Large Banner Ad
Small Banner Ad

July 1, 2013

Muslims participate more in Canadian politics

The Canadian Charger

More by this author...

In sharp contrast to the ubiquitous media image of alienated Muslims - young Muslims in particular - a lot more people from the Muslim community have been running for political office or encouraging and supporting others in their community to run for office, according to Dr. Kathy Bullock, Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Speaking at a Canadian Charger fundraising dinner, recently, in Waterloo, Dr. Bullock indicated that Muslims themselves continues to struggle with the question of their identity.

“There are now eight or nine Muslims in federal, provincial or municipal office. It's difficult to give an exact number because some say: 'I'm from a Muslim family, and some say 'I'm a Muslim.' If they don't fully identify themselves, I don't count them.”

Dr. Bullock said that since 2011, when she and Dr. Paul Nesbitt-Larking published their report “Canadian Muslim Youth and Political Participation: A Willingness to Engage,” there has been a significant increase in Muslim participation in Canadian politics.

“The Arab Spring was a factor. A lot of Muslims who were arguing that Muslims don't participate in politics because Islam is incompatible with politics are now participating. When the Al Nour Party, consisting  mainly of Salafi followers -  a very conservative modern orthodox version of Islam - won 25 per cent of the vote in Egypt, I think that had an effect on Muslims in Canada. They saw that the Salafis had been saying, 'We don't participate in politics,' and then they ran candidates and won, so we can also participate in Canadian politics.”

Participation is important, Dr. Bullock said, because it leads to integration. “Once we started participating at the political level; it shows that we really want to be part of society. We are positive, contributing members of society.”

She emphasized that informal participation in the political system, including writing letters, circulating petitions and visiting one's local MP, can be just as important as formal participation, such as running for office.

According to her findings from research she did for the 2011 report on Canadian Muslim Youth, Dr. Bullock said interviewees exhibited minimal interest in political extremism often attributed to them in the media.

“There was no radical or extremist discourse and little interest in politics pertaining to the home countries of their parents,” the report states.

Meanwhile, religion was an important element in the lives of the interviewees. However, religious beliefs and observance acted as a source of encouragement to political and civic activism.

Most interviewees – with a few minor exceptions - regarded Islamic and Canadian values to be very close.

“We found that the people most engaged in society were the most religious,” Dr. Bullock said. “This is not the media image of alienated Muslim Canadian youth.”

She noted that many of the interviewees were involved in civic engagement – whether political or non-political - trying to make society better. Their activities include such things as joining advocacy groups for a variety of causes and raising money for hospitals.

“At least half volunteered in non-Islamic organizations such as wildlife organizations and cancer research. Some volunteered in both Islamic and non-Islamic organizations. All were adamant that charity should be for humanity.”

After the findings of the Fifth Council of North American Muslims, in 2011, determined that the Qur’an said Muslims must seek to establish justice, so they must participate in the democratic process to protect against injustices such as violence, and racial profiling; and the Qur’an said government should be by consensus.

Dr. Bullock said Canadian Muslims were faced with the dilemma of deciding which party to vote for because of the lack of symmetry between their value system and the way the political system is set up.

After stating that religious leaders in the community need to offer more guidance, Dr. Bullock said that as a result of her research she feels that the principle of preventing harm takes precedence over the principle of promoting good.

This is in line with Canada's most successful  prime minister, Mackenzie King, who – especially in his later years – used to often say that what a leader is able to prevent from happening is more important than what he or she actually causes to happen.

After pointing out that politics affects everything in our lives; for example, carbon emissions that affect the air we breathe, water quality and food labelling, Dr. Bullock asked: “If you don't participate, how are you going to influence politics. Apathy and violence are counterproductive ... Muslims working on policy is good for all of society.”

  • Think green before you print
  • Respond to the editor
  • Email
  • Delicious
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • StumbleUpon
Subscribe to the E-bulletin

M. Elmasry

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel