by Mohamed A. Suleiman
Saturday, September 15, 2018
People arrive for Friday prayer at the Assalam Mosque at The Ottawa Islamic Centre. ERROL MCGIHON / POSTMEDIA
On Aug. 22, Muslims around the globe observed Eid Al-Adha, one of two major festivals celebrated each year by people of the Islamic faith. As has been the tradition, the South East Ottawa community congregated at the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque to commemorate this important annual ritual.
However, something was eerily different this year: Politicians from all three levels of government who represent the sizeable Muslim community of South East Ottawa stayed away and decided not to share the festivities with their constituents.
Just a few days before the Eid, on Aug. 9, media outlets learned that the federal government had stripped the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque of its charity status over “activities that promote hate and intolerance.” It was reported that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) took this action against the mosque following audits that raised concerns about its roster of guest speakers.
In a letter sent to the mosque president, the CRA charities branch alleged that “many of the views expressed by the organization’s speakers are misogynistic, homophobic, racist and/or promote violence.” In that same letter, the CRA indicated that these activities took place over a four-year period spanning 2009 to 2013.
Like many others who frequent the mosque to fulfil their spiritual obligations, I was shocked by the nature and extent of the CRA allegations. I have never experienced any such sentiments expressed at the mosque, at any time.
Consequently, I started to scrutinize the content of the letter from the CRA in an attempt to make sense of what was unfolding. However, my attempt to get to the bottom of the CRA’s allegations led me to more questions than answers.
Unlike many other parts of the world, Canada is a country in which the rule of law reigns supreme. It has laws against the hate and intolerance that the CRA indicated had led to the revoking of Assalam Mosque’s charitable status. It also has law enforcement agencies that are charged with safeguarding the laws of the land.
This being the case, any fair-minded citizen would ask himself or herself a few pertinent questions. Chief among these queries are: Why did the CRA wait for almost a decade to revoke the charitable status of the Assalam Mosque? Why was no one ever charged over the allegations that the CRA used as an excuse to revoke the status? What does it say about Canadian law enforcement agencies charged with upholding the law? Where do we draw the line between freedom of conscience and what is deemed to be an expression of hate and intolerance, and who makes that determination?
My analysis of the CRA’s decision to pull the plug on the mosque is that the agency’s action does not pass the smell test. It has the hallmarks of a case where the CRA acted as the judge, the jury, and the executioner.
At difficult times like these, citizens rely on their politicians for guidance and support. However, the Southeast Ottawa politicians from all three levels of government decided to abandon their constituency at this critical juncture, leaving the community to fend for itself. The least they could have done was celebrate with the community on this special festival and use the occasion to stress the importance of respect and tolerance when it comes to living in our pluralistic society.
With a municipal election looming and a federal election to be held in 2019, I am not sure whether the Muslim community of Southeast Ottawa will forget the betrayal that they felt this past Eid Al-Adha.
Mohamed A. Suleiman is a retired teacher who lives in Ottawa.
E-mail: [email protected]
This article originally appeared in Ottawa Citizen on Sept 13, 2018