TheStar.com - living - Muslims want help to adapt to life in Canada http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/595350
AARON LYNETT / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
At the Islamic Institute of Toronto, which helps youth interpret their faith in a Canadian context, floor hockey nets are moved aside for Friday prayers. Study shows immigrants would prefer an imam who helps them bridge gap between their cultures
March 03, 2009
Faith and Ethics reporter
A Muslim man listens to his imam talk about battles won 1,200 years ago, but the fight consuming him now involves his 13-year-old, who just tried marijuana.
In a story typical of many scattered throughout a new Canadian study of the Muslim diaspora in Canada, the United States and Britain, the man identified only as "MK" could find little in the sermons he heard to help him through life in Canada.
"My ultimate fantasy would be to find an imam who gives a Khutbah (sermon) in a Friday mosque who happens to be someone who goes out to work from nine to five, takes the bus, is dealing with his kid who is picking up a marijuana joint at the age of 13," the Montreal resident laments.
And yet, they yearn for guidance from their religious leaders, says Karim Karim, who wrote the study Changing Perceptions of Islamic Authority among Muslims in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom for Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.
"When you have children who are growing up here, and are comfortable here, you want to make a home for them and become part of society," says Karim, director the journalism program at Carleton University. "This is home."
Farhad Khadim of the Islamic Institute of Toronto says efforts are being made at many area mosques to address this issue, with many featuring khateebs, or Friday preachers, who are the sort of person MK longs for in the study.
"People are looking for something more sophisticated," says Khadim, a project manager with the city of Toronto who has given the sermon at Friday prayers several times.
Khadim helped set up the Islamic Institute of Toronto as a place to help children find a way to interpret their faith in a Canadian context. The prayer room is often used for floor hockey games and the mosque set up an all-Muslim Scouts Canada troop for boys and girls.
The Islamic Institute does not rely simply on imams to interpret the faith, he says, and often brings in speakers to encourage discussions about how to interpret the faith in a Western context.
"The level of discourse is continually increasing," says Khadim, who has two teenage daughters.
Karim says Muslim immigrants to Canada are different from those in Europe, where the Muslim world was seen as a source of cheap labour. Canada's Muslim population, on the other hand, is highly educated and expects to be engaged in discussions of faith, not just been lectured to.
His 32-page study was conducted over several years, using surveys and focus groups to gauge how Muslim populations in the three countries, predominantly immigrants, are adapting to Western life. The Canadian focus groups were held in Montreal and Ottawa.
Karim, a past senior research fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in the U.K., says the reality is much more complicated than is often assumed.
"There is a tendency to reduce Muslims to just `moderates' and `fundamentalists'," says Karim. "It's not all black and white. There's a lot of greyness."
He says non-Muslims in the three countries should take heart that their Islamic neighbours want so desperately to adapt their lives to the realities of the West but want to find a way to do that without giving up their faith. "They want to be good Muslims and they want to be good Canadians."
Muslim clerics and leaders were deliberately excluded from the study, he said, to ensure the results reflected the attitudes of rank and file Muslims in the three countries.
He found that most Muslims want leaders who help them bridge the gap between their old cultures and their new homes, and who can interpret their faith's texts in a Western context, which is all their children know.
"They expect their imam to have not only an intellectually sophisticated understanding of Islamic sources but also a keen appreciation of the Western contexts in which they are living," the report says.
"It really is a cultural disconnect."
Karim says the situation will improve as more imams are born and trained in the West, but cautions in the study that finding such people at this point is quite difficult.
Focus group participants in all three countries identified imams' lack of cultural literacy as a key issue in the search for appropriate religious guidance. This is of significant concern for Muslim communities in the West the study says.
"While efforts are being made to address this issue, it appears that it will continue to persist in the foreseeable future."
The report calls for more to be done to fight discrimination against Muslims, including public education, more interfaith activities, government consultation with Islamic groups when seeking public input and a better understanding of Islam among government leaders, the public service and the media.