‘Fear is the greatest factor:’ Survey finds Canadians worry about rise of racism

CALGARY — A survey suggests Canadians have a generally positive impression of Muslims but that view doesn’t apply to some of the religion’s leadership and beliefs.

The poll, commissioned by Think for Actions and Insights Matter, found 78 per cent of Canadians agreed Muslims should adopt Canadian customs and values but maintain their religious and cultural practices. Some 88 per cent of those surveyed said Muslims should be treated no differently than any other Canadian.

But 72 per cent of respondents also believed there has been an increasing climate of hatred and fear towards Muslims in Canada and that it will get worse.

Results of the poll — an online survey of 1,048 Canadians done from March 13 to Aug. 12 — were released Saturday at The Unity Conference in Calgary on Islamophobia, discrimination and systemic racism.

“The biggest takeaway is Canadians who are friends with a Muslim or know a Muslim individual have a positive view of Islam and Muslims and are more welcoming to them,” said Mukarram Zaidi, chair of the group that commissioned the survey.

“Fear is the greatest factor. The majority of Canadians believe the issue of racism has increased. They are concerned about the issue of general racism and hate crimes, religious discrimination, homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

Public perception isn’t all positive. The survey found 56 per cent believed that Islam suppresses women’s rights. There was a 54 per cent approval for imams and 35 per cent for Muslim leadership.

“There needs to be work done within the Muslim community and their leadership to understand that the common person does not hold a lot of respect for what they’re doing,” said Zaidi.

“Children born and raised in North America need to become an imam, because when they stand up and speak, they can speak English clearly and they can relate Islam to North American culture.”

Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, understands why Canadians would be suspicious of Muslim leadership. He said many imams discuss only religious teaching and morality when they should speak out against fanaticism, extremism and intolerance.

“Many Muslim leaders do not condemn ISIL, the Taliban, al-Qaida,” said Soharwardy. ”A lot of imams are doing it, but not enough.”

Soharwardy, who was born in Pakistan, said imams should be fluent in English or French and have a good understanding of Canadian society.

“I think most of the imams, who come from overseas and outside of Canada, they still live in silos. They still do not help people to integrate in the mainstream Canadian society.”

Soharwardy has personal experience about the need for good language skills when talking to Canadian-born Muslims.

“At our mosque I speak in English and Urdu, like a bilingual sort of thing. My own son says, ‘Papa, when you speak English that is fine, but as soon as you start talking Urdu, you just turn me off’ — and he understands it.”

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