[By BOB HARVEY, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN , MARCH 5, 2001]
Reprinted from "The Friday Bulletin" published by the Canadian Islamic Congress
Islam is Canada's fastest-growing religion, and in this year's census, it is expected to surge well past Judaism and be recognized as Canada's second-largest religious group. Even on the 1991 census, there were more Muslims than Jews in Alberta and 10 of Canada's 25 metropolitan cities.
According to Daood Hassan Hamdani, an Ottawa economist who has analysed Muslim immigration and birth rates, the number of Muslims in Canada has more than doubled since then, from 293,000 to about 650,000. Toronto alone has at least 16 Muslim schools.
(On March 5, 2001, most Muslims took) a day off work and school to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice. It is one of Islam's two major festivals, marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating Abraham's offering of his son Ishmael to God.
Iman Faris, his wife Zameela Shaw, and their daughter Ayesha, will begin their celebrations with communal prayers. Then it's off to visit family and friends, give Ayesha a present and tell her how God took care of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.
Hamdani, a pioneer writer on the evolution of Canada's Muslim community, said Islam has already had a great impact on Canada. The first Muslims came here before Confederation, but the Muslim population did not start to boom until the 1960s when Canada removed immigration quotas on Asians and Africans.
Today, he says, Muslims can find their native foods in grocery stores, and order special meals in airplanes and hospitals. Schools, businesses and professional associations take Muslim holidays into account in their schedules, the Koran is sometimes quoted in public meetings, and Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other politicians attend Muslim events.
But perhaps the biggest contribution Islam has made to Canada is through the accomplishments of individual Muslims. Mr. Hamdani himself is one of the world's leading authorities on the measurement of innovation in industry. Firoz Rasul is the CEO of Ballard Power Systems in Vancouver, whose research on (hydrogen fuel cell) solar-powered (and other alternate fuel-powered) motor vehicles has caught the attention and the money of auto manufacturers. Larry Chabin was Canada's first Muslim provincial cabinet minister in Alberta in the 1970s and '80s. Mrs. Tyseer Aboulnasr is the dean of engineering at the University of Ottawa.
Muslims are also better-educated than most Canadians: 27 per cent have graduate degrees, as compared to only 17 per cent of all other Canadians. They have made major contributions as pioneering farmers in Alberta, as well as in government, industry and high-tech enterprises.
Baha Abu-Laban, a sociologist and director of the Prairies Centre for Excellence in Research on Immigration, said that in terms of human rights, Canada is much better off today than it was 40 years ago, and Muslims have contributed to making it a world leader in that area.
He noted that, "like other groups who faced discrimination and prejudice, the Muslims fought back and have helped Canada become a more humane country."
Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo, and president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said Canada has also had an impact on Muslims.
Most Muslim immigrants came from countries where Muslims are either in the majority, or make up at least a large minority of the population.
Here in Canada, Muslim leaders have been forced to re-articulate Islam's position on women. "There is a difference between the text of the Qur'an and the practice of some Muslim governments and some Muslim individuals," he said.
Elmasry said Canadian Muslims have also had to learn how to present Islam to their children in a society that is indifferent to religion, go into partnership with other faiths, and become socially and politically active to combat stereotyping of Muslims by the media and discrimination in the workplace.
"These are new challenges for Muslims," he said.
(abridged for The Friday Bulletin)