Khaleej Times : Welcoming the World and a Fatwa Against Terror

18 March 2010

A new front has been ripped open in the global war against Muslim extremists and it’s not being waged in the craggy mountains of North Waziristan or the poppy fields of Helmand.

This new front is located in Canada, where the battle lines stretch from Calgary to Montreal. Its weapons are not AK-47s, Soviet RPGs, IEDs or unmanned drones. Instead they are words, whose intensity reached a flashpoint earlier this month when prominent Islamic scholar Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri issued a fatwa denouncing terrorism and suicide bombings. Qadri’s 600-page religious edict is not the first of its kind, but it’s perhaps the harshest to date and unequivocal in its condemnation of Muslims who kill innocent civilians in the mistaken belief this will turn them into martyrs.

The 59-year-old Qadri is a native of Pakistan, where he founded the Minhaj-ul-Qur’an, an organisation dedicated to improving relations between communities. He once served as an elected member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and was a close associate of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

What is perhaps less known is that Qadri penned his incendiary fatwa in Ontario, Canada, where he has been living for the last four years. (His exact location is kept confidential for 
security reasons.) Qadri’s fatwa comes on the heels of another similar edict made by twenty Imams associated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, who earlier this year declared that attacks on Canada and the US by extremists are an attack on the 10 million Muslims living there. This was the first fatwa ever to single out North America.The result of these religious declarations is that the strongest and clearest Islamic voices speaking out against international terrorism and suicide bombings — at a time when hundreds are being killed almost daily as a result of such attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — is coming from Canada. That’s a somewhat unexpected role for a country better known for its well-capitalised banks and oil from the 
Alberta tar sands.

However on closer inspection, perhaps it’s not so surprising because there is no country that embraces diversity quite like Canada. Consider that the United Nations has called Toronto, the country’s biggest urban centre, the most multi-cultural city in the world, ahead of New York and London.

Nearly half the residents of Toronto were born outside Canada and about the same number belong to visible minorities. Most of Canada’s annual influx of new immigrants settles in the Greater Toronto Area, which has a population of 5.9 million, making it one of the fastest growing urban regions in the Western world. Toronto has a large and prominent Muslim population that lives along side, Hindus, Baha’is, Orthodox and Western Christians, Buddhists, New-Agers and Zoroastrians. Toronto is also home to one of North America’s biggest Jewish communities.

Unlike France, Canada never banned the wearing of the hijab, or headscarf. And unlike Switzerland, it has not restricted on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques. The fact that Canadian Muslims are speaking out forcefully for tolerance and peace is in part an expression of gratitude for a country that has permitted them to practise their religion openly and freely. In their fatwa, the imams of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada state: There is no single city in Canada and the US where mosques are not built. Muslims have more freedom to practise Islam here in Canada and the US than many Muslim countries.

For all its multi-culturalism and religious diversity, Canada is not immune from homegrown terror. At present a group of Canadian Muslims known as the Toronto 18 are being tried for plotting to blow up key city landmarks, including the iconic CN Tower, the Toronto Stock Exchange and offices of Canada’s spy agency CSIS.

The fatwas issued by Qadri and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada were in part motivated by the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who in 2009 failed to detonate a bomb on a US jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. Had these religious edicts been made sooner, would they have stopped the Nigerian bomber or the Toronto 18? Perhaps more importantly, will they have any impact on militant groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taleban, who ask followers to strap bombs to their bodies in exchange for a promise of everlasting life in paradise?

In his fatwa, Qadri makes the point that the teachings of the Qur’an condemn terrorists and suicide bombers to hell, not heaven, as their field commanders would have them believe. A serious Islamic scholar like Qadri who arrives at this conclusion after 600 pages of theological discourse is not looking for easy answers, and is impossible to ignore. At least by those who have not forgotten a passage from the Qur’an cited by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada: When people see a wrongdoer and do nothing to stop him, they may well be visited by God with a punishment. If Islamic scholars and imams in the Muslim world add the sum of their voices to the voices of their Canadian counterparts, the result may surprise everybody.

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