Last June 7th, at 8 pm, a very special event was held in downtown Montreal, on St. Catherine Street. St. James Church, in collaboration with the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) organized a meal and prayer event entitled « Sous la tente du Ramadan » (Under the Ramadan Tent) in the open space in front of the church, to celebrate breaking the Ramadan fast at sunset.
Loudspeakers were used for the event, broadcasting the call to prayer and reciting Koranic verses, and passers-by were invited to participate. The event was thus a public one, inciting the public to participate in a religious celebration: in other words, an act of proselytism.
St. James church in Montreal is affiliated with the United Church of Canada (UCC), an institution which prides itself on being much more open, modern and progressive than most other churches—that is to say, it is much less Christian than most Christians, and by less Christian I mean that it has distanced itself from the more retrograde aspects of Christianity. In particular, the UCC is very proud of its openness with respect to gays and other sexual minorities. The UCC has allowed for the ordination of homosexual ministers since 1988.
However, as a Christian church, the UCC belongs to a very old obscurantist tradition, a tradition which is misogynistic, homophobic and fundamentally backward. Now this Church, more than a half-century after its foundation in 1925 and two millenia after the beginnings of the religious tradition to which it belongs, suddenly discovered the existence of homophobia and decided that something must be done about it. The Church therefore launched a process of self-de-homophobication (if I may be permitted the neologism), that is to say, the process of curing a major affliction whose cause was none other than the Christian tradition to which the Church itself belongs. The UCC brags about its non-homophobia, but it was a direct result of the efforts of gay activists themselves that the UCC was finally forced to confront its Christian homophobia. Without the gay movement, the United Church of Canada would never have taken that step.
The Muslim Association of Canada, on the other hand, has a very different profile. On its web site the MAC indicates that its roots can be traced to the early 20th century revivalist movement which culminated in the writings of Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood which he founded. The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamentalist and anti-secular politico-religious movement whose history includes several episodes of armed struggle and is considered by several countries to be a terrorist organization. Although the MAC is distinct from the Muslim Brotherhood—its web site contains several statements of support for “modernity,” “pluralism” and “Canadian values”—nevertheless its declaration of allegiance to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder is hardly reassuring.
Street prayers constitute a form of proselytism. One may reject that assertion—if one is willingly blind or in bad faith—claiming that no-one could possibly be converted either to Islam or Christianity as a result of the June 7th event. However, the ideology promoted by that event is neither of those religions, but rather the para-religion known as multiculturalism, an ideology which tightly associates each individual with his or her ethno-religious community, so that the affiliation becomes an inescapable aspect of the individual’s identity, whether he or she likes it or not. Anyone who does not understand that is already a convert to multiculturalism, and that prejudice renders them blind to the otherwise obvious proselytism.
In practical terms, multiculturalism amounts to a multifaith approach, where priority is given to one’s ethno-religious community, i.e. the community of one’s coreligionists with whom one shares the same imaginary friend in the sky.
This proselytizing multiculturalism is to be expected from the United Church of Canada. The empty-headed Christian optimism and the exaggerated “tolerance”—which ultimately leads to extreme intolerance—are both the stock in trade of multiculturalism and a caracteristic of the mentality of the UCC. After all, the UCC is the largest protestant Christian church in Canada and is at the heart of the Canadian religious left—a left which is regressive and islamophile.
During the 2015 federal election campaign, while the niqab controversy was making headlines, the Moderator of the UCC, Jordan Cantwell, made a declaration denouncing the so-called “islamophobia” of those who, very reasonably, wanted face-coverings to be banned during citizenship ceremonies. The mere fact that she used the deceptive term “islamophobia” is enough to illustrate the intellectual sloth of this religious leader. But worse, she displayed voluntary stupidity in making accusations of intolerance against those who are simply attempting to minimize the influence of that very dangerous extreme right-wing ideology Islamism.
Street prayers are not only a form of proselytism, they are also a provocation. The message which such an event sends to the public is this: this public space belongs to us, to us who pray; we are occupying it and will inevitably make it our own; resistance is futile. If there happened to be any Algerian refugees in the vicinity of the event—refugees who had fled Algeria during the 1990s, that period made bloody by the ravages of Islamist extremism—then they would undoubtedly have been traumatized by the sight of such blatant Muslim prayers in the street. Such acts are precursers of much more alarming political action.
Religion must remain a private affair. St. James Church could have held this joint activity inside the church building, or behind it, far from the street. By choosing to use the front of the building, St. James gave its endorsement to this act of provocation. Did the City of Montreal approve the holding of this event? Was a permit obtained for the use of the sound system which imposed the religious ceremony on passers-by on this public thoroughfare?
Less than a week after this public religious function, the homophobic attack in Orlando took place (June 12th). St. James Church held a solidarity event one week after the “tragedy.” On the web site of the Muslim Association of Canada, a press release denounces the violent attack but makes no attempt to identify either the victims (gays) or the ideology (religious homophobia of the Muslim variety) which motivated the attack.
Did St. James church make any effort to verify the policies of the Muslim Association of Canada before entering into a partnership with that association? Did the church at least ask representatives of MAC whether they respected humans rights—in particular the rights of sexual minorities and of women—given that MAC’s attachment to the values of fundamentalist Islam would lead us to suspect that the exact opposite could be true?
What is the value of taking a position against homophobia, as the UCC has done, a position on which it prides itself, when, by its actions, it endorses such a dubious organization as the MAC? How can it be progressive to denigrate those who oppose extremism, as did the Moderator of the UCC? What we have here are two obvious examples of the phenomenon of so-called “moderate” religious believers opening the door for fundamentalists.
We invite you to sign the petition: « Arrêtons les prières de rue à Montréal, nous voulons vivre en harmonie! » (Stop street prayers in Montreal; we want to live in harmony!)