Feature

Under the Sheltering Crescent Moon

Can our nation’s multiculturalism embrace Islamic radicals and reformers?

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• 5,340 words

The other night, Asad Kassan’s mother called him from her home in Bangladesh. She asked him again, as she has so often did since he moved to Toronto fourteen years ago, when he was going to settle down like his brothers and sisters and marry. Then she began to cry. “And I said, ‘Mom, you can’t cry. Last time you cried ten dollars’ worth.’ ” Kassan is a sweet, soft-spoken man with liquid, dark eyes. There has been no shortage of males who have appreciated this, and he too has long understood the beauty of other men. But he didn’t accept that he was gay until 1997. Even now, though he is in his late thirties, it’s not something he will discuss with his mother. “She sort of knows, but we don’t talk about it. We talk about things like, what does it mean that I live in a basement apartment, because we have no such thing in Bangladesh. So she says, ‘I hear there’s snow in the winter. Can you get out?’ Or she’ll say, ‘You live under the ground like Osama bin Laden.’ ”

Kassan aches for home but he won’t be going back. Not too long ago he met a man from his homeland who was caught having sex with his boyfriend. As the man fled, he looked over his shoulder and saw his neighbours gathered in a circle, beating his lover to death. So Kassan doesn’t tell his mother that he has been happily living with a man named Peter for the past two years. He tells her that he is a faithful Muslim and he is telling her the truth, in a way. “I was a religious child. I always went to the mosque, and I loved the khutba [sermon],” he says. “I still have some Muslim beliefs because of the way I grew up. I still believe I am a Muslim. But for me, it is a human thing.”

The Prophet Muhammad, a forty-year-old merchant living in Mecca, proclaimed the Islamic faith fourteen centuries ago after the angel Gabriel revealed the first of 114 suras (chapters) of the Koran to him as he meditated. It was a religion of peace and generosity, and slowly transformed the pagan and tribal Arabian Peninsula. But today, in many of the world’s Muslim lands, the sheltering crescent moon symbolizing that dream has come to represent tyranny, intolerance, and the frustration that leads to terrorism. Kassan, a refugee from that intolerance, is one of 700,000 Muslims now living in Canada. The number is growing dramatically, with Muslim countries now supplying the second-largest number of new immigrants annually. While Kassan is free to express his sexuality and worship as he pleases, other Muslims who have come here would like to implement shariah, a strict code of Islamic law. It wouldn’t cost Kassan his life, but he would surely be shunned. These are the two competing faces of Islam in Canada: one which recalls the idealism and generosity of the seventh-century faith; the other a harsh and violent doctrine that evolved in the nineteenth century as a rejection of modernity.

Many Muslims who come to Canada are fleeing poverty and dictatorial regimes in their homelands, especially those that have made common cause with religious extremists. They seek a rebirth of their faith in the liberal democracies of the West—“a modern and moderate reformation,” in the words of Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress. For these Muslims the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is also, in its way, a sheltering crescent moon. They come in the footsteps of clerics and intellectuals who, for at least a century, have declared that the democratic West truly reflects the values of Islam more than in their Muslim homelands. But hardliners and rejectionists, who preach that Muslims are superior, have also come to Canada. Many, like Toronto’s Aly Hindy, who believes men should be allowed to discipline their wives, or Vancouver’s Younus Kathrada, who once preached that Jews are the brothers of monkeys and swine, are the imams of large mosques. How will they be integrated into a multicultural society that calls for tolerance, and places the rights of the individual above religion?

“Islam” means submission, understood as submission to God. Most Muslims wish to live, in the words of the Swiss-based conservative scholar Tariq Ramadan, “a God-centred life,” an alternative to what they see as the rudderless secularism of the West. He describes this world as one in which children submit to parents, women to men, and men to religiously trained men. What many Muslims arriving in the West fear is the dilution of these values in a sea of secular liberalism, which they believe has already hollowed out the core of Judaism and Christianity. They remain wary of the idea of equal individual rights, which has never existed in Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam). The faith has instead evolved into a doctrine of reciprocity, whereby everyone has rights and duties originating in the Koran that vary according to whether they are man or woman, rich or poor, child or adult. Charity is obligatory; respect for women and non-believers, too, is proclaimed in the holy book.

