KAMLOOPS – An imam at a mosque near Kamloops says a new senate committee report recommending screening of religious leaders to weed out extremist factions is blatant discrimination.
Mazhar Mahmood, imam of the Ayesha Mosque just outside of Kamloops, says he feels unfairly targetted and alienated by his own government.
“Personally, I feel like an outsider in a land where I was born and raised in,” he says.
The report, released July 8, centres on countering the terrorist threat in Canada. It asserts that approximately 145 Canadians are believed to be abroad providing support to terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda, Boko Harem and al Shabaab. Of the 25 total recommendations, one focuses specifically on religious leaders.
But it focuses on only one religious group.
“The committee heard testimony from members of the Muslim community and others that some foreign-trained imams have been spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values,” said the report from a Conservative-dominated senate committee. “These extremist ideas are said to be contributing to radicalization and raise serious concerns if they continue to go unchecked. As is the case now in Europe, the committee recommends the federal government work with the provinces and the Muslim communities to investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of Imams in Canada.”
Mahmood says the move, if enacted, would violate his Charter right to freedom of religion.
“Pastors, priests, rabbis – why aren’t they being targeted? Why is it just imams when there are extremists found in every religion? (The report) isolated one faith, targeting them for the actions of others,” he says.
Mahmood finds the recommendation insulting and wonders if the recommendation could compromise the values of his faith. He is dedicated to his vocation and worries his authority as an Imam is at risk.
“The imams, like any professional, go through rigorous studies to obtain their degrees and become certified. I am a certified imam and now there is another, so-called, third party who wants to certify my credentials. We’re already accredited, what do you want to certify?” he says.
What is most troubling for him, however, is the senate committee is making assumptions “not knowing the reality of the matter.”
“There are no radical mosques in Canada. There are certain individuals who are self-proclaimed imams who need to be targeted. People who didn’t go through a formal study. Otherwise when it comes to the formal institutions where we study, Islamic universities basically, there is zero tolerance for any violence. A person who portrays any violence in our institutions either they are reported to the authorities or they’re kicked out.”
He says extremists aren’t found in mosques, they recruit through propaganda on-line.
“There should be more attention to what is being streamed online than targeting a specific faith group.”
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