Main pic: Sarah Cherki of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community speaks to Quebecers during an information session on Islam. Photo credit: Ruby Pratka
If there has ever been an easy time to be an imam in Quebec City, now is not it. The divisions stirred up by the Charter of Values still rear their heads every time Islam is mentioned, and the murders of two Canadian soldiers by Quebec-born Muslim converts raised concerns in the media that young men were being pushed to adopt a radical, Islamic State-inspired version of Islam.
It’s not an easy time to promote Islam in Quebec City. But Luqman Ahmed, a 26-year-old Ahmadiyya Muslim imam, has decided to try. With pizza, pop and free Qur’ans, he and three of the members of his congregation attempted to win hearts and minds Wednesday evening at a community centre on Rue Boivin in Ste-Foy.
Ahmed is originally from Pakistan. He lived in Toronto for seven years before arriving in Quebec this summer to learn French and minister to the city’s tiny Ahmadiyya community.
“I feel very welcome in Canada and in Quebec so far,” he says. “There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and there could be misunderstandings. Canadians are very tolerant and welcoming people, and they don’t target Muslims unjustly; I’ve never been targeted unjustly. But there is a lot of misinformation about Islam, and due to misinformation, there could be misunderstandings. There’s definitely a need to educate people.”
“When you love something and it’s being portrayed in a negative sense, you want to correct that,” he adds. “If I don’t do my part to say that Islam doesn’t condone terrorism, people may connect the dots and associate such things as are going on with ISIS, with the faith. But what is happening now is not supported by Islam.”
Ahmed adheres to a minority offshoot of Islam. The Ahmadiyya branch was founded in early 20th-century India and is practiced by about one per cent of the world’s Muslims. “In Islam there’s a prophecy that the messiah will come, and we believe the messiah has already come,” he explains. “Our messiah said we no longer need religious wars, so we’re strictly against wars.” His presentation was aimed at presenting a less threatening face of Islam.
“I’m here to answer people’s questions,” adds Sarah Cherki, a Moroccan-born computer technician and member of Ahmed’s congregation. “Discussions are good — it’s a start.”
Cherki faces repeated questions about her hijab, which covers her hair and encircles her face.
“That (the hijab) is against our culture and against common sense,” argues Francine Lavoie, a vocal supporter of the defeated Charter of Values. “I see it as a form of inequality, and it makes me sad to see you like that.”
“Why not see it as a person exercising her liberty?” Cherki argues. “The fact that someone shows off their religion doesn’t automatically hurt others.”
“You should be yourself,” counters Lavoie.
“I am myself like this!”
“It bothers me when people don’t listen to me, and it bothers me when exchanges aren’t fruitful,” Cherki later says, visibly frustrated, “The veil is a lifestyle. It helps me be myself and to dress to please myself, not to please anyone, and to focus on my own objectives. The goal is to feel comfortable in my own skin.”
She says “a whole series of things” led her to decide to start covering her head, as an adult. She doesn’t understand why the sight of it offends ardent secularists. “It’s not human to deny me (the hijab),” she says. “It’s my right to wear it, and someone else’s right to wear a miniskirt.”
The event guestbook is filled with positive comments — “pretty exhibition!” “interesting to see another facet of Islam!”— but not everyone was convinced of Cherki and Ahmed’s good intentions.
“We’ll never understand each other,” says Lavoie. “Never ever.”
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