Will the Canadian Jewish leadership prove sharia supporters right or wrong?

On the heels of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to scrap the province’s Arbitration Act in order to block the introduction of sharia-based arbitration courts, came a letter signed by Islamic and Arab organizations calling in Thursday’s La Presse, Le Devoir and Montreal Gazette on Quebec’s National Assembly to rescind a resolution opposing sharia it adopted almost four months ago. The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Muslim Association of Canada and Présence Musulmane are among the signatories.

The resolution which sparked this belated outrage of Arab and Islamic groups was tabled by MNAs Fatima Houda-Pépin, herself a Muslim, Jocelyne Caron and Sylvie Royand in a tri-partisan effort unanimously adopted by the National Assembly. The single-sentence resolution states that “the National Assembly is opposed to the establishment of so-called Islamic tribunals in Quebec and in Canada.

With this resolution, claim the authors of the letter, Quebec’s “proud tradition of promoting rights and freedoms has been broken”. Moreover, the resolution, they write, “stigmatizes citizens of the Muslim faith and expresses discrimination against their religion”.

Yet far from stigmatizing Muslims, in her plea in favour of the resolution, Houda-Pépin explained that the introduction of sharia in Ontario was part of radical Islamists’ attempts to isolate and seize the political control of Canada’s Muslim communities. “Efforts to integrate made my tens of thousands of Muslims are being annihilated by a minority, yet active Islamist movement that seeks to impose its system of values in the name of a certain idea of god”, she told the National Assembly.

Because Quebec civil law does not allow for religious arbitration, one signatory to the letter, Nadia Touami of Présence Musulmane, told Le Devoir that the resolution is tantamount to telling Muslims they are forbidden to cross a red light.

In fact, Muslim leaders have indeed tried to cross the red light. In December 2004, the President of the Muslim Council of Montreal Salam Elmenyawi told Le Devoir he planned to establish a legally recognized Sharia Council in Quebec: “we want an agreement allowing Muslims to have an official instance to ensure that they organize their lives according to the precepts of their faith (…) If Quebec refuses, we will have to lend credibility to the Sharia Council ourselves”. According to Le Devoir, Elmenyawi even boasted of having encouraged 7435 Muslims to vote in the Saint-Laurent district for the Justice Minister of the time, Jacques P. Dupuis, whose office replied that religious arbitration was out of the question in Quebec. After this public rebuttal, Elmenyawi backtracked, insisting he never sought the government’s imprimatur for his Sharia Council project, saying he would model the council after the existing beth din (non binding rabbinical mediation courts).

To be sure, this letter will do little to impress Quebec’s MNAs. Alleging that Islam is being discriminated against smacks of disenginuity in a province where Islamic private schools receive public funding, the donning of hijab is protected by Quebec’s human rights commission in public as well as private schools, and the multiplication of mosques attests to a thriving religious community. Calling on Quebec’s National Assembly to rescind a resolution which reflects Quebec’s core values of secularism and gender equality and underscores its willingness not to give in to the Islamists among us, is arrogant at best, and insolent at worst. As to the resolution itself, if it appears to single out Muslims, it is because only Muslims have called for a change to the status quo of existing religious mediation.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Jewish leadership, rather than being at the forefront of the fight against political Islam, is reportedly contemplating legal action against the government of Ontario to safeguard scarcely used Jewish arbitration courts while lamenting Ontario’s rejection of sharia. Quebec Orthodox Jews have fared well with non binding rabbinical courts, why shouldn’t their Ontario brethren do as well? So absurd is the Jewish leadership’s position that the website Montreal Muslim News editorialized that Canadian Jews want sharia. Une fois n’est pas coutume, yet this time, Islamists appear to be right. Now, will the Jewish leadership prove them right or wrong?