This is a guest post from Terry Glavin
It’s all for the sake of our edification, and for the sake of some elucidation of fascinating revivals and reform movements down through Islamic history, says the Al-Fauz Institute for Islamic Thought, about which I report today in the National Post. So, for the sake of fairness, and for the sake of argument, let’s begin by giving the Al-Fauz institute the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s say the institute’s patrons and principals are actually quite serious about embarking upon a nation-wide campaign to raise up a new, outward-looking generation of Muslims in Canada. Let’s say they’re not kidding when they say their plan is to train Canada’s young Muslims in the application of Islamic ideas to Canada’s “pluralistic” society, and that when they say their aim is to “prepare young minds that will take up the mantle of the Muslim community” in this country, they mean it. Let’s also say they’re dead serious about presenting Canadians with “a balanced and comprehensive vision of Islam.”
First some questions, then some necessary background, and then a modest suggestion of my own.
Of all the choices they could have made for a showcase “academic” to begin such an ambitious undertaking, in a cultural minefield, in a realm of contentious debate that is so fraught with misunderstanding, stereotype and prejudice, why on earth did the Al-Fauz institute pick the notorious Azzam Tamimi? Why did they choose to launch what is essentially a proselytizing and public relations campaign in Canada with a shouting Hamas demagogue and unabashed suicide-bombing enthusiast who declared, only three months ago in Dublin: “With regard to their attitudes to liberation I say, Long live the Taliban”?
Not a few Canadians (and perhaps most Muslim-Canadians) are justifiably inclined to deep misgivings about the influence of certain “Islamic scholars” upon the already marginalized and often disaffected young Muslims of this country. Moreover, we are persistently admonished by certain Islamic “leaders” in Canada that Islam is really a religion of peace, love and understanding, and that suicide-bomb fetishists, Islamic Jihad partisans and Koran-thumping lunatics are really just Islamophobic caricatures.
So why has the Al-Fauz Institute for Islamic Thought been busy building a Canadian platform for Azzam Tamimi, a self-parody of the hoarse-throated, west-loathing, Israel-hating crank that they tell us is so untypical and unrepresentative of the Muslim leadership? Are the people behind the Al-Fauz institute really unaware that there are tens of thousands of Afghan-Canadian Muslims and relatives of Canadian soldiers who have lost loved ones to the savagery of the Taliban?
What the hell were they thinking?
These are the sorts of questions I put to the Al-Fauz Institute for Islamic Thought. I spoke with the institute’s senior patron, Iqbal Masood Nadvi. I spoke with Hamid Slimi, the chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams and the best known of the five Canadian clerics the institute lists along with Tamimi as its faculty. I spoke with Junaid Mirza, the institute’s coordinator. I report their answers in today’s National Post, but I’ll provide some deeper background here.
For all the disturbing inferences one might draw – and there are quite a few – a conclusion one might still reasonably reach is that there is a single, straightforward answer to each of the questions I’ve raised. A charitable way of putting it would be that for an outfit that calls itself the Al-Fauz Institute for Islamic Thought, there was surprisingly little thought that went into any of it. I admit that this is the answer I would prefer. I confess that there is a problem with it.
If it’s all just about misunderstandings, mistakes, and matters of poor judgment, there remains this awkward business of presenting Tamimi as if he were merely a tweedy British academic whose only eccentricity is perhaps a predisposition to intense bookishness. The problem is that this leaves us with even more disturbing questions. For starters: Who do they think they’re kidding? Why are they even trying?
There is a way to explain this, too, and it goes something like this: Once you take the green pill, you won’t even notice the blue pill’s effects. Lurid theology unavoidably bleeds into toxic ideology. As Tarek Fatah suggests, perhaps we should not expect perfectly candid answers from the institute’s principals in the first place because there’s more going on here than we’re meant to know.
But what is it that’s so unmentionable about the currents that Fatah and others have rather exhausively shown to be ubiquitous in certain Canadian mosques? Why no public scrutiny, no political debates about the Canadian iterations of Islam’s clerical-fascist wellspring, the Muslim Brotherhood, or about its subsidiaries, not least of which are Hamas and Jamaat-e-Islami? Fatah: “The racist right will talk about these things to frighten people about immigrants. The liberal-left has abandoned its responsibility to fight medievalism. And nobody wants to talk about what is really happening here.”
By way of some more background, Hamid Slimi has built a reputation for himself over the years as a paragon of inter-faith dialogue, moderation, and Muslim integration. He has denounced jihadist terrorism as a heresy against Islam, which he calls the religion of “justice, peace and love.” Slimi’s immediate response to my questions about the Al-Fauz institute and Tamimi was that he knew nothing about it. Then, after some quick back-and-forth by telephone between Slimi and Iqbal Nadvi, the Al-Fauz institute’s senior patron, Slimi told me he was probably just behind in checking his emails, although he still insisted he wasn’t even sure he knew who Azzam Tamimi is.
When I spoke with Nadvi, he said Slimi’s apparent surprise in being associated with the institute was due to a simple misunderstanding. There had been a full discussion about the institute and Tamimi’s engagement among and between the institute’s imams, but the institute wasn’t supposed to be formally announced until later this month.
