Thanks to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, Islamophobia is at an all-time high. Violent extremists have succeeded in distorting the common perception of who Muslims really are. Most North Americans now equate Islam with violence, and think Muslims are bent on world domination.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are an exceptionally peaceful and tolerant people who seek to live in harmony and happiness with their non-Muslim neighbors. But as the saying goes, all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
The Canadian Council of Imams Declaration is a major step by the good people of Islam to stand up and take back their religion and their religion's public image from fanatics.
The members of the Canadian Council of Imams are the scholarly elite of mainstream Islam in Canada, and they decide what Muslims are taught in our mosques. The CCI Declaration affirms that human life is more sacred than religious laws, and that Islam promotes good citizenship, gender equity and the right of an individual to choose how he or she dresses, lives, acts and believes. This is the first time an entire country of Muslim leaders has come together to declare that they will continue to teach a common set of positive virtues that reflect the true nature of Islam.
There is no denying that Muslims in other times and other places have believed other things, or that there are some Canadian Muslims who hold divergent views. However, misogynist, violent and aggressive or anti-Semitic interpretations of Islam are not mainstream views, and Canada's mainstream Imam's scholarly and enlightened understanding of our religion effectively refutes every extremist interpretation, too.
I debated a non-Muslim Islamic "consultant" in Virginia last month, who told me that the Quran commands Muslims to fight with Jews and Christians. I replied that the verse he quoted came in response to a rumored army that had gathered in the north bent on Islamophobic genocide. The verse wasn't telling Muslims when to fight: they marched north expecting a bloody battle to the death. At the time it actually prevented bloodshed by telling Muslims when to stop fighting.
The "consultant" also quoted a scholarly treatise in support of violent expansionary jihad from the eighteenth century, and I reminded him that most of mainstream eighteenth-century Christianity also perverted the Bible to support the slave trade.
During a different discussion, another so-called expert claimed Muslims were bent on destroying churches. I told her about Caliph Umar, a Muslim warrior who refused the Christian Patriarch's offer to pray in Jerusalem's main cathedral after Umar had conquered the city, "so future Muslims would not declare it a mosque, that it remain a church forever."
It all got me wondering whether people who dislike Islam are really the best ones to provide your information about either Muslims or Middle Eastern history.
The CCI Declaration states, "We believe in peaceful coexistence, dialogue, bridge building, and cooperation among all faiths and people for the common good of humanity," because any imam worth his beard will tell you that Muhammad supported freedom of religion, too.
For example, when a Christian group that Muhammad was meeting within his hometown of Medina asked permission to leave the city to perform Christian rites, he invited them to use his mosque instead, not because he approved or agreed with their beliefs, but because he respected their intention to worship God in the best way that they knew how.
Likewise, the Canadian Council of Imams Declaration is an important response to both al Qaeda and radical fear; it reclaims Islam from all those who crave conflict, while at the same time reaching out to non-Muslims, and it empowers Muslims who love Islam, America and Canada together, proclaiming that we can find a shared path to peace that includes us all.
Read the Canadian Council of Imams Declaration below:
We, the imams who have signed below, hereby affirm and declare the following fundamental points:
1. We believe in the oneness of Allah (God) and in the oneness of humanity and that all the Messengers of God, including the final Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), have taught human beings how to come closer to God and closer to one another. Islam is a religion of nature and humanity, one that teaches that a person cannot be a good Muslim until he/she becomes a good human being. All human beings are equal, and all of them are the children of Adam and Eve (peace be upon them). The best Muslim is the one who is good to his/her family and neighbors and one who avoids harming others with his/her hand or tongue.
2. We believe in peaceful coexistence, dialogue, bridge building, and cooperation among all faiths and people for the common good of humanity. Islam does not permit the killing of innocent people, regardless of their creed, ethnicity, race, or nationality. The sanctity of human life overrides the sanctity of religious laws. Islamic rulings do not -- and should not -- contradict natural laws. Islam is a religion that promotes peace, justice, equality, dignity, and freedom for all human beings.
