This study examines the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the Imam and the Mosque in the implementation of the Accessibilities for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. Through examining the historical records of the Mosques in Canadian Western society, this study explores the social, cultural and religious services of the Mosque as it houses a Muslim ethnic group. Every Mosque has a pastor or Imam who is the religious representative and counsellor. The Imam of a Mosque is responsible for offering daily prayers, congregation prayer, youth counselling, wedding rituals, religious advising, funerals, and acts as a full-time employee of the Mosque. Muslims with visible disabilities are one of the internal minority groups within the Muslim community as they are often overlooked from the mainstream abled-body Muslim community as whole. Through in-depth interviews with five Imams from different ethnic Mosques around the Greater Toronto Area, the rationale is to investigate the effectiveness of the role of the Imam in the community building and offering programs and activities in Islamic centers to promote laws and policies such as Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) for accommodating Muslims with visible disabilities.
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First and foremost, my deepest gratitude to the participants of this research who made themselves available for this study.
I am also grateful to Professor David Lumsden for the positive encouragement and giving me the confidence to pursue my research interest. Throughout the discussions with Professor Lumsden, I learned the importance of scholarly relationship between the committee and the student. I would like to thank him for invaluable advice and support. Also, I am grateful of Professor Michael Giudice who has been supporting me throughout my academic career. With his help, I was able to incorporate some philosophical discussion around this research.
I would like to thank my mother for her everyday reminder to complete this research. Also, my thanks to the rest of my family and special thanks to my fianc . Without their moral and financial support, I do not think I would have completed this research.
Table of Contents
? Why this is a CDIS MRP
? Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act, 2005
? Islam and Disability
o Organizing Islam in the Diaspora:
? The Imam:
? The Mosque
o its developmental cycle
o role re national identity
? Imam and Mosque and Social Theory
? The five cases
o Description of its Imam, why this one selected, training, experience of disability ;
o Anthropological view
o Philosophical view
Why this is a CDIS Major Research Paper
The nature of this Major Research Paper is to identify and investigate an emerging issue that requires academic awareness as well as changes to practices of non-profit organizations for the purposes of full accessibility and accommodation for vulnerable groups. Through interdisciplinary lenses of disability studies, anthropology, philosophy, and law and policy research, this paper uniquely relates the disciplines to formulate a conceptual framework as well as a critical discussion. Through critical field research and in-depth interviews with five Imams from different ethnic Mosques around the Greater Toronto Area, the rational is to investigate the effectiveness of the role of the Imam in the community building and offering of certain programs and activities in Islamic centers to promote laws and policies such as AODA for accommodating Muslims with disabilities. This research will be the first to examine the implementation of the AODA in non-profit organizations. With the completion of the data collection of purposively selected Mosques and Imams, certain themes and conclusions from anthropology and philosophy lenses are drawn to explore the role of the Imam and Mosque in introducing disability-related activities and implementation of AODA.
The Nature of Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act
As it is quite similar to Greater Toronto s multicultural context, AODA is a similar form of document that is structured to serve and improve standards of living of people with disabilities without any discrimination based on gender, race, or affiliation with an ethnic group. The purpose of the AODA is twofold;
(a) Developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
(b) Providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standards. 2005, c. 11, s. 1.
Historically the definition of disability has been limited to physical conditions, however AODA has expanded its definition to capture various forms of disability with specific conditions:
(a) any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device, (b) a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability, (c) a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language, (d) a mental disorder, or (e) an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997; ( handicap )
For the purpose of this project, the definition of disability will be limited to physical forms as stated in above (a). The new Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation includes five major standards, which include a Customer Service Standard, Transportation Standard, Information and Communications Standard, and Built Environment Standard. While all standards are meant to be fully implemented by 2025, to this date, only the first three standards have been enacted, and even these are not yet completely regulated or implemented. This study will aim to primarily focus on the first three standards and discuss some aspects of Information and Communications Standards, Built Environment Standards and Employment Standards.
There are four core principles of the AODA; dignity, independence, integration and equal opportunity. Dignity refers to treating people with disabilities as valued customers or members with full quality services and convenience. The principle of independence promotes free choice as well offers customers or members to act freely and in a way that would best fit them, without any pressure. On the other hand, the principle of integration allows customers and members the full benefit of services. At the same time, it encourages that, policies, practices and procedures are designed to be accessible to everyone including people with disability. At last, the principle of equal opportunity removes barriers that prevent people with disabilities to have equal access to services and benefits.
AODA presents an ideal for people with disabilities to access and enjoy services from all incorporated profit-based organizations based in Ontario such as restaurants, healthcare centers, retail stores etc. Part II of the act notes, This Act applies to every person or organization in the public and private sectors of the Province of Ontario, including the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. This includes non-profit organizations such as religious centers and charity based organizations. Despite the good intentions behind accessibility and accommodation standards of AODA, it will quite likely be challenging to implement such a policy all over Ontario within the proposed timeframe. However, with the help of communities and community centers, the possibility of implementation can become real. Now specifically understanding the role of the Imam and the Mosque would help to establish some ground for investigating the current role and situation of people with disabilities in the Mosque and wider Muslim communities. The goal of this critical field research is to critically analyze the role of the Imam and the Mosque in adopting various types of approach for implementation of various standards of the AODA.
It is important to note that rules and laws are introduced and enforced due to social changes which occur within the communities or at the so-called ground level. Therefore, their structure and functionality is best explained by how those communities directly interact with people with disabilities. Therefore, the Imam and the Mosque play a vital role in guiding the policy-makers on how to implement and measure the effectiveness of the AODA in practice.
