The new worry for many Muslim parents: is my child fomenting jihad?


When they arrived to shoulder through the gauntlet of media outside a Brampton, Ont., courthouse last week, it was the women in their burkas who most attracted attention. Television newscasts later dwelled on their shuffling gaits and bowed heads, newspapers on their eyes. Less noticed were the young men accompanying them, with their bearded chins, crocheted skullcaps and tie-less, dull-coloured shirts. Once inside, the new arrivals—friends and family of the 17 men arrested three days earlier—stood in a queue at the door to courtroom 103 alongside a throng of journalists, all awaiting their glimpse of the accused. The clumps of black-clad Muslims were irresistible but firmly beyond the reach of reporters, who tended to keep their distance. For their part, the families maintained a phalanx of quiet. When a family member—normally one of the youngsters, with their softer beards, baseball caps and, from time to time, their laughter and jokes—permitted himself a reply to a journalist, a hard, withering look from an older brother stopped it mid-throat. “There’s a sense within the Muslim community that if we speak to media or if we speak openly, we might be treated as betraying the community,” says Faheem Bukhari, director of the Mississauga Muslim Com-


munity Centre, located not far from the suburban gathering place—the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre—where 43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal, the caretaker who now faces a raft of charges, is said to have bewitched the young men now implicated in an alleged terrorist plot against Canada.

Bukhari, whose uncle, a moderate Muslim, helped establish the Al-Rahman—only to watch as Jamal and his associates took overnow predicts that attendance atToronto-area mosques and prayer centres, particularly by young men, will diminish. In the wake of the arrests, he says, some parents have grown fearful of what militant forces may lurk in their places of worship. “At this point, most of the parents are very confused,” says Bukhari. “Should we be sending our kids to the mosque?”

Where other Canadian parents lie awake at night worried that their children could succumb to drug addiction or get pregnant, the worry for some Muslim parents has become, could my child be fomenting jihad? “How do we know for sure our children can’t be swayed?” asks Zaheer Lakhani, an Ed-


monton cardiologist with two teenage children who also chairs the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, which consults with the federal government on security issues. “We all espouse solid Canadian values. And yet we recognize that the teenage years are when chil-

dren are at their most vulnerable.”

Call-in shows in Urdu on Toronto’s multicultural radio stations last week were inundated with calls from such anxious parents. “The people are very much concerned,” says Arifa Muzaffar, host of Saaz-O-Awaz, one such show. Callers detailed how they had placed software on their computers to monitor their teens’ Internet use, worried they might peruse extremist sites. Meanwhile, the parents, many of them new Canadians, blamed the public schools for isolating their Muslim children while at the same time encouraging the notion that teens need not heed their elders. “Parents have lost their authority, which was once their prerogative, to check and balance their kids,” says Wahida Valíante, a social worker and vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. “Sixteenyear-olds don’t have to be at home anymore. They say, ‘Don’t bother me—I’m an adult.’ ” (The Peel District School Board, which governs the high school which three of those arrested once attended, refused to comment

on the matter; Sue Warwick, chair of the school council, did not return calls.)

Such are the views expressed by some behind closed doors or in safe havens like an Urdu-language radio show. But like the views of their radical counterparts at the Bramp-

ton court, their worries remain veiled in silence and largely inaccessible to outsiders. A community, says Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress, “needs to be pretty confident and mainstream to be able to talk about inner problems. When you’re marginalized, you tend to not wash your dirty linen in public.”

That linen-sullied by radicalized Muslim suicide bombers in the U.K. or the slaying of opponents like Theo van Gogh, the controversial Dutch filmmaker—prompted the Canadian Islamic Congress last October to release a set of guidelines aimed at helping Muslim parents identify extremism in their children. “Know those with whom your teens associate, as well as the websites they frequent,” the guidelines, headed “Better to be Safe than Sorry,” counsel. “Be aware of any excessive preoccupation with religious rituals by your children, or other unusual behaviours, including signs that might indicate clinical depression or anxiety,” they add. Says Mohamed Elmasry, the head of the Canadian Islamic

Congress: “We see the phenomenon of born-again Canadian Muslim youth and we are really concerned that this could actually turn into making political statements using violence.” Elmasry adds that the federal government rejected his organization’s request, made in the wake of 9/11, to study how and why extremist ideologies could find fertile ground in Canada’s Muslim youth. Events in Europe since then, he now says, have been “a wake-up call that we should really articulate some advice to parents and to the community at large.”

The arrests of the young people on June 2— five of them under the age of 18—reinforces that sense of urgency. Those youths are reputed to have hung around the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre, where they were charmed by Jamal and absorbed his teachings. For Asad Dean, chairman of the nearby Meadowvale Islamic Centre, the group was “a headache,” constantly opposing such mainstream activities as a Canada’s Wonderland event he has organized for Muslims in recent years. The Al-Rahman group’s views, he says, are an extreme form of the stern Wahhabi philosophy he believes is infecting more moderate Muslims the world over. Dean asks parents to examine the books their children read, the websites they log onto, and the educational backgrounds of their imams to weed out such influences. Even Dean, however, was shocked by last week’s allegations. “I’m tired of them trying to make our lives difficult,” he says of the radicals. “They should leave this country. They should leave us alone.” M