Canada's Relations with Countries of the Muslim World
A Position Paper
the House of Commons Standing Committee
on Foreign Affairs and International Trade
by the Canadian Islamic Congress,
May 6, 2003.
The Canadian Islamic Congress acknowledges with appreciation the invitation
to present the views of a great many Muslim Canadians on the very timely and
important issue: "Canada's Relations with Countries of the Muslim World."
A -- An Overview of Islam
Islam seeks peace and justice through active participation, alongside the
rituals of its adherents, in all spheres of human existence: political, social,
economic, educational, as well as in the pursuit of human rights, economic
equity and social justice.
"Truly God loves those who are just." (Qur'an, 49:9) "And let not the hatred of
others make you avoid justice. Be just; that is nearer to piety." (Qur'an, 5:8)
Islam is an inclusive religion that encompasses all humanity and celebrates
human diversity and plurality. Instead of "us" and "them," the Qur'an -- which
is the primary revealed source of Islam -- emphasizes "all of us."
"O humankind, We have created you out of a single pair, male and female, and
have made you into differing peoples and tribes that you may know one other.
[The] noblest among you in the eye of Allah is the most righteous [both in
deeds and action]." (Qur'an, 49:13)
Islam is a religion of balance that seeks the middle way in matters of
religious practice and material life. Extremism, either in religious thinking
and practice, or in the physical realm of life (i.e. immoderate
pleasure-seeking, etc.), is believed to create chaos and imbalance within the
individual and throughout society.
"We sent our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and
the balance." (Qur'an, 57:25).
The Qur'an explicitly advises human beings not to commit excesses (5:87), and
also advises them to be moderate (31:19). Moderation, in and of itself, implies
the faithful avoidance of excess in all things.
Throughout the world today, there are growing numbers of Muslims who are
beginning to reflect seriously upon the teachings of the Qur'an, as they become
disenchanted with present conditions in Islamic societies. As this reflection
deepens, it is likely to lead to the realization that the supreme task
entrusted to human beings by God -- that of being God's deputies on earth --
can only be accomplished by establishing justice, which the Qur'an regards as a
necessary prerequisite for authentic peace. Without eliminating the
inequalities and injustices that pervade the personal and collective lives of
human beings, it is not possible to talk about genuine peace in Quranic terms.
B -- Is there a single Muslim world?
From the viewpoint of cultural and linguistic differences, one can say that the
Muslim world is neither monolithic nor ubiquitous. But after centuries of
colonial rule, the struggle to find its own authentic Islamic self-identity and
common purpose in both the political and social realms is a common bond. This
struggle is fraught with many obstacles, some external, and some internal.
Since the 19th century and earlier, external Western intrusions in the form of
political, military and economic interference have stifled the Muslim world's
energy and continuously diverted its focus away from much-needed internal
political, social, economic and educational reforms. Such reforms are vital in
order to build democratic institutions, maintain civil societies, create
economic equity, ensure human rights for all (including women), and further the
development of science and technology.
Key issues that have plagued the Muslim world since 1948 are; the ongoing
occupation and resultant suffering of the Palestinian people, and America's
unwavering support -- financially, militarily and politically -- of oppressive
Israeli policies. This has created much of the unrest, anger, and frustration
in the Muslim world. Even today, nothing has changed for ordinary Palestinians;
thus it continues to fester in the hearts and minds of the Arab population and
throughout the Islamic world.
One of the most damaging negative outcomes for the entire Islamic world of this
unresolved occupation is that Muslims everywhere, including Canadian Muslims,
are being viewed through the prism of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
Additionally, for the past decade the Islamic world has been experiencing the
trauma of helpless Muslim men, women and children suffering. They have been
witness to rape, murder, genocide, death, destruction, ethnic cleansing, and
other atrocities thorough out Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Images of
raped women, slaughter of unarmed men and children dying from targeted
shootings has had a very negative impact on all caring people of the world, but
particularly on the Muslim psyche.
The recent death and destruction and occupation of Iraq have created further
psychological distress and political unrest in the Muslim world. However, this
time Muslims are not alone, for a great many non-Muslim people have also said a
resounding "no" to this war.
As to the internal struggle of the Muslim world, it has been directed toward
cultural practices and tribal loyalties, the very things the teaching of the
Qur'an sought to eliminate. These preoccupations have impeded reform and the
growth of grassroots movements for establishing indigenous democratic
institutions and human rights. Therefore, much needs to be done in the field of
intellectual and critical analysis of the classical interpretations of the
Qur'an and of its traditions, in order to free Islam from the barriers raised
by competing local cultural and tribal practices.