Islam and Disability
In the discussion of faith and disability, historical Islamic views need to be briefly discussed for a better understanding of the issue. Islamic teaching is primarily based on the Qur an, which Muslims believe to be the literal words of Allah and Hadith is sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad which are narrated by his companions and later pious predecessors. These two sources of Islamic jurisprudence are accepted by all Muslims and hence present an acceptable base of analysis for all major Muslim subgroups. Disability in the Qur an by Maysaa S. Bazna and Tarek A. Hatab notes that the concept of perfection is the main theme in the Qur an and absolute perfection belongs to the Divine attribute of God alone. Asad argues that humans could never strive or even attempt to aim at the same perfection.
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In the Qur an, Allah says that, Verily, We created man in the best conformation. (95:5-6). Now the very notion of perfection could be divided into physical form as well as spiritual form. Thus, If Allah or the Prophet Mohammad defined perfection as Arab Muslims specifically from Makkah or Madina with special physical attributes and color, this would mean that anyone failing to meet the specified criteria is imperfect. Similarly, Asad argues that everyone would have to give up, or change, or suppress, their individual differentiation to reach that specific perfection. Nevertheless, there is not a single phrase in the Qur an or Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad which emphasizes physical attributes of perfection.
On the other hand, there are several verses in the Qur an, which discuss perfection in the spiritual sense. Allah states that,
O [people!] Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware
Also, Allah states, And a soul and Him Who perfected it . It is important to point out that different Islamic schools of thought hold different understandings of perfection in the spiritual sense. According to Shi a Islam, Imams are infallible and perfect in the spiritual sense. Sunni Islam, however, would reject such an ideology. Regardless of differences of opinion between sects in terms of spiritual sense, the significance is that Allah looks at the righteous actions and correct beliefs of people rather than gender, color, race, and body. As in an authentic Hadith collected by Imam Muslim, The Prophet Mohammad said, Verily, God does not look at your bodies or your appearances, but looks into your hearts.
Allah revealed ten verses of the Quran when Prophet Mohammad turned away from a blind man s question regarding a verse of the Qur an while Prophet Mohammad was in the middle of persuading a tribe leader to accept Islam. Allah states,
(The Prophet) frowned and turned away, (1) Because there came to him the blind man (i.e. 'Abdull h bin Umm-Makt m, who came to the Prophet while he was preaching to one or some of the Quraish chiefs) (2) And how can you know that he might become pure (from sins)? (3) Or that he might receive admonition, and that the admonition might profit him? (4) As for him who thinks himself self-sufficient, (5) To him you attend; (6) What does it matter to you if he will not become pure (from disbelief, you are only a Messenger, your duty is to convey the Message of All h) (7) But as to him who came to you running (8) And is afraid (of All h and His Punishment), (9) Of him you are neglectful and divert your attention to another, (10) Nay, (do not do like this), indeed it (this Qur' n) is an admonition.
An able-bodied and a disabled body hold a similar status in Islam. The poor blind man who feared Allah had higher status than the rich able-body who has no faith in Allah. It is a major reminder for all Muslims that Allah mentions a blind man in the Qur an and at the same time corrects the action of Prophet Muhammad. It is a lesson to Muslim communities and especially to the leaders of the Muslim community while interacting with people with disabilities.
Although the practices in Islamic traditions provide a brief understanding of the role of the Mosque in a society, I attempted to investigate whether the current Canadian Mosques hold similar views. Thus, it serves as a study to compare and contrast whether the traditional Islamic centers perspective differs from the contemporary westernized Islamic Mosques in relation to vulnerable groups of society such as people with disabilities, women, and children. In my hypothesis, westernized Mosque unlike traditional Mosques - serve as more than a place of worship, as it has taken a form of a community center managed by a Board of Directors and the Imam, by exercising and educating the rest of the community about duties and responsibilities of citizenship through implementing Canadians laws and regulations such as AODA.
Another important theme that arises in this topic is the obligatory practices ordered by Allah over all Muslims. In Canadian society, a few decades ago courts recognized the need to extend the application of equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms beyond formal equality. Whereas formal equality would mean that all laws apply equally to all citizens, substantive equality is designed to recognize the impact of the laws on disadvantaged members of society and treat them substantively. In Eldridge v. BC case, a group of Deaf patients demanded sign language interpreters for their appointments with medical practitioners in hospitals. The Supreme Court of Canada used a substantive equality approach to recognize that in the absence of sign language interpreters, Deaf patients cannot discuss their medical conditions with the doctors. As a result, Deaf patients would fail to enjoy the full benefits of medical care if a formal approach was used.
Interestingly, in Qur an, Allah has excused people with disabilities who are unable to perform certain obligatory religious rituals due to their disability. For instance, in regards to Jihad, Allah mentions, No blame or sin is there upon the blind, nor is there blame or sin upon the lame, nor is there blame or sin upon the sick (that they go not for fighting). And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger (Mohammad), He will admit him to Gardens beneath which rivers flow (Paradise); and whosoever turns back, He will punish him with a painful torment. These verses allow us to show that everyone will be judged based on their abilities to perform certain duties. Bazna and Hatab (2005) note that perfection and imperfection in the physical sense, have no implication in the Islamic view of human life. In Islam, Allah judges a person by their sincerity, modesty, remembrance, and thankfulness of abilities that Allah has bestowed on everyone.
Organizing Islam in the Diaspora
While Canada is a country that welcomes change for better living conditions for its citizens, it also stands as a role model in regards to its inclusion and integration of religions, cultures, and ethnicities from different parts of the world. Since the several waves of Muslim immigration to Canada (specifically in southern Ontario), there has been a desperate need for integration into Canadian culture. Despite all the inclusive multicultural policies and various community services offered to meet the needs of new immigrants, William Saffron defines this process of accommodation as Diaspora. Saffron argues that the vision or myth of the new immigrants is that full acceptance in the host country is impossible. However, Saffron fails to notice that there is a possibility of acceptance through the establishment of centers that create a similar space as a homeland. In fact, it was the most effective approach introduced by ethnic groups to establish non-profit organizations and community centers in effectively building their community bonds.
