October 22, 2009
Toronto imam preaching 'hate instead of harmony'
By Charles LewisNational Post
A Toronto-area imam is under fire for using derogatory languageagainst Jews and Christians, calling for Allah to ?destroy? theenemies of Islam from within and calling on God to ?damn? the?infidels.?
The address, given last Friday by Imam Saed Rageah at the Abu HurairaCentre and then posted on YouTube is an attack on those who have beencalling for a ban on the niqab and burka, both of which cover thefaces of women.
?Allah protect us from the fitna [sedition] of these people; Allahprotect us from the evil agenda of these people; Allah destroy themfrom within themselves, and do not allow them to raise their heads indestroying Islam.?
Tarek Fatah, a Canadian Muslim author and commentator, said that typeof language could be interpreted as a call to violence. As well, theimam asks Allah to ?damn? Christians and Jews.
?The cleric?s ritual prayer asking for the defeat of Christians andJews and the victory of Islam is not unique,? Mr. Fatah said. ?It isuttered by many clerics across Canada spreading hate instead ofharmony. There should be no room in Canada?s mosques for such hatred,especially when most of these institutions get [tax-free status].?
The Abu Huraira Centre attracts about 800 to 1,000 people to a typicalFriday service. A man who worked at the centre said that many womenwho attend only wear the hijab, which covers the head, and do not wearany covering on their faces.
The National Post repeatedly attempted to reach Mr. Rageah for aninterview, but was unsuccessful.
Throughout the 35-minute speech he uses the word ?kuffar? to describenon-Muslims.
In referring to those Muslims who would seek allies outside the Muslimcommunity to bring about legislation that would ban face coverings,the imam said: ?You will see a lot of them going to the kuffar, takingthem as friends and allies. The wrath of Allah is upon them. If theywere true believers they would never take them as allies.?
At its most benign, kuffar means ?non-Muslims.? But others say themost common usage is considered highly offensive, akin to calling ablack person a ?n****r,? Mr. Fatah said. ?It goes back to the Arab useof the word against black slaves. It?s used in a very derisive manner.?
Professor Amir Hussain, who teaches theology at Loyola MarymountCollege in Los Angeles, but grew up in Toronto, said he does not readthe word ?destroy? in a literal way.
?For me, I don?t see the remarks ?destroy them from within themselves?as hoping for violence. Rather, I see it as him asking that the groupimplode from within. Granted, implode and destroy are of courseviolent metaphors, but I liken it to him asking for the organizationto disintegrate.?
Earlier this month, the Canadian Muslim Congress called on Ottawa toban the wearing of the burka or niqab in public. They said the rightshould not be protected by the Charter?s guarantee of religiousfreedom because nowhere in the Koran is there a requirement for womento cover their faces in public. They argue that the burka?marginalizes women.? The Koran does call for modesty.
Much of Mr. Rageah?s address questions why the liberty of certainMuslims should be infringed upon. He even berates fellow Muslims forbeing far too passive in the face of attacks on their freedom.
?I?m appealing to the congregation not [to] allow such foolish peopleto be in charge of the affairs of the umma [family of all Muslims] tothe point they would make such serious decisions for us. Our wiveshave the right to wear it. We should not allow them to dictate how welive. What we should do. Where we should eat. Enough is enough.?
Walid Saleh, professor at the centre for the study of religion at theUniversity of Toronto, said much of what Mr. Rageah said must be takenin the context of how Muslims may use terms in the midst of areligious service.
?If you ask me [kuffar] is unreformed language that is unbefitting fora multicultural society. That being said, it is religious languagethat is Quranic, and in the hadith [the oral tradition], so the issueis internal: how do traditional Muslims want to refer to non-Muslims?Using this language is regrettable, but one is not sure how far onecan go in demanding a change.?
However, he said the imam could have simply used non-offensivelanguage to refer to non-Muslims. ?He could call them Christians andthe Jews, either by their [neutral] Arabic names or even better, Ahlal-Kitab, or People of the Book, a rather positive Islamic term. Inthis sense there are options. That he chooses to use the term kuffar,is not innocent as such.?
However, Prof. Saleh said it was important to note that he was askinghis members to write letters to the government to make theirobjections known. ?So, you can see that the democratic notions areseeping through. He is fully aware of the limitation of his position.?
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