Notes continued from an address by Sheikh Ismail Nur, Imam of the Masjid al Iman Mosque in Victoria to a gathering at St. Philip, Oak Bay Saturday 20 May 2017.

Q: In Canada we like to think of ourselves as very progressive and open-minded. But I wonder if you can point out to us any places where you see that we might have blind spots.

A: This is a wonderful question.

Every person likes to think of themselves as open-minded and accepting. But people have certain views they are more inclined to hold. That is not necessarily good or bad.

As a society in Canada we are progressing. But there is still a sense in my community that there is a lot of Islamaphobia out there. A young woman from my community was traveling on a bus. She was wearing a hijab and someone on the bus spit in her face. This is Islamaphobia. This kind of intolerance does not happen frequently; but it does sitll happen. It shows that we need to keep alert and keep opening.

Part of the solution is for everyone to take the message from here out to other people. We need to stand up and speak up and say that Muslims are trying to be the best people they can be. This is the aim of our religion.

Q: Can you enlighten us about the Muslim attitude towards women?

A: In Islam, even though some Muslims don’t understand this, it is always the right of a woman to choose to wear the hijab or to not wear it. If she is wearing the hijab to please some men, this is completely unacceptable. We have many woman in our community who do not wear the hijab. We do not in any way view them as less Muslim or less committed than women who do wear the hijab.

If you see a Christian nun  wearing her traditional garments, you do not assume she has been forced to wear these clothes. You assume she is devout and pious. At the same time if you see a woman on the street wearing short shorts, you do not order her to change her clothing. It is her choice to dress the way she wants to dress. Why, just because a woman chooses to cover up, do we want to force her to change?

When people see a Muslim woman wearing a head covering they imagine oh that poor soul she is so oppressed. Why this double standard? If my wife ever said she did not choose to wear the head scarf, I would be the first person to tell her to take it off.

There is a traditional story about a Muslim man who went on Haj back in the day. He lived in Yemen and had to travel a long long way on foot to get to Mecca. He took his mother with him and carried her all the way on his back. When he got to Mecca the man was very tired and he asked a Muslim scholar if by carrying his mother all this way he had repaid his mother for all she had done for him throughout his life. The scholar answered, “You haven’t repaid her for even one of the contractions she had during labour when she brought you into this world.”

The teachings of Islam encourage us to stand firmly with honour for women.

Remember we must always understand that there can be a distinction between what a religion really teaches and how some people may practice that religion.

Q: Is your community diverse and if it is can you comment on how you hold your diverse community together?

A: My community is a very very diverse community. We are currently the only Sunni mosque on Vancouver Island.

I was talking about this with the local rabbi recently. He was shocked and asked if this mean I am responsible for the religious needs of all Muslims on the Island and the answer is yes. I take this responsibility very seriously and I do the best I can.

Having one mosque helps us keep our unity. But, at times we have to tip toe around certain issues. But if I aim to please everyone all the time, I will never be able to do it. There are about 2,000 Muslims in Victoria. So, I aim to live the best I can with them and care for them.