In Muslim communities, they are referred to as Islamic centers or Mosques. Canadian society Mosques extend their services beyond religious services to include social services and houses for the Muslim ethnic group as a whole including men, women, children, and elderly members of the community. Fredrik Barth argues that ethnic groups create identity-based organizations to promote activities that assist them in pursuing participation in wider social systems.
The Mosque and the Imam
Every Mosque is assigned with a pastor or Imam who is the religious representative and counsellor. As a full-time employee, the Imam of a Mosque is responsible for offering daily prayers, congregation prayer, youth counselling, and religious advising. Most importantly, an Imam plays a significantly unique role in bridging the gap between two generations: Canadian-born Muslims and non-Canadian-born Muslims who are in the process of integrating into Canadian society. An Imam, as a modest contemporary intellectual, balances cultural traditions and religious values within the duties and responsibilities of a non-Islamic state. In other words, an Imam teaches religion while respecting the specific cultural values its community and the host state. The role of the Imam and the Mosque is more effective in building the identity of its attendees. In Omnes et Singulatim, Foucault would argue, the Imam is the shepherd and the flock is the participants in the Mosque, as the sheep would gather to be guided. One of the main objectives of the Imam and the Mosque is to establish a community where Muslims could engage in a variety of social and religious activities based on Islamic teachings.
This research aims to focus on the role of the Mosque and the Imam in accommodating Muslims with disability in religious and social settings. It attempts to investigate the programs and activities of Islamic centers for Muslims with disabilities. As Muslims with disabilities are one of the internal minority groups within the Muslim community, they are often overlooked from the mainstream able-bodied Muslims. The major problem is the lack of knowledge about the needs, accommodation, access, and most importantly the identity of Muslims with disabilities. At the same time, there is a much stronger correlation between faith and disability, as a religious person understands his/her disability in view of his/her faith. The role of the Imam and the Mosque is not only to educate people about disability but more importantly to collectively work with disability groups and government in identifying the various approaches in the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act, 2005 , within Muslim communities.
In current Canadian society, Muslim minority groups have founded several religious establishments, which function as community centers. The role of the Imam varies from giving sermons to counselling youth and guiding community members towards success in both the worldly life and after-life. Most importantly, the Imam is most productive in spreading knowledge about Islam and specifically reviving the role of the Prophet Muhammad as the role model for every Muslim in every aspect of life. In other words, the main objective of such centers is to correct behaviours, actions, and understandings of Muslims through sayings or Hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad.
Despite the ultimate sovereignty of the Imam, Canadian Mosques are structured with a formal Board of Directors who are officially elected by the Advisory Board and control every single official and unofficial matter that the Mosque faces. The Board of Directors has authority to limit the actions of the Imam where required, to the extent that they could use their power to hire or fire an Imam. The Board of Directors must approve any event, class, or activity that takes place inside the Mosque. The Board of Directors and the Imam work collectively to arrive at a mutual understanding of the needs of the community in Canadian society.
Historically, the Prophet Muhammad cooperated with the Jews and pagans of Medina to form the Constitution of Medina that outlined rights and responsibilities of the Muslim, Jewish, and pagan communities to form one community referred to as the Ummah, where each group could deal with their own internal affairs through arbitration based on their belief system. To revive the Sunnah which is the sayings and actions of the Prophet, it would clear the misconceptions about duties, responsibility that a Muslim owes to western or non-Islamic states. At the same time, it guides Muslims in their interactions with non-Muslims in terms of social, civil and political obligations.
Due to the significant and important role of these Mosques, plenty of Islamic centers have been established or are in the process of expanding their facilities to accommodate the growing number of attendees. While building or renovation, these facilities are required to comply with the bylaws of the Province of Ontario. People with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups whose needs are often disregarded. Such lack of consideration is now subject to change. With the implementation of the AODA, 2005, first, it creates an excellent opportunity for the Imam and the Mosque to outline some of the potential physical obstacles that prevent people with visible disabilities from completely participating in the community. Second, it is important to find out whether AODA would help to make Islamic centers more accessible and accommodating for people with visible disabilities.
Selection of Participants
I used the purposive sampling technique to select certain participants who are the most influential Imams, lecturers and social workers in the most Muslim-populated geographical areas in the city of Toronto. Teddlie and Tashakkori define the purposive sampling technique which involves selecting certain subjects or cases based on a specific purpose rather than randomly. More specifically, I used the critical case sampling technique which is part of purposive sampling but involves selecting cases that are particularly important to the understanding of the issue since it will allow maximum application of information to other cases. While all selected Imams and Mosques are Orthodox or Sunni Muslims, several differences make each Mosque a unique field of study.
The most important distinction is that each Mosque represents a specific ethnic group predominantly such as Somali, Pakistan, Indian, Arab, and Guyanese. Since every Mosque represents an ethnic group, the cultural differences as well the community needs differ. In addition, some of the Mosques are well-established community centers with thousands of regular attendees; others are much smaller in size as well as number of participants. Said Rageah, Abdool Hamid, Hamid Slimi, Imam X , and Yusuf Badat are selected participants who are the representatives of the each Mosque and were requested for qualitative interviews to provide rich information about their role as an Imam in relation to Muslims with visible disabilities. In addition, I investigated their role in providing services, such as educational, counselling, and other community services about disability to the rest of the community.
I limited the scope of this research to five imams just to provide a basis for finding emerging or related themes in a new area of disability studies and religion. The results will be used as a foundation for future research.
Through in-depth interviews with five Imams from various ethnic communities, I gathered general information about the Islamic centers bylaws, Board of Directors, social and religious events, community support along with the role of the Imam in educating and inspiring the rest of the community. More specifically, it would allow an investigation of how the Prophet Mohammad treated people with disabilities and whether the current Islamic centers are adopting a similar approach.
The duration of each interview was thirty minutes to one hour depending on the schedule and comfort level of the participant. In addition, the setting for the interviews was the participants offices in their community Mosques. Participants were required to have obtained higher education in religious studies with fluency in English so that the interviews are knowledge based and data are collected solely based on the participants standpoint.
