Muslims in Toronto wonder what needs to change as Canadian poll calls for assimilation

Ahmadiyya Muslims at event to welcome spiritual leader say they’re working hard to fit in

By John Rieti, CBC News Posted: Oct 04, 2016 

A young Ahmadiyya Muslim girl welcomes the caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, with a sign that means 'Welcome, present one.' The spiritual leader arrived in Toronto on Monday afternoon.

A young Ahmadiyya Muslim girl welcomes the caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, with a sign that means ‘Welcome, present one.’ The spiritual leader arrived in Toronto on Monday afternoon. (John Rieti/CBC)

Canadian Ahmadiyya Muslims at an event celebrating their spiritual leader say they’re not worried about a new poll suggesting most people in this country think immigrants should do more to fit in.

Thousands of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community composed largely of immigrants lined the streets outside a mosque in Maple, Ont. on Monday night to wave, cheer and pray as their caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, arrived.

The caliph is the Ahmadiyya group’s spiritual leader — similar to the pope but on a far smaller scale — and those who caught a glimpse of the leader outside the Baitul Islam Mosque said seeing him was a powerful and joyous moment. There are about 20 million Ahmadiyya Muslims worldwide.

“It’s almost like being recharged, rejuvenated,” said Hena Malik, a Muslim mother.

Toronto Hena Malik

‘I think as mothers we play the most important role in families,’ Muslim mom Hena Malik told CBC News. (John Rieti/CBC)

That rejuvenation comes at a welcome time. This week, CBC News and the Angus Reid Institute released a poll showing that 68 per cent of Canadian respondents believe immigrants should be doing more to fit in, as opposed to keeping their own customs and languages.

The pollsters behind the research suggest the results show a hardening of public attitudes toward newcomers, something possibly driven by the fierce anti-immigration stances of U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump as well as several other political leaders.

But Malik said she believes the poll isn’t a dark omen, but instead a “ray of light.” She said she believes it’s a Canadian way of asking: “How can we talk to each other more?”

“When you don’t know your neighbour, you don’t know what they’re about. I don’t think that 68 per cent is saying ‘I know what you’re about and I don’t like you.’ It’s saying ‘I want to know more about you,’ ” she said.

Image issues persist

Toronto Lal Khan Malik

Lal Khan Malik, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada, said his group is working hard to build connections in communities across the country. (John Rieti/CBC)

Lal Khan Malik, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada (Jama’at loosely translates to community), said his group is doing its best to make connections in the community.

He said the Caliph provides guidance when it comes to fitting in.

“Number one, when you move to a new country, loyalty of that country is now part of your faith. Love of that country is now part of your faith,” he said.

Malik, however, realizes some have negative impressions of his faith, particularly surrounding the treatment of women. Thousands of women attended the event but men and women were separated as the Caliph led the afternoon prayer.

Malik insists that tradition of separation isn’t discrimination and said Ahmadiyya Muslim women have the same status as men, though he realizes the fact that men occupy the mosque area while women pray a soccer field distance away is problematic for some.

Hena Malik said she, for one, prefers to pray while surrounded by women.

“Muslim women who wear the hijab are in no way lesser than men,” she said.

‘What else can we do?’

Toronto Jawad Malik

Jawad Malik, centre, said he sees initiatives like inviting Canadians to meet with Muslim families are positive ‘baby steps’ toward creating understanding. Malik is flanked by his cousin, Takreem Cheema, on the left and his brother, Hammad Malik, on the right. (John Rieti/CBC)

Jawad Malik, a recent McMaster University psychology graduate who came from Hamilton to see the Caliph, said there’s a generational story at play here as well.

Malik said it may have been harder for older generations to assimilate due to language issues, but now younger Muslims are working hard to bridge cultural gaps.

Part of that is clearly visible. On the grounds of the mosque, many older men wore traditional hats and robes, while their children wore baseball hats, featuring logos advertising such sports figures as the Toronto Blue Jays or the Michael Jordan jumpman.

Malik said he’s not worried by the poll results, but said it does leave him wondering how people want his community to change.

“But what else can we do? I think we need to go into greater detail about that,” he said.

Zeeshan Waseem, an immigrant from Pakistan and the father of a two-year-old girl, said he hasn’t felt any pressure from Canadians when it comes to fitting in. Everyone has been friendly, he said.

When it comes to change, “maybe they need to clarify what they want.”

Canada a sanctuary for community

Mirza Masroor Ahmad

Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad makes his way to the mosque to deliver afternoon prayers. (John Rieti/CBC)

Ahmadi Muslims are, it should be noted, especially motivated to fit in to Canadian society.

Members of the faith have been persecuted in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh and even in the U.K., where a Scottish shopkeeper was murdered by another Muslim man earlier this year in what a court heard was a sectarian attack.

In Canada, however, the group enjoys religious freedom.

“We’ve seen nothing but good here,” said Ata Haee, one of a number of young men helping journalists navigate through the whirl of festivities.

“We want to be a part of this country.”

The online survey was conducted in early September from a sample of 3,904 Canadians. The results have a 2.5 per cent margin of error 19 times out of 20.

The caliph last visited Toronto in 2012. He’s expected to remain in the city for several days.


Children clamour to get a shot of their spiritual leader. (John Rieti/CBC)


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