Canadian progressive Muslim organizations promote secular values

Courtesy: Flickr Commons

Courtesy: Flickr Commons

Hijab is acceptable but niqab isn’t

Quebec’s values charter isn’t the only secular motion passed in recent times; eight progressive Canadian Muslim organizations launched a coalition in Parliament Hill to push separation of religion and politics.

The Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations (CPCMO) is an umbrella for progressive Muslims across Canada with Canadian values such as gender equality, one law for all, freedom of expression and education against radicalization.  It was launched in the presence of minister of state for multiculturalism, Tim Uppal, and minister of employment, social development & multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

CPCMO supports Muslims who recognize that sharia is a time-bound, humanly constructed, legal-political system created in the ninth century, which is at odds with the modern world, and are working towards reform.

“Sharia laws are arbitrary laws that do not advocate gender equality that have no room in the 21st century today. These are barbaric laws that are at odds with modern day Canada,” said Tahir Gora, secretary general of CPCMO.

“There are organizations that talk about progressive Muslim values so we thought if we come along with each other we could raise our issues and concerns and confront some of the sharia law bound organizations and others who don’t like gender equality so we decided to raise our voice by coming together,” he said.

Gora is one of the founders of CPCMO, who heads his own organization, called Canadian Thinkers’ Forum. Other organizations that came together to form CPCMO are Islamic Council for Interfaith Harmony, Muslim Committee Against Anti-Semitism, Progressive Muslims Institute Canada, Project Ijtihad, the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and Western Canadian Muslims for democracy. Gora said the founders of the eight organizations share similar ideas and interests. Most of them are friends and have known each other for a while.

Demonstration against Quebec's Values Charter early this year. Courtesy: Flickr Commons

Demonstration against Quebec’s values charter early this year.
Courtesy: Flickr Commons

“Our coalition wants to say very clearly that there’s no room for Islamic terrorism in Canada and elsewhere in the world. And there’s this segregation between men and women in many Islamic centres, even here in Canada, and we don’t want to see gender segregation, at least in our circles. These are primary issues we want to address,” said Gora.

He said the CPCMO will form Islamic centres that will provide music, art and dance lessons for Muslim kids without segregating men and women during prayer time. One such centre will make its debut in Mississauga in 2014.

CPCMO is a think-tank to provide a platform for diverse voices within the Muslim communities in Canada, who are engaged in following the principles and values stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while understanding the reasons that lead to problems of Muslim radicalization.

CPCMO believes in separating politics and religion and hence supports Quebec’s values charter, although it isn’t clear on all aspects of the charter. Gora said members of CPCMO are in agreement with public workers not wearing religious symbols while they’re at work.

Rasoul B., an immigrant from Tehran who is self-employed in Canada, said he has been exposed to many cultures while he’s been here, but did not find a major difference in values. For example, back home, he was brought up to respect others, and those same values apply here in Canada.

“There are small differences like back home you do not walk out on the street without hijab. It’s a must, you should have hijab but here there’s no such thing,” he said.

Rasoul agreed that politics and religion should be separate.

Gora said CPCMO has progressive ideas. For example, the coalition does not believe in women wearing niqab, but have nothing against a hijab.

“Hijab is just a head scarf but does not cover your face. Niqab covers your face and conceals your identity. We’re against niqab for many reasons. Safety issues and it deprives opportunity of Muslim women being equivalent in society. It deprives them of equal opportunity. There shouldn’t be any room for niqab in Canada,” he said.

Imam Aslam Nakhuda at Madinah Masjid, a mosque on Danforth Ave. in Toronto, agreed with the idea of separating religion and politics. He said he isn’t clear on Quebec’s values charter, but doesn’t see anything wrong with government enforcing some rules for their employees.

He said every workplace has a uniform in place that all employees are expected to abide by. “If a person feels this is my religious obligation and if a certain institution doesn’t allow them maybe they can leave there and look for somewhere else that is more accommodating,” he said.

He added that a problem occurs if the government starts imposing these rules and regulations on people or civilians.

He advised Muslim immigrants that if they feel strongly about following their culture and religion they should be allowed to as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Gora’s advice was to understand the distinction between religion and culture.

“Immigrants should bring their culture, their music, their art, is certainly welcome. But that doesn’t mean Muslims or any other community should not celebrate other cultures. Because it’s not a one way street,” he said, while explaining Canada is a blend of many cultures and no community can shun other cultures.

He said culture is a vast term and religion could be part of it, but never the other way around.

Gora said, “In the name of freedom of religion we suppress ideas and freedom of expression. Hence we need to sit down and find a balance. We support freedom of religion, but as long as our freedom of idea and thought is not suppressed.”