Where, then, did the terrorism and corruption now associated with Islam come from? How did a Muslim world where homosexuals were at one time treated with tolerance become the frightful place from which Asad Kassan had to flee? Muslims from across the political spectrum speak of two historic catastrophes. The first was a cultural decline that became acute in the fourteenth century when Muslim rulers turned their backs on science and liberal religious thought. The other was the arrival of European imperialists three centuries later, armed with weapons that were much more advanced than any in the Islamic world. Many Muslim scholars claim that Western imperial powers also helped sow the seeds of today’s radicalism by suppressing Islamic institutions. The greatest loss was the decline of a powerful scholarly order called the ulema, which had helped defeat periodic outbreaks of fanaticism by reminding the faithful of religion’s peaceful origins.

In particular, the weakened ulema was unable to defeat an Arabian fanatic named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. By the time Wahhab died in 1792, he had established a xenophobic doctrine known today as Wahhabism. It posed no threat to the West until the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. The sect then pressured an increasingly corrupt Saudi regime to send money abroad to finance the spread of virulently anti-Western beliefs. Wahhabists have great contempt for non-Muslims and often impose their will on other Muslims through violence. They also reject contact with non-Muslims—as do followers of another hard-line Islamic doctrine called Salafism. When these doctrines are preached in Canada, they cause much distress among Muslims who are trying to understand Canada and establish relations with Canadians. “A lot of Saudi petro-dollars were spent here for new mosques,” says Nader Hashemi, a doctoral student in political science studying religion and democracy at the University of Toronto. “[Imams] preach as if they were still in Cairo or Amman or Damascus.”

Both Wahhabism and Salafism call for a return to the faith as it was practised in the mid-seventh century, with the stoning of adulterers and the cutting off of thieves’ hands. They reject the more moderate body of law developed in the centuries after Muhammad’s death, restricting themselves instead to the Koran, which condones such practices. As a rule, they preach their doctrines peacefully. But a splinter group of Salafists appeared in the Middle East after the Second World War, dedicating themselves to the violent overthrow of what they see as “Western-corrupted” governments like those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Asked if he is preaching Wahhabism or Salafism, Aly Hindy, the imam of the Salaheddin mosque in the east end of Toronto, asserts that he is a peaceful Salafist. Because of his hard-line beliefs, and allegations by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (csis) that his mosque harbours extremists, he has become the symbol of an Islam that some say cannot be reconciled with Canada’s liberal democracy. It appears that the authorities in his native Egypt don’t trust him either. The last time he went there, he was handcuffed at the airport, then taken away and interrogated for thirty-six hours.

Hindy’s mosque is a sprawling concrete structure on a stretch of Toronto’s east end where Burger King wrappers blow across the street and a weed-choked rail spur runs alongside. On the bulletin board in the lobby, a pamphlet reminds the faithful that they are surrounded by the temptations of unbelievers who threaten their deen (submission to God, and purity of faith). To hold onto one’s deen in a country like Canada is “like holding a hot coal in one’s hands.”

Hindy is writing a sermon with the theme that God intended men to rule over women, but they must never abuse their authority. In the last minutes before the noon service, he scribbles notes in his book-lined office, referring to leather-bound Arabic texts as he works. A dusty, little-used computer sits to one side. Jovial and high-spirited, Hindy wears a red-and-white kaffiyeh to frame his curly salt-and-pepper beard. He is loyal to a stunning list of conservative beliefs, starting with polygamy and not excluding the death by stoning of adulterers or the amputation of thieves’ hands. Like most observant Muslims, he feels obliged to endorse these beliefs as they are stipulated in the Koran. Pressed to say whether such laws could ever be imposed in Canada, he says only that “Canada would first have to become an Islamic society.”

These words are carefully chosen because there are many Muslim societies, but an “Islamic society” is an idealized place where all Muslims would be people of perfect justice and fairness. Many Muslims agree that such a place has never existed. All are certain that it doesn’t exist today. This becomes a convenient way of avoiding uncomfortable questions about whether the more grotesque punishments set out in the Koran should ever be used. By saying yes, but only in this idealized future, their use is postponed. It is a way of remaining loyal to the literal words of the Koran while recognizing that its crueller doctrines cannot be practised in the modern world. “You can’t change the religion, it’s obvious,” says Hindy. “Some things cannot be changed.”

The unchangeable core value of Islam—one that poses a real challenge to Canada—is the matter of inequality. Aly Hindy has the power to forbid his wife to take a job. On the other hand, if she were working she would be allowed to keep her salary and he would still be obliged to support her. The problem, according to prominent scholars, like Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of Emory University, is that shariah law has an unbroken tradition of unequal rights, especially for women. But he believes that at some point, as Muslims become more integrated into the West, the concept of equal rights for all could be introduced into shariah without destroying the social structure of the community.

Mohammed Ashraf, the Pakistan-born director of the Islamic Centre of Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, uses the example of murder to illustrate this. Under the school of shariah law he subscribes to, once a judge has convicted a man of murder, it is the victim’s family who should decide the punishment. Even if the murder was unintentional, the family may ask for death. “Mostly the family is compassionate and will settle for financial compensation,” says Ashraf. “But they can decide to have him killed. Why? Because they are the ones who are most affected by the loss of the victim.”

The underlying idea is that an individual’s life belongs to his family, not himself. Punishment is thus tethered not to the crime itself, but to the amount of harm it causes others. It is an idea that Ashraf knows is alien to Western law. “Muslims,” he says sadly, “have to live with this situation. It’s a shame for us and a shame for you. Because in your system, nobody cares about the victim’s family.” Needing the machinery of government to give force to the Koran, Muslims have often sought to dominate the countries in which they live, such as Iran. This dilemma is acute for Mohamad Khatib, the director of the Canadian office of the Saudi-financed Muslim World League in Mississauga. When a Wahhabi directive sent from Saudi Arabia two years ago advised members of the Khalid Bin Al-Waleed mosque in north Toronto to refuse to say “Merry Christmas” to their Christian neighbours, the media went knocking on Khatib’s door.

Today, Khatib is at pains to distance his organization from terrorism and to present the faith in as acceptable a light as possible. He addresses this issue by raising the subject of Osama bin Laden. “Maybe,” he says, “Osama has nostalgia for the past. He says the world is in two camps: Islam and not Islam. Well, what can that mean for us in Canada? We don’t want to fight. Canada hasn’t oppressed us.”

Perhaps not, but the bookshelves of Khatib’s office are heavy with English translations of the Koran that have been annotated by Wahhabi scholars contemptuous of the most-followed religions in Canada. For example, sura 15:9 is accompanied by a footnote reading: “This Verse is a challenge to mankind and everyone is obliged to believe in the miracles of this Koran . . . . All the other holy books, the Torah, the Gospel, have been corrupted.” In fact sura 15:9 says nothing about other faiths. Other famous suras, which clearly advocate religious tolerance, have no footnotes.

Most Canadian Muslims are clearly seeking to build bridges to their non-Muslim neighbours. Even Mohamad Khatib acknowledges that “half the world’s Muslims want to come to the West.” He chuckles when told that what Aly Hindy most likes about Canada is that faraway relatives can’t come nosing into his private life. “Why does Aly Hindy stay here?” asks Khatib rhetorically. “Because this is a good place to live.” Other conservatives are much further down the road to integration. Mohamed Elmasry, head of the influential Canadian Islamic Congress (cic), is married to a woman from Nova Scotia and has a daughter who is a Crown attorney. His daughter does not wear the head scarf, as many believe the Koran commands. “She says,” explains Elmasry, that ” ‘I’m already odd in this profession. Wearing the hijab would be too much!’ ” Elmasry has no time for Wahhabi-style apartheid. “It is anti-Islamic to propagate isolation, especially in a multicultural society,” he says.

But his affable presentation belies a troubling nostalgia for Islamic government, which he would still like to see triumphant in his native Egypt. He also argues, against all evidence, that Afghanistan’s ruthless Taliban did not oppress women as part of their strict orthodox regime, which harboured bin Laden as he planned his 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Elmasry is caught between two worlds but he has made a commitment to Canada. At his behest, this summer the cic will offer courses in Canadian history and culture to imams arriving from abroad.

Others are resisting attempts at modernizing the faith. Once a feminist living in Australia, twelve years ago Katherine Bullock married a Muslim and converted. Now in Toronto, she wears a blue hijab pinned at the neck, refrains from listening to pop music, and declines to shake hands with men. Bullock has a doctorate in political theory, and has also written a book defending the place of women in Islam. To understand a woman’s place in the religion, she says, the liberal idea of equality must be set aside. “If we can agree that men and women can be different and no less respectful of each other,” she says, “that’s the beginning of genuine cross-cultural understanding.”

