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Canadian Muslims and the upcoming elections

By Imam Dr. Zijad Delic

Introduction: Reflection

“Verily! God commands that you should render back the trusts to those, to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching which He (God) gives you! Truly, God is ever All-Hearer, All-Seer.” (Qur’an, An Nisa 58).

(April 21, 2011) – Does it matter who is the captain on a ship? Does it matter who leads us? Does it matter if a leader is ethical and accountable? Does it matter if you and I are active, involved and engaged? Does it matter if we are voiceless? Does it matter…?

I believe that all of the “matters” mentioned above do matter – they matter purely and simply because they speak to conditions that are essential for our survival as human beings and as citizens of Muslim faith within the larger realm of our nation.

If we avoid active involvement and engaged participation, we give others a chance to design one-size-fits-all policies that can make just as great an impact on our lives as on the rest of the population, but with one critical difference – those policies lack our input.

Background: Old Faith — New Challenges

Islam – Muslims’ faith – teaches us not only how to worship the Creator in visible and formal ways – such as by going to mosque — but also how to conduct ourselves and our daily affairs during our journey through earthly life.

While Canadian Muslims play a leading and supportive roles in many areas of Canadian life, one place in which they do not have a “say” proportional to their presence and contributions is in the political arena.

We have had, and have, a few bright stars and pioneers in political activities who have laid down the foundation.

Unfortunately, we notice now that’s not enough.

Political awareness among Canadian Muslims has lagged behind its accomplishments in other areas. We cannot allow this trend to continue today or in the future.

Time is ripe to get engaged and vote for our own good and the good of citizens and this great nation. If we fail to participate as responsible citizens on May 2, we could end up not counting at all in the halls of power for an indefinite time in the future.

Let me examine the key introductory question: What is the position of Islam in determining how Muslims can take on a meaningful role in Canadian politics?

This election is not about politicians. This election is about Canadians, Canada and Canada’s place in the global village.

It is very important for Canadian Muslims that our country be led by people committed to building an inclusive society where all citizens will feel safe and secure. At the top of the ideal list will be those candidates who care about interests of Canada and Canadian citizens and not only about their partisan campaigns.

At the top of the list of candidates should be those who are committed to a strong economy and spending for improvements to education, health care and care for the environment; those who believe in a constructive welfare state to protect the poor, needy, homeless, and vulnerable minorities; those who will justly support peace in the world – not wars. Such candidates should be elected to ensure that our government builds a healthy atmosphere for all Canadians, regardless of their origin, religious tradition, or gender.

So when Canadian Muslims take the initiative to communicate their opinions to the government through such candidates, then their voices and ideas will be heard and considered. When they participate and communicate with other Canadians on matters of common, national and societal concerns, they open up horizons of opportunities for all.

Now, more than ever, it is the religious and civic responsibility of Canadian Muslims to come out of hibernation and let others see them, hear their voices, be exposed to their opinions, and listen to their untold stories and aspirations.

Politics: An important or unimportant job?

Yet there are some Muslims who “do not have time” for politics because there are other, more important things to be done. That’s what they think!

They would rather leave this “unimportant” job to someone else.

Eligible Canadian Muslims who do not vote allow others, by default, to elect officials who will influence their lives through the policies and decisions they make on local, national, or international levels.

But it is both obvious and inevitable that injustice, prejudice and unfairness will flourish if Muslims who are eligible to vote — who have the power to determine the direction Canada will take – take no action to utilize it for benefits of all Canadians. 

As a Canadian religious community endowed with a praiseworthy ethical system and moral values which are compatible with Canadian ones, Muslims should realize that participation in the Canadian political process is not only a constitutional right and societal obligation, but a spiritual duty as well.

The hard reality is that uninvolved Muslims become part of the passive “silent majority’ whose lack of participation leads to stagnation.

Canada: A huge ship with diverse passengers

In fact, it is the duty of Muslims to actively participate in forging community relationships, embracing political advocacy and improving the environment in which they live. 

It is their sacred obligatory duty – or Fard!

The Messenger of God, Muhammad (peace be on him), advised Muslims that they are obliged to stand and protect the place in which they live from internal or external threats that can affect all of society.

Muhammad (peace be on him), the great man, great teacher, and consummate role model in all walks of life, said: “The similitude of those who carry out the orders of God and those who violate these orders are like two groups of people on a ship; one group of them occupied the deck and other group occupied a part below the deck. And when those from below the deck needed water, they went asking the other group: ‘If we would pierce a hole in our part, we will not harm those above us.’ If they let them do what they have intended to do, all of them will be destroyed, but if they stop them, they will be safe and all of them will be safe.” (Prophetic tradition – Bukhari, Tirmithi)

Canada is like a big ship carrying many passengers, both careful and careless ones.

Some among those who make decisions on our behalf think they are not accountable to anyone and that they can safely chart their own course without considering our opinions.

But they often make big mistakes and do great injustice to everyone on the ship.

