In a suburban region of Toronto, Canada, tensions have been brewing over the local school board's decision to give Muslim students prayer space every Friday. Unfortunately, what started as a disagreement over the board's decision has now turned into a police matter, as death threats and calls for a mosque to be burned out have surfaced online.
On Friday, Mississauga Imam Ibrahim Hindy — a member of the Peel District School Board's multi-faith group — received an email containing a death threat that included the image of men being hanged. On social media, he says he was also targeted with a message saying that the local mosque is “one of many [Satan] safe houses that need to be burned to the ground.”
Hindy promptly took the threats to the police, who promised to stay on the case, patrolling his home and mosque. Nevertheless, the local Muslim community has been under pressure for quite some time, ever since the anti-Muslim rhetoric intensified due to the board's decision.
Hindy says he's worried for his family, as he has a wife and children. But these threats, Hindy told reporters, aren't just empty talk. Instead, he believes they are “an attempt to silence Muslims. The response has to be to just talk more,” he added.
On Tuesday, the Imam posted a statement on Facebook addressing the threats he received, saying he has always fought extremism and that his fellow Canadians should come together to stand up to hate.
“I have worked diligently on fighting extremism and calling out hate whenever I see it. … [but] The extremist mindset that we have worked so diligently against in our own community, exists in other communities and is gaining prominence. This is not Canada. We have to make this stop. People’s lives should not be threatened for speaking to their local school board.”
Here's his post in its entirety:
To some of the critics of the local school board's decision to give Muslim kids space on school grounds, a secular school system shouldn't be accommodating to any religion. But unlike what they claim, Ontario school boards, both public and Catholic, are legally required to give children religious accommodation when asked.
For the past two decades, devout Muslim students in Peel schools have observed congregational prayers, but the issue has only become a controversial topic a few months back, when the board started to review whether students following the Islamic faith should be allowed to write their own sermons, which would then be approved by a school administrator, or if they should simply choose from six pre-written ones.
After community members protested, saying that the decision to limit their sermons violated their religious freedom rights, the board decided early in 2017 to allow students to deliver their own sermons or to give them the option to choose from several others that had been pre-written and approved by Imams. Hindy played an important role in getting this change adopted.
As many of the opponents used the issue to embrace anti-Muslim rhetoric, many began to worry the school board was at risk.
Earlier during a school board meeting, audience members tore pages and stepped on Qurans while others shouted derogatory rhetoric. As a result, the board proceeded to tighten security last week.
Board spokesman Brian Woodland said that school staff has been asked to remain “extra vigilant,” adding that if any safety concerns are raised by staff members or students, they would involve the police immediately.
“We have had the privilege to work with caring, committed leaders of many faiths, including Imam Hindy. Their advice and input should be welcomed with appreciation, not threats,” Woodland said.
We agree and hope that this environment of fear is dissolved as members of the community who disagree with the threatening rhetoric step up.