But Bullock does not believe that Canadians really wish to understand the values of conservative Muslims. There is an “orientalist lens through which the West looks at Islam,” she says. “Journalists want a great clip that confirms the pre-existing narrative.” An example is the notorious “Merry Christmas” directive. Bullock doesn’t say “Merry Christmas” either, but it’s not because she hates or dislikes Christians. “It’s just a way of preserving a communal way of life,” she explains. “If I don’t say Merry Christmas, it’s not that I don’t wish that person well, or wouldn’t help them if they needed help, but that I don’t wish to validate their religion.” Too much mingling, she fears, will lead Muslims into the liberal melting pot where, as described by Tariq Ramadan, “the Jewish or Christian origins have faded or simply disappeared.”

As I walk with her through the Islamic Centre of Canada in Mississauga, where she is a director, it becomes clear in how many ways Muslim life diverges from that of mainstream Canada. The building contains not only a prayer room, but a housing office where the faithful can purchase a home without using a mortgage, because borrowing money at interest is considered sinful. It also has a morgue to provide the rituals of Muslim burial and a small high school, where girls and boys sit separately in the same classroom. Passing through the building, we are inundated by waves of teenage girls in black gowns, wearing white head scarves with exquisite lacework. Their faces are mischievous and shy by turns as they acknowledge the presence of an outsider.

Bullock, with her academic background and fluent English, has been one of the most persuasive defenders of a proposal to use shariah family law in Ontario to settle family and property disputes. The imams of many large conservative mosques are also in favour, and a commission under former mpp Marion Boyd has recommended its adoption.

But many Muslim women are opposed, and their fears illustrate the gulf between radical and moderate Muslims in Canada. Under Ontario’s 1991 Arbitration Act, couples can voluntarily settle family disputes according to their own religious laws. Hasidic Jews already do this. The problem is that Muslim family law treats women unequally, in some cases granting the father automatic custody of children. This clearly violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Boyd dealt with this by asserting that the Charter will prevail where it conflicts with Muslim law. She recommended creating safeguards to ensure that women are not coerced by male relatives. “We are talking about the use of Muslim principles,” said Boyd, “within the context of Ontario and Canadian law.”

But even Muslim women who support the Ontario initiative want it monitored to ensure that hard-liners like Hindy don’t take control of the process. One of them is Maryam Dadabhoy, who was born twenty-three years ago in the United States and who now lives in Mississauga. She is a devout believer. But knowing the cruelties inflicted on women in some Muslim countries, she will not use Ontario’s Arbitration Act “unless there are checks and balances so the Wahhabi don’t run it.”

Immigrant women, especially those who suffered daily humiliation under Islamic dictatorships in places like Iran and Afghanistan, are strongly opposed to Boyd’s plan. Maryam Aghvami, a Toronto journalist who left Iran two years ago, says “in Iran people were whipped for going to parties. In Afghanistan [radical Islam] brought misery to women and children.” Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women in Toronto adds bluntly that Muslim family law “will not work in Canada” and cannot be reformed. “We’re not against how [shariah family law] was practised back then in a patriarchal society,” explains Hogben. “But it doesn’t work that way anymore. The structure of the family and the community is no longer such that these laws can apply.”

Liberals like Alia Hogben and Nader Hashemi represent the tentative emergence of a moderate Islam in Canada. They are trying to articulate what Hashemi calls “a liberal democratic paradigm” of the faith. But they face challenges from conservatives both inside the Muslim community and from outside of it where there is still a great deal of mistrust. They have learned to rely on the goodwill of Canadians and the country’s multicultural makeup, which is based on tolerence.

One striking difference between Canada and the United States or Europe is that there have been no terrorist incidents here. Nor has the Canadian government deported imams for making inflammatory speeches, as France did to Abdelkader Bouziane last year after he defended the 9/11 attacks. “The debate is between multicultural societies and those that are not,” says Hashemi. “In Europe, long-established societies have trouble accepting new immigrants. That’s why there is a debate about the hijab in France [where Muslim girls are under an injunction to bare their hair in school] and the extremism of some imams. You don’t see it in Canada because we’re the beacon of multiculturalism.”