3. We believe in the preservation of all the necessities of life. Islam upholds the sanctity of religion, life, intellect, family/society, and property.
4. We believe that the well-being of our fellow citizens is the well-being of Muslims, and that the well-being of Muslims is the well-being of our fellow citizens. Being law-abiding people is part of the Islamic practice, and following the pristine teachings of Islam leads to good citizenship.
5. We believe in gender equity and each man and each woman's divine right to education, social contribution, work, and treatment with respect and dignity. Men and women complement each other, and healthy relationships between them are essential to a healthy society.
6. We believe that it is the right of every individual adult person to determine for themselves their conduct towards and within their society (for example, in matters of dress or good manners), and their personal conduct in matters of faith and belief as well, as long as their conduct does not threaten the common good. Likewise, we believe that every society must be allowed to express and celebrate humanity's profound cultural diversity, as long as the expression of that diversity does not include the compulsion of any individual to violate their own human rights, or their personal values, or their human nature, or otherwise threaten the common good of all people.
7. We believe and strongly encourage Muslims to seriously engage in civic life and contribute to their communities and society as much as they can.
Imam Dr. Hamid Slimi (Canadian Council of Imams/Faith of Life Network)
Imam Ismail Fetic (Bosnian Islamic Centre of Hamilton)
Imam Dr. Arafat Elashi (Scholar & Lecturer in GTA)
Imam Dr. Ziyad Delic (Canadian Islamic Congress, Ottawa)
Imam Habeeb Ali (Canadian Council of Imams, Secretary)
Imam Abdul Hai Patel (Canadian Council of Imams, Interfaith Relations)
Imam Dr. Mohammad Iqbal Al-Nadvi (Alfalah Islamic Center, Oakville)
Imam Hafiz Faizan-ul Haq (West End Islamic Center, Mississauga)
Imam Yusuf Badat (Islamic Foundation of Toronto)
Imam Omar Subedar (The Islamic Society of Peel, Brampton)
Imam Ashraf Baddar (Faith of Life Network)
Imam Abdullah Hatia (Islamic Association of Saskatchewan, Regina)
Imam Mohamed Arif Desai (Masjid Darul Iman, Markham)
Imam Prof. Abdulvehab Hoxha (Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto)
Imam Sikander Ziad Hashmi (Islamic Centre of Kingston)
Imam Mohamed Nafis Bhayat (Jame Masjid, Mississauga)
Imam Mahomed Iqbal Subrathi (Markaz-ul-Islam Masjid, Edmonton, Alberta)
Imam Anver Moallim (Jami Omar - Ottawa)
Imam Michael AbdurRashid Taylor (Islamic Chaplaincy Services Canada)
Imam Dr. Aly Hindy (Salaheddin Islamic Centre, Toronto)
Imam Tarek Abu Noman Mohammad (Islamic Center of Cambridge)
Imam Zamir Ahmed Chohan (Islamic Foundation of Toronto)
Imam Jamal Hammoud (Muslim Council of Calgary)
Imam Abdul Raaoof Kabar (Muslim Council of Calgary)
Imam Ahmad Abdul Kadir (Muslim Council of Calgary)
Imam Hafiz Asim (Brampton Islamic Centre)
Imam Ahmed Ibrahim (Brampton Muslim Community)
Imam Ahmad Kutty (Islamic Institute of Toronto)
Imam Abdool Hamid Akbar (Islamic Institute of Toronto)
Imam Nedzad Hafizovic (Bosnian Islamic Centre, Toronto)
Imam Shabir Ally (Islamic Information Centre, Toronto)
Imam Ayman Al-Taher (International Muslims Organization of Toronto)
Imam Mohamad Khatib (Muslim World League, Toronto)
Imam Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (Danforth Islamic Centre & Baitul Aman Masjid)
Imam Refaat Mohamed (Barrie Mosque)
Imam Alaa Elsayed (Islamic Centre of Canada-ISNA)
Imam Khaled Alazhari (Ottawa Mosque)
Imam Mohammad J. Qazi (Masjid al-Farooq Islamic Centre, Mississauga)
More signatures to be added.