Instruments and Procedures
Through the initiation of semi-structured questions, interviews were mainly casual conversation or storytelling about Islamic understanding of disability as well their daily interaction with people with visible disabilities. I did not anticipate any risks or discomfort in the research and did not , subsequently, experience any. This form of data collection added to the strength of the research and highlighted its importance as, (1) the interviews were conducted from the Imam s perspective and (2) it was the first study on implementation of the AODA in Islamic centers.
In terms of methodology, I chose the qualitative constructivist methodology approach to collect data in examining how disability is defined in religious texts and the Imam s standpoint on accessibility and accommodations of Muslims with visible disabilities. Teddlie and Tashakkori define qualitative methods as techniques associated with the gathering, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of narrative information Bonnie O Day and Mary Killeen s article Research on the Lives of Persons with Disabilities: The Emerging Importance of Qualitative Research Methodologies argues that qualitative methods allow researchers to take a value-free stance . In addition, the qualitative researchers remove the distance between the researcher and the participants rather than taking an objective stance. Further, a qualitative method allows the researcher to be an active learner as they narrate stories from the participants points of view.
Therefore, this ethnography carried out interviews with the Imams (who are the representatives of the Mosques) to understand the significant role of the Imam and the Mosque in general, and to determine the specific issues and recommendations with respect to AODA in accommodation and accessibility for Muslims with visible disabilities. In addition, this research outlines some of the programs and services offered by the Mosques to implement the AODA in their organizations.
For the interviews, it was required to compile a series of open-ended and close-ended questions that would carry out the flow of the interview. The questionnaire was formulated around four categories: (1) Imam s personal information, (2) Mosque-related information, (3) disability-related experience, and (4) knowledge and awareness about AODA. Initially, more than fifty questions were carefully reduced to twenty-five. With the completion of all necessary documents and approval of ethics, a pilot study was conducted to test whether the questions helped to collect the intended data for the purpose of this study.
Imam Qari Enamullah, from a small Mosque called Eslah Islamic Association, was approached and was requested to participate in the pilot study. Imam Enamullah offered his support and an appointment for an interview was set. Based on the research timeline, every part of the research had a specific deadline along with certain procedures that are outlined in most methodology textbooks. Therefore, as an immature researcher, I expected everything to be on time without any difficulty or problem. However, the pilot study identified several limitations and problems with the methodology of the research. As a result, it delayed the whole process of the research. For instance, I learned just how difficult it is for a public figure acting as an Imam to abandon public gatherings, meetings, prayers, lectures and his classes to make time for an interview, despite their willingness to take part in the interview.
I visited the Imam on three separate occasions until I got the chance to conduct the interview. I find methodology the most important section of a research paper, however throughout the process of the research, the researcher adopts a new method of research that is more practical and effective. Therefore, I found the methodology section very effective prior to the fieldwork in terms of participant recruitment, research procedures and instruments, and how to carry out a qualitative interview.
The Five Cases
Said Rageah serves as Imam at the Abu Huraira Center located in Toronto. He is Somalia born but raised in Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s, he moved to North America where he has accomplished a great deal for his age. As a teenager, he established Masjid Huda in Montreal then later moved to the United States and founded Masjid Aya in Maryland. Sheikh Said is the founder of Oasis magazine, IQ (Quranic institute), Muslim Basketball Association, Leadership camp for Muslim youth, MSI of Calgary, Orphan Matter, Muslim Student Loan Foundation, and Co-Founder and chairman of Journey of Faith.
He is known as Sheikh Said, as he stands as one of the most influential Imams of North America. He received his B.A. from the University of Toronto and masters in Shari a from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in Fairfax, Virginia. Despite his formal education, Sheikh Said has attained the religious knowledge and authority in much more traditional ways with some of the major Islamic scholars of his time. Sheikh Said s primary goal in Mosque was to create activities for youth and women. Due to lots of traffic at his Mosque and his position, the interview with Sheikh Said helped to collect rich data specific to the Somali community.
In terms of experience with people with disabilities, Sheikh Said Rageah has limited but quite an effective, participatory, and accommodating experience. Sheikh Said discussed the participation of a young girl with physical disability in his Mosque. The parents of the young girl had bad experiences with a previous Mosque that was closer to their home. As the parents attended and participated in activities offered by Mosque A, Sheikh Said noted that, the parents of the little girl actually bought a property closer to our center because they thought we were very accommodating . As the interview was over, we headed out to the prayer hall where Sheikh Said pointed out the father of the child with disability, as being one of the regular attendees of the mosque. This demonstrates his effectiveness as an Imam as he knows the names of families, and needs of his flock. When I asked Sheikh Said on the form of accommodation, he replied that, We simply allowed her mom to stay with her for the duration of the class plus we were never bothered if the little girl made any mess or disturbance in the class or the Mosque.
In theory and practice, accommodation could be outlined in terms of tolerance, acceptance, and recognition of the vulnerable groups of society. To accept or recognize would lead to the next stage, which is participation. Mosque A offers multiple services and facilities, including a bookstore. Sheikh Said has appointed a young teenager with a hearing disability to be in charge of the bookstore, which offers Islamic books, clothing, Mosque A publications, DVDs and CDs production, as well dates and drinks. Bestowing certain responsibilities and duties to persons with disabilities establishes an inclusive image for the Mosque as a faith based organization welcoming, practicing and even achieving beyond some of the objectives of AODA standards.
