by Charles Lewis
24 October 2009
Damn The 'Infidels'
“We have to establish Islam [in Canada]. I wanna see Islam in every single corner of the city; I would like to see niqabis, and hijabis [women wearing face masks and head covering] everywhere in the city. I want to see ‘brothers’ [Muslim men] in beards everywhere in the city. Because when they see more of us, they will have more respect for us. They will say, ‘look they are everywhere...we cannot go against them’.”
A Toronto-area imam is under fire for using derogatory language against Jews and Christians, calling for Allah to "destroy" the enemies of Islam from within and calling on God to "damn" the "infidels."
The address, given last Friday by Imam Saed Rageah at the Abu Huraira Centre and then posted on YouTube is an attack on those who have been calling for a ban on the niqab and burka, both of which cover the faces of women.
"Allah protect us from the fitna [sedition] of these people; Allah protect us from the evil agenda of these people; Allah destroy them from within themselves and do not allow them to raise their heads in destroying Islam."
Tarek Fatah, a Canadian Muslim author and commentator, said that type of language could be interpreted as a call to violence. As well, the imam asks Allah to "damn" Christians and Jews.
"The cleric's ritual prayer asking for the defeat of Christians and Jews and the victory of Islam is not unique," Mr. Fatah said. "It is uttered by many clerics across Canada spreading hate instead of harmony. 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 typical Friday service. A man who worked at the centre said that many women who attend only wear the hijab, which covers the head, and do not wear any covering on their faces.
The National Post repeatedly attempted to reach Mr. Rageah for an interview, but was unsuccessful.
Throughout the 35-minute speech he uses the word "kuffar" to describe non-Muslims.
In referring to those Muslims who would seek allies outside the Muslim community to bring about legislation that would ban face coverings, the imam said: "You will see a lot of them going to the kuffar, taking them as friends and allies. The wrath of Allah is upon them. If they were true believers they would never take them as allies."
At its most benign, kuffar means "non-Muslims." But others say the most common usage is considered highly offensive, akin to calling a black person a "nigger," Mr. Fatah said.
"It goes back to the Arab use of the word against black slaves. It's used in a very derisive manner."
Professor Amir Hussain, who teaches theology at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, but grew up in Toronto, said he does not read the 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 group implode from within. Granted, implode and destroy are of course violent metaphors, but I liken it to him asking for the organization to disintegrate."
Earlier this month, the Canadian Muslim Congress called on Ottawa to ban the wearing of the burka or niqab in public. They said the right should not be protected by the Charter's guarantee of religious freedom because nowhere in the Koran is there a requirement for women to 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 certain Muslims should be infringed upon. He even berates fellow Muslims for being far too passive in the face of attacks on their freedom.
"I'm appealing to the congregation not [to] allow such foolish people to be in charge of the affairs of the umma [family of all Muslims] to the point they would make such serious decisions for us. Our wives have the right to wear it. We should not allow them to dictate how we live. What we should do. Where we should eat. Enough is enough."
Walid Saleh, professor at the centre for the study of religion at the University of Toronto, said much of what Mr. Rageah said must be taken in the context of how Muslims may use terms in the midst of a religious service.
"If you ask me [kuffar] is unreformed language that is unbefitting for a multicultural society. That being said, it is religious language that is Quranic, and in the hadith [the oral tradition], so the issue is internal: how do traditional Muslims want to refer to non-Muslims? Using this language is regrettable, but one is not sure how far one can go in demanding a change."
However, he said the imam could have simply used non-offensive language to refer to non-Muslims.
"He could call them Christians and the Jews, either by their [neutral] Arabic names or even better, Ahl al-Kitab, or People of the Book, a rather positive Islamic term. In this 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 asking his members to write letters to the government to make their objections known.
"So, you can see that the democratic notions are seeping through. He is fully aware of the limitation of his position."