Influx of Christian, Muslim Immigrants Changing Canada’s religious makeup

MZ8P9833_11339_FULL-LNDMONTREAL – Lonely, depressed and missing her family in the Philippines, Cosette Pena looked to God in hopes of finding comfort in her new adoptive country.

Now, 20 years after it was founded in 1992, the tiny evangelical church in Montreal where Pena forged vital links to the Filipino community in Canada is bursting at the seams with new members and searching for a new, larger building to call home.

“I found a connection immediately because the people are so friendly,” said the 53-year-old Pena, one of thousands of Filipinos who have settled in Canada through the federal government’s live-in caregiver program.

“If people have problems — they are depressed, they miss their families — then it’s a way of coping.”

The Philippines emerged between 2006 and 2011 as a leading country of birth for people who immigrated to Canada during those five years,

An estimated 152,300 of newcomers who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 — about 13.1 per cent — were born in the Philippines, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday as it released the first tranche of data from its 2011 National Household Survey.

The survey showed the Philippines as “the leading country of birth” for Canadian immigrants during that five-year period — but a note in the release Wednesday said the result “was not in line” with data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

“A number of factors could explain this difference, such as the effects of sampling, response patterns, and under- or over-estimation of certain groups of recent immigrants in the NHS.”

While the Christian faith continues to dominate Canada’s immigrant profile, its proportion has been steadily fading. Where more than 78 per cent of immigrants to Canada prior to 1971 identified themselves as Christians, that proportion has dropped to 47.5 per cent among those who arrived over the past five years, the survey found.

Meanwhile, the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths have been growing, claiming 33 per cent of those immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2011. Among those who arrived before 1971, that share was just 2.9 per cent. All told, the four religions accounted for some 2.4 million people in Canada in 2011, about 7.2 per cent, compared with 4.9 per cent a decade earlier.


In Myanmar, a movement for Muslim and Buddhist tolerance

myariot2503(5)eYANGON, MYANMAR

Days after communal violence rocked central Myanmar in late March, leaving more than 40 people dead and raising tensions in the mostly Buddhist country, a group of Muslims and a group of Buddhists decided enough was enough.

Thet Swe Win, a Buddhist, and his friend Minn Paing Soe, a Muslim, gathered with some of their colleagues from Yangon’s active civil society scene to see if they could work together on lowering tensions.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, even for these socially conscious, longtime friends. But then, nothing has been simple about the emergence of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar following the end of decades of autocratic rule.

“We had a very long discussion that day and we got into a lot of arguments,” says Thet Swe Win, a construction manager by day, and the director of the Myanmar Youth Empowerment Program in the evenings. Instead of focusing on blame and disagreements over religion, the activists decided to look for a solution.


New Book: Christians, Muslims and Jesus (a review)

middle-eastern-chr_2546922bGiven that in some parts of the world you find violent conflict between Christians and Muslims, you might think that skirting around religious difference would be all to the good. The Muslim theologian Mona Siddiqui would disagree. Only by properly engaging with other traditions, she argues, can we avoid a mere “dialogue on the surface”. In this fascinating book she touches on a central doctrinal difference between the two largest monotheisms: the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth.

When Mohammed announced his new religion in the early seventh century, he claimed to be walking the same path as Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, Moses – and Jesus. The Koran relates that Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary, preached God’s word, gathered disciples and performed miracles. He was condemned to death by crucifixion, the Koran says, but was saved through divine intervention and ascended to heaven without dying. Jesus will return to Earth, according to Islamic tradition, as al-Masih – the Messiah.

The crucial difference from the Christian narrative is that for Muslims, Jesus is emphatically not the Son of God.

Christians were initially confused by Mohammed’s new faith. Were the Muslims a pagan Arab cult or a Christian heresy? Though some converted, large pockets retained their faith and there were civilised inter-religious debates. In 780, the Caliph al-Mahdi called the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I to his court in Baghdad. If Jesus was really God, the caliph asked, why do the Gospels show him praying? Timothy replied that when conjoined with the Father and Spirit, Jesus was indeed God; but away from them on Earth, he “prayed as a man”. The debates clarified what is a mysterious issue even for Christians.siddiqui-cover_2546682a


Muslims Stoning Christians in Michigan? Not quite… (Updated)

Dearborn-2Earlier this year, I wrote a excruciatingly detailed feature article describing how Wretched TV had deceptively edited footage of some Christian street preachers at the Arabfest in Dearborn, Michigan, in order to portray the Muslims in attendance as violent, bloodthirsty foreigners. I pointed out that the “Christian” preachers were led by Ruban Israel, a notorious street preacher (who was and is not supported by or connected to Wretched TV) who went to the festival specifically to agitate and incite the Muslims. If you look at unedited footage of the event, it’s clear that the “Christians” were inciting Muslims to hate, which, of course, never justifies violence, but it does explain why it happens.

I bring this up because it’s happened again. Ruben Israel returned this year to the Arab Festival and once again incited the festival goers to scream and yell and throw trash. Although Wretched TV did not report the story this year, it was picked up by The BlazeAmerican VisionAmerican ThinkerFrontPage Magazine, and other, smaller conservative websites.

Each of these reports has included and cited a YouTube video edited by The United West, a group “dedicated to defending and advancing Western Civilization against the kinetic and cultural onslaught of Shariah Islam.” Good journalism would demand that these sites check their source and consider possible biases, but, for whatever reason, these conservative news sites report on the event as if the video was an accurate representation of what occurred. But it was not. Not at all. Here’s United West’s video:

I wish I had the time and energy to point out every deceptive edit in this video and all the manipulative ways in which this event was reported on, but I don’t. So here’s a short list, and if you’re interested in seeing more, watch the unedited, hour long YouTube video of the incident. Watch carefully. It looks a lot different if you’re paying attention.


