Muslims Worry About ‘Tarnished" Image

Muslims worry about 'tarnished' image
Rein in 'preachers of hate,' commission told

The Gazette
Published: Friday, November 23

The burgeoning Muslim population in Quebec is organizing itself to avoid “exaggerated” demands for special treatment and to rein in “preachers of hate,” the Bouchard-Taylor commission was told yesterday.

“The Muslim community is large, but distinctions must be made,” said Abdallah Annab, president of the Association des marocaines et des marocains de l'Estrie, which represents many of the 1,500 Muslims in the Eastern Townships.

“A Muslim from Afghanistan is not a Muslim from the Maghreb. There are several doctrines, there is Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam, and there are clear divisions between them,” said Annab, a Sunni from Morocco who works in Sherbrooke as a tax auditor for Revenue Quebec.

His association prepared its brief with the local Sunni Muslim association in Sherbrooke “to find a basis of agreement to ensure our image as Muslims is not tarnished and there aren't any exaggerated demands for accommodation,” he said.

“In general, there aren't many that are exaggerated,” he added.

But one way to short-circuit unreasonable demands is to rein in imams who fill the faithful's heads with distorted views of Quebec society, Annab told commissioners Gard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, who are examining the issue of reasonable accommodations of minorities.

“We do suggest there be limits to what (Muslim) preachers say. They should adapt to the reality here and understand the realities of Quebec society,” he said. “Because what happens sometimes – and we don't know how they wind up here – is that preachers come here to preach hate.

“And we must insist on this point: that people who give religious instruction be informed, and that there be some kind of control over what they say.”

Outside the hearing, the leader of the Sherbrooke's Sunni Muslim community agreed that some demands have been exaggerated, but denied that mosques in the region are cauldrons of intolerance.

“People have asked for things which, it can be said, are not legitimate, but it's usually done out of ignorance,” said Elmostafa Habboub, a Moroccan-immigrant educator who heads the Association culturelle islamique de l'Estrie.

He gave no examples of accommodations asked for in the Townships, but added, “It's just a matter of time” before some begin to make headlines.

Far from being hatemongers, Muslims in Sherbrooke reach out to other religions, said Habboub, whose association has allied with Catholic, Protestant and Syrian Orthodox organizations to call for the creation in Quebec of an ecumenical council to act as a “filter” for accommodation requests.

Habboub volunteers at Sherbrooke's only mosque, frequented by Muslims from 30 countries. (There's also a small Shiite centre in the east of the city.)

“There are some little frictions from time to time,” he said. “But at the Sherbrooke mosque, I think the message is quite, quite all right. We've never had any complaints from anyone.”

Testifying later with colleague Walid Dridi, Habboub added that Muslims asking for special consideration in Quebec shouldn't be surprised if they're refused.

It's a message imams should pass on to their congregations, Dridi told the commissioners. They should educate them, not inculcate them with “their personal interpretations” of what Islam and Quebec society are all about.

In his Friday address, an imam should use the Quran to help people act properly in situations where they want special treatment, Dridi said.

“For example, if I show up at a hospital emergency room with my wife, what should be my behaviour? Well, the answer is simple. If I want a female doctor to tend to my wife, I'll ask for that with a smile. If the answer is yes, I'll keep my smile. And if the answer is no, I will still keep my smile,” he said.

“Why? Because the only effort (the Quran) asks me to make is to ask the question. That's all. You can't be more catholic than the pope.”

“You're very well integrated,” Bouchard quipped, to general laughter in the room.

The hearings continue today in Sherbrooke.


Wanted: anglophones willing to speak out

Anglophones, the Bouchard-Taylor commission needs you. More than 1,000 people have registered for four open-mike nights in Montreal, but only the one in English has not reached capacity. So the commission sent out an appeal yesterday to anglos to register by calling 514-873-9420. The English forum takes place Nov. 29, from 7:30 to 9:45 p.m., at the Palais des congr.