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2005 Short Course Report Card

Canada – Our Home

By Asma Warsi

CIC and TARIC, teamed up with Muslim Council of Montreal and World Islamic Call Society, took a very bold step towards Smart Integration by offering a two-day intensive course covering Canadian history, politics, media and law, Islamic family law and family counseling. This short but comprehensive course was geared towards Canadian Muslims who are active in the public and was taught by qualified people such as Prof. Anthony Hall, Prof. Marliyn Pilkington, and Prof. John Miller, as well as Imam Gamal Solyman, Barrister Ahmad Baksh, and Sr. Wahida Valiante.

There was a concern that many Muslims who are not much aware of the politics, history and the laws in Canada, may, in their ignorance, interpret the Qur’anic verses inaccurately, and hence can be accused of hate crimes. Or, they may not know their rights in Canada and, in case they are approached by CSIS or RCMP, may become a soft target.

Some of the questions addressed in this course were pertaining to the history of Canada’s First Nations and how it may reflect on future of Muslims in this country; how the media machinery works; democracy in Canada and how it works; Islamic family law and Canadian laws in general; and the role of Islamic family counseling.

Professor Hall presented an over view of the history of Canada starting from 1400’s. He informed us of different stages in the life of this country up to now. He stressed on three points, namely church and state, assimilation of aboriginals, and the partition of Canada from the British Parliament to have our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, of which Quebec never agreed to.

In his scholarly address, Hall pointed out that aboriginals, who had lived on this land for thousands of years, were marginalized; their civilization, languages and religion were demonized; their children taken away to be schooled by missionaries so as to break any ties with their past and assimilate them into the ruling culture. Since there was close collaboration between church and state, it was best done by the churches. He also tied the globalization of American imperialism after the fall of the Soviet Union to the same mentality of the Western colonizers that was started in 1492 by the Crusaders, and inspired by the Vatican. In North America, they sold the territories to establish their empires. In all these cases, indigenous people were never consulted about their fate. Imperialist powers also used the same "divide and rule" tactics as they are now using in, for example, Iraq.

Professor Pilkington gave an overview of the Canadian government system and politics. She talked about the constitution Act of Canada as it stood in 1867. It was to be a statute of the UK Parliament, with the supremacy of the same except for the independent judiciary. In 1982, Canada got her Charter of Rights and Freedoms with the affirmation of the Aboriginal rights and amendment process called “Patriation” of constitution to Canada. She talked about Canada’s international commitments, federal division of powers, levels of governments, political parties, election system and the role of courts. She also mentioned the procedures in place for amendments in the constitution. To improve our democratic system, she said, a six-point plan has been requested by the MPs, reformers and citizens, for more power and involvement in the governance.

Professor John Miller shed light on the news media in Canada. He touched on the role the media play in a liberal democracy like Canada, who owns the media outlets, how the news are selected for reporting, different types of columns, advertising, and accountability in the media.

The main purpose of media, he said, is to provide people with accurate and reliable information. He explained the core values of journalism as being loyalty to citizens, verification of news without bias, not having any vested interests of any groups, playing role of an independent mediator, presenting proportional coverage to issues, and monitoring of power of the press.

But in today’s fast paced age of internet, sometimes it is difficult to verify the news independently. Hence, truth is perceived as what is best truth today. Also, the credibility of media is falling as thrill and sensation is making its way into news media. Due to common ownership of many media outlets, sometimes same story or storyline is repeated by several newspapers, magazines, radio and TV news. Often, stories are gathered by phone thus the body language is ignored.

There are many departments such as Press Council, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, CRTC, Cultural Diversity Task Force and so on that can be contacted for correcting various misdeeds in reporting, he said.

Barrister Ahmad Baksh explained the Canadian laws and how the system works. He also appealed to Muslims to stand up for their rights granted to them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "We can’t be ignorant to what’s happening to Muslims in Canada," he passionately pleaded. Liberty and freedom has been restricted and security services are detaining Muslims without any reasonably just cause, especially since 9/11, and it is authorized by the law. We will protect Canada to the best of our capability, but will not sit still if our Muslim brothers are being mistreated, he said. Many people who fought the fights for justice were demonized first but then accepted as heroes, he reminded the audience. Baksh criticized the "no-fly" listing and security certificates. Everyone must have access to a fair trial. He sited many cases where race, religion, even how a person looked or smelled, caused the judge to rule against the person. Muslims are particularly vulnerable today as we are viewed in the eyes of a large majority as potential time bombs, he said. "Today’s Pharaoh wants us to revise our Qur’an; the Qur’an stands between us and slavery," declared Br. Ahmad.

Imam Gamal Solyman from Ottawa gave the Islamic perspective on a Muslim family. He described the recipe for establishing a strong and happy family beginning with selection of a spouse, engagement process, marriage contract, and rights and obligations of the spouses. He named commitment, communication and contentment as three tips for a blissful marriage. Some of the common problems to ruin a happy marriage, according to him, were lack of budget-making, not good intimate relations, interference from in-laws, misunderstanding the superiority of man as described in Islam, strictness from husband, jealousy and abuse of power of divorce.

Sister Wahida Valiante gave a very helpful session on Islamic family therapy. She compared the contemporary psychological view of human personality and its traits to what Islam has given us. She discussed several models and how they either blame the genetic inheritance, biological disorder or the repressed desires to be the main causes of traits such as aggression, hate, violence, lust, greed and adultery. Islam, on the other hand, makes each person accountable for his or her own actions.

She also looked at the human relationships in the light of the Qur’anic guidance. According to her, it is important to understand family relationship within the context of the Qur’anic belief system and North American secular and liberal society.

The two-day session was one of a kind. Along with food for thought, participants were treated with delicious food, drinks and snacks throughout the length of the session.

2005 Short Course Photos