30 MORE | Night 14 – “This is the last I’ll be commenting on the matter. Proud we did the right thing.” – Mayor Bonnie Crombie – City of Mississauga

Mississauga is right to stand against intolerance

 
By Star Editorial Board

Wed., May 6, 2020

 

City councillors in Mississauga did a good and generous thing last week when they gave permission for local mosques to broadcast the evening call to prayer during the month of Ramadan.

It was a simple yet meaningful gesture at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic makes it impossible for Muslims to gather together physically at their places of worship. “People need comfort and familiarity during this difficult time,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie said by way of explanation.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie seen at a Nov. 18 budget committee meeting.

That should have been the end of it. But, as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. For their trouble, councillors were subjected to a barrage of abuse on social media, so much so that they felt they had to revisit the issue on Wednesday.

To their credit, they reaffirmed their decision to allow an exemption to noise bylaws during Ramadan this year. Muslims who aren’t able to go to their mosque can hear the evening call to prayer, or Azan, broadcast through loudspeakers.

It would, of course, have been quite wrong to back down in the face of the complaints, even under the guise of “consulting” further with various parts of the community.

Allowing a temporary exemption from a noise bylaw for a few weeks, for a call to prayer that lasts less than five minutes, is just the decent thing to do at a time when everyone is trying to make the best of a tough time.

Many other cities have done the same thing — Toronto, Hamilton, Brampton, Ottawa and Windsor among them. Halifax and Edmonton, too.

In Europe, Germany and the Netherlands have also allowed amplified prayers during Ramadan to ease the pain of Muslims denied permission to get together in person at a time when family and community gatherings are most important.

The good news is that this has been, for the most part and in most places, quite uncontroversial. In Toronto, city staff simply decided on their own to make an exemption from noise bylaws until the end of Ramadan on May 24.

Nor should it be controversial. Church bells can be heard every Sunday, and anyone complaining about those would rightly be considered an intolerant crank. And everyone, of every religious persuasion or none at all, must put up with weeks of Christmas music everywhere they turn from Halloween to the end of year.

Yet somehow, for some people, the prospect of hearing the sunset call to prayer from a mosque is apparently intolerable. An open letter circulating online called hearing the Muslim call to prayer a “violation of human rights” and even suggested it might trigger PTSD in veterans who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq. It garnered thousands of signatures in support.

In Brampton, the chair of a school council, Ravi Hooda by name, used the occasion to tweet insulting comments about Muslims (for that Peel Region School Board booted him from his position). And a column in the Toronto Sun sounded an alarm about “Sharia-Bolsheviks” who want to “change our society permanently.”

It’s worth noting, though, that this loud and intolerant minority is far from the complete picture. The Interfaith Council of Peel, a group of religious leaders ranging from Buddhists to Unitarians, supported Mississauga’s decision with these words: “Rather than thinking of this simple action as divisive or favouring one group over another, may it be a reminder that members of our community are deeply missing each other.”

That’s about the size of it. Allowing a temporary exemption to a noise bylaw, at what all agree is a time of unprecedented challenges, threatens no one and takes away nothing from any community.

If we are truly, as the current slogan goes, “all in this together,” we can start by abandoning needless suspicion and doing what we can to make life a little better for our fellow citizens — of whatever background.

 

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