by Omar Qayum
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy
The East End Madrassah (EEM), a Shi’ite Islamic Sunday school in Toronto, Canada, is under high scrutiny due to accusations of an anti-Semitic, violent and sexist curriculum. At the request of a Jewish organization, the York Region Police’s Hate Crimes Unit is currently conducting an investigation. Unfortunately, this has not stopped politicians, the media and the public from jumping on the condemnation bandwagon. What happened to due process and innocent until proven guilty?
Due to overwhelming pressure, the EEM rushed to “unreservedly apologize to the Jewish community for the unintentional offence that the item has caused.” Under the circumstances it would only be fair to examine the following “anti-Semitic” passages, taken from an EEM course textbook, in order to verify the strength of the accusations:
QUOTE 1: “End of Jewish Plots and Treacheries: Ever since the Prophet’s entry into Madina, the treacherous Jews had vehemently opposed him and his Islamic call, evoking memories of their hostility to the previous Prophet, Jesus Christ, half a millennium ago. The crafty Jews entered into an alliance with the polytheist Quraish in a bid to stamp out Islam. They conspired to kill Prophet Muhammad despite the fact that he was lenient towards them and had treated them kindly, hoping to convince them of Islam’s truth. But eventually as Jewish plots and aggressions increased, he had no choice other than to take up arms against them, in order to protect Islam and the Muslims. At the battle of Khaiber which is famous for Imam Ali’s heroic exploits, the Prophet defeated them ending Jewish intrigues and conspiracies in Arabia.”
The arguments for anti-Semitism in the above text can be broken down as follows:
This is a condemnation of all Jews.
The passage clearly describes a specific group of Jews living during a specific time and place. Viewing this as a blanket condemnation of all Jews is simply absurd. Do we not critique the Axis powers as “the Germans,” “the Italians” and “the Japanese” without their descendants taking offence? Also, like ancient Judea, 7th century Medina was a tribal society where a violation of the tribal code by even one belligerent member, if left unpunished by his tribe, rendered the entire tribe guilty of that violation. So when Jewish tribal leaders conspired against Medina, they knew the repercussions they were bringing upon their entire tribe—a concept not foreign to the Old Testament. This tribal policy is similar, however anachronistic, to George Bush’s 2001 State of the Union address where he infamously said: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” to which he received a prolonged thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
This kind of Jewish history should not be taught.
According to early Muslim historians, the Jewish tribes of Medina plotted to kill the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and eventually reneged on a treaty—a serious offence in any tribal society. Is history to be rewritten or rejected because it offends others? If the accounts recorded by early Muslim historians are to be rejected, then so too are Jewish claims of bondage in Egypt, the Exodus and the promise of a Holy Land; all of which rely exclusively on ancient Jewish sources.
Furthermore, if some in the Jewish community want Muslim schools to “sanitize” their history, then principle demands that they begin by removing all content in their schools taken from the Tanakh and the Talmud that are viewed as genocidal, racist, sexist and/or homophobic in nature.
The words used to describe the Jews of Medina are hateful.
When language is poorly used it can convey ambiguity and/or offence. The definition of “treacherous” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “characterized by or manifesting treachery.” In other words, there is a difference between calling someone inherently treacherous and treacherous due to an act of treachery. The former would be considered hate speech, not the latter. When the Jewish tribes of Medina broke the treaty, they committed an act of treachery, and hence could be called “treacherous.” This logic can be applied to all the controversial words used in the passage. With an ongoing police investigation examining intent, the EEM is blameworthy for using ambiguous language, if anything.
It is also worth noting that Jews have historically found sanctuary in Muslim lands—in Islamic Spain, the Ottoman Empire or more recently during the Holocaust—when they were being persecuted and/or killed. Why would Muslims do this if they “hated” Jews?
Children will think all Jews are evil.
If that is the case, a serious revision of our History curriculum is in order. Children must not learn about the Holocaust, South African Apartheid, American slavery and racial segregation or the genocide of American Natives, lest they view all people of European descent as inherently evil. Furthermore, publicly funded Catholic schools must not teach that homosexuality is a sin as this offends all homosexuals. Rather than censor our children from historical facts and controversial views, we should teach them how to think and reason critically. After all, isn’t this the foundation upon which true freedom of speech can flourish?