Sheikh Said often discusses the topic of disability on a personal level as part of counselling but he hesitates to raise the topic in congregational prayers as he does not want them [people with disabilities] to feel inferior or singled out amongst others. However, in one of the center s conferences called Death but Alive, I pointed out that most of the greatest scholars had some type of physical disability for example, Atab Ibn Abi Rabah, scholar of 8th century. Sheikh Said often highlights the visual impairments and different types of physical disability as they are more visible in his center. It shows that as an Imam of the center, he acts based on the needs and demands of the community. His volunteer involvement for accommodating people with disabilities is not based on any coercion or obligation to any rules or laws. Therefore, when I asked about his views on AODA, he asked me, what is it about? This was an excellent point to start a discussion about AODA as he showed a curiosity for further information about the act.
He emphasized educating the community about AODA for the purposes of implementation. Furthermore, he suggested educating his community through a seminar in his center offered by an AODA representative to discuss the topic of disability in much bigger scope. This shows that the role of an Imam is limited to the services offered by the Mosque or center. As Sheikh Said acknowledgd that it would be an excellent idea [to invite someone to speak about AODA] since we don t know much about the topic [disabilities], people who are expert in this are [to be] invited to teach the people and us how to deal with people with disabilities. Despite the fact that they are the gatekeepers of the community, their role as the Imam does not require them to educate the community on every topic. Thus, there are certain gaps that could be easily filled through the intervention of other non-profit organizations or government based programs to educate the community about new laws and policies. It is about reaching out to different communities and sharing knowledge for a better and inclusive society.
Mosque A is situated in a small space above a convenience store, which was targeted for providing community services as well Islamic knowledge for the troubled youths to connect with the community. As the Muslim population grew in the area, the need for a center became more demanding and necessary. The center was established on 1.56 acres of land, which now offers forty-six events, programs, seminars, class, and conferences throughout the year. As Sh. Rageah stated in the interview that, 42 of the events are offered to the youth. Most of the events are on a regular daily basis in multiple languages. Mosque A s vision is:
greater than just building a center without a spirit, but to fill the center with people from every race and every ethnic group as [the center] continues to expand we look forward to a center that will include a prayer hall, a school, a gymnasium, a multimedia and IT department, administration offices, a multipurpose hall, and much, Inshallah (God Willing).
Abu Huraira Center
Dr. Hamid Slimi is the Founder and Resident of the Sayeda Khadija Center . He holds two master's degrees in Islamic studies and law, as well as PhD in Islamic law from the U.K. Furthermore, Dr. Slimi is the Founder and President of the Faith of Life Network, the current Chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams, Lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Consultant on National and International issues related to religion and spirituality and TV Host and producer of Faith of Life TV shows and documentaries. Dr. Slimi offers a unique role comparable to the other Imams in this study as he is very much involved in various interfaith communities and in his attempt to establish his vision of Faith of Life Network.
Dr. Hamid Slimi desired to be a professor or judge in his country, Morocco. Due to the need of an Imam, a religious and social counsellor in the Muslim community of North America, he accepted the offer of an Imam in the Islamic Center of North America in 1997. Dr. Slimi is trained as Imam through learning from experienced scholars and building skills on offering counselling. He added that, there was a natural component as well a training component such as secular sciences and management . Currently, Dr. Slimi serves as an Imam of Mosque B where Caribbean and South Asian ethnicities are the majority. He is known for his work and on-going communication with other faith groups. Dr. Slimi mentioned that the intention behind the Faith of Life Network is to create a network among people of faith. In addition, Dr. Slimi has been offering various programs for people with disabilities.
In terms of experiences with people with disabilities, on April 6th 2012, the center held a seminar for forty youths with hearing disabilities. Furthermore, on International Day of People with Disabilities, he dedicates his Friday congregation sermon to topics of disability. Many of his programs are co-hosted by the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities. In terms of accommodation, Dr. Slimi has allowed parents to accompany their children with autism during their summer school. When I asked him about AODA, he said that, As long as the act intends to accommodate vulnerable people of the community; we will definitely comply with it. It is like the Golden rule; one should do for others as one would do for oneself. Compare to the rest of the Imams, Dr. Slimi showed much better knowledge about AODA and its different standards. In fact, he has offered a TV show co-hosted with Rabia Khadir, the president of the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities, where he discussed the objective and the implications of AODA in the Muslim community.
Dr. Slimi strongly suggested that it is the responsibility of the government to educate people about AODA. At the end of the interview, Dr. Slimi stated;
Islamic law focuses on benefiting and improving the lifestyle of people, the environment, and all living beings, in order to raise the standards of the quality of life. It took decades and centuries for us as human beings to reach this level of thinking and awareness because we have done very well so far at improving the means and ways of our society to be published. Then we start facing on details as needs become more obvious in our everyday lives. This would include our transportation, safety and security, access and accommodation. (Slimi 2012)
In 2009, Mosque B became the official home of the Faith of Life Network which is a registered non-profit organization. The Faith of Life Network aims to promote positive values of Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims and building communities through shared religious observance, quality education programs, mutual support and networking, and service to humanity. During the interview, when I asked Dr. Slimi questions related to the center as a Mosque, he responded that, Mosque B is not a Mosque and it is a center which Mosque is part of it. The center offers Friday congregational prayers, Ramadan prayers, Ramadan Dinners, interfaith programs, classes, youth leadership programs, and matrimonial services. With the new facility, there is a community multi-use hall, a gymnasium, youth & senior citizens programs, children and adult classes, and a library. The objective of the center is to To equip Canada's Muslims for respectful and helpful outreach, bridge building, and dialogue with our fellow citizens: finding common ground through shared service while acknowledging the value of every person's humanity and spirituality. (Mosque B 2012) In terms of community support, Dr. Slimi has successfully achieved his goal of raising one million dollars for the Brampton Civic Hospital. Here is the snapshot of the facility:
Sayeda Khadija Center
Abdool Hamid serves as an Islamic Counsellor with the Islamic Social Services and Resource Association (Toronto). He was born in Guyana, South America and he has received his B.A. in Islamic Studies (Major in Hadith Studies) from the University of Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia. Abdool Hamid is currently a resident scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto and a regular lecturer at several prominent Mosques in and around Toronto. Sheikh Abdool Hamid offers several services in Mosque C such as teaching courses on Arabic language, sciences of the Quran and Hadiths, the Jurisprudence of Worship, biography of the Prophet and his companion, simplifying the law of inheritance, and Quran memorization. Sheikh Abdool Hamid serves as a spiritual guide in special Hajj services for a group of more than seventy-five Hujjaj every year to Makkah offered by Mosque C. In addition to all the services that he offers in Mosque C, Sheikh Abdool Hamid serves as a part-time Imam in Masjid Toronto, where he holds weekly seminars and study circles.
