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Canadian Muslims: The Highlight of A Mosaic

To be a Canadian Muslim is to act according to the teachings of Islam within the adopted society.

By Dr. Zijad Delic / 2 Nov 2013

Among the most educated, youngest, and diverse groups in Canada, the vibrant Canadian Muslim community is witnessing significant developments that would allow it to offer a lot to their Canadian homeland.

Dating back to the middle of the 19th century, Muslims have been arriving to Canada from abroad to settle down and establish their lives and build up their new homeland.

Although the reasons vary from one individual or family to another, main reasons that attracted Muslims migrants to Canada included: better economic opportunities, political instability in their homelands, educational opportunities for their children, and the freedom of expression of religious beliefs and association guaranteed by the Canadian constitution.

Canadian Muslims, 6.6 Percent By 2031

In 1871, records indicate that there were 13 Muslim residents in Canada. Until the Second World War, the growth rate of the Canadian Muslim population was very low. It only reached a total of 3,000 in 1951.

Reforms in Canada’s immigration policy during the 1960s led to a regular inflow of immigrants of the Muslim faith. Further liberalization of immigration rules in the 1970s led to an even greater influx of Muslim immigrants.

Canada’s 1991 Census counted 253,000 Muslims — more than twice the number reported in 1981. Only a decade later, the 2001 Census reported 579,645 Canadian Muslims, and 1.1 million in 2011.

If current numerical growth patterns continue, the number of Canadian Muslims is expected to nearly triple over the next 20 years, from 1.1 million in 2011 to nearly 2.7 million in 2031, at which time they are expected to make up 6.6 percent of Canada’s total population, or more than double today’s 3.2 percent.

Today, Canadian Muslims hail from a wide spectrum of ethnic backgrounds: 36 percent originated from the Indian subcontinent — Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh; 32 percent Arabs; and about 14 percent Iranians. Smaller numbers come from other countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Turkey.

Several sources dispute the number of the Canadian-born Muslims; some put it at 10 percent and others at 22 percent of the Canadian Muslim community.

Contemporary Canadian Muslims are among the country’s most highly educated citizens; they have the second-highest level of education attainment out of all religious groups in Canada.

Sixty percent of Canadian Muslim adults have some post-secondary education, ten percent higher than the national average.

Unemployment Rates and Integration

A disturbing contrast, however, is that Canadian Muslims hold the second-highest unemployment rate in the entire country.

A shocking 14.4 percent of Muslims are listed as jobless — almost twice the current average national unemployment rate of 7.1 percent.

With a median age of 28.1 years, Canadian Muslims represent the youngest religious population demographic in Canada.

On the other hand, the median age of Jewish Canadians is 41.5 years. For diverse Christian denominations, median ages range from 37.8 years among Roman Catholics to 46.1 years among Presbyterians (whose figures are similar to th0ose found for other Protestant denominations).

In 2006, the median age for the entire Canadian population was 39.5 years. As the baby boom generation ages, that median is expected to keep rising and could exceed 44 years by 2031.

Although the majority of Muslims arrived in Canada within the last three decades, smaller numbers have existed at least since the middle of the 19th century.

As Muslims have tended to settle wherever economic opportunities presented themselves, most are concentrated in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Canada’s largest urban Muslim communities are found in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and London.

The diversity of ethnic origin has been reflected in the Canadian Muslims’ diverse expressions of Islam. Although the majority came from countries with Sunni Muslim majorities, each group observes its own doctrinal and ritual forms of faith and expresses its interpretation of Islam.

Sunni Muslims represent almost three-quarters of all Canadian Muslims. There are significant numbers of Shiite Muslims in Canada, as well, who also have diverse expressions of their faith and origins.

Muslims Suffer Backlash?

It is a universal human tendency to be socially engaged as a full citizen in one’s society and to belong to it.

However, there are a number of reasons why people do not engage successfully; this is evidenced by poor participation in local, provincial, or national politics.

There are obstacles that impede the participation of Muslims, and the situation has been exacerbated by the tragedy of 9/11.

In the years following this event, there has been a marked increase in reported incidents of racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia directed against Muslims from external societal backlash. Hate crimes against the Muslim faith (Islam), for example, increased from 26 incidents in 2008 to 36 in 2009.

