by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 6, Ramadan, 1432)
Held for three years at a local school without incident, it suddenly became an issue last month when a Hindu group objected to Muslim students praying in the school cafeteria. Valley Park Middle School in Flemingdon Park, in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills inhabited predominantly by Muslim immigrants from Pakistan and India, became the centre of controversy when a group calling itself Canada Hindu Advocacy (CHA) raised objections.
Held for three years at a local school without incident, it suddenly became an issue last month when a Hindu group objected to Muslim students praying in the school cafeteria. Valley Park Middle School in Flemingdon Park, in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills inhabited predominantly by Muslim immigrants from Pakistan and India, became the centre of controversy when a group calling itself Canada Hindu Advocacy (CHA) raised objections. The extremist Jewish Defence League (JDL) that is on the US State Department list of terrorist organizations and is condemned by even some Jewish groups, quickly joined, as did the fringe group calling itself the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC).
Jumu‘ah Prayers started at Valley Park Middle School three years ago when teachers expressed concern that some 300–400 students were losing class time because they had to walk 15–20 minutes to a nearby masjid for mandatory Jumu‘ah Salah. Parents and teachers met to find a solution. It was proposed that the school would provide space for students to pray without leaving school premises. Students being what they are, some never returned after the prayers were over; others missed class because of the time required to go back and forth between the school and masjid and time spent praying. Jim Spyropoulos, superintendent of inclusive schools for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) said: “I think it’s important to note the prayer isn’t conducted under the auspices of the board.” He went on: “The principal was creative enough to sit down with parents and come up with a solution that worked for everyone and there has not been a single complaint from within the community.”
No complaint from anyone else either, except of course from the likes of Canada Hindu Advocacy, the Jewish Defence League and the Muslim Canadian Congress. These fringe groups have no presence whatsoever in the locality and are in any case minorities even in their own communities. The only thing uniting them is their hatred of Islam and Muslims. The board says it is meeting its obligation to accommodate students’ religious beliefs by allowing an imam to lead students in prayer on school property. Similar arrangements have been made for Muslim students at other schools throughout the area, according to Spyropoulos. In fact, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all religious groups are accommodated. There are holiday breaks for Christmas and Easter (Christian); time is permitted for Hanukah (Jewish) and Diwali (Hindu) celebrations, etc.
The TDSB introduced a religious accommodation policy in 2000 in order to ensure it was in compliance with human rights legislation. It outlines ways to accommodate modest dress requirements in gym classes, and fasting and dietary requirements, among other things. It also includes limitations that state the board will not compromise on certain issues, such as public safety or health, in making these accommodations, and that parents must make the request for any special arrangements. This is exactly what the parents of Valley Park community did.
Thorncliffe Park is a heavily Muslim populated community; one only needs to walk in the neighbourhood to see women in hijab or even burqas pushing children in strollers or holding their hands, come in and out of high rise buildings to go to nearby parks, or grocery stores for shopping. In the evening it becomes even livelier, with children running around in parks or playing on swings, and others riding bikes. The entire scene looks like a carnival.
In an editorial under the heading, “Let the students pray at school,” the Toronto Star wrote (July 6): “Schools, like workplaces, are required by the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate religious beliefs. In most cases, that means setting aside a quiet space to pray or allowing absences on religious days.” Ron Banerjee, director of the fringe group, Canadian Hindu Advocacy, however, alleges his group had received support both from Hindus and non-Hindus (without explaining who these people were) who say the TDSB is going too far. Islamic groups are “imposing their view and trying to change the rules, regulations, norms and values to accommodate themselves, and in the long-term, to spread their ideology.” The Star found such assertions so preposterous that it ridiculed them editorially: “To hear some of the critics tell it, you’d think Toronto’s public school system had cast aside secularism and was forcing students to attend Muslim prayers. The school does not run the prayer service; the community organizes it and brings in an imam. Students do not have to attend; indeed, they need a permission letter from their parents to do so.” Unlike Banjeree’s one-man gang, the larger Hindu Federation supported the Muslim students’ right to pray.
Making scandalous allegations has become a favourite ploy of the likes of Banerjee, JDL and MCC. Banerjee belongs to the Hindu fascist outfit, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) whose shock troops, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were responsible for the destruction in December 1992 of the 16th century historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. It sparked pogroms against the Muslims that left 3,000 dead, many of them burnt alive. In exposing Banerjee, the Canadian website, rabble.ca wrote on January 21, 2009: “That’s Ron Banerjee, a far right Hindu fundamentalist supporter of the BJP and fascist RSS in India. He used to run an outfit called the Hindu Conference of Canada (originally VHP-Canada). In the middle of last year he launched Canadian Hindu Advocacy. It’s unclear if he was thrown out of his old organization (which would be quite a feat since it appears to have been a one-man show) or if he just folded it for some reason (e.g. unpaid bills) and started a new one-man operation. The only consistency in Banerjee’s statements is the hatred of Muslims — so he’s backed the Serbs against the Bosnians, the Israelis against the Palestinians, the US against Iraq and Iran and also come out against faith school funding because it would have funded Muslim schools.” Rabble.ca went on: “He teamed up with the JDL a few years ago to oppose the construction of a mosque in Newmarket and has worked with them several times since then. He’s also associated with the Canadian Coalition for Democracies.”
The inappropriately named Muslim Canadian Congress comprises misfits from the Muslim community who have not forgiven their parents for bringing them into this world as Muslims. They are free to leave but then they would lose their appeal for the Islamophobes that want people with Muslim names to spout venom against Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia is a growth industry and these people have found a ready market to peddle their noxious wares.