CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007
In Canada, church and state are separate; the country has laws which deal with both civil and criminal matters, and these laws, developed over time, apply to all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic or religious background. Occasionally, usually in civil law cases, we see that an individual’s religious beliefs and the laws of the land are in conflict; resolution of such situations is never easy, because Canada prides itself on tolerance and its respect for ethnic and religious diversity. Consider then, the situation of Muslims; by the their religion, they are bound by “sharia”, a concept which does not readily translate, but which can best be described as a set of “laws”, directly inspired by the Quran, which govern the conduct of the Islamic faithful. What happens when a religious community – in this case, Islam – wishes that the government authorize religious tribunals which are based on sharia? Such a situation developed in late 2004 in the province of Ontario. Ten months later, Premier Dalton McGuinty banned any and all religious arbitration, irrespective of its faith affiliation.
During the 10 months prior to the September, 2005 decision, debate raged throughout the country and was especially fierce in those provinces with large Muslim population. Sharia in Canada, a chaptered, two-part documentary film, charts the course of the controversy. Although many people assume that Islam is monolithic, in fact, there is a great range of ideological bent within the Canadian Islamic community, ranging from the ultra-conservative fundamentalists to the very liberal and progressive. And, in reality, the same range of perspective can be found within both Jewish and Christian communities in Canada. In the two episodes of the film, we hear the views of a variety of individuals; in general, the women who are interviewed, some of whom speak anonymously for fear of reprisal, offer a reasoned, tolerant, and liberal perspective. Many of them have been the victim of men who have used sharia as a means of restriction and control. The men, most of whom are in leadership roles within the community, tend to be much more conservative, much more dogmatic.
As we watch a variety of groups and individuals protest and contest their points of view, we realize that diversity has its price. Canada prides itself on its multicultural nature, but Sharia in Canada points out that, for all its benefits, multiculturalism can have its pitfalls. One man, a Pakistani-born Muslim now living in Toronto and hosting his own television show for Muslim audiences, goes so far as to describe it as a “con job” which allows for permanent exclusion of minorities, fostering inequality and a type of ghetto mentality.
Sharia in Canada deals with very complex and, at times, volatile issues. It is said that the two subjects which lead to heated discussion are religion and politics, and that is exactly what this documentary explores. Each episode is 44 minutes long; the DVD format makes it easy to show only certain chapters at a time, and any classroom teacher would have to view both episodes in their entirety to decide how best to use the DVD in a classroom context. As well, much of the film is dubbed in English subtitles, and this approach demands considerable attentiveness on the part of the viewer. Nevertheless, teachers of senior high school classes in Canadian Law, and Canadian Social Issues might find this a worthwhile acquisition.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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