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  • Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada
  • Will Kymlicka (bio)
Natasha Bakht , editor. Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada. TSAR. x, 148. $25.95

This wide-ranging collection of essays covers such diverse topics as the challenges of raising children in the Muslim faith, Islamic theologies of free will, editing a magazine for Muslim girls, the Omar Khadr affair, the link between faith and science, changing expectations regarding the qualifications of imams, the tendency of Ismailis to conceal their faith, media (mis)representations of Muslims, and the headscarf debate.

The eleven contributions are thoughtful and articulate, and taken together they provide a fascinating snapshot of the vibrant character and diverse concerns of Muslim communities in Canada. The authors come from a wide range of backgrounds in terms of ethnicity and religion (Shia and Sunni, devout and secular), as well as professional affiliation - newspaper columnists (Haroon Siddiqi, Sheema Khan), a magazine editor (Ausma Khan), a writer of children's literature (Rukhshana Khan), an astrophysicist (Arif Babul), as well as professors of law (Nathasha Bakht, Anver Emon), journalism (Karim Karim), philosophy (Syed Mohamed Mehdi), and literature (Amin Malak).

The volume provides important insights into the concerns of a growing segment of the Canadian population and serves as a helpful counterweight to stereotypes and prejudices. But the volume promises more: as the title indicates, it seeks to explore the nature of 'belonging' and 'banishment' of Muslims in Canada. And here, I think, the volume may disappoint some readers.

In her introduction, Bakht states that the contributors can be viewed as situating their relationship to Canada on a continuum from belonging to banishment. This is a strained attempt to give the volume more thematic continuity than it contains. Some of the papers (e.g., on Islamic theologies of free will, or on the link between faith and science) are simply not addressing issues of social inclusion or exclusion. And while other chapters address aspects of how Muslims relate to Canadian society, few [End Page 372] explicitly ask about the factors that either enhance or inhibit a sense of belonging.

To be sure, there are hints of an answer. On the positive side, Malik and Ausma Khan state that Canada's multicultural ethos has facilitated a sense of belonging. On the negative side, Sidiqqui, Bakht, and Sheema Khan emphasize the damaging effects of Canada's violations of its own liberal multicultural norms in interactions with Muslims, from violations of Charter rights (security certificates) and international law (Omar Khadr), to the retreat from previously established multicultural accommodations (heads carves in Quebec, veiling in Canadian elections, religious tribunals in Ontario). Muslims understandably feel excluded when rights that have been accorded to other Canadians are contested or retracted when claimed by Muslims.

These passages suggest that Muslims are happy to belong to Canada as it was defined in the Charter, with its constitutional entrenchment of Trudeau's commitment to secularism, civil rights liberalism, and multiculturalism, but have been estranged by the way that Canada has retreated from that vision, particularly since 9/11. Put another way, any sense of estrangement is due not to Muslim ambivalence towards 'Canadian values' but to the fact that other Canadians have moved away from Canadian values, at least when interacting with Muslims.

None of the contributors puts it in quite these terms - as I said, none offers a general answer to the question of belonging and banishment. But this answer seems implicit in several of the chapters, and it's worth reflecting on, in part because it is at odds with popular perceptions. In Europe, it is widely believed that Muslims feel estranged from the larger society precisely because they reject its secularism and are offended by its civil rights liberalism (e.g., gay rights), and so self-segregate into enclaves.

Would Muslims feel a sense of belonging to a Canada that upheld Trudeau's vision of a liberal multicultural state grounded in secularism and civil liberties? Some authors acknowledge dissenting voices - Malik bemoans the influence of a 'retrograde puritanical Wahhabism' - but insist that these are peripheral in Canada.

I agree with this assessment, and indeed recent surveys show that Muslims do not differ from other Canadians in their...


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