Every mistake or intentional movement towards a mistake (and we have seen much of it in the last few years) affects the course and direction of the ship in which we all sail. During last several years, Canadians have seen much of deception and dishonesty on the Hill.

The minority ruling party wasn’t able to teach young Canadians anything positive. All what they did in the House of Commons or outside was fighting their own battles. A good friend of mine called it “a political zoo.”

Thus, if the ship becomes swamped due to the transgressions of some passengers (specifically those who lead the ship), all will suffer the unavoidable catastrophe of its sinking.  The best way to prevent such a calamity is to prevent unsuitable individuals from taking positions of command on the bridge of the ship of state.

Canadian citizens of all diverse faith or no-faith backgrounds live together among the many cultures of this great land.

Muslim Canadians are an integral part of this country. However, if they, as they should, do not connect with the Canadian way of life and actively work at having influence on decision-making, they have not fulfilled their duty here as Muslims. They will always be on the outside, complaining about problems, yet doing little to solve them.

Political awareness entails a broad and current knowledge of Canadian and global issues, as well as knowledge of the processes behind involvement and participation in Canadian decision-making. Such knowledge lays the foundation for achieving community recognition in mainstream society.

Therefore, if we do not focus on increasing our political awareness, we will not be able to develop the healthy foundation our community needs in order to overcome many obstacles – internal and external – in the way we deal with schools, colleges, universities, social institutions, health institutions, security institutions, and so on.

But once we become fully involved in the political process, we will become defined both as individuals and a community, quite unlike the loose identity we have been living with until recently. Speaking up in the political arena and expressing or sharing ideas will force us to represent ourselves and Canada more effectively.

Political Advocacy in Canada: An Urgent “Must” for Canadian Muslims

Speaking frankly about the subject, I do not see how we can survive as a healthy Canadian Muslim community, one that remains faithful to its faith heritage as well as to this great country, without moving to a planned and conscious state of political involvement.

Otherwise, how can we exert any control or influence over our own destiny?

Someone else is going to do the policy planning for us, be it good or bad, useful or useless, beneficial or harmful. If we fail to increase our political awareness and involvement, if we fail to participate with other Canadians in creating a better and healthier environment for all, then our very existence – existence of all – is threatened.

As the foregoing clearly illustrates, taking part in political and social activism for the good of all passengers on the ship of state fulfills the totality of Islam. It is the realization of our faith’s basic principle “enjoining and spreading goodness and opposing evil and injustice.”

With political candidates who walk-the-talk and speak an ethical language we understand and support, we would be able to communicate to all Canadians what really matters to us as citizens and what matters to Canada. Until that happens, we will not be taken seriously or be trusted by mainstream society.

And sadly, we are still not trusted in our own country!

We have many things to offer Canada’s great multicultural society, yet we hold back and hide so much of our potential. The result is that we are not heard, seen, or appreciated.

That leaves us unaware of how much we can benefit ourselves and Canada if we emerged from hibernation and became proactive for what is right, fair and important to all. The potential good we can do here in an atmosphere of freedom of expression and religion, of open-mindedness and justice far exceeds what Muslims have been able to achieve elsewhere, even in predominantly Muslim countries.

But again, it takes our involvement and commitment in politics, advocacy, social justice, and all beneficial causes to be able to help ourselves and others. We may not be able to improve and save the entire world (not all at once!) but we could be part of the groundswell of needed change and bring a new spark of hope to many. It has to start somewhere. Canada deserves to be that starting point!

It perhaps goes without saying that there’s a big difference between those who try in life and those who do not; similarly, there is a big difference between those who are active and those who are not. There is also a big difference between those who act properly and ethically and those who couldn’t care less. There is a big difference between those who help themselves toward greater achievement and those who don’t care about what happens outside their own doors.

All of us who came here from other parts of the world have chosen willingly to live Canada. It has been our choice to stay here rather than seek somewhere else to call home. 

Then let us involve ourselves wholeheartedly in Canadian society and be unhesitating in our commitment to promoting goodness, justice, and fairness for all.

For if we hold back and neglect this privilege and duty, the consequences of our laziness and carelessness will affect us all — our families, our Canadian Muslim community, and all the other passengers on the ship we call Canada.

Conclusion: Receiving the Message

Slowly but surely, Muslims are making their presence felt all across the Canadian political landscape, albeit far behind some other minority communities.

We still have a lot to learn about the political processes at work in our own country.

But it is not that Islam stops people from becoming more involved; it is often personal choices, born of cultural conditioning and lack of awareness which stand on the path of our political participation.

And each individual who chooses to “hibernate” deep in the hold of the ship of state is wholly responsible for the consequences of his or her inaction and apathy. My issue with this is that the inaction of an individual ultimately affects everyone in the country, directly or indirectly.

So, the question should not be: Are we voting on May 2? It is obvious that we have to vote.

The real question should be: Whom are we voting for?

Let us gear up for action now and get out on May 2, 2011 and VOTE!

In twenty years it will be too late. I am just delivering the message; but time will witness to the truth of it.

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