An Awakening Response
What the leaders of the mosque were looking for was a replacement with North American credits, someone preferably who has lived in North America, who knows what life is like here, rather than preaching Islam from a purely historical Middle Eastern perspective. Their search was unproductive, and they appealed to the Egyptian Department of Religious Affairs, which responds to such requests by sending clerics around the world, paying their salaries.
The current imam, a young Egyptian man trained at the most prestigious Islamic religious academy in Egypt, arrived in Ottawa last summer with his family. Abdul Hamid Khaled Syed had little English-language proficiency; he was, quite simply, an Islamic scholar. His contract was for a one-year period, after which the 617-member mosque community would evaluate his performance whereupon his contract could be extended.
It would appear that some factions - mostly young Muslims in the community - are dissatisfied with the young imam. Considering him too distant, standoffish, with an inability to communicate verbally in an adequate manner. They want someone who understands life in Canada, who is capable of empathizing, of recognizing their problems in the context of society and religion.
A small but determined coterie of people began to agitate for his removal. Their determination was matched by that of older Muslims who felt the imam was doing a fine job, that he was working hard at improving his language skills, and that it is his scholarship that is of utmost importance. And just when disagreements became increasingly public, the retain-the-imam faction scored an underhanded coup with 99 of the members voting for his retention.
The thing about this controversy is that it seems to indicate a growing awareness within the Muslim community that their faith needs to be expressed and interpreted in the context of where it is they live, and the society, the politics of the country they are an integral part of. That can only be a good thing. Hitherto, clerics have been brought into the country to preach a rigid code of Islamic precepts seemingly bereft of modern enlightenment.
That a significant segment of the mosque community rejects the status quo, and seeks to impose upon themselves the reality of an obligation to retain their faith while at the same time fulfilling their obligations as citizens of the country is telling. This is a state of affairs that only someone who has lived in this country and who appreciates the difficulties of balancing faith and social life beyond the prescribed can comprehend.
Canadian values and an appreciation of Canada's social contract with all its disparate peoples should form a basis for the manner in which people are able to see and practise their faith; see it from the perspective of the faithful, fully conscious of its place within a geography far different, representing an era quite beyond that which prevailed at its inception.
And finally, it would appear that in one province of this country the Islamic Social Services Association has instituted an imam-training program inclusive of full knowledge of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Surely a full understanding of the Canadian Constitution will furnish any new Islamic clerics with a starting point where the Koran and the Hadiths can be interpreted for a new audience in a new place and time.
Seen through the lens of Canadian values, the country's system of legal obligations, its multi-faith collective of various ethnic and traditional backgrounds, it should prove increasingly unlikely that hostile and divisive forces would continue to instill controversially dangerous ideas in the minds of the socially vulnerable, antagonistic to full participation in Canadian life.
In the larger context, it can be interpreted by a majority of asserting their need to disassociate themselves from the reality of the importation of values inconsistent with that of the larger Canadian community. Inclusive of introducing to the faithful the unfortunate obligation to continue an adversarial tradition of violent jihad against those whom fanatical Islamists deem have been insufficiently respectful of Islam.
And by extension bringing into the community an heightened and damaging atmosphere of tribal heritage; importing and honing resentment against other groups against whom fundamentalist Islamists have traditionally been hostile, condemning them as humanly and religiously inferior; practitioners of other faiths, representatives of other ethnic groups.
To deny that and at the same time affirm their faith, is to become Canadian in the fullest sense.