Obstacles to Constructive Integration of Canadian Muslims

There are internal and external barriers to constructive integration of Canadian Muslims within mainstream Canadian society. I will not discuss the external obstacles in this article, since we often cannot make a huge impact on them if we do not deal first with the internal ones.

The greatest current obstacle on the way to full Muslim integration in Canada originates from our own attitudes toward interpreting Islam in a new context.

According to contemporary Muslim writers, the major shortcoming of many ideas circulating among Muslim groups in Western society is that they do not reflect the core logic of Islam. In many cases, there exists form without spirit; that is, concepts which are missing the aims and objectives of primary and foundational Islamic texts.

Unfortunately there are still some (too many) Muslim community leaders in Western society who think and behave within social and relational models copied verbatim from their various countries of origin. These culturally and historically limited ideas have been uneasily forced into the context of modern Western Muslim communities with little or no consideration for how they are applied in such a different context.

In discussing the weak educational systems of many Muslim societies, Al-Attas blames their failings on the inadequacy of imported educational methods, which result in what he aptly describes as "captive minds."

Such systems originate when Muslims who received their higher education in Western universities return (with all good intentions) to their native countries and try to apply what they have learned about education and public policy without regard for the prevailing local conditions, culture, religion, economies and politics.

Al-Attas explains that this is not about "a simple adaptation of techniques and methodologies but of the conceptual apparatus, systems of analysis, and selection of problems… The captive mind does not consider another possible alternative, that is, methodological non-alignment. One can, after all, choose one’s own problems independently; develop methodology according to local needs, without being dictated [to] by external forces." (Al-Attas, 1974)

This is also true of individual Muslims who have made Canada or another Western country their home, yet still suffer from the "captive mind" syndrome, due to an inability to discard or reframe the thought processes brought from their countries of origin. In my view, the "captive mind" of some Canadian Muslims exhibits these key characteristics:

  • it is uncreative and incapable of formulating original ideas and solutions;
  • it is incapable of devising an analytical method independent of current stereotypes;
  • it is fragmented in outlook;
  • it is alienated from the major issues of Canadian society; and
  • it is tragically unconscious of its own captivity within the value and approaches of the country of origin and the conditioning factors that have made it that way.

Consequently, the captive mind suffers from intellectual bondage and a paralyzing dependency authorities (often distant ones) outside itself –” and such authorities do not know or understand the new contexts that migrating Muslims face.

As citizens of Canadian society, some Muslims thus avoid addressing emergent problems in their midst, nor do they risk offering solutions. Rather, they see the wider world as white or black, abandoning the creative and adaptive middle ground that Islamic formative principles advocate.

It is this reticent and passive attitude, more than anything else, which explains why it has been so difficult for some Muslims to reconcile the internal and external conflicts between their cultures of origin and Canadian society, even though they have immigrated here by choice. And this very attitude is in urgent need of reform and renewal so that new aspirations and means of progress can be brought into our Canadian Muslim communities from coast to coast.

The key to achieving this essential and urgent change lies with increased education, public participation, and individual engagement. Only through proactive outreach can Muslims be motivated to claim their rightful place in forming the living history of contemporary liberal, democratic and multicultural Canadian society.