My fellow Canadians, Good evening. I am a Canadian Muslim, free to speak without fear, to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, and free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all humankind.”
I have shamelessly taken these words from Canada’s 13th PM, John Diefenbaker’s speech on July 1, 1960 because with a slight tweak, these words exemplify why I came to Canada, and as a Canadian I value the freedom to have discussion, debate and dissent with dignity and respect which is why I’m here.
My faith is reflected in a Prophetic statement by Mohammad who said “seek knowledge even if you have to go to China.” He could have said go to China and convert the Chinese or go to China and establish Friday prayer in schools. But he stressed knowledge as the essence of faith – without knowledge faith is just dogma.
Let me add that under Canada’s charter of rights, all of us are free to practice our faiths however we wish in the private sphere of lives and in our places of worship. Within the four walls of our temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, we respect and value the norms of that place of worship – hence we have freedom of religion at its best. However if our religious practices create a nuisance value and impinge on anyone else’s freedom or rights, then it’s problematic.
We stand at a crossroads today where the public and private spheres of our lives have collided. You may wonder why as a Muslim woman I’m totally opposed to the idea of prayer in public schools – any prayer in public school. There are many reasons for this: moral, social, ethical, and religious. Allow me to elaborate.
Firstly, most of us came to this country well aware that Canada is a secular country where the majority is still Christian thank you but there is separation of church and state which we should respect without forcing our religious ideologies on Canadian institutions.
However its interesting to learn that education in Ontario, both public and private, had a religious dimension from the time this country was established with its Christian roots.
As diversity and pluralism grew in Canada, religion in public schools was withdrawn. In 1988 The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the use of the Lord’s Prayer in opening exercises in public schools offended the Charter as it was not inclusive.
So the Lord’s prayer was taken out of public schools because it quote “actually stigmatized children and coerced them into a religious observance which was offensive to them” and Canadians upheld the decision.
There are still enough private religious schools for those who feel strongly about having faith based education. Today there are almost 700 private schools in Ontario including religious schools, but it’s extremely important to see that public schools remain dedicated to secular education and equal treatment for all which is what we came to Canada to celebrate. Hosting congregational prayers for one faith community clearly discriminates against others.
From the religious perspective of my own faith, let me share that there is a spiritual dimension of Islam that is tolerant, peaceful, inclusive and not in your face. This is the traditional, moderate, spiritual message of the faith followed by the majority including me. My family left Pakistan because religion was being thrust down our throats, when the Quran clearly says clearly 2:256 there is no compulsion in religion.
Opposed to this is the political manifestation of Islam which we call Islamism or radical Islam. Islamism is an armed political ideology similar to Fascism and engaged in a worldwide effort to subvert democracies and expand the space for the implementation of its ideology, the Shariah. Radical Islam derives from Islam but is an anti-modern, misanthropic, misogynist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, triumphalist, jihadist, terroristic, and aggressive.
In the past 15 years we have seen the rise of this Saudi funded global threat which aims to slowly entrench itself into the Canadian system through its institutions. Don’t just take my word for this – there is ample proof that this ideology does exist and there are organizations here in Canada who are not interested in the larger good of this country, loyalty to the land or living harmoniously with each other. Just one example is the fact that a member of the Canadian Arab Federation said FU Canada on Canada day and the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress said on public TV that Israeli women and children are justifiable to be killed. The website of MAC openly endorses the Muslim Brotherhood.
Have no doubts that these are the same people who are pushing the envelope for establishment of their ideology in Canadian institutions – first there was sharia by stealth, then the push to pass off niqab as a religious requirement and now congregational prayers in school. If religious communities are dogmatically adamant about implementing their faith in public then they should perhaps listen the advise of the Australian PM who clearly said that immigrants should consider moving to countries where religion is imposed in the public sphere and where sharia might work.
From a social perspective, if institutionalised worship is inculcated in high schools, these same students will join the MSA as soon as they reach University and MSA’s are fast becoming a hotbed for the rise of radical jihadists indulging in anti-Semitism as though it was part of the curriculum. The message is not one of inclusivity or pluralism but the opposite.
Today these Islamists are a minority but if we don’t expose them, they will become the majority and let me assure you they WILL work at diminishing the distance between church and state, between private and public while the meaning of freedom and liberty will no longer be the same.
I’m surprised that the TDSB has become party to such an agenda when it’s very clear that there should be no indoctrination in education. The policy clearly indicates that
a school may sponsor the study of religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.
Let’s take a minute to study the policies of the TDSB – Guidelines and procedures for the accommodation of religious requirements, practices and observances.
“The public school system acknowledges freedom of religion under the charter”
Prayer is school is already legal. Thousands of students are already praying on a voluntary basis (in a non-disruptive way) so formal school prayer is unnecessary. Both my boys went to public school in Toronto and prayed or fasted as their OWN responsibility – as a parent there was never an expectation or demand on the school should accommodate them because it would have made them stand out as a special case which they are not.
Essentially this debate is not about the prayer itself but how and where its performed and more importantly the intent of the people pushing this agenda.
The TDSB guidelines go on to say
“and protection from discrimination and harassment based on religion that is part of the Ontario human rights code.”
From a perspective of human rights and equality, when girls are being made to stand at the back of the room and more importantly their private personal female condition which is no one else’s business but their’s, is exhibited to everyone – what else do you call discrimination and harassment? As a Muslim woman its not only offensive but downright dehumanizing to treat young girls in the way they were at Valley Park. It will confuse them into thinking they are lesser human beings as they grow up, and what message does this give to the larger student body?
Furthermore let me share with you what happens when religious dogma trumps freedoms – in SA few years ago there was a fire in a girls school and some girls were not allowed to escape because their heads were not covered, so they perished in the fire. We call this gender apartheid and there is no place in Canada for such blatant inequality.
Today there is an even bigger ethical and moral dilemma. The board document under the LIMITATIONS TO RELIGIOUS ACCOMODATION says “the board will limit practices or conducts in its schools which may put public safety, health or the human rights and freedoms of others at risk”
It seems that the TDSB doesn’t see how some students are coerced into such gatherings. Coerced they are because let me remind you that there are many denominations among Muslims, some who pray in different ways than others. When a mainstream denomination dominates the prayer room, what happens to the minorities? Also what happens to those who wish to abstain? The psychological pressure, the peer pressure, fear of being ostracised will force them into the space and then be humiliated because of their gender or a different way of praying.
One of the court warnings against having prayers in public school is that School prayer may lead to intolerance. Public prayer will highlight religious differences of which students may have been unaware. Since no school prayer honours the tenets of all religions, it makes sense to keep all prayers out of public schools.
TDSb should not tow the policies of the Islamists but should follow Canadian guidelines in separating church and state and by keeping all prayers out of school. This is the only way Canada will be strong and free.