“We want to provide an alternative for Muslim youth. It’s not just a question of slamming the extremists; it’s also about providing a different voice.”
A Muslim Canadian activist has founded a new group that will promote moderate Islam, saying there are too few progressive Muslim voices countering extremism in Canada. Raheel Raza, the Pakistan-born author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out, was once a member of the progressive Muslim Canadian Congress, but this month is formally launching Muslims Facing Tomorrow. The National Post’s Kathryn Blaze Carlson spoke with Ms. Raza to find out why.
Q: The Muslim Canadian Congress already speaks for moderate, socially progressive Muslims. Why launch Muslims Facing Tomorrow?
A: There was no fragmentation or infighting — the president of the MCC actually called this week and congratulated me. We just felt there are so many extremist voices and organizations perpetuating the whole ‘hate against others’ message. The moderate Muslim voice is very few in number and we felt that the more organizations out there doing this kind of work, the better. We have a very similar mandate to the MCC, and our goal is the same, but we at Muslims Facing Tomorrow plan to go about it in a different way.
Q: What do you mean?
A: We want to be very proactive. We want to provide an alternative for Muslim youth. It’s not just a question of slamming the extremists; it’s also about providing a different voice. We want to hold workshops and conferences — one thing that’s never been done, as far as I know, is a conference of moderate Muslims in Canada. The extremists hold a lot of conferences, so we want to host one for progressive Muslim voices. We want to be not just an organization, but more like a movement. We want to connect with like-minded people across the globe. We’ve already connected with the Center for Islamic Pluralism and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in the U.S. We’ve made connections with people in Europe, England, Pakistan. We want to link up with individuals who are working toward defining Islam in a more modern way — working toward reform or women’s rights.
Q: You have quite the diverse advisory board — anti-terrorism expert David Harris, for example, and Reuben Bromstein, a retired judge and president of Canadians Against Suicide Bombing. What’s that about?
A: We made a very conscious effort to have an advisory board of people from different faiths, who are not just in Canada and who are experts in different fields. Our mandate is not just to work with Muslims, but to work with anyone from any faith community who is interested in the safety and security of Canada, in liberty, democracy and the equality of women. We’ve always felt that our battle is not one that we can fight alone. We have to work together because the end result of standing up against extremists is in everyone’s interests.
Q: Who is Muslims Facing Tomorrow really trying to reach?
A: The youth are our main interest because they’re the future of Canada. In fact, if you were to ask me what my personal interest in this organization is, it’s the future of my children and grandchildren. What we want to do is set up workshops, panels, conferences — that sort of thing. To the best of my knowledge, the Muslim Canadian Congress hasn’t really done this. The MCC does wonderful work, don’t get me wrong. What [congress founder] Tarek Fatah has done to set the foundation of this voice against the extremists is absolutely phenomenal, and that’s why I was among the people who helped him set it up. But there comes a time when you feel it’s important to have more voices. When people ask ‘where are the voices of the moderate Muslims?’ we want to be able to say there is more than one organization working toward the safety and well-being of Canada.
Q: Do you support the Harper government’s toughened stance on immigration and public safety?
A: Yes. Islamic radicalism in Canada is not something that happened overnight. When we don’t face a problem head on and take care of it, we end up with something like 9/11 — it’s actually ironic that we’re speaking about this on September 11. [My husband and I] left Pakistan [24 years ago] to escape radicalism, and then we came to Canada to find that same ideology being promoted here.
Q: How do you think this new “voice,” as you call it, will be heard?
A: As Muslims, we’re in a better position to speak out against Islamic extremism than [others] would be because [they’d] be called racist. The word ‘Islamaphobia’ is always hanging in the air. I feel it’s our ethical and moral responsibility to expose those people whose interests are not in favour of loyalty to Canada, for example.
Q: Do you fear Muslims Facing Tomorrow will itself be labeled anti-Islam?
A: Any time anyone criticizes Muslims or Islam, they’re always looked upon negatively. We’re expecting hostility, but that doesn’t deter us. We came into this knowing full-well that not everybody would love us. But our goal is not to be popular. It’s to tell the truth.