QUOTE 2: “Islam is a dynamic, comprehensive school that aims at the rectification of the social and economic systems of the world in a special manner. Unlike the beliefs of the ancient Romans, the Jews, and the Nazis, Islam is not restricted to a certain community of a certain race, but is for all human beings…”
Jonathan Kay of the National Post said that the above text “doesn’t ‘equate’ Judaism with Nazism,” but merely states that they are “restricted to a certain community or a certain race …” He further states that “the point is accurate from a purely technical perspective.” While the comparison may seem distasteful to some, it is certainly not criminal. Ironically, many Jewish Islamophobes regularly compare Islamic ideology to Fascism, Communism and Nazism. Also, if anti-Semitism was truly the EEM’s agenda, why then is the 160-page textbook not littered with clear evidences? Again, this is a matter for our legal system to decide, not propaganda.
QUOTE 3: “Islam has allowed boys to engage in sports for one specific reason and that is to always keep them healthy and strong. But why should a Muslim be healthy and strong? Firstly, it is necessary to take care of the body because it is a gift from Allah. Secondly, so that you may physically be ready for jihad whenever the time comes for it.”
Words like “Shariah,” “madrassah” and “jihad” are routinely being used today to spread Islamophobia in the West. In Islam, jihad can be offensive or defensive. If the EEM is producing “young jihadists,” then why have none of their students committed violent attacks against Canada in the past 40 years that it has been operating? If valuing self-defence is a crime, then all Canadians in possession of legal handguns or having participated in martial arts stand condemned as well. Are Muslims not entitled to defend their lives, families, wealth and country like every other Canadian? Do we not want citizens who are physically fit to defend its nation’s borders against threats foreign and domestic? Yet again, if “jihad” was meant in a criminal sense, the investigation will show this.
Ironically, it seems that America, Europe and Israel are currently engaged in “bad jihad” with Muslim countries—not the other way around. Moreover, the Jewish Defence League’s (JDL) “Core Ideology” states that “it is not unJewish for Jews to defend themselves–even physically if need be.” (emphasis mine) The JDL is at the forefront of spreading Islamophobia and is a known terrorist group to the FBI, yet they are freely allowed to open chapters in Canada; Hamas on the other hand is banned.
QUOTE 4: “No doubt any wise, humanitarian person accepts such a combat and admires it [jihad] because there is no other way to achieve the sacred ends of the Prophets.”
Not surprisingly, the above sentence was taken out of context. The conveniently omitted sentence that appears directly before it is: “It goes without saying that such struggles are necessary and that no Prophet could avoid combating those who intend to bring ruin on human societies and cause corruptions and social decay.” Since when did “combating those who intend to bring ruin on human societies and cause corruptions and social decay” become evil? Do we not go to war for the very same reasons? Why move the goalposts when Muslims teach the same principles? Don’t Jews accept and admire Old Testament Prophets like Moses, Joshua and David (peace be upon them all) for leading their followers into combat?
QUOTE 5: “[Girls should limit their involvement in physical exercise and sports and instead] involve themselves in the activities and hobbies which will be helpful for them in the future as wives and mothers.”
I could not verify the above quote, but how is it forbidding girls from engaging in physical exercise and sports? When did encouraging girls to be good wives and mothers become socially unacceptable? As I write this, will we not be honouring our mothers and/or wives today on Mother’s Day? However, in modern day society where a woman’s worth and freedom is determined by how much she can earn and how little she can wear, the objections to the above quote come as no surprise. The sad reality is that when Muslim women try to compete in sports in the West they are often banned from participating; FIFA only recently lifted their hijab ban. It seems like Muslims are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
My intent is not to defend the EEM, but to ask readers to withhold judgement until our legal system runs its course. However, I do not respect the EEM’s rushed apology as it branded them guilty in the court of public opinion. If this was truly an “unintentional offence,” they had a moral duty to stand their ground and confront their accusers. Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said: “They need to reach out to us and to other groups to convince us that this was not meant and they will take any step to change it.” Who do Benlolo and his organization think they are? Canadians are only accountable to the law, not some organisation. If the law finds the EEM innocent, they don’t need to “convince” anybody. If the EEM is found innocent, they should seriously consider legal action against anybody who would harass or slander them regarding this matter thereafter.
Finally, I appeal to the Muslim community in the West to stand their ground against biased media outlets, politicians and special interest groups. We are not third-rate citizens and must confront those who try to defame us; failure to do so will only embolden them. There is much to be learnt from the Jewish community and other well-organized, honourable minority groups. They are contributing members of society and effective at lobbying their causes on various platforms. When will the Muslim community awake from its slumber? Today the reservation is with our religious texts and beliefs; tomorrow it may be with our very existence.