Opinion Letters

Columnist misrepresents Muslims

Re: “Trudeau in hot seat with Muslims,” column, Dec. 21

I was saddened, but, unfortunately, not surprised, to see another mainstream Muslim event misrepresented in the syndicated opinion column by Tarek Fatah.

It is very tempting to address the misinformation in this piece; however, I am going to try to put into practice some of the teaching that was given in this conference, Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS), particularly the advice given by world-renowned scholar Karen Armstrong, who addressed the conference on the need to engage in a global, non-sectarian vision of compassion in action.

The answer to the inevitable bad press that is generated by anything Islamic or, in the case of IRFAN-Canada, by attempting to address humanitarian concerns faced by Palestinians (note that IRFAN is appealing the revocation of its charity status), is not to remain locked in a pointless exchange of accusations and counter-accusations focused on who we are not. Rather, we should devote more time to showing — in action — who we are.

The conference was a phenomenal experience for the more than 20,000 Muslims and non-Muslims who attended, along with the estimated 100,000 who followed it through live streaming. In addition to Armstrong, who encouraged us to commit to the Charter of Compassion (charterforcompassion.org), was Habib Ali Al-Jifri, who addressed the crowd in a lecture, “When the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) is Mocked.” Al-Jifri gave us a powerful message that the misbehaviour of Muslims — supposedly in defence of the Prophet — is more insulting to the Prophet than the offensive film Innocence of Muslims. Why? Because the film is not true, but these examples of repulsive behaviour are true and, as Al-Jifri stressed, reformation of this bad behaviour is the first issue that the Muslim community needs to address.

Al-Jifri ran an online survey asking whether the film itself or the killing of the American ambassador to Libya was more offensive. More than 90% of his respondents felt that the death of the ambassador was more offensive, a response that was supported by Al-Jifri and the RIS audience. Another point I remember hearing in an address by Imam Zaid Shakir was that jihad is the inner struggle against selfishness and greed, “not putting bombs in marketplaces. That’s just murder.”

It’s really sad to see that the positive vision and commitment to the humanitarian values of Islam promoted in this conference have been mislabelled as “Islamist” and pro-Hamas. And it’s even sadder that this misinformation is appearing throughout Sun Media’s publications. You would think that the average Canadian would like to know of the overwhelmingly affirming messages of this conference, and it is time for more responsibility in the media in conveying accurate information. A letter to the editor or post, unfortunately, will not receive the same level of exposure as syndicated opinion columns. However, I have hope in the honesty of our local community to look into the facts more carefully.

According to Armstrong, this is an issue of compassion in action. When a particular group is repeatedly stigmatized, take the time to find out the facts directly — not through the labels of others.

The lectures from this conference are available through the RIS website. Please take the time to find out the positive messages that are really being taught or, even better, I would encourage everyone who can to come to the next RIS convention. Non-Muslims are welcome.

Barbara Helms

Chair, Cornwall Interfaith Partnership

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