Muslim youth in sprawling housing complexes on the outskirts of Paris and London suffer from discrimination that isolates them from wider society. But in Canada, young Muslims are more widely accepted, robbing orthodox imams of a source of discontent and new recruits. Although csis has arrested a number of suspected radical Muslims, Canada is still seen as a place with less descrimination than the United States, where there a resurgence of Christian nativism has been taking place. Two years ago, the celebrated evangelist Billy Graham described Islam as an “evil and wicked religion.” And a former head of the Southern Baptist Convention called the Prophet Muhammad a “demon-obsessed pedophile.”

Amir Hussain, who immigrated to Canada as a child, and who now teaches religion at California State University at Northridge, believes the more benign experience Muslims face in Canada may ultimately transform the religion. “I’m Canadian, even if I look Pakistani,” he says, tugging the mane of stringy black hair that falls to his shoulders. “We should no longer look back to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. There is a critical mass of us here now.” He points out that Canadian-born Muslims anchored in Western culture are now being trained in Medina and Cairo, which will make it unnecessary to import foreign imams. The next step will be to build a seminary in Canada. In this Canadian-style Islam that Hussain envisages, there will be less reason for the young women to wear the hijab because they will not fear losing their identity. “Islam is not an ethnicity,” he insists, “so it won’t disappear like ethnicity does.”

Signs of a new liberal Islam are emerging in unpredictable places. In November 2004, I attended a dinner at a mosque located in a commercial mall in Toronto’s northern suburbs. In the midst of copy shops and sporting goods wholesalers, the mall’s unit 14 modestly proclaims itself as the United Moslem Association. In the upstairs prayer room, fallen ceiling tiles reveal rusting pipe work. Downstairs, where the dinner takes place, a patchwork of different floor tiles recalls the previous tenant, a pasta manufacturer.

The congregants come mostly from Guyana, a poor South American country. They first attracted attention last November when they allowed a young woman, Maryam Mirza, to deliver the sermon at the feast of Eid al-Fitr to a mixed audience. Mirza’s lecture was promptly condemned by the Islamic Council of Imams-Canada as irreligious and improper. The mosque’s imam, a real-estate agent named Jabar Ally, was unflustered—he had already been expelled from a traditional mosque. In his new mosque, non-Muslims are welcome to attend prayers, with no pressure to convert. He also has very good relations with the tiny Hindu temple next door, and distributes English-language booklets from a liberal publisher in Pakistan, which emphasize the Prophet’s good relations with Jews.

Ally says he is following a more open path for the sake of younger generations of Canadian Muslims whom he wants to see prosper in a multicultural society. This is why his congregation is opposed to the proposed implementation of shariah family law in Ontario. Mohamed Mirza, the father of the girl who read the sermon, says shariah won’t work here “because the women won’t accept it.” Then he casts a sidelong glance at his wife, Anne, who smiles. “They’d kill us,” he adds. His friend Zaheer Majeed agrees. “The women say, ‘Why must I be treated differently from Canadian women?’ ”

Canada’s cultural climate may help explain why Toronto chartered accountant Roshan Jamal last year became the first woman director of a prayer centre in North America. She is delighted to show a visitor through the Noor Cultural Centre, where women worship alongside men instead of being relegated to a walled-off enclosure at the back of the room. She wants to see a return to “questioning” in Islam, and an end to the overpowering maleness of the religion’s structure. “My chief regret [as a woman],” she says, “was not to have a place where I belong. There was a void in my life.”

Hogben argues that Islam took on many colours, some surprisingly liberal, as it spread around the globe. Most moderate Muslims tend to come from countries like India. There are far more Muslims in India than in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, but they are a minority among the vast Hindu population. As a result, shariah law in India is not often enforced. And the desert patriarchy that spawned Wahhabism is foreign to India, as it is to other large Muslim countries.

Making sense of this ferment is the task of Islam’s new coterie of North American scholars. One of the most celebrated is an Egyptian-American, Khaled Abou El Fadl. As a devoted child who had memorized the Koran by the age of twelve, Abou El Fadl was eventually sent to Cairo’s Al-Azhar University to be trained as a religious scholar. Then he went to Yale University, where he had the temerity to criticize the methods used to suppress Islamists in Egypt. On a visit home in 1985 he was picked up by police and tortured. His fingernails were pulled out. “I am here and not in Egypt,” he says from his home in Los Angeles, where he teaches at the ucla School of Law, “because I believe I am serving God more effectively here than there. Here I have the freedom to explore and study the Islamic tradition and document it for generations to come—a freedom I wouldn’t have in Egypt.”

