Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi becomes Canada’s first Muslim mayor – Oct. 19 2010
I did everything right, or so I thought. After walking through the big main doors of the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre in northeast Calgary on Friday it became obvious I was in the wrong place, as I was the only woman in sight.
So I walked back outside a little further south and followed some women into another door. Like everyone else, I took off my shoes, placed them neatly on the shelf and climbed the stairs. I sat down on the carpeted floor with convenient stripes that make it easy to ensure those in attendance sit facing Mecca, where I could watch through a glass balcony the men and boys gather below for prayers and to listen to controversial Muslim cleric, Bilal Philips of Toronto.
A kindly older woman offered me a head scarf. I respectfully put it on, despite the heat. A few minutes later, however, an angry greyhaired man in a plaid shirt walked into the women’s area, came up to me and another female reporter from a different Calgary paper and insisted we leave. “No media allowed,” he barked.
“You don’t support us, we won’t support you,” said the man in plaid.
It was a strange occurrence, particularly since I had been invited to attend the event by both Bilal Philips himself, who sent me two complimentary tickets to the conference called: Power of Unity – Islam in a Multicultural Canada, taking place this entire weekend, as well as by Abraham Ayache, chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary, who was putting on the event.
During an interview on June 6, Ayache told me no one had ever been kicked out any of the Sunni mosques run by the Muslim Council of Calgary. I guess I very nearly became the first.
Eventually Nagah Hage, the conference committee chair, was summoned and he granted us permission to stay just in time for prayers to start.
Philips, a Saudi-educated cleric, was born in Jamaica and raised in Ontario, where he converted to Islam. He is considered controversial because he is on the record saying that all male homosexuals should be killed for their deviant behaviour.
He is not the only contentious speaker on the agenda. Munir El-Kassem, a dentist from London, Ont., wrote a column back in 2001 that criticized the West as hypocritical and defended the medieval and murderous Taliban for destroying the sixth-century Buddha statues in Bamiyan. Shaykh Hatem Alhaj lost his job recently at the Mayo Clinic because he wrote papers in support of female genital circumcision, which is illegal in North America. He later clarified his position by saying he only supports nicking the clitoris, not cutting it right off.
Shortly after his sermon about the importance of gratitude, Philips clarified his views on homosexuality in a one-on-one interview.
In short, he only thinks homosexuals should be executed in Muslim countries and only after four people have witnessed the homosexual act.
“The media tends to take my words out of context,” Philips said. “If you go back and view the lectures in which I spoke about this, those lectures were basically in defence of the sharia – the Islamic law.
“So, in explaining there that homosexuality, adultery, these are both punishable by execution where there is incontrovertible evidence, they have to have been witnessed by four trusted people in society. That is sufficient then to bring that punishment on them in a Muslim country where the sharia is applied,” he explained.
“This is not a controversial thing for me,” he added. “No Muslim who knows Islam would say otherwise,” he said.
When it was pointed out that the Qur’an was written 1,400 years ago and things have changed, Philips said this judgment against homosexuals would “remain the law until the end of this world according to our belief. It will never change.”
Nevertheless, that evening, Philips intended to lecture about how while the “Muslim identity has to be preserved. . . . Muslims have to respect the laws of their host countries they live in.”
That’s why, he said, “I would never advocate here in Canada the execution death penalty for homosexuals. I would never do so,” Philips added.
It’s a small mercy but a mercy nonetheless.
While Philips wouldn’t shake my hand for religious reasons – he was charming, open and warm. When asked if he hoped that Canada would one day be governed by sharia, he said yes.
“If the majority of people become Muslims that is our hope,” but he said it was highly unlikely.
When asked why if Islamic law is the ideal, why do so many people who live in Muslim countries want to move to Canada, the U.S. and other western democracies, Philips said most Muslim countries do not operate under sharia.
He named Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan as good examples of where sharia is “applied to a large degree.”
Hardly bastions of equality, fairness, freedom, enlightenment, education and prosperity. Frankly, Philips made my point for me.
We were sitting in the large gym that was filling up. The session called “Justice for All – Why Muslims are always profiled” was ready to start. Aman Elvi, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent and Raj Sharma, a Calgary immigration lawyer were going to speak and I was asked to leave – again. I was told CSIS didn’t want me to be present, but when I called CSIS communications in Ottawa I was told that it was the event organizers who established the parameters and “closed this event to the media.”
And so, this time I really was kicked out of the event I was told was open to all.
And so I reflected on Philips’ sermon on gratitude as I left. I was grateful for the sunshine, for the Tim Hortons across the road, for the kind women I met and on this Canada Day weekend, I was grateful most of all for Canada – for our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law that protects us all. I will forever stand on guard for thee.
Licia Corbella is a columnist and the editorial page editor. firstname.lastname@example.org