Similar to other studied Imams, Sheikh Abdool Hamid became an Imam as an Islamic organization needed a qualified Imam for their community, and he said that the need still exists. In Islamic tradition, Sh. Abdool Hamid notes that, there are no specific courses theoretically or practically to train one as an Imam. In order for one to become an Imam, one needs to learn Arabic language, Islam and its various sciences. As a part-time Imam in Masjid Toronto, Sh. Abdool Hamid started short talk sessions every Mondays and Wednesdays, which has shown to be quite effective for the community. As a result, he notes, more people have been coming forward for counselling.
In Mosque C, he holds a youth program for high school and university students. The objective is to allow the youth to share their views and opinions regarding religious matters and social issues without feeling shy or inhibited. Sh. Abdool Hamid differentiates his Mosques from the rest of the GTA Mosques by arguing that, we don t only preach but we practice the middle path approach [as] women have more say than some other Mosques as their board currently holds two women board executives. In fact, membership of women in the Board of Directors represents the participation of women in a largely male-dominated faith based organization. In addition, women s representation as an authoritative and decision-making body signify the Mosque s tendency in changing perspectives and, not only accommodating but assigning an important role in the community for the vulnerable groups of society. Sh. Abdool Hamid stated that,
In front of Allah, we are all equal before him. Throughout the history of Islam, people with disabilities were treated normal. Their disabilities were not to make them different. A blind man took the leadership of Madina several times [As Prophet Muhammad left for different wars]. The Muhdan (the person who calls for prayer) was a blind man, who could not see the sun to determine the right time of the prayer. People with disabilities should be encouraged to participate. The organizations should provide services for them. It is the general society that differentiates between able and disable body. In Islam, they are treated normal and there is no sign of pitiful or sorrow. People with disabilities need help but the act should not be out of pity or feeling sorrow.
With years of experience with people with disabilities, Sh. Abdool Hamid offers classes for people with hearing disabilities twice a month. The number of participants was about twenty-five regular attendees. Furthermore, the classes surround the basics of Islam, article of faith, and special talks on some current issues. Similar to the youth program in Mosque C, Sh. Abdool Hamid allows the participants to share their views and input. During the duration of the program, a sign language interpreter is in place to accommodate the participants. Sh. Abdool Hamid urges that there is significant need for programs similar to this as there are so many things that they [people with hearing disabilities] don t know or confessions that require clarification for them. This program attracts people from Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto. With his experiences with people with hearing disabilities, Sh. Abdool Hamid s lectures often highlight topics related to people with hearing, visual and physical disabilities. When I asked him about guide dogs entering inside the Mosque, he responded that dog is not an evil creature but creature of God that serve good. In other words, he replied to the structure of my question, as at the beginning of the study, dogs were assumed evil in Mosques. As a matter of fact, none of the studied centers see any limitation in accommodating guide dogs.
To meet the requirements and obligations of AODA, his Mosque has assigned designated areas, created entrance and exit ramps, and handicap washrooms. Sh. Abdool Hamid notes that since AODA is a law, it guarantees and safeguard the rights of people with disabilities. The best approach to implement the AODA is to educate the community in congregational prayers to support the good cause. He emphasized that, it is not a need but the rights of people with disabilities, [and] if they (people) understand this, they will support it firmly. In his concluding remarks, he argued that it is not like we don t know Mosque C and Masjid Toronto have done a concrete job in accommodating people with disabilities. He said that, Deaf people in our program come in the Masjid and thank me for the event. When I saw the level of participant and participation, I was amazed. They need to do a little bit of help. Organizations should take it seriously.
Established in 1996, Islamic Institute of Toronto is a non-profit federally registered Islamic educational institute. The main objectives are as follows:
- Strengthen access to Islamic education
- Promote scholarly research
- Facilitate community outreach and interaction with other religious organizations and community groups
- Consolidate the social fabric of the Community
- Sustain Islamic work by encouraging and building endowments
As one of the first Islamic institutes of Toronto, Mosque C s mission is to nurture and establish Islam as a living reality in the lives of Muslims and to enhance the Islamic identity in the society at large. Its goal is to promote mutual understanding and civic responsibility through education. Mosque C is eight acres of land, which has recently finished all the construction work. The building includes a full-time elementary school, a Mosque for all the regular and Friday prayers, a gymnasium used for sports as well as other special community events, a bookstore and a small library.
Islamic Institute of Toronto
The governing body of the institute consists of seven Board of Directors, of which five are male and two are female. This is something unique compared to other Mosques where women are not given the opportunity to act as directors of an Islamic center.
The majority of other Islamic centers have been much more accommodating in including women in the organization compared to the past. The shift in ideologies and revising the traditional Islamic knowledge has helped the Muslim community to recognize the importance of the role of women in the formation of a family and building up a community. Thus, with such a vision, others have accommodated women through organizing the women s committee also called sister s committee, where a group of women hold regular meetings and discuss some vital changes that are necessary in religious, social, or any other aspect of the Mosque. Their suggestions and concerns are then proposed to the Board of Directors in order to be reviewed, approved, and implemented based on calculated budget and resources granted by the board.
