Sharia in Canada? Just Ask Mumtaz Ali
By J. D. Sturtridge
I am not a fan of the current Pope or any pope for that matter. So if all that
Mumtaz Ali did was insult the Pope – and he did grievously insult the Pope – I
would consider it nothing more than an example of deplorable manners. Besides,
the Pope doesn’t need me to defend him.
Ali, in case you’re wondering, wrote this: “Ayatollah Khomeini had condemned
Salman Rushdie because his book was considered blasphemous; the Pope condemned
Madonna for her provocative songs. As head of his respective religious
structure, each did what was expected of him by his followers