Islamic Law Courts Test Boundaries of Tolerance in Canadian Society

August 5, 2004

Source: The New York Times

On August 5, 2004 The New York Times reported, "If the kimono or chicken curry eventually join the maple leaf, the hockey stick and the beaver as Canadian icons, then so be it. Thus goes the thinking of multiculturalism, the official doctrine of the government for nearly 50 years, and by now a value ingrained on the broader society. The minaret has been welcome, too, in this otherwise secular society where fewer and fewer people go to church but more than a hundred mosques have cropped up in recent years. But even here, tolerance has its limits, and the question of where to draw the line can be a tricky one, especially when an increasing number of immigrants come from societies with vastly different values. A group called the Canadian Society of Muslims is testing those boundaries by establishing the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to apply the legal code called Shariah, based on the Koran, to settle disputes over property, inheritance, marriage and divorce. The prospect of Shariah's operating openly here has already stirred a powerful controversy centering on an uncomfortable issue for any liberal society with an expanding Muslim population that now numbers 600,000: Can a predominately Judeo-Christian society trust Islamic religious rules to protect the rights of all individuals? The Muslim group is acting under an Ontario provincial law passed in 1991 that gave religious authorities the power to arbitrate civil matters as long as the people seeking arbitration do so voluntarily and are free to appeal those decisions in Canadian courts."