Yusuf Badat is the Imam and the Director of Religious Affairs of Islamic Foundation of Toronto located in Scarborough. He has been serving the Muslim community as an Imam since 1999. Sheikh Yusuf is a Toronto born Imam, graduated with a master s degree from the University of South Africa, where he advanced his knowledge of Islamic sciences under great scholars for ten years. When I asked him, why did he become an Imam? He replied that as a Toronto born Muslim, he experienced difficulty in connecting with older generation Imams mainly due to their lack of knowledge about Canadian society and youth needs. Thus, he found it important to study overseas to attain the knowledge of Islam and teach Islamic knowledge to the younger generation with consideration of cultural sensitivities. Indeed, he has accomplished his goal. Youth from different parts of the Greater Toronto Area attend his study circles and especially Friday congregation because Sheikh Yusuf connects with them very well. Mosque D outlines the position of Sheikh Yusuf as an Imam, Khateeb, Counsellor, Teacher, and Director of Religious Affairs. His duties include Friday Sermons and other regular prayers, Counselling men and women on family and religious issues, providing advice to the community based on religion, performing Funeral services, leading Eid prayers and special Ramadan prayers, teaching Islamic classes, and holding seminars and workshops.
Sheikh Yusuf became an Imam as his interests lied in teaching the community and helping people. Due to the generation gap, Sheikh Yusuf could not relate himself to Imams of older generations. There was the need for a young Imam to communicate and reach younger generations. He is trained as an Imam through studying Islam for ten years. After serving Masjid Saliheen , he moved to Mosque D where he revised the curriculum of full-time day school, started a number of programs for youth, monthly seminars, and weekly Sunday classes. Sheikh Yusuf stated that, It used to be very difficult to approach the Imam, but now I am available most of the times to talk with families. The well-established community around his Mosque is a mix of South Asian, Pakistani, Indian, and Guyanese.
Based on the demand of the community, the Mosque has established another facility used as a full-time Islamic school. With the growing community, during Friday congregation prayer, there are about 2500 attending the prayer from different parts of Scarborough as well Markham City. I have attached a snapshot of the mosque to get a better understanding of the facility.
Islamic Foundation of Toronto
To accommodate people with physical disabilities in such a crowd, Sheikh Yusuf has designated specific space for people with wheelchairs in congregation prayer. Furthermore, there are designated spaces inside the Mosque but outside prayer hall, where people with visual impairment could accommodate their guide dogs while they are performing any prayer or attending an event. Sheikh Yusuf stated that, we should not look at people with disabilities differently to make them feel inferior and something lacking. For the purposes of programs for people with disabilities, the Mosque offers a few study circles to teach Quran for people with disabilities and twice a year lecture on topic of disability more specifically on intellectual disabilities.
During the interview, Sheikh Yusuf shared his views about some of the possible changes to meet the requirements of AODA as he stated that, it is good as it demands the community to accommodate people with disabilities [and] in term of management, it is not that we do or we don t want but we are limited in resources. Like any other Mosque, Mosque D welcomes change but still needs the government s support and funds to carry out the changes. Basing on the point of Sheikh Yusuf, a further research on government and external funding of different faith based organization would significantly help to measure the needs, demands, resources and allocation, and how the center functions on regular basis. Most importantly, governments will have a scheme of who deserves the most.
Sheikh Yusuf suggest a possible approach to implement AODA; (1) educate the administration, (2) educate the community, (3) funding from the government, and (4) monitoring and supplying. This is an sensible approach yet mainly because if the government educates the community without convincing and educating the administration, as a result, the administration will not be comfortable supporting the implementation or even educating the community. AODA is a regulated act that entails inspectors and penalties to implement the act. However, the administration must see a greater cause of AODA to accept and recognize the genuine purpose to make Ontario more accessible and free of barriers than simply because it is law or an act.
Imam X is a mufti and currently serves as an Imam in Mosque E which is one of the most populated mosques in Toronto. Imam X has studied Islamic Jurisprudence for 11 years at Islamic University of South Africa. Upon his completion of his higher education as a jurist, Imam X has been serving the Muslim community since 2003. Despite Imam X is a part-time of Mosque E, but Imam X plays an important role as highly religious figure, to whom people consult in various aspects of Islamic knowledge and practices. Furthermore, Imam X offers several religious and social programs and services for the community targeting the youth on how to spiritually purify one from evil deeds. As a result, Imam X helps the youth to build a character that is in accordance with tradition of Prophet Muhammad. At the same time, he educates on how to balance religious practices in accordance with Canadian social values. Imam X work triggers thousands of Muslim youths and families currently residing in Southern Toronto Area, which adds to more than 90% of community. The community is over-populated with South Asian Muslims. Mosque E is one of the most populated and always crowded mosque in city of Toronto.
To highlight some of the accomplishments of Imam X, he established Path to Piety series that includes range of seminars, courses, and annual conference that attracts more than 4,000 attendees from different parts of GTA. In addition, Imam X holds Fridays night session with youth. During the session, Imam X chooses a current social problem and enlightens the youth about the issues with Islamic lenses. Furthermore, Imam X has established a faculty of Islamic Studies and Jurisprudence.
