Smart Integration is a Must for Canada’s Muslims

The Muslim men arrested in Toronto on the weekend are innocent until proven guilty. But if and when any of them is proven guilty in a court of law, I hope and pray that Canada’s Muslims will not be also found guilty by association.

Then the question will become: Why were a few Canadian Muslim youth trying to make a political statement using violence instead of the peaceful means available in a liberal democracy like Canada?

To my knowledge, there is no academic research being done in Canada or any other Western country to address the social aspects of this problem.

In 2003, the Canadian Islamic Congress urged the federal government to allocate research funds to academia to do the needed research in partnership with the community, but we were turned down. Today, the government continues to spend lavishly on the policing side of the problem, but gives zero dollars to support well-documented university research.

Two years ago, after waiting in vain for the government to fund such research, the CIC launched its "smart integration" project despite having limited recourses to do so.

Minorities are often excluded (consciously or unconsciously) from full participation in the life of the host country. As a result, they become highly self-conscious social units whose sense of belonging to a group is colored by the feeling of being distinct from society’s dominant majority.

Although the smart integration model could well prove beneficial for all of Canada’s ethnic and religious communities, it is a must for Canadian Muslims, who now stand at some 750,000 making them the nation’s largest non-Christian religious community.

Here is an example of smart integration in action. When the Canadian Islamic Congress carried out research for its 2004 Election Report, it included a position paper on 20 issues — 10 national and 10 international categories. National issues included some being addressed for the first time by this community, such as health care, taxation and defense spending, while international issues also included non-traditional ones for Canadian Muslims, such as reforming the United Nations.

The report specifically tried to promote "informed, committed, multi- issue voting," urging Canadian Muslims to vote by reminding them that it is both one’s civic and religious duty to do so. Muslims are taught that bearing witness for (i.e. supporting) the best candidate will be divinely rewarded.

As result, for the first time in more than 50 years, the percentage of eligible Canadian Muslims who voted in the 2004 federal election was higher than the national average of 61%. This was a practical and successful exercise in smart integration. By becoming informed, committed, multi-issue voters, Canadian Muslims proved on Election Day 2004 that they could be simultaneously good Muslims and good Canadians.

But post 9/11 Canada nevertheless has created an extremely challenging environment for Muslims and increased the urgency of accelerating the smart integration movement. Imported extremist religious and political ideologies from their (or their parents’) countries of origin are still dominant in some Canadian communities and are hindering smart integration; the result in some cases has been division, fragmentation, increased isolation, and in a few instances, destructive fanaticism.

In response to these challenges, many post-9/11 Canadian Muslims are trying to break away from such ideologies, because they are simply not an appropriate or constructive fit for the time and place in which we live. Because the civil liberties of Canadian Muslims are eroding, they feel they cannot afford to follow the road of either assimilation or isolation.

The Canadian Islamic Congress has worked to link associated current events with smart integration, such as when it called for the community to embrace "smart integration beyond condemnation" in response to recent terrorist acts in the U.S., Spain and London.

Over the 2005 Labour Day weekend, the CIC hosted an intensive two-day short course for Muslims — Imams, teachers, leaders, men and women, youth and seniors — covering such subjects as Canadian history, law, political system, the media, family counseling and Islamic Law. The course – a first in Canada – was well received, with women comprising fully one-third of the participants.

As a guest Imam, I annually present sermons and talks on our smart integration model at some 50 mosques across the country; these are attended by about 50,000 Canadian Muslims and positive feedback is by far the majority response.

The smart integration model allows a minority to be considered an asset, thereby leading to positive feedback that benefits society at large. In the case of Canadian Muslims, smartly integrated individuals and communities are a must.