Nadvi says he knows nothing about Tamimi’s unseemly politics or his frequent, bloodcurdling pronouncements, but Nadvi is no naive, backcountry cleric. He’s said to be one of the few Muslim scholars in Canada with the authority to issue a fatwa – an Islamic legal ruling. He’s the director of the Al-Falah Islamic School in the Toronto suburb of Oakville. He’s reported to have memorized the entire Koran. He’s a senior member of Canada’s Islamic Finance Advisory Board, which promotes “sharia-compliant” banking in Canada. Which brings us to the Al-Fauz institute’s coordinator, Junaid Mirza.
A junior associate at the Islamic Finance Advisory Board, Mirza is a chartered accountant and former spokesman for Young Muslims Canada. Mirza, 26, told me that it was more or less his idea to engage Tamimi with the institute, but everyone else was nonetheless fully on board. Mirza’s a big fan of Tamimi. But is he also in agreement with, say, Tamimi’s public praise for the bloodthirsty Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, which has murdered more than 100 Israeli civilians over the past 20 years?
“Azzam Tamimi is a Palestinian,” said Mirza, “but he isn’t saying that Muslims in the west all have an obligation of jihad. He doesn’t say that Muslims here should go and pick up the gun.”
Let’s set aside the fact that this explanation isn’t in itself particularly reassuring and move on. How does Tamimi’s “Long Live The Taliban” huzzah fit within Canada’s “pluralistic” society, exactly? “His defence of the Taliban is a complicated one,” Mirza explained. “It’s not a blanket defence. . . . It’s whether it’s justified, whether a former government of a nation has the right to fight back after an invasion.” When asked, Mirza said he personally does not believe that the Taliban is right to slaughter Afghan civilians or kill Canadian soldiers.
It was good to have that cleared up, but I won’t be told that I’m insinuating anything or “smearing” anyone by noticing that Mirza has taken courses from Tamimi, and is therefore unencumbered by any sort of unworldliness about who Tamimi is and what Tamimi is all about. Nadvi, meanwhile, spent several years teaching sharia law and jurisprudence at King Saud University in Riyadh. Is it so unreasonable to suppose that Nadvi and Mirza might have been at least vaguely aware that the celebrity “academic person” they’d just brought aboard the institute they’d just set up is widely known, and not for nothing, as perhaps the shrewdest Hamas propagandist in the English-speaking world?
As for Slimi, perhaps he should check his emails more often, and maybe he did have some trouble placing Tamimi’s name. But Slimi will certainly not be unfamiliar with the name Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Qaradawi is a senior Muslim Brotherhood fatwa-maker. He once issued a fatwa against the game “Pokemon” on the grounds that it’s a Zionist plot that uses subliminal Masonic messages to teach evolution. He first chastised and then congratulated the Taliban for blowing up the grand and ancient Buddha statutes at Bamiyan. He has eulogized Saddam Hussein. He counsels suicide-bombings that target Israeli civilians, and his idea of inter-faith dialogue is to summon the wrath of Allah upon the Jews, to “kill them, down to the very last one.”
Slimi studied under Qaradawi back in the 1980s. But that was then, you could say. Fine. This is now: Qaradawi serves as a member of the board of advisors with Tamimi’s own London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought. Another of Tamimi’s IIPT advisors is Khurshid Ahmad, a Jamaat-e-Islami bigshot. On Tamimi’s “supervisory board” is Basheer Nafi, a founder of Islamic Jihad.
If the Al-Fauz Institute for Islamic Thought wants to be associated with this kind of clerical-fascist depravity, then fine, it’s a free country. As usual, Canada’s young Muslims will just have to sort it all out more or less by themselves. But if the Al-Fauz institute and its Canadian faculty members are honestly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s derangements, then they can clear up any unresolved questions quite easily. If, for example, Al-Fauz faculty member Ayub Hamid’s Muslim-focussed Canadian Institute of Policy Studies is really and truly all about “fostering goodness, shunning evil and ensuring justice, equality and peace,” as it claims, the solution is a simple one. It’s readily available, and it is the only suggestion I feel saucy enough to offer.
Ditch Tamimi. Make a full accounting of how the hell it came to pass that Azzam Tamimi found such a comfortable sinecure for himself, in such august company, on the Al-Fauz faculty. But ditch him.
This is not like the case of Iran’s Press TV scab George Galloway, who encountered legal difficulties in his planned engagements in Canada after falling afoul of Section 34(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Galloway failed to secure the red carpet he’d wanted on account of having admitted to being a bagman for Hamas (and not “just because he brought aid to bombed-out Gaza”, the propaganda fiction you will still find in circulation in some of Canada’s otherwise reputable newspapers). The law in Tamimi’s case might not be so clear, so any effort to keep Canada’s doors closed to him might be in vain at the get-go and counter-productive in the bargain. This is just as well. The upside is that this gives the Al-Fauz institute an opportunity to come clean all on its own.
Unless it disowns Tamimi and everything he stands for, the Al-Fauz institute will be carrying his bad smell around wherever it goes. It will pervade everyone associated with the enterprise, and no amount of subject-changing complaints about “Islamophobia,” hadith-splitting about the Taliban or any other such theological backchat will make it go away.
Meanwhile, more about Tamimi, at that always helpful and saucy archive, here.