Imam X stated that, Islam has lots of respect for Madoor. In terms of jurist perspectives, there are specific chapter discussing the obligation of Madoor in terms of fasting, daily prayers and other religious obligations. In terms of programs for people with disabilities, Imam X noted that, this masjid specifically does not have any programs however, I do discuss the topic of disability when I am addressing the people on different Islamic rulings. Despite the lots of traffic, this mosque fails to provide any disability related course, seminar, or any specific accommodation that would make this mosque more accessible. In terms of AODA, Imam X stated that, it depends on community, some mosques are situated in good locations, but other mosques are not in such good location to have the community support. This mosque should facilitated AODA as it is in good location. Furthermore, Imam X suggested that there should be a study done how mosques around GTA to identify complaints and compare the budgets in order to better understand how to implement AODA. He gave an example that, if a person with disabilities comes to the mosque once a year, then it would not be in interest of the masjid. While questioning about the anticipation of bring a change, Imam X stated, The board is the one who should decide. In other words, I learned that Imam X s authority is limited to religious aspect and board is the authoritative body the run all different aspect of the mosque. Imam X stated on several occasions that Board will implement but our job is to facilitate or it will be the board [to invite someone speak about AODA], Imams don t get involved in managerial aspect. In my understanding, the reason that the Imam X wished to remain anonymous in this study was to make sure that this interview will not negatively influence in his relationship with the board. Despite his position is the highest religious authority in the masjid however his authority is limited to counselling and advising. As a matter of fact, this interview discussed on of the main hypothesis on how the mosque are transforming to a secularized centers where board has ultimate sovernigty over the mosque. Imam X stated, In the South Asian community, the board has separated from the imams. The board members are not well acquainted with Islamic jurisprudence. There are the ones who have invested money in the mosque as a result, they elected themselves and they run the show. The cons are that the concerns come to the imams, the general congregants, the imams are more aware of the community than the board. The needs of the community may not be heard. Simply because the imams are more accessible, not the board.
Mosque Accessibility Chart based on Interviews
Centers Sign Language Capability Accessible Washroom Entrance/Exit Ramp Number of Parking Spaces Quran on Braille Space for Wheelchair Direction Sign
Mosque A No Yes Yes 3 Parking spaces No Yes Yes
Mosque D Yes only in main events Yes Yes 8 Parking spaces Yes, 5 copies Yes Yes
Mosque B Yes, in major events Yes Yes 6 parking spaces No Yes Yes
Mosque C Yes, only in main events Yes Yes 4 parking spaces No Yes yes
Islamic Society of Toronto No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Critical Disability Studies is an interdisciplinary field and promotes interdisciplinary lenses to understand and approach social issues from multiple disciplines. In this study, the interdisciplinary lenses of anthropology and philosophy of law have significantly contributed to the themes and conclusions of this paper. Throughout the research, there are two sets of conclusions, the majority of discussion is from an anthropological standpoint followed by a brief discussion from a philosophy of law perspective.
The conclusions from both disciplines are similar in nature but both initiate two different discussions and conclusions in which one is related to the ethnographic study of the role of the imam and the Mosque in their community centers, and the other briefly examines the theoretical and philosophical approach to AODA. In the first section, I will do a critical analysis and discuss the findings and emerging themes from an anthropologist perspective. Then, I will construct the philosophical discussion on how AODA ought to be understood and implemented. At the end, I will establish a relation between the two disciplines in an original form of interdisciplinary approach to create grounds for further research.
Anthropological Lenses and Findings
Throughout the interview with Imams as well as data based on Mosques websites, annual reports, and Mosques bulletin, it significantly adds in outlining the role of the Imam and the Mosque in Canadian society. While comparing and contrasting the studied Mosques, I find it necessary to emphasize some of the similarities that are unique features, vision, objective, and mission statements, which are very often less noted in Mosques in Islamic states. These themes would not only help to better understand the role of the Mosques and the Imam but also help in comparing and contrasting some of the important literature and practices of these centers that would in turn help to initiate a new objective among all the Mosques, working toward much more inclusive centers and society to accommodate vulnerable groups of society.
Da wa Center or Community Center
Da wa is an Arabic word, and refers to preaching Islam. In Islamic states, there are several roles of the Mosque but one of the basic purposes of a Mosque is to offer a central place for worship, which includes daily prayers and congregation gatherings. On the other hand, a Mosque in a non-Islamic state according to a majority of Islamic scholars advances its services to promulgate the message of Islam and invite non-Muslims to Islam. The events, programs, and classes should focus on non-Muslim participants and attendees to deal with misconceptions as well discuss religious matters among different interfaith communities. Mosques are Islamic establishments that allow non-Muslims to research and learn about Islamic ideology, sciences, philosophy and simply the meaning of life based on Islamic teachings.
Mosques in Canadian society have the excellent opportunity to invite non-Muslims to information sessions and seminars in order to build communication with other communities. In addition, Western academia lacks knowledge on the position of Islamic centers and scholars on some of the contemporary issues, including topics of accessibility and accommodation for the vulnerable groups of society.
Based on this study, the current practices of the GTA Mosques vary from the traditional Mosques, which I find important to address to better understand the functioning of Mosques. The main participants and attendees of GTA Mosques are Muslims and the programs and events target the Muslim population. None of the studied Mosques offer any study circles or seminars for non-Muslims regarding Islamic education on a daily basis. Mosques in non-Islamic state are to be more accessible to non-Muslims to practice one of the main purposes of the Mosque in non-Islamic state. Instead, almost all the programs are in place to educate the Muslims from different ethnicities about Islam and citizenship in Canadian society.
The discussion is relevant to the role of the Mosque since a Mosque in non-Islamic state has multiple functions. The studied Imams emphasized the explanation for such multi tasks Islamic centers, that there is great need and demand from the Muslim communities. The reason that Mosques are increasingly playing an important role in the lives of Muslims in the west is due to sharing an identity and belonging to a place as their country of origin or that of their parents. A participant in the study by Saba S and Enses Ozyurt noted that, back home everybody is Muslim. You don t need to go to Mosque to pray, to strengthen your identity or to find like-minded people. Mosques in the west are much more interactive with its community at large. As discussed earlier, every Mosque represents mainly a specific ethnic group along with different minority groups. Inside the Mosque, the notion of brotherhood or brother for the sake of Allah is the key in promoting multiculturalism within the Muslim communities and the rest of the Canadian society. Thus, all studied Mosques have various nationality Muslims from different parts of the world, but there are no restrictions or limitations to a specific Mosque relating to a specific community.
The ethnic community establishes the center to serve the community in terms of religious aspect as well in various different matters related to the family, society, culture, and political life. Fredrik Barth notes that an ethnic boundary canalizes social life as each member of the ethnic group relates to each other based on sharing criteria of ethnic values. In other words, Barth argues that the membe