Canadian Islamists face increasing internal dissent over involvement with public figures accused of “normalizing” the state of Israel.
In December, at the Reviving Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto, popular American Islamic preacher Hamza Yusuf faced disruptions from the crowd, with one protestor even setting off the fire alarm. Yusuf was targeted, critics claim, because of his involvement with the United Arab Emirates, which signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in 2020.
(The UAE has also spent the last decade opposing the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that underpins a significant number of Canada’s leading Sunni Muslim institutions).
Critics do not just level their fury at Yusuf, however. Islamist activists also accuse leading organizations such as the Reviving Islamic Spirit (RIS) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) of being “Zionist” themselves. Ghada Sasa, a prominent radical activist, warns that ISNA is in thrall to Zionists and “is extremely corrupt worldwide.”
In an echo of campaigns by Islamists in the United States to oppose President Biden over his support for Israel, Canadian Islamists are also denouncing involvement with (ostensibly) pro-Israel politicians.
In November, Sasa posted footage of her “confront[ing] ISNA execs for privately meeting w/ the Zionist leader Pierre Poilievre [Canadian Conservative Party leader] in the mosque.”
Additional footage was elsewhere posted of other activists confronting ISNA leaders after Poilievre was supposedly “sneaked out of the ISNA mosque.”
In Toronto, Prime Minister Trudeau was reportedly prevented from carrying out a mosque visit over his support for Israel, leading other mosques to assure congregants that other such visits would not go ahead.
Activists such as Sasa are guided by a curious mix of progressivism and Islamism. She has denounced groups such as the Muslim Association of Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims for “greenlighting genocide” in Palestine while “[remaining] silent as many Muslims turned on our LGBT siblings.”
Not all dissent comes from this niche ideological position, however. Hardline traditionalists have also expressed their fury. In Vancouver, for instance, prominent mosque leader Haroon Khan has been denounced by Salafi-leaning activists after he allowed politicians to speak at his mosque.
Hamza Malik, a local activist, denounced Khan’s invitation to a “liberal Muslim MP,” while also despairing that Khan was quoted expressing sympathy for “Jewish brothers and sisters. Malik raged: “We have local Muslim ‘leaders’ like Haroon of Vancouver Jamia masjid in our midst…. cozying up with Z*onist Rabbis and pro-Isr*eli politicians to condemn the fabricated H*mas civilian attacks, that have been routinely debunked as fake news. … I condemn such pathetic and spineless Muslim leadership in the wake of such atrocity propaganda.”
Meanwhile, Imran Yaqub, head of the Abu Bakr Islamic Society in the city of Surrey, accused Khan of “collaborating with those who enable genocide.” Elsewhere, Yaqub warns: “This is the time to monitor those who like to sit with us, visit our mosques and claim to be our allies.”
Curiously, some collaboration appears acceptable: Yaqub has since accepted a generous grant from the Canadian government on behalf of his mosque. The public monies were handed over despite Yaqub’s overtly radical public statements.
Others mosques and Canadian Muslim institutions facing fury for giving “platforms” to politicians who “refuse to condemn murder of Muslim babies in Gaza” include the Muslim Association of Hamilton, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, the Islamic Society of Markham, and Human Concern International.
Public Muslim figures such as Canada’s ambassador to Kuwait, and Trudeau’s Islamophobia envoy, have also faced condemnation.
There are multiple ideological forces at work here. Activists such as Sasa denounce Muslims who “fetishize Palestinians,” only opposing Israel “because of Al Aqsa” and ignoring the “anti-colonial struggle.” Purists, meanwhile, are pushing back against Leftist influence, pouring scorn on “decolonial identity politics.”
As Umar Lee noted in his recent article for Focus on Western Islamism, not all of this is about Israel; but competing Islamist ideologies looking to assert control over Western Muslim communities, “using the October 7th attacks not as a crisis for the ummah, but as an opportunity to build their brands.”