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September 7, 2010

Remembering a Canadian hero

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

More by this author...

Do you remember Mohammed Nematian-Zaroor? He is a forgotten Canadian hero.

In Toronto in the summer of 1999, he used his taxi “in rolling rescue of a Toronto police officer shot at the wheel of his cruiser, it was not his first attempt to help the law, but it was the most dramatic,” said the front page story published by the Globe and Mail, “Mr. Nematian-Zaroor said he would pray for Constable Ferdinand, who lay in Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital in critical condition.”

Mr. Nematian-Zaroor was not identified as a Muslim, as if his religion had nothing to do with his act of heroism or with his prayer.

But journalists routinely identify Muslims by their religion when they are involved in acts of violence or when they are suspected of crimes.

Worse still, when political groups promote shocking policies ‘in the name of Islam’; all too often no qualifiers are used. Too rarely is it pointed out that what they are doing is according to their interpretation of Islam.

Canadian media coverage of Islam and Muslims poses a real threat to Muslims in this country.

Mark Harding was convicted June 19, 1998 of spreading hate propaganda after distributed anti-Muslim literature in Toronto. In his literature, Harding shored up his argument by citing articles from two Toronto newspapers that included details about strife in Algeria.

“The Muslims who commit these crimes are no different than the Muslims believers living here in Toronto”, Harding wrote,” Their beliefs are based on the Koran.”

Certain religious and political groups actually benefit from hate mongering against Muslims. These include some Christian mission sects working among Muslims, as well as political parties who try to advance their own agendas -- resulting in supporting Russians against Chechnyans, IIsraelis against Palestinians, Serbs against Bosnians and Albanians, American and Canadian right-wing politicians against their moderate opponents, and even some governments in Muslim countries against their own legitimate political opposition parties.

But Islam is being exploited today for political motives as much as Christianity (in Europe, Canada and the U.S.), Judaism (in Israel) or Hinduism (in India).

But who would suggest that the German Christian Democratic Party is a religious party? Or that Barack Obama is a Christian fundamentalist because in his first speech as a president he asked God to guide him in his office?

It seems to be a reflex to refer all political or social conflicts involving Muslims to some early development of Islam, preferably to the life of Prophet Mohamed or the teachings of the Qur’an.

This approach conveniently relieves everyone from the necessity to analyze. According to this view, not only today’s conflicts, but also all future ones have been pre-analyzed: ‘that’s what Muslims are like’, ‘for it is written in the Qur’an’, and ‘that is what the Prophet said’.

But Islam should not be measured by criteria different from those used for Christianity, or Judaism. Events in societies that are shaped by Islam must be measured by the same yardsticks.

Furthermore, comparing a religion (Islam) with a region (the West) - as all too often done - is an intellectual inaccuracy which misinforms and misleads the public.

Like matters should be compared; Christianity with Islam, the reality of a society with another, and a country with another.

When Americans bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, no one suggested that the crime had religious roots or was linked to Western American or Christian tradition.

Some journalists deal with Islam with the assumption that the “true Islam” is fundamentalist in nature and its modern forms, if they exist, are diluted deviations, thereby implying that Islam is a backward religion.

But Islam is a religion eminently rational, and as such it has freed the human’s spirit, and therein Islam’s greatest quality. 

Islam’s liberating action has been exercised in all spheres. 

In the religious sphere Islam over 1400 years ago has freed man from the authority of the clergy; and it has set him face to face with the Creator, and taught him not to count on any intervention; and thereby the human soul has been set free and has gained in nobility. 

It taught that every person is responsible for his/her faith and deeds. Islam totally rejected both the notion of the original sin and that God has a chosen people.

In the scientific sphere it has urged man to search for the solution of the riddles of the universe, and to deepen his knowledge of himself, being guided solely by reason. 

Europe only entered on the path of progress after the sixteenth century when she borrowed the scientific methods elaborated by the Muslims in Spain.

In the social sphere Islam has freed man from the fanatical spirit by allowing the followers of all religions to live in the midst of the Muslim community and by abolishing the distinctions of race.

