Monday, July 04, 2005

Tarek Fatah and the Canadian-Islamic Court Controversy

Who is Tarek Fatah?

According to the blurb on the PMUNA website, Tarek Fatah is a founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress and lives in Toronto, Canada. Born in Pakistan, Tarek Fatah was a student leader in the sixties and early seventies; twice being imprisoned by successive military governments. A biochemist by education, Tarek started his career as a journalist with the Karachi SUN in 1970 and later went on to be an award winning investigative reporter for Pakistan TV.

(I just wanted to insert the blatant fact that many of the members of the PMUNA are not Islamic scholars. They are mostly journalists with no classical training in Islam. Many of them have not even taken classes on Islamic studies within a Western university.)

Since coming to Canada in 1987--after a ten year stay in Saudi Arabia--Tarek has been active in politics, serving in Ontario Premier Bob Rae's staff and running for the Ontario legislature in 1995. He is host of the Muslim Chronicle TV show since 1996, which airs Saturday nights on CTS-TV. Tarek is also a frequent guest on many TV shows and has written for the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, TIME Magazine, in addition to the online magazine, MuslimWakeup.Com.

Tarek and his friends set up the Muslim Canadian Congress after 9/11 to counter the growing influence of fundamentalist Muslim organsiations. The MCC is a grassroots organization of activist Muslims in Canada who believe, among other things, an end to the gender apartheid practiced by some Muslims, and a separation of religion and state around the world; including Muslim countries.

Let’s talk about the the Canadian Muslim Congress and it’s efforts to fight religious family courts in Canada. Some of the goals in the mission statement of the Muslim Canadian Congress are as follows:

The Muslim Canadian Congress is a grassroots organization that provides a voice to Muslims who are not represented by existing organizations; organizations that are either sectarian or ethnocentric, largely authoritarian, and influenced by a fear of modernity and an aversion to joy.

Okay, the above statement is very arrogant. Only the Muslim Canadian Congress can bring happiness and joy to the Muslim Canadian masses?

Here is how the Muslim Canadian Congress defines what is a Muslim, which isn’t very different from the PMUNA. We are an organization open to all Muslims who agree with our mission statement. We define a Muslim as any person who identifies himself or herself as a Muslim.

So, none of that La ilaha ill Allah stuff counts here.

We believe that fanaticism and extremism within the Muslim community is a major challenge to all of us. We stand opposed to the extremists and will present the more humane and tolerant face of our community.

“Muslim” extremism is a threat to all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, but is it the only threat that exists? What about the evangelicals in America who seek to shred the Constitution a little? They spend a lot of time with our current president, who just happens to be the most powerful man on Earth. Aren’t they are threat, too? What about those who are so fanatical about gross capitalism that they will do anything to make more money while others suffer. Extremism is not just a religious disease. And the whole “humane and tolerant” face of our community, only the MCC can do that? Not CAIR-CAN? It’s not as if the remants of the Taliban live in Missisauga.

We look forward to building communities free from the ravages of racism, intolerance, ignorance, disease, and poverty, and where religion becomes a force of joy, enlightenment, democracy, peace and bridge-building, rather than hate, oppression, war and division. We support the aspirations and dreams of the peoples of the developing countries throughout the world.; a dream of dignity, democracy, freedom from poverty and political oppression, and a just and lasting peace. To achieve this and resist the steady re-colonization of the developing world, we will work closely with like-minded groups in building an anti-imperialist movement.

What Muslim, what human being, doesn’t want this? Who doesn’t want a world free from bigotry, oppression, hatred and poverty? Some of us just feel that in order to achieve this, we don’t have to abandon religion but rather live with our beliefs while respecting the beliefs and lifestyles of others.

But here is the part that I want to focus on...We believe in the separation of religion and state in all matters of public policy. We feel such a separation is a necessary pre-requisite to building democratic societies, where religious, ethnic, and racial minorities are accepted as equal citizens enjoying full dignity and human rights enunciated in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So, because of the aforementioned objective, Tarek Fatah and the Muslim Canadian Congress is fighting against the establishment of religious courts in Canada. Even though they claim that no religious group should have their own court, they tend to focus on Islamic courts rather than religious courts of Jews, Christians and Ismailis, whom have had their own systems for years. They have only begun to make an uproar over Sharia but have tended to leave their criticism of other courts to themselves. How convient.

From the details of their website, they don’t want Islam to influence secular governments or secular ideologies but they are quite content with the reverse. They currently sponsored a women-led prayer on July 1st and are supportive of gay marriage. So, they are okay with Islam, as long as they can bend to suit their desires and interpretations. It's okay for secular governments to tell Muslims (it's never any other religious group) how to pray, how to select imams (always women), what to believe and how to dress (France, Tunisia, Turkey). Last time I checked, seperation of church and state (or mosque and state) goes both ways.

He even has a blog tracking his battle against the Islamic family courts at Out of all the responses to his blog, there was only one person who challenged some of his opinions. So far the commentor’s claims have been left unanswered. (bold emphasis mine)

Heathen Chemistry said...

Hey Mr. Fatah!

I too wrote something about this issue that you may want to hear about. Also, I am not someone with a political/religious agenda like the articles on your blog (christian science monitor talking about sharia?? A bit too bias??) My thoughts are posted in my blog, but also I am attaching it here!

