Examining Islam: Kamloops Imam Mazhar Mahmood on his religion and the media’s coverage of radicalization
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An imam who oversees religious services for Muslims in Kamloops revealed he received threats in the wake of the Ottawa shooting last month that left a Canadian soldier dead.
Imam Mazhar Mahmood said he received a number of emails following the Oct. 22 shooting death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Mahmood spoke recently at Thompson Rivers University on Islam and the politics of reporting terrorism.
In an interview following the event, Mahmood described two of the half-dozen message as “full of hatred” and others as mean-spirited.
His message to the more than 100 people gathered at the university’s International Building was to distance his religion from the violent acts undertaken by people like Zehaf-Bibeau.
“This is not out of a love of Islam,” he said of the attack on the Parliament buildings.
“The young man [Zehaf-Bibeau] was going through many problems. This wasn’t an act of terrorism. It was an act of crime.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke after Cirillo’s death, calling his killing an act of terror. Security at Parliament is being beefed up and Mounties are wearing guns while dressed in Red Serge in wake of the shooting— just two measures to increase Canada’s security.
Bill Sundhu, the NDP’s federal candidate in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo in next year’s election, stood during a question-and-answer period to declare the word terrorism has “little or no meaning at all.”
Its use, he said, allows politicians to stoke fears and reduce liberties, noting it can also result in hate crimes directed at ethnic groups.
“It was a crime,” Sundhu said of the Ottawa shooting. “Let’s call them what they are — crimes.”
In September, KTW reported on a former TRU volleyball player from Calgary, Collin Gordon, who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria and travelled to the Middle East with his brother.
It is believed Collin Gordon became radicalized after leaving TRU and Kamloops and returning to Calgary.
A Muslim representative in Kamloops said at the time he was not familiar with Gordon, who attended TRU in the 2008-2009 school year.
Mahmood said his intention, if reports surface of a “radicalized” Muslim, is to report them to RCMP, something he said is agreed upon by Muslim leaders across Canada.
“I’d want to meet that person and find out if rumours are true,” Mahmood said. “If true, the next step would be to report to the RCMP.”
Mahmood, 25, moved to the Kamloops Ayesha Mosque in Knutsford earlier this year. Born and raised in Toronto, he oversees a community of about 60 Muslim families and as many as 400 students attending TRU.
He joked many in the Muslim community here call him “just a little boy.”
The local imam emphasized teachings in theQur’an that denounce killing, but he was also challenged to defend those that mention cutting off hands and execution, for example.
“There are many verses portrayed negatively, but they are out of context,” Mahmood said.
“I tell people there are negative verses in the Qur’an, just as in other books. But, and this is the big but, lots of them are taken out of context.”
Mahmood said religious leaders have a responsibility to guide people, adding Canadians should denounce the killing of innocent people wherever it is found.
Asked about the Canadian government’s decision to send F-18 jets to fight ISIL in Iraq, Mahmood said he believes the danger is further radicalizing people and killing of innocents during military operations.
“When we send in fighter jets, nothing is resolved,” he said. “People who are radicalized or extreme become even more extreme.”