Canadian Muslims, due to Islamophobia and discrimination, are not wholly embraced into the Canadian society by some as its full citizens. This is a legitimate concern since it is difficult to belong to a place if there is a perception of not being accepted. It is important that the reciprocal nature of the relationship between belonging and acceptance/respect is highlighted in policy discussions that are gravitated towards citizenship tests and other measures to encourage people to integrate.

If people are constantly reminded that they do not belong, whether on the crude level of the rhetoric of far-right discourse or media or the day-to-day discrimination, subtle or otherwise, that they may face, or when the government fails to listen to their concerns and request for needs, it is only a matter of time before they will feel alienated and lose the desire to belong, as in the case of French assimilation mentality or Balkan exclusion politics.

Canadian Muslims are re-examining their identity and the way they interpret their religious practices and beliefs. They are creating a new expression of Islam more reflective of the Canadian context.

Narrow interpretations of Islam are challenged by globalization as well as by the majority of Muslims who grew comfortable to Canadian environment. They establish Islamic organizations to discover Islam without being contaminated by inherited traditions.

These new developments have generated debates among Muslims, particularly among community leaders and scholars in Canada. Conferences on the topic of Islamic identity, Canada and integration are organized and do involve Muslim participants.

On the basis of those discussions, it seems that Canadian expression of Islam is inevitable. I personally believe that Canadian Muslims are more prepared of embracing this view than Muslims in any other Western context.

Muslims Developing Politically

The essential question that Canadian Muslims ask themselves is how to be at the same time true Muslims and faithful Canadian citizens?

The answer is that loyalty to one’s faith and conscience requires firm and honest loyalty to one’s country. Islam demands honest citizenship from every Canadian Muslim.

Why then do Muslims in Canada lack full participation in the civic and political arenas?

There are several domestic reasons for that. Besides being divided into ethnic and cultural groups by virtue of their places of origins and geography, Muslims in Canada are divided along the way they express and practice their beliefs. Secondly, many Canadian Muslim associations are local to a single city or region rather than being national in scope.

Sometimes these institutions are not accustomed to the Canadian democratic standards of association but rather follow a particular culture of membership and executive. Often these institutions are ineffective because of the scope of activities they are involved in. They try to do too much, from the basic educational activities for children and adults, to political advocacy in municipal and national elections.

While some Muslim organizations are trying hard to overcome divisions among Canadian Muslims on ethnic, national, or sectarian lines, they acknowledge that such a fragmentation has made it difficult for Canadian Muslims to project recognizable public voice. However, this does not mean that currently Canadian Muslims lack presence in the federal/senate, provincial, or municipal politics.

On the federal, provincial, and municipal levels there are Senator Mobina Jaffar (Liberal) and Senator Salma Ataullahjan (Conservative); MPP Yasir Naqvi (Minister of Labour — Liberal, the Province of Ontario), MPP Shafiq Qaadri (Liberal, the Province of Ontario), MPP Khalil Ramal (Liberal, the Province of Ontario), and Mayor of Calgary (Alberta) Naheed Nenshi.

To be a Canadian Muslim is to act according to the teachings of Islam within the adopted society.

By exploring core Islamic sources regarding the notion of Muslim identity and at the same time considering the texture and Canadian lifestyle, we can see that there is no contradiction for Muslims in taking up full citizenship and embracing Canada as their own country.

This is what is meant by the path of constructive integration of Muslims, as compared to the less constructive choices of assimilation and exclusion.

This is the path that will take Canadian Muslims towards new horizons of opportunities and help them express their beliefs openly while enjoying Canada’s democratic standards.  Only as such they will be able to claim the Qur’anic title of honour — UmmatanWasata (A community of enlightened moderation).

Being part of Canadian society means facing reality, with all its challenges, head on. It means reforming themselves individually and collectively within the positive contexts of their adopted liberal democratic pluralist culture, while remaining faithful to the basic religious principles that define their core religious identity as Muslims.

Thus, when they settle suitably and reconcile effectively, they can productively live in harmony amid new environments and contribute to the well-being of all. This is a responsibility of both — Canadian Muslims as well as policy makers in Canada.


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