Why I Call Myself an ‘Atheist Muslim’

imagesLast week, I had an essay up on HuffPost entitled “An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective on the ‘Root Causes’ of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia.”

One of the goals of the piece was to emphasize the difference between the criticism of Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry: the first targets an ideology, and the second targets human beings. This is obviously a very significant difference, yet both are frequently lumped under the unfortunate umbrella term, “Islamophobia.”

I highlighted this distinction by describing myself as an “atheist Muslim,” which drew the single most commonly asked question about the piece by both atheist and Muslim readers: “How can you be an atheist and a Muslim at the same time? Isn’t that contradictory?”

Let me explain.

One of the central themes of the essay was that all religious people are selective in their religiosity. This cherry-picking is almost universal, and even inevitable considering the frequency with which contradictions appear in religious texts.

If this selectivity allows people to disregard some of the teachings of their faith, such as the orders to publicly execute non-virginal brides and homosexuals, or behead and mutilate disbelievers, it may not be a bad thing, for obvious reasons — even if it appears intellectually dishonest.


Muslims of America, Christian Action Network square off in NY libel suit over book on terror

moaALBANY, N.Y. — A Muslim group is accusing a Christian organization of defamation for publishing a book that accuses the Muslim collective of holding terrorist training in its enclaves.

The Christian Action Network refuses to back down, challenging Muslims of America Inc. to prove the allegations wrong in an upstate New York court.

The Muslim group has a community in Hancock, near Binghamton, N.Y., and others around the U.S. It calls the network’s accusations deliberate and damaging lies.

Attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud said the Muslim group is seeking retractions and $18 million in damages, and a halt to further publication of network founder Martin Mawyer’s 2012 book, “Twilight in America: the Untold Story of Terrorist Training Camps Inside America.”

The group’s residential communities are peaceful, Amatul-Wadud said.

“The property upstate has farms; it has gardens; it has buildings for work; it has little stores,” she said. “It’s a community of families and of individuals who are just trying to get by day to day.”


Imam: Holocaust denial cannot be Islamic cause

122106-Holocaust2-500Eight days after Iran held a two-day conference denying the Nazi Holocaust, Washington-area Muslim leaders gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to honor the memory of Jews murdered during the Shoah.

Standing before the eternal flame in the D.C. museum’s Hall of Remembrance, they lit candles to remember Jewish suffering.

Muslims “have to learn from the lessons of history and to commit ourselves, never again,” said Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling.

Joining him were American University professor Akbar Ahmed, who helped arrange the visit on Wednesday of last week, museum director Sara Bloomfield, three Holocaust survivors, ADAMS president Rizwan Jaka and representatives from the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Arab American Institute.

Magid, whose father had been a mufti of Sudan, had heard about the Teheran conference on his car radio. He wanted to go beyond condemning the event by organizing a delegation of Muslim leaders to declare their solidarity with Jewish victims.

“No Muslim anywhere has the right to turn Holocaust denial into an Islamic cause,” the Sudanese native said. “I applaud the Jewish community for making sure humanity never forgets how the Nazis murdered Jews, gypsies and disabled people, including more than 1 million children. They set an example for the rest of us on how to make people more aware of horrors like the genocide in Rwanda and slavery.”


Iowa Town Named for Muslim Hero Extols Tolerance

04religion-cnd-popupELKADER, Iowa — Amid an expanse of undulating farmland, deep in the steep valley carved by the Turkey River, the town of Elkader sits most of the year in remote obscurity. Population 1,200 and gradually shrinking, it is the seat of a county without a single traffic light.

Improbably enough, this community settled by Germans and Scandinavians, its religious life built around Catholic and Lutheran churches, bears the name of a Muslim hero. Abd el-Kader was renowned in the 19th century for leading Algeria’s fight for independence and protecting non-Muslims from persecution. Even Abraham Lincoln extolled him.

This weekend, for the fifth year in a row, Elkader will welcome a delegation of Arab dignitaries to celebrate this rare lifeline of tolerance, spanning continents and centuries. Coming less than three weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, which the authorities say were committed by two Muslim brothers, the Abdelkader Education Project’s forum stands more than ever for an affirming encounter between the United States and Islam.

“Our audience is the people who are compassionate already,” said Kathy Garms, 63, a retired human-resources administrator who is the driving force in the Abdelkader project. “But there are so many people who are ignorant or scared or even hateful. We just hope that once they get across the starting line, they will listen.”


Muslim, Christian, Jewish Chefs Cook for Peace in Jerusalem

Handout of American chef Smith posing in his home kitchen in Hyde ParkA group of Muslim, Jewish and Christian chefs from Chefs for Peace, along with American celebrity chef Art Smith, gathered on April 28 in Jerusalem to cook vegetarian dishes for a group of 60 guests, including US diplomats and alumni and students from various universities in the United States.

The ceremony took place in one of the best-known restaurants in Jerusalem, Eucalyptus, owned by award-winning chef Moshe Bassam, who is known for including ingredients mentioned in the Bible in his dishes and for his love of the history behind foods. “Moshe is a living treasure of Israel,” said Smith. “We went to the countryside to pick up wild thyme, asparagus and wild mushrooms [before the event].”

Bassam is not the only person who takes pride in using homegrown herbs and vegetables. “I brought grapes from the [US] South to use in my dish during the weekend,” said Smith.

Each of the five chefs — four from Chefs for Peace plus Smith — prepared their dishes in front their guests. Smith’s dish, not surprisingly, was made of wild mushrooms, grapes and local herbs. Johnny Goric, another chef and the organizer of the event, made a Mediterranean lentil salad.