In essays like “The Ugly Modern and the Modern Ugly,” Abou El Fadl has excoriated countries like Saudi Arabia for their hatefulness toward women and their fear of pluralism. He criticizes Muslims for neglecting their faith—but rejects a Western-style reformation of it. Instead, he feels that the future of Islam is buried in the traditions of Islam itself, particularly in the millions of judicial documents dating from Islam’s great era of enlightenment from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. Here he finds jurists who spoke of women’s freedom, and of friendship with non-Muslims, and freedom to interpret the Koran. “I respond [to Westerners] by letting the Islamic tradition speak for itself,” he says. These documents are largely inaccessible in countries like Egypt and Pakistan. “Princeton University has 14,000 Islamic manuscripts,” he says. “It’s easier for me to get to those manuscripts than to the 4 million held in Egypt.”

Hearing of Maryam Mirza speaking to the congregation, he says he could offer twenty historic citations supporting a woman’s right to do so. “The modern puritans [radicals] are dissipating and wasting this inspiring moral tradition,” he says.

Abou El Fadl’s research may answer the hopes of young liberals like Hashemi, who wonder how to connect their convictions with the Koran. But it has also troubled and angered conservatives. Katherine Bullock disagrees with Abou El Fadl when he says the Koran does not oblige women to wear the head scarf. And Aly Hindy dismisses his claim to have found jurists who support a woman leading prayer in front of men. “These citations,” says Hindy, “are so few and so weak. Almost all jurists disagree with this.” Bullock says people in her mosque “really dislike Abou El Fadl and his approach.”

Still, Abou El Fadl is confident that conservative imams will not be able to impose their version of Islam on a new generation of Muslims in the West. When some imams insist that a woman must drive a car wearing a veil or not drive a car at all, he says, they “alienate the smartest of the young generation. Kids who make it to ucla law school will say, I’ve stopped going to the mosque because of these irrational rules.”

In fact, rather than waiting for the scholars to endorse a more liberal Islam, some Muslims are beginning to invent personal versions of the faith. Kecia Ali, an American Muslim writer, has taken note of US Muslims who try to “keep the spirit” of the Koran, but who quietly ignore shariah rules, much as some devout Catholics quietly ignore the church’s ban on birth control.

Which way will Canadian Muslims go? A reasonable guess is that the still-dominant conservatives will seek control over the community. In this they will find unlikely allies in today’s newly active Christian churches, which are bringing faith back into the political realm in both the US and Canada. As the British author Neal Ascherson points out, newly arrived religious groups, such as Muslims, will lead the battle for group rights. That is because they can see how rapidly their traditional identity is eroding in their adopted country. Says Ascherson: “The elders take charge, and enforce the religious orthodoxies which seem to them vital if the group’s identity is to be preserved.”

As an example, he cites that staple of many faiths, the arranged marriage. Elders are quick to assert that forcing Muslim girls to marry Muslim boys is the only way to save the community in countries like Canada or England. Such a group right, says Ascherson, may well save the community in the short term. But as time goes by, nothing can prevent immigrant groups from melting together into a new hybrid culture. In the end, he says, “the elders . . . cannot win.”

But radical imams may yet be able to take advantage of a powerful counter-current in North American where increasing numbers of people are rediscovering religious belief and conviction. University of Toronto sociologist Paul Kingston says this return to religion arises from disenchantment with liberal freedoms. Increasingly, he says, people long for the security of belonging to a faith-based group that sets out moral standards.

This helps explain why many Muslims born in North America have retained their faith. For Texas-born Maryam Dadabhoy, Islam “is not just a religion, it’s a way of life. It tells us what to eat, how to take a shower, how to have relations with our family and spouse.”

These forces, some observers agree, may well lead many Muslims to submit to the elders’ insistence on intra-faith marriages. Some of the young would flee of course, but the attachment to Islam is so strong that many would submit even to the harsh dictates of shariah law.

What may well evolve is the kind of Canada that Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff has described as a “lumpy pool table,” a place where groups restrict certain freedoms of willing members, while the larger society is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bulk of Canada’s conservative Muslims would consider that a good deal. Katherine Bullock believes that, given a chance, her faith will prove attractive to many Canadians. “It would be a good idea if we influenced Canada rather than the other way around. Islam has a lot to offer that could help with the ills of modern society.”