The most recent census shows that we are 31.6 million Canadians. Religious affiliation is only asked every 10 years, but with a phenomenal growth rate of 128 per cent from 1991 to 2000, the Muslim population has likely reached about one million souls today, or three per cent of the total.
These statistics raise some interesting questions, as Islam is second to the mainstream Christian religious majority in Canada. There are about 64,000 Muslims of 60 nationalities living in Ottawa. From professionals to public servants to service-sector workers, one finds Muslims plodding away, supporting our economy, but where do they stand in our societal mosaic?
We live in Canada, we share the ambience, the environ. We meet, we work, we socialize with our compatriots. We are Canadian. We are not afraid of assimilation as there are sufficient institutions, mosques, schools and centres to incubate our heritage.
However, integration into Canadian society has become a stumbling block. Multiculturalism seems to be a quasi-apartheid of hyphenated Canadians. Muslims are Afghan-Canadians or Yemeni-Canadians, pigeon-holed rather than woven into the national fabric.
I am a first-generation Canadian. There are second- and even third-generation Canadian Muslims who know no other country except Canada. They are stalwarts of this country, more Canadian than myself.
But they may be made conspicuous by their beards or hijabs, and have to bear being termed 'un-Canadian.' This alienation is not helpful to us, nor to the general populace.
In debating the 1960s Bill of Rights, precursor to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, John Diefenbaker stated: 'I am a Canadian, free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way. ...' It is a positive vision for Muslims or adherents of any other faith.
A daily negative barrage in the media is not going to deter Muslims, as we are here sharing our values too with most Canadians, be it halal (kosher) food or the life hereafter with its reward of heaven or hell as per our deeds. The Koran mentions that Islam started with the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) and the legend is intertwined with angels, Shaitan (Satan), the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man, and the lineage of the Prophets.
There is much in common among Muslims and Christians and Jews, but the differences sell.
Just prior to an election, politicians parade into the mosques glad-handing and promising Muslims heaven on earth, but there is a long dry season in between. However, the altruism shown last summer by General Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, and Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, chief of military personnel, in reaching out to Ottawa's Muslim community to help them understand Canadian missions in Muslim countries and regions such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, was heartwarming.
Throngs queued to shake their hands, greeting them with genuine, cordial warmth. This too demonstrated that if the top Canadian officials can come this far for us, why can't we meet our counterpart Canadians halfway?
That too is statistically possible. While successive governments espouse national unity as their raison d'etre, they should embark upon integration's Phase 1 by establishing Canada centres across the country of ours to orient new Canadians to our national identity -- ideas and ideals.
Muslims are more than simple statistics to show up once a decade, and daily as international prime suspects.