Canada: Sharia opponents demand apology for Elmasry's critical remarks

Globe and Mail
The Ontario government cancelled sharia tribunals last month, but the controversy has not gone away.
Yesterday, in the latest salvo in the war of words over sharia, a Muslim organization called on the leader of a rival group to retract accusations that critics of sharia law are smearing Islam.
A lawyer representing the Muslim Canadian Congress sent a letter to Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, demanding that he apologize for "false" accusations that those who criticize sharia are "smearing Islam, ridiculing the Koran [and] badmouthing Muhammad."

The MCC says that, in effect, Mr. Elmasry is accusing the group of blasphemy, a crime that carries the death sentence in several Islamic countries. MCC members now fear they will be arrested if they travel to Pakistan or Egypt, where some have relatives.

"Your false and utterly irresponsible accusations of blasphemy have exposed these active, dynamic and prominent members of the Canadian Muslim community and their families to enormously dangerous consequences," Arif Raza, MCC's lawyer, says in the letter sent to Mr. Elmasry.

"You have defamed their good reputation and exposed them to ridicule and hatred within their own communities in Canada," the letter says.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was considering allowing Islamic tribunals to settle family disputes under the province's 1991 Arbitration Act, but reversed course after a no-sharia campaign intensified last month.

Despite a report that found sharia could co-exist with Jewish courts, Mr. McGuinty cancelled all faith-based tribunals, declaring that they "threaten our common ground."

Mr. Elmasry, a University of Waterloo professor, did not return e-mails or phone calls seeking an interview yesterday. He told the Ottawa Citizen this month that he was attempting to unify disparate elements within the Muslim community when he wrote the article. He also said Islam has no punishment for denouncing the religion, its holy book or the Prophet Mohammed, and he dismissed as "nonsense" the notion that his words could be construed as a death sentence.

In an article published in his newsletter after Mr. McGuinty's announcement, he compared Jews and Muslims, wondering why even atheist Jews do not criticize Judaic law while "Canadian Muslims are of a different breed" and criticize sharia. He called on Canadian Muslims "not to make a cause of publicly deriding their religion, badmouthing the Prophet, ridiculing the Qur'an and mounting uninformed crusades to smear their Islamic Law, the Shariah."

Tarek Fatah of the MCC said the organization opposed sharia because the group supports the separation of religion and state in Canada and does not believe religious tribunals should resolve civil disputes. "Nobody in the debate badmouthed the Prophet Mohammed," he said.

Mr. Fatah added that tomorrow, the MCC will ask the Attorney-General of Ontario to amend the hate-crimes legislation to include accusations of blasphemy and apostasy.

"His remarks put the lives of all the members of the MCC in danger because if they travel to these Muslim countries, they could be arrested and prosecuted for blasphemy, which carries a death penalty in all Muslim countries," Mr. Fatah said.

This month, an Afghan journalist was convicted of smearing Islam and the prosecution in Afghanistan is seeking the death penalty.

By Maria Jiminez and originally published on October 26, 2005