C -- Canada's Relationship with Muslim Majority Countries
Although Muslims make up a significant minority in Canada (numbering about
650,000) they have had very little impact on Canadian domestic or foreign
policy. There are several reasons for this situation.
One is the absence of any federal government initiative or commitment to
promoting a better understanding of the Islamic world; this could be largely
rectified through the establishment of a Muslim affairs portfolio or
ministerial department in Ottawa, providing a centralized venue for sharing
information and ideas.
Secondly, Canadian Muslims are rarely invited to participate in policy
discussions concerning issues of the Muslim world, or to sit on committees that
develop strategies and programs that affect Muslims in Canada and abroad.
A third area of concern arises from the collective Muslim community itself.
Even though Canadian Muslims are very diverse, they share common concerns over
individual rights and freedoms, as well as about war and the killing of Muslims
throughout the world. What they lack here in Canada, however, is a unified
understanding of the political system and the importance of engaging
politicians in proactive discussions on issues of national and international
importance; this is a vital component of being citizens of a democratic
There is some perception in the Muslim community that sociopolitical theories
such as the "clash of civilizations" and prevalent "anti-Islam" biases in the
media have in some measure influenced Canada's foreign policy and direct
dealings with the Islamic world. Nationally, many Muslims feel that they cannot
make a noticeable difference in Canada's foreign or domestic policies,
especially concerning Palestine.
Recent events, for example, have had a prolonged negative impact on the lives
of ordinary Muslims and Arabs in Canada, especially among the younger
generation. Since 9/11 and the widespread investigations launched into numerous
Arab-Islamic organizations, Canadian (and all North American) Muslims have been
afraid to donate to legitimate charities, because they have no idea which
charity will be targeted next. This reduction of charitable funding is causing
incredible hardship to victims of war and occupation overseas, especially
women, children, the elderly and the sick, whose local care giving
organizations rely solely on donations received from Muslims all over the
I have seen with my own eyes the work done by charities in the occupied
territories, including: schools for orphans (especially girls); child day care;
providing of school uniforms; establishing sewing classes and computer training
for women; running co-ops to sell handicrafts; or providing hospital equipment.
Some of these projects have been supported also by CIDA (the Canadian
International Development Agency).
Historically, the consensus among Muslim countries regarding Canada's policies
towards the Islamic world has been positive because of two factors. One is
based on the shared concept of mutual respect and negotiation through dialogue,
rather than through the gun-barrel, sanctions or coercion. The second rests
upon Canada's stated philosophy that true community means "all of us," rather
than "us" versus "them." This resonates with the Muslim heart and mind, for the
Qur'an emphasizes the equality of "one soul" in humanity and this has generated
very positive feelings across the Islamic world.
Many recent changes to our laws -- especially those regarding charities that
play vital roles in the lives of poor women and children in the Middle East --
have exerted great pressure and anxiety upon the lives of Muslims both in
Canada and overseas. Fortunately, this has not so far negated the longstanding
positive feelings and perceptions about Canada held by Islamic countries; even
more so in the light of America's illegal invasion and occupation of Muslim
lands and resources. But even though there have been considerable differences
between the moral and political methodology used in Ottawa and that used by
Washington in resolving international conflicts, those differences are sadly
Historically, including during our era, democracy and rule of law have thrived
most successfully in the West. But hundreds of years before the signing of
Britain's Magna Carta in 1215 and its Bill of Rights in 1689, or France's
Declaration of Rights in 1789, and the American Declaration of Independence in
1776, human dignity and freedom were sanctified in Islamic political theory,
which is rich with many principles and institutions of public law. Here are
- The concept of a written Constitution was exemplified in the Medina
Constitution by Prophet Muhammed in about 600 CE.
- Both state and the government are regarded as trustees of the people
(Qur'an 4:58, 2:42, 42:38, 3:159, 4:59).
- A citizen's duty to obey any secular law and government is conditional
upon rulers obeying the law of God and fulfilling the trust of the people. In
this context were sown the seeds of later ideas, such as legitimate "civil
disobedience" and the right to disregard "lawless laws."
- Government is necessary, but the state and the law are not ends in
- Political and civil rights, such as the right to equality and dignity,
freedom of speech, the right to differ from one's rulers, claims to private
property, presumption of innocence, the right of due process, freedom of
religion, and the right to privacy, must all be recognized.
- Political and civil rights (or negative liberties) must be backed by
socio-economic entitlements (or positive, affirmative rights).
- The independence of the judiciary is a cardinal principle of Islam. Judges
are required to do justice fearlessly and impartially, even if it must be
rendered against themselves, their parents or relatives (Qur'an, 4:135). The
theory of ijtihad, or independent reasoning, allows judges to be wholly
independent in exercising their reason.
