The number of Muslims in Canada is predicted to triple over the next 20 years, sparking a debate among moderate Muslim-Canadians about whether the country is ready to deal with the community’s more extremist members.
The current number of Muslims — 940,000 — comprises 2.8% of the Canadian population. A recent report from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said they will increase both in number and proportion of the country — 2.7 million, or 6.6% of the Canadian population, by 2030. By comparison, Muslims are expected to make up 1.7% of the U.S. population by that time.
The vast majority of Muslims coming to Canada want the same things every immigrant wants, said Tarek Fatah, a commentator on Muslim affairs and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. They are looking for economic security, better education and freedom from oppression.
“But what is different from other immigrant groups is there is a subgroup among Muslims, I call Islamists, who come here with the intention of destroying the social fabric of the country,” said Mr. Fatah. “That is very unusual for an immigrant group and will be more of a problem in the future.”
Canadian society, especially the country’s education system, is not yet prepared to deal with a portion of young Muslims who do not subscribe to Canadian ideals of pluralism, he noted.
“If a child is raised to believe that Canadian society is corrupt it is going to be hard to change them by the time they turn 20,” said Mr. Fatah, whose recent book is
The Jew Is Not My Enemy, is an attack on Islamic anti-Semitism. “It has to start with the schools making it clear to little children that certain ways of thinking are wrong in Canada.”
He said schools should also be concerned about Muslim groups on campuses that could be fomenting anti-Western views and bigotry against Christians and Jews. Meantime, those mosques that use religious services to preach bigotry or discord should come under government scrutiny and lose their charitable status if they become too political and divisive, he said.
The Pew report, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” also found there are now 1.6 billion Muslims globally, accounting for 23.4% of the world population, and by 2030 there will be 2.2 billion Muslims, or 26.4% of the global population. In 1990, Muslims made up 19.6% of the world’s people.
In the United States, the Muslim population is also expected to more than double from its current 2.6 million to 6.2 million in 2030. The reasons for Muslim growth in both Canada and the U.S. is the result of increased immigration and slightly higher-than-average birth rates.
Amir Hussain, a Canadian who teaches theology at Loyola Marymount College in California, said Canada is uniquely qualified to absorb large numbers of Muslim immigrants because its cities are increasingly becoming multi-cultural.
Mr. Hussain grew up in Toronto, the son of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, and recalled a time when there were only 35,000 Muslims in the entire country.
“At that time Toronto was a very British city. But now it has become one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. Even places like Regina have growing Muslim populations.”
Muslim immigrants are not a homogeneous group, he added, saying that differences in national origin, colour, socio-economic status play a large part in how any immigrant will fare in Canada. In his dissertation on Muslims communities in Toronto and Canada, he said, he found a story of economic success and integration with radicalism being a very small part of the story.
He noted many Canadian Muslims have found common cause with other Canadians who follow a more orthodox or traditional form of belief and worship.
“Muslims found common ground with Roman Catholic, Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians on social issues,” he said. “In fact, many Muslim parents will send their children to Catholic schools to avoid more secular teaching and as away of preserving their religious traditions.”
As the percentage of the Muslim population grows, he expects to see more Muslims pressing for greater equality.
“Our schools now run on a Christian calendar. We give time off for Christmas and Easter. But soon Muslim parents will ask, ‘What about us?’ ”