And it is true, and to the credit of Islam, that it allowed people of other religions to live within the Muslim state when such toleration was not known in Europe. 

And in the moral sphere it has freed man from asceticism which is an obstacle to the free development of humanity. But it taught that love of this world is only secondary to the love of its Creator and His creations.

The Qur’an teaches moderation and considers it a virtue. Islam teaches that moderation is the hardest choice for so many things.

Islam is the second religion to none in stressing the importance of moderation in every aspect of life, for example, (2:178), (2,185), (4:28), (5:6).

Even when it comes to the basic practice of the faith, Islam teaches moderation and even gives guidelines for minimum and maximum.

A Muslim is asked to communicate with the Creator through a structured prayer (Salah) a minimum of five times daily.  But a practical maximum should be personally determined so it does not interfere, for example, with making a living or caring for one’s family.

Islam calls on Muslims to exercise moderation for all permissible things and rejects clearly all kinds of extremism; “ghuluw” (excessiveness), “tanatu” (zealotry) and “tashadid” (extreme practice).

The two sources of Islamic teachings (the Qur’an and the Hadith) explain that extremism has serious defects;

  1. It is against human nature,
  1. It is usually short-lived,
  1. It does not lead to better human beings physically, mentally and spiritually, and
  1. It harms others.

The Qur’an teaches, for example, moderation in eating and drinking what are permissible (7:30-31) and calls for a balance between human being materialistic and spiritual needs (28:77).

Islam rejects the unmarried life of a priest or a nun, or that of a monk because it is too difficult to maintain faithfully for very long.

Islam teaches that every Muslim should share his/her knowledge of Islam with others, with full respect of other people beliefs and to always remember that embracing Islam is an act of God (56:28).

Islam is unique among the world's major religions in that the Qur'an explicitly provides five guidelines for Muslims on how to view other faiths.

Throughout history, when Muslims followed these Quranic precepts -- whether they were in a position of authority, or even as a numerically weaker minority group -- they, as well as members of other religions living around them, benefited greatly.

The treatment of Muslims to adherents of other religions far exceeded the treatment of authorities of other religions to Muslims.

Consider these historical examples:

  1. In the early days of Islam, Muslims were instrumental in helping to safeguard the distinctive traditions of the Christian Coptic Church in Egypt from the oppressive practices of the dominant Church of Rome.
  1. Similarly, Muslim Turks are credited in Islamic history with safeguarding eastern European Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians alike from pressure and persecution exerted by the Church of Rome.
  1. The "golden age" of Jewish religious scholarship in pre-medieval Spain was achieved in an environment of religious freedom supported by the dominant Muslim society.
  1. In many Arab, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, religious minorities -- especially Jews, Christians and Hindus -- have flourished under Muslim rule and, thus protected, their ancient places of worship have survived to this day.
  1. What are these five divine guidelines that the Qur'an clearly presents to Muslims for building tolerance and understanding among differing religions?

1. Everyone's God-given human dignity must be respected, regardless of their religion, race, ethnic origin, gender, or social status (17:70). Because they are all created by God Almighty, the Maker of All, humans must treat one another with full honour, respect and loving-kindness.

2. Islam teaches it is by Divine Will that God's human creation follows different religions, or no religion at all (no religion is a religion) (11:118), (10:99), (18:29). But God Almighty is not pleased when some of His servants (all humans are servants of the Creator in one way or another) choose not to believe (39:7).

3. The Qur'an states clearly that freedom of religion is a God-given right (18:29), (10:99).

4. The final judgment of all humanity lies in the hands of the One Almighty, their Creator, to whom we all return (22:68-69), (42:15).

5. God loves justice and those who strive to practice it, especially toward people who are different from them in any way, particularly in religious belief (5:8), (60:8).

Bigotry and prejudice, both ugly human traits, are in regrettable abundance today. The last thing our troubled world needs is a new variation on the despicable anti-Islam attitude to make our worst natures more attractive.

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