots.

Omar Qayum is a volunteer at the North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF ) and a teacher in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Sources:

http://www.tdsb.on.ca/about_us/media_room/Room.asp?show=allNews&view=detailed&self=30364

http://www.canhindu.com/praise1984.doc

http://www.canhindu.com/kaylies.pdf

4 The Globe and Mail: “School prayer debate creates unlikely allies”, [Friday, July 8, 2011]

http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terror/terrorism-2000-2001

6 The Toronto Star: “Board runs afoul of Education Act with prayer services”, [Friday, July 8, 2011]

7 The John Oakley Show on AM640, [Friday, July 8, 2011]

8 The Toronto Star: “Board runs afoul of Education Act with prayer services”, [Friday, July 8, 2011]

9 The Toronto Sun: “Muslim group wants prayer in public school stopped”, [Tuesday, July 5, 2011]

10 The Toronto Sun: “Muslim group wants prayer in public school stopped”, [Tuesday, July 5, 2011]

11 The Toronto Star: “Board runs afoul of Education Act with prayer services”, [Friday, July 8, 2011]

12 The John Oakley Show on AM640, [Friday, July 6, 2011]

13 CAIR-CAN Press Release, [Wednesday, July 6, 2011]

5 Responses for “To Pray, or Not to Pray?”

  1. Mohammed Khan says:

    Amazing article!

    The Canadian Hindu Advocacy Group and the Muslim Canadian Congress group Tarek Fatah et al. are nothing but media whores. The best way to get quoted in the media nowadays is by espousing anti-Muslim comments.

  2. Muslimwoman says:

    Omar,
    Thank you for writing such a great article. I understand through the Grapevine that the TDSB has recently struck a committee to look at the Religious Accommodation issue. Am wondering what the worse case scenario could be–seeing that a Provincial Election is coming in October? What would happen if the right to pray in schools is removed? Do you think that only then our community (Imams, parents, teachers, students, etc.) would take notice? Or, would that time be too late? The tide is coming from the south –so we’d better be prepared.

  3. Thisismycountrytoo says:

    The Cdn Hindu Adv and company are planning to demonstrate in front of the TDSB next Monday, July 25th at 5:30 p.m. regarding prayers in schools — are the Muslims planning on being there too? I read that Banerjee person is not liked by many groups which include Sikhs. He seems to like getting into hot water. First interview I heard he sounded pretty reasonable, then as things escalated, he became more and more frightening….what gives?????

  4. Malcolm MacNeil says:

    When I was at George Brown College teaching a number of years ago, students requested a room for prayer and were given that approval. I did not understand it at the time and asked some of my students why they wanted this. I realized this, to me was a good idea and I today agree with being allowed the opportunity to pray. Today I work I at Georgian College and groups are given space for prayer or meetings. No one that I know shows concern. The college has a motto, Respect Lives here, I believe and support this simple phrase. Christian, Muslim, Jew willing to accept their faith and practice and adhere to it\’s moral principles, deserve acceptance, and be given their place to pray. With all the strife, warring, famine, poverty and abuses in our world and in our own country, maybe a small prayer will help along the way bring us to see goodness, peace and support of our fellow human beings.

  5. John Gilberts says:

    Last year, JDL-Canada formally allied themselves with the English Defence League. This was the organization of which Anders Breivik was associated. Why does the Jewish Defence League continue to operate and spread its Zionist hate with impunity. This was the same organization that claims credit for instigating the ban on George Galloway’s speaking tour. Why does this hate group continue to get a ‘free pass’ in Canada?

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