First time in history: Permission of public azan in Canadian city sparks debate

Mississauga is currently embroiled in a steaming debate over the city administration’s decision to allow public Azan during this Ramazan. Why is any demand for religious freedom and expression from Muslims is seen as a step towards extremism?

Azan in Mississauga

Mississauga, a name most in Pakistan are probably familiar with, is currently embroiled in a steaming debate over the city administration’s decision to allow public Azan during this Ramazan. The issue is so packed with emotion, that I came to know of it via an excited WhatsApp message from a friend in Pakistan, who somehow made it sound like a historic event at par with Tariq bin Ziyad’s landing at Gibraltar.

Ironically, Mississauga is not the first city in Canada to allow a publicly relayed call to prayer. Many municipalities in Ontario like Hamilton, Milton, Brampton, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, including Halifax and Edmonton in other provinces have granted similar exemptions. However, what sets Mississauga apart, is the reaction of its residents. But more on that a bit later. Let me set the issue in context first.

Azan to lift Muslims’ spirits

A little over a week ago, the Muslim Council of Peel Region requested Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie for an exemption under City Noise Control By-Laws, to allow mosques a public call for prayer during this year’s Ramazan. The idea was that because of COVID19 restrictions, Muslims were unable to congregate at mosques, and that this would be a small gesture to lift their spirits during this holy month.

Read more: Muslims rejoice as Azaan echoes from mosques first time in US state

Under normal circumstances, such a request would have gone through a process which would have included public consultation and a review by the City’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. However, considering Ramazan was already underway, to expedite the decision, the Mayor introduced a walk-in motion which the Council unanimously approved.

The exemption allowed for a public call to prayer from all mosques, between 8:15-8:50 pm each day, until May 24.

Mixed reactions

Coming back to the reaction of Mississauga residents on hearing the Azan, it seems the lack of public awareness of the decision caught everyone by surprise. The responses were varied though. While a majority of the Muslim community felt delighted, other residents split into three groups – the indifferent, the muted, and the vocally upset.

Each one of these three groups have their dynamics, and I think understanding them is the key to decoding why Mississauga reacted differently than other cities with the same exemption.

The Indifferent, luckily, constitute a significant majority in Canada. These are not just those of diverse faiths, but myself included, Muslims that can co-accommodate both religion and state.

Read more: Dubai residents call for arrest of Sonu Nigam for disrespecting ‘Azaan’

The Muted are those that feel otherwise, but are constrained to freely express their views because of the strong culture of political correctness that luckily pervades Canada. This unwritten code gives all communities space to collectively nurture a tolerant, progressive, diverse, and inclusive society.

The Vocal are a small, and sometimes loud minority. It is no secret they often see the Muslim citizenry as some sort of a trojan horse. Any demand for religious freedom and expression is seen as a slow and sinister crawl along a road where the destination invariably is Shariah Law.

I don’t blame non-Muslims for holding that view. After all, quite a sizable number of Muslims, in some deep recess of their hearts, hide and nurture this bizarre dream of conquering the West. My friend’s reaction, the one I mentioned earlier, is a reflection of that school of thought.

Indians voice concerns; forgo Azan to send a message

While in most cities the Vocal are predominantly Caucasian, in Mississauga their numbers have been swelled by those of Indian origin, and that is why its reaction has been amplified compared to other places.

Read more: After UK, Azaan echoes across Europe: In Germany, Netherlands, Belgium (Video)

This is a relatively new phenomenon because Indians and Pakistanis have always had a very close and harmonious relationship as fellow expats around the world. But sadly, of late, I see a shift in that norm, and I can’t help but attribute it to an overseas spillover of prevailing sentiments that currently engulf India domestically.

This new drift between two predominant segments of Mississauga’s population needs to be bridged before it becomes a chasm, disrupting the very fabric of tolerance and mutual respect on which Canadian society rests. One side has to show flexibility and stop viewing each move as part of some diabolical plot, and the other has to go the extra mile to assuage any fears of the other.

One particular example of a young Imam at a mosque in Ottawa merits mention. He thanked the local council for its considerate gesture, but decided against a public call to prayer out of courtesy, and so as not to inconvenience his non-Muslim neighbours. I think that is grace personified, and is an example worth emulating.

Read more: Azaan echoes across New Zealand as Muslims offer Friday prayers

In the larger scheme of things, foregoing an Azan a day for thirty days seems a very small sacrifice for the much larger message that it would send – that Muslims are not on some secret mission of a clandestine crawl towards taking over Canada.

And if that message gets across, all of us Canadians, would come out stronger.

Waseem Syed, is a Canadian of Pakistani origin. He has had a long career in international development, working around the world for the United Nations and global NGOs for more than twenty years. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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