- In Islamic history, competitive politics are discouraged, and ideally,
public office should not be sought. It should be accepted as a sacred trust,
and only when offered. Thus, hereditary succession is rejected. The process of
bay'ah, or nomination and approval, is recognized as the legitimate means of
electing a head of state.
- A ruler is duty bound to conduct public affairs by mutual consultation
(Qur'an, 3:159). This paves the way for a whole range of consultative
processes, including the right of free access to information, openness and
transparency in government, and the right to differ with one's rulers on issues
of law and policy.
- The common law principles of natural justice (the rule for fair hearing
and prevention of bias) have their equivalent and antecedents in Islamic
- The principle of proportionality is also taught within the Holy Qur'an
- Judicial remedies are well known to Islamic public law. A qadi (or judge)
who pronounces a judgment is allowed to reconsider it, either on application or
on individual initiative. This is referred to as i'adah al-nazar (or review).
Other courts, too, may review a qadi's prior decision under the process of
al-isti'naf (or higher review).
- Every citizen is enjoined to do what is right and to forbid or prevent
what is wrong (Qur'an 3:104, 110; and 22:41). This paves the way for a liberal
attitude towards the rule of locus standi.
- The system of ombudsman, attributed to the genius of the Scandinavians,
may have originated during the Caliphate Imam Ali (35-40 Hijrah or 656-661 CE)
in the form of the Diwan al-Mazalim - a powerful administrative court that
bears some similarities to the French Conseil d'Etat.
- In an Islamic state, neither the government nor its appointed ruler(s) are
entitled to any immunity from due process of law, and are amenable to the
jurisdiction of ordinary courts.
D -- Current Developments
America's response to the crisis of the September 11th 2001 has substantially
determined what Canada and the rest of the world should do. Canada, for example
(like the rest of the Western and Islamic world) supported the U.S. war on
Afghanistan, although Afghani people were not even involved in the terrorist
For more than 12 years, Canada has also supported American sanctions against
Iraq and its people; these sanctions have caused tens of thousands of needless
deaths and suffering among Iraqi children.
Furthermore, Canada has supported the United Nations in its efforts to disarm
Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. It obviously succeeded in doing so, as
attested by reports from the UN-endorsed weapons inspection teams. In this
regard, it appears that the former Saddam Hussein government was telling the
Our government's decision to join a number of European countries in refusing to
support America's illegal and immoral war against Iraq to some extent has
restored Canada's sovereignty and enhanced its position in the Islamic world.
Although this decision may have created some difficulties with the Bush
administration, these are surmountable because both nations share numerous
E -- Recommendations for Canadian Foreign Policy
Hopes for global peace are currently under a dark cloud of war and destruction,
thus Canada has a very important and strategic role to play in bringing
together the common interests and goals of the Islamic world. This can be
achieved through comprehensive foreign policies designed to reflect the best of
Canadian values and principles.
Canada's foreign policy toward Muslim countries must reflect an understanding
of the historical and religious sensibilities that are driving their internal
struggles to solve ongoing social, political and economic problems, and to
reclaim their authentic Islamic self-identity. This is a similar process to
that experienced by Europe in its post-WWII search for its self-identity and
social reform. There is, however, an essential difference between the Islamic
and European process. At the time when Europe was going through its mid-20th
century changes and reforms, there were no longer foreign powers at its gates
threatening to loot its land or natural resources, or meddle in its internal
Canada's foreign policy toward the Muslim world should include clear directives
to engage in dialogue with Muslims intellectuals and scholars here at home, as
well as in Islamic countries, in order to accelerate the exchange of ideas,
skills, knowledge and experience that would facilitate constructing or
rebuilding civil societies and democracies that embrace diversity and
There is much that Canadians do not understand about Islam and Muslims, thus
public education is a vital tool for promoting harmony, peace and human rights.
Through education, Canada's security concerns can be addressed by promoting
social justice, both at home and abroad, and resolving conflicts based upon the
principles and morals of natural justice, which are the best guarantee for
achieving global security. Therefore, Canada's international status at this
point in history would be potentially very effective if our government were to
take the initiative in launching an international diplomatic effort to bring
about peace with justice in Palestine and Iraq and to help Muslim countries
develop civil society, human rights, and grassroots efforts for bringing about
In conclusion, we would urge the Committee to refer also to the CIC's related
position paper, "A Dialogue on Foreign Policy," recently presented to the Hon.
Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, which the Committee has a copy.
Additionally, the Committee is invited to consult our web page
which contains up-to-date information and a
number of research papers and articles pertaining to current issues in Islam.
Respectfully submitted by:
Mrs. Wahida C. Valiante,
Canadian Islamic Congress