During the last decades the Muslim population has grown so fast in Canada that Islam has become the second largest religion after Christianity. The current number of Muslims stands over one million, representing about 3.2% of the Canadian population. The number of Muslims is predicted to triple by 2030 and will have significant impact on the Canadian society.
Muslims are concentrated in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Most of them can trace back their origin in India, Pakistan, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia and the Middle East. Quebec has a greater proportion of French-speaking Muslims from North Africa. Mauritians, being bilingual, can be found both in Ontario and Quebec. Apart from their heterogeneous origins, Canadian Muslims can be categorised as follows: descendants of immigrants to Canada in late 19th and early 20th centuries; recent immigrants; children of migrants born in Canada; and converts to Islam.
Between 1854-1931, the early batch of Muslims was essentially from Albania, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Turkey. Canada’s Muslim population until the break of the Second World War had reached around 600 souls. The first official mosque in North America was built in Edmonton, Alberta in 1938. The rapid increase in Muslim immigrants from other parts of the world started after the establishment of the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy in 1971.
Just like immigrants in general, Muslim migrants have been attracted to Canada for a variety of reasons, such as higher education opportunities, better employment prospects, superior quality of life and family reunification. But recently the flow of Muslim immigrants has been accelerated because of ethnic strife, persecution and civil wars in different parts of the world. In the 1980s, Canada became an important place of refuge for those fleeing the Lebanese civil war. In the 1990s, the Somali civil war and the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians boosted the flow of immigrants to Canada. This was further accentuated by desperate refugees fleeing from the bloody civil wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
There is no official religious discrimination in Canada. Muslims are free to practice their religion, build mosques, run halal restaurants and own cemetery. The wearing of hijab is permitted in schools and public places. The attendance level at the mosques for daily prayers remains high both among the men and women. These days there is a mushrooming of mosques, madrassahs, Halal restaurants, Muslim groceries and oriental dress shops in places like Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, Montreal and Ottawa. Even the non-Muslim businesses take the care to offer halal-labelled goods and services.
Although the Muslim immigrants are attached to their religion and come from different cultural backgrounds, they stand out as being among the most enthusiastic group of Canadian patriots. They are proud of being Canadian and they are making efforts to integrate into broader Canadian society rather remain distinct. The greatest source of their pride continues to be Canada’s freedom and democracy as well as its multiculturalism and diversity. However, the Canadian-born Muslims who belong to the second generation of the migrants’ community, appear to be the most integrated into the Canadian society. Yet they tend to visit mosques for prayer more frequently, ready to wear hijab and support the right to pray in schools. In general, Muslims identify themselves as both Muslim and Canadian, although the Muslim identity tends to predominate. Like the rest of the Canadians, the Muslims focus on economy and unemployment as the country’s most important issues. Muslims are on the average younger and better educated than Canadian-born white citizens. Yet they experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment.
The overwhelming majority of the Muslim population resides in the urban areas. They are adequately organized at local community level in terms of orientation for families and youths and outreach to non-Muslim audiences. However, there are several challenges confronting the Canadian Muslims. They are worried about how the media portrays negatively the Muslims in Canada. They are also worried about discrimination in Canada.
While Ontario contains some 61% of the entire Muslim population, other Federal states have 7% to 14% Muslim inhabitants. These percentages tend to indicate that the Muslims can emerge as a major electoral force in future. In the last Federal election held in October 2015, an overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims supported the Liberal party led by Justin Trudeau because of latter’s emphasis on tolerance and diversity. Members of the Muslim community got interested in volunteering, helping on election campaigns and opening their wallets to support candidates. In the 2015 Federal election, an unprecedented number of Canadian Muslims stood as candidates and eleven of them won, making it as the largest number of turnout in the Canadian history.
The Canadian Muslims are now looking to the future. The first generation of Muslim immigrants were engaged in socio-economic and religious affairs—finding employment, establishing a family, creating Islamic institutions like mosques, community centres, cemeteries, funeral homes and madrassahs. They kept away from political activities. Now the new generation is becoming assertive and is keen to get involved politically. On the other hand, the Muslim youth is more than ready to go to University, finish the professional education and become competitive wit others in the mainstream society for leadership roles, not just within the Muslim community but in the larger interest of Canada.