The Law of The Land

Well, through my journeys it seems that in order to improve the legal system one must challenge it. Through challenging it, legal system is strengthened and this provides a more fair and just system. Recently, Ms. Marion Boyd (former NDP minister) has stated that it is possible for a family arbitration system based on Muslim principles to be used in Ontario as long as all parties involved consent to this legal system and it isn't contradictory to Canadian Law. This to me seems feasible, and I have nothing against such a system being set up, as long as there are checks and balances to keep it from going out of control. Heck, even the Canadian Jewish Congress supported Boyd’s decision, if only different faith groups could unite on other issues.

But on a serious note there are still those who oppose it, primarily Tarek Fatah (a well known NDP supporter and the President of Canadian Muslim Congress) and Alia Hogben (President of Canadian Council of Muslim Women). I am not sure whether they oppose only laws based on Muslim beliefs or the concept of religious arbitration all together. I mean Fatah has stated that he practices Sharia (laws based on Muslim beliefs) and he has stated that he doesn't support two tier legal systems (counterspin, 2004). I respect his views I have nothing against people who don't like the idea of having two tier services. What I do object to is the assumption that all forms of Sharia are inherently unjust. Well, to be honest Muslim’s in the modern era have had many problems implementing a legal system based on their beliefs, and in my opinion it is primarily based on a mixing of cultural traditions and due to authoritarian regimes that use Islam as a means to oppress others.

Therefore based on my understanding of Islam, I can honestly say that this legal system has the possibility to work in Ontario as long as there are checks and balances.Now the question arises of the misuse of Sharia... It is possible, but like I said before if there are checks and balances then there shouldn't be a problem. Also, two important things should be pointed out now, the first is that Sharia is already practiced (unofficially) in Ontario. There are religious leaders giving legal opinions on various issues, with the set up of a centralized court, there will be a more public and transparent form of Sharia being practiced, instead of it happening in an unregulated environment, with the potential for misuse. The second point is that the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice (the organization pushing for an arbitration court) is primarily made up of men and women who were educated in the Canadian legal system and are themselves moderate Muslims.

The most well known members of this organization are Syed Mumtaz Ali (first Canadian lawyer to swear on the Qu'ran) and Faisal Kutty (Son of scholar Shaykh Ahmed Kutty). Therefore it seems like it isn't the Taliban who is coming to Canada, it is just a group of regular Muslims who want the same rights that are given to the Jewish, Catholic and Ismaili communities.Overall, there I am not opposed to having people have their own laws to govern themselves, as long as those laws are just. However at the same time I do encourage the critics to continue their crusade against the establishment of this court, because it is my hope that their opposition will improve and strengthen the Muslim legal system and hopefully Muslim law in Canada will be a beacon of hope to all Muslims around the world!

Well, if a secular non-Muslim can see the possibility of these two systems, religious and secular, co-existing in harmony, why can't some of us Muslims see that? Why can't Mr. Fatah and Mrs. Hogben see that. You know what, this post needs a "Part 2" because there's just too much information for this one entry.


Blogger M. Landers said...

Definitely not meaning to skirt the issue (rather feeling like I'm falling into the "making more of it than is warranted" trap by asking about this out of all), but I'm curious as to the connection between the sponsorship of the prayers on the 1st and "secular governments telling Muslims how to pray," if that was the connection intended? Secular feminist ideology I can see ... but goverment?

8:11 AM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Well, I am not sure if the same thing is happening in Canada, but in the US, with the objectives of the RAND report, the US government is giving media support and money to those groups who promote their brand of Islam. There are some Muslims who are thinking about suing their masajid for discrimination even though religious places are private. Asra speaks of such action in her book "Standing Alone in Mecca." There's also a member of the PMUNA who used to work for the RAND Corporation which casts doubts and suspicsions on who is and how are they (the PMUNA, I mean) is being supported. It's that fine line between the seperation of church and state that is being crossed.

You can check it out here.

And here's some quotes, "Finally, I was extremely uncomfortable with the talk of lawsuits and lawyers at the end of the book. Nomani hints that she is gearing up to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the Morgantown Islamic Center, saying that they have violated their non-profit status because they are denying her her First Amendment right to worship by insisting on a balcony for women. For Muslims, and for Americans in general, the mere idea should be extremely troubling for a few reasons.

What a lawsuit of this nature would do is call upon a jury or a judge to render a verdict on Islamic practices - in essence, get a branch of government involved in matters of religion, and decide for Muslims what is and isn't acceptable. It is ironic that Nomani seems to approve of one branch of gov't violating the First Amendment rights of Morgantown (and other) Muslims in the name of the First Amendment."

There are various other initiatives taken by other secular governments such as the possibility of Denmark videotaping khutbahs in order to judge how moderate they are, and of course the ban of hijabi women studying in Turkish universities. i don't want to bog this post more and anymore than I already have but I hope I answered your question. :)

10:12 PM  
Blogger raining4days said...

Assalam Alaikum,

thought you may like to read this:

If you can't access the above, see here:
The story is called: 2005-06-12 01:00:00 Sensationalism shrouds the debate on sharia

McGill's MSA has something here:
1. Talk by Jamal Badawi (6.34 MB)
2. Talk by Riad Saloojee (6.33 MB)


12:45 AM  
Blogger Deen said...


Thanks for reposting my article... I really appreciate it. I would just like to make a change to your post, and that is that I am trying very hard to be a muslim (meaning I am not a non-muslim). Although there are plenty of non -muslims who support this cause. I also want to mention that initially, Mr. Fatah's Page was entitled "Religious courts Debate" which i felt was unfair and anti-intellectual because he would only present one side. I complained about this and he changed the title to "Stop Religious Courts in Canada". I never knew a little article like this would make it into other blogs, but i am glad it did. I want to mention what spakred my interest on this topic was a lecture held by the Muslim Student's Association at the university of Toronto.


11:04 PM  

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