A study in leaderhip: Wajid Khan, Tarek Fatah, and Hassan Nasralla

Do Canadian Muslims have leaders who represent the aspirations and political leanings of the growing and divergent Muslim community, or are they seduced by short-term opportunism? Let us take a look.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis resigned from Joe Volpe’s Liberal leadership campaign due to Volpe’s unabashed support for Israel in the current Middle East conflict. Liberal MP Wajid Khan, and a well-known Muslim politician, is hanging on as the Ontario chair for Volpe’s campaign.

Then Wajid Khan went one step further and courted the Conservatives, and Prime Minister Harper brought him on board as an advisor for Middle East and South Asian affairs. Tom Axworthy, former principal secretary to prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s University, called this move “I haven’t heard of anything like this before.” Many members of the Liberal caucus have asked that Khan be excluded from the caucus as Conservative policies will be misunderstood as having a Liberal origin. Mr. Khan is also an ardent supporter of the increasingly unpopular Canadian troop presence in Afghanistan – which is an aggressive military campaign, and not just peacekeeping. Mr. Khan is on record as having said, “my year as a prisoner of war in India taught me how fruitless war is.”

This is at a time when the vast majority of the Muslim community, as well as most Canadians, are incensed at Harper’s stance on the Middle East conflict. And another Muslim leader, Tarek Fatah, supports Mr. Khan’s risky and short-sighted political move.

Tarek Fatah, an activist par excellence, and a person with a track record of community involvement, announced during a CBC Radio interview that he was quitting the leadership of the Muslim Canadian Congress (an association he founded) due to unpecified death threats. To my knowledge, he has yet to specify the source of the threats or the evaluation of the threats’ credibility by the RCMP and local law enforcement. Most public figures do receive hate mails and threatening phone calls, and we are still at a loss to understand what was so specific about this threat that he had no choice but to announce it on a live CBC interview. Knowledgeable sources tell me that Mr. Fatah is contemplating a political career with the Liberal party. If this report is true, he could have realised his ambitions without causing undue and irreversible damage to the the reputation of the entire Canadian Muslim community. Would a father act publicly in this way about a threatening member of his family. Would it help not to be divisive on wedge issues?

A Canadian Muslim leader should represent the majority of the community, which includes our liberals, our conservatives, our imams, our children and people all along the spectrum of social and political opinion. If a leader does not focus on divisive wedge issues, he or she can represent the feeling of the entire community. The Muslim community in the UK does have such leaders.

In retrospect, I think Tarek Fatah may have run out of such minimal wedge issues – especially due to the recent solidarity of Muslims of all stripes that has been generated by the Lebanon-Israel war. Like the mullahs that he so despises, Tarek Fatah is also obsessed with wedge issues with sexual overtones, and frequently raises a sensational issue without addressing it in context. Let us take a closer look at some of the issues he has stood up for recently: homosexuality, teenage marriages and female imams.

Historically and currently, most Muslim societies have tolerated homosexuality much better than Western ones. The word ‘gay-bashing’ has no equivalent in Arabic or Urdu or Persian. We should only ask mainstream Islamic clergy to hug homosexuals after the Catholic church or the Archbishop of Canterbury does so. Incidentally, the Catholic church still does not allow even contraception or divorce and the Anglican church is facing a schism over the issue of homosexuality.

Regarding the teenage mother in Lebanon, a certain proportion of teenage girls will get pregnant, whether in wedlock or out of wedlock. Without addressing the 15,000 young teenagers who got pregnant in the US last year and their horribly stunted lives, one cannot criticize a comparatively lower percentage of teens in Lebanon who get pregnant in wedlock. Yes, it is a practice that should be curtailed and modern trends show it is being curtailed, and at fairly similar rates all over the world. Can we eradicate it: I don’t think so. If not, is a married teen better off than an unmarried single mom in a crack-infested neighbourhood? The statistics speak for themselves.

The issue of female imams is a moot issue – it is just convention and many muftis have come out with fatwas saying that it is just a convention and nothing prevents it.

From Singapore to Morocco, each Muslim country and jurisdiction and each society implements laws in accordance with that culture and in general accord with the constitution of one or more of the jurisdictional schools of thought. To cherry-pick issues out of context from all over the world and create wedges in the Canadian Muslim community is not the way to ‘reform’. Yes, we Muslims need a lot of social and intellectual reform, but why do I not hear Canadian Muslim leaders laud the improved Family Law of Morocco (lauded by the UN) and the revised laws of Tunisia. Such laws are the natural progression of jurisprudence as the societies evolve to require them. Leaders and lawmakers all over the Muslim world should be encouraged and guided, as they have a very hard task accommodating conservative rural majorities and urban modernity and they are actually making progress – and they are certainly not to be ridiculed and belittled.

So what has changed recently? Muslim leaders have been shocked by the figures of 87% of support for Hassan Nasrallah (the Shia Hizbullah leader) among Sunni Muslims and 81% among Christians. And this is among the educated, liberal and fun-loving people of Lebanon. Though labelled a ‘terrorist’ in Canada, why does he command such approval from his country-fellows? He stands for something – he does not pontificate on moral, sectarian and spiritual matters – and is thus a leader, not a divider. And he is certainly not afraid of death threats, nor bunker-buster bombs and cruise missiles aimed directly at him.

A leader should unite, inspire, educate, cajole, and lead. Confrontational and divisive politics lead nowhere. The path to success for Muslims in the Canadian political arena may be longer and tortuous this way, and our generation may never get there, but the courageous leader who adopts it will be a genuine Muslim leader in Canada – one that we so sorely need.

There is so much that unites us, and so little that divides us. We have just witnessed it in Lebanon. Let us make it true for Canada also.