Canadian Churches Decry Rising Islamophobia
By Muneeb Nasir
(October 25, 2015) – Churches and faith groups are calling on all Canadians, including the media and politicians, to take a stand against the rising bigotry and discrimination in the country against Muslims.
“Quakers are appalled at the bigotry and discrimination we see targeting the diverse members of the Muslim faith in Canada,” stated a letter issued by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) on October 20.
“We call on all Canadians to stand against this.”
The letter is signed by Lana Robinson, a clerk at the Canadian Friends Service Committee, and Elaine Bishop, the presiding clerk at the Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
“We cannot help but think that deeply divisive and harmful political rhetoric is one of the drivers of this growing hostility. We are witnesses to scapegoating of Muslims, which distracts from the many significant issues this country faces,” writes Robinson and Bishop.
“We ask our politicians and news media to take firm stands against Islamophobia, hate, racism, division and inequity.”
The letter calls for initiatives across Canada to foster understanding among citizens.
“To retain and strengthen its multicultural identity, Canada needs to increase educational and intercultural dialogue initiatives that will foster understanding and share accurate information about our diverse communities,” it reads.
“Like Christians and Jews, most Muslims live by the creeds of the Abrahamic Traditions, which honor peace, love, and commitment to God and to creation. These Abrahamic faiths share history, and some fundamental moral and spiritual beliefs.
“We support the right of individuals to choose to wear the clothing that they feel is appropriate to them, including the hijab, burka or niqab. Human rights, such as the right to religious expression, are of critical importance. When human rights are taken away for any Canadians, rights are effectively made vulnerable for all.
“We recognize that the niqab has been worn by some Muslim women in Canada for decades and it is neither new nor a threat. We encourage those who are afraid of the clothing or customs of their Muslim neighbours to remain calm and to examine the real sources of their discomfort,” added the Quakers’ letter.
On October 9th, the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, wrote a letter to members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church expressing concern about the discourse in the country around the niqab.
“I am troubled by the recent tone of national debate regarding the right of Muslim women in Canada to choose to wear the niqab,” wrote the Rev. Susan C. Johnson.
“At times the discourse, especially online, has been derogatory, prejudiced, and characterized by a suspicion or downright fear of the other in our midst. Such rhetoric has consequences.
“Behind these heated debates—and these veils—are individual human beings whose human dignity and human rights must be respected and protected. For Christians, human rights are grounded in the dignity accorded each human being by virtue of having been made in the image and likeness of their Creator.”
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms names freedom of conscience and religion first among the “fundamental rights” of the people of this land. As Christians, we do not seek religious freedom that is denied to others. Rather, we support an inclusive society, open to all,” noted the Rev, Johnson.
“I call on the members of our church, our civic leaders, those currently seeking federal office, and all the citizens of this land to treat the strangers in our midst—and those whom we will welcome as refugees—as we would like to be treated, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”
The Rev. Susan C. Johnson also called for greater intercultural and interfaith encounters among Canadians.
“One way of challenging negative stereotypes of others from whom we differ is to get to know them personally, rather than to rely on caricatures that are sometimes generated by ulterior motives,” she wrote.
“I therefore also encourage everyone to seek out opportunities to meet for themselves their neighbors of other faiths and cultures, to do so in a spirit of openness and welcome, and in recognition of our common humanity.”
On October 13th, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, the Moderator the United Church of Canada wrote a letter to the United Church membership expressing concern over the rising Islamophobia.
“I’m writing to you today because I am deeply disturbed by what I have been hearing from Canadians around the question of the right of Muslim women in Canada to wear the niqab,” wrote Reverend Jordan Cantwell.
“The tone of the conversation, especially on social media, has bordered at times on hate-mongering.”
“I urge all of you in our church, our political leaders, and all people of good will to challenge the prejudice and Islamophobia that are escalating in our country,” added Reverend Cantwell.
“And I encourage all of us to make an effort to get to know our Muslim sisters and brothers. Prejudice and fear thrive where there is ignorance and misunderstanding.”