Canada is home to a large number of ethnic communities, and it’s natural that when immigrants come to a new land, they tend to congregate in areas where others like them have settled.
There are also some communities that have been marginalized in their homeland, so they tend to stick together. One example is the Ahmadiyya Muslims who have been persecuted in Pakistan, so now they live mostly in Vaughan, Ont., where they are close to each other and their mosque. In their particular case, it’s understandable that they feel vulnerable and tend to find security in proximity to each other.
Now there’s news that residents of a Thornhill, Ont., community are proposing to construct two residential highrise buildings and 61 townhouses in a low-density neighbourhood. The proposed condos would be built on the site of the Jaffari Community Centre, at 9000 Bathurst St., and would contain 377 units, primarily for Muslims.
There has been some push-back from residents who live in the Thornhill Woods neighbourhood, located right beside the community centre. Some residents started an online petition that has garnered more than 2,500 signatures against the development. They claim their resistance to the condos is due to worry about overcrowding and parking issues.
Other residents in the neighbourhood are also expressing concerns that the proposed housing will be subsidized, thereby decreasing their property values. As a show of community support, it would behoove the Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat of Toronto (ISIJ), which runs the centre, to build low-cost housing that would be available to everyone in the area.
“Muslim only” enclaves are a reality in Europe, the United Kingdom and America, where they are sometimes funded by local governments and come with a slew of problems.
In Britain, where this idea first took root, followers of Anjem Chaudhry who runs the banned militant group Islam4UK, have set up “sharia zones” in different cities.
According to Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, “There exist already some 10 to 20 Muslim-only enclaves in Canada and the United States, the villages run by Muslims of the Americas, a group affiliated with the Pakistani group Jamaat ul-Fuqra.” In a recent letter to the U.S. government, some progressive Muslim groups have asked for Jamaat ul-Fuqra to be labelled as a terrorist group.
Now we’re faced with the idea of a Muslim-only enclave in the Toronto area, and it’s being pushed by a community that has recently faced controversy.
The Jaffari community is part of the ISIJ, which runs the East End Madrassah (EEM), a Sunday School that uses the premises of a public school to hold its classes for Muslim children. Based on a complaint, they were investigated for using a curriculum that promoted hate against Jews. There is concern that the curriculum being taught at EEM was created in Iran. No charges were laid.
In my opinion, the idea of a Muslim-only residential enclave is not in keeping with Canadian values. One of the questions that occurs to me is “How will the children growing up in this enclave learn to integrate into Canadian society?” When asked why he supported the building of the ISIJ condo project, a member of the Jaffari community said, “My family will be close to the mosque.” If their only criteria for living in Canada and bringing up family here is to be close to their mosque, they might as well have stayed in an Islamic country.
Studies have shown that Muslim youths who grow up in ethnic enclaves are more susceptible to being radicalized compared to those who have a chance to mix and mingle in the public space. So we have reason to be concerned.
The other question we need to ask is whether the decisions of Muslim communities in Canada should be influenced by the politics of Iran and Saudi Arabia, or should these decisions be based on our collective sense of Canadian national identity and safety?
As a Muslim with a family to raise in Canada, when we immigrated 26 years ago, there was no pressure to live in a Muslim enclave. We knew we were coming to a country where we have freedom of religion and where we can follow our faith anywhere and in any way we want. However, we wanted to have our kids grow up with the Canadian values of individual freedom, gender equality and liberty, while contributing the best from their own world.
Raheel Raza is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, author of the book Their Jihad – Not My Jihad, as well as an award-winning journalist, public speaker, and activist for human rights, gender equality and dignity in diversity.