I’m Muslim. Criticism of political Islam can’t be conflated with Islamophobia


As a Muslim, I deeply appreciate the outpouring of solidarity that we have seen from Canadian Jewry. Whether by sponsoring Syrian refugees or offering support following the recent attack on a Quebec City mosque, countless synagogues and Jewish organizations have stood by our community in these challenging times.

Obviously, the atrocity that took place in Quebec City is terrible and painful. We, as Muslims, were shaken to the core at the idea that peaceful worshippers were murdered in cold blood while praying. This is not our Canada, nor is it yours. We must unite, as Canadians, to denounce this act and redouble our commitment to work together in building a better Canada.

We will only succeed if we refuse to compromise on the values that make our country great: democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, respect for diversity, the equality of men and women and the protection of vulnerable minorities – including LGBT, Muslim and Jewish Canadians, among others.F


But as a progressive Muslim who believes firmly in these values, I’m alarmed that nuanced, rational discussion is being drowned out by recent events. In particular, one must be free to criticize Islamism (that is, political Islam) without fear of being branded an Islamophobe (one who has an irrational fear of Muslims). The two must not be conflated. Still, that is precisely what I fear is happening amid the outpouring of support for the Muslim community following this terrible crime.

It is important for Jews to show their support for any community under threat, including the Muslim community. But we must find a way to denounce the hatred that led to the Quebec City attack without lending legitimacy to fundamentalist voices in the Muslim community who simply don’t share the values I’ve mentioned above.

Canadian Jews, with their commitment to universal human rights, are particularly at risk of falling into the trap of associating themselves with less than savoury characters.


Take, for example, the “rings of peace” organized recently by Jewish activists at mosques in Toronto and elsewhere. This was a well-intentioned, heartfelt gesture on the part of the Jewish community. However, organizers were likely unaware that one of the mosques chosen for this event had, in 2006, tried to bring in a British cleric, Sheikh Riyadh Ul-Haq, who was known for airing his disturbing views of Jews, Hindus, and the LGBT community. At the time, Canadian authorities barred Ul-Haq from entering the country (he ended up addressing his Toronto audience by video link).

By associating with such institutions in my community, Jewish activists – however well-meaning – risk giving credibility to those who do not share our vision of a pluralistic Canada. We cannot cede any ground to fear and anti-Muslim sentiment, nor can we turn a blind eye to those who would peddle a toxic ideology to the next generation of Canadian Muslims.

‘we must find a way to denounce the hatred that led to the Quebec City attack without lending legitimacy to fundamentalist voices in the Muslim community’

I am doing my part to advance a pluralistic, liberal vision of Islam that rejects the anti-democratic, misogynistic, anti-gay and anti-Semitic version of Islam that appears online and on the ground in some Muslim communities in Canada. At the extreme end of the spectrum, this poisonous worldview leads some to do terrible things, whether in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, on Parliament Hill, or, in the case of an estimated 180 Canadians, by travelling abroad to join terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

There is a struggle for the soul of Islam taking place in the Muslim community, both here in Canada and beyond. We need allies, especially among our Jewish friends, to work with us in offering a progressive vision within our community. This begins by identifying and empowering moderate Muslim voices who consistently espouse liberal values, and refusing to partner with those who do not share this vision. 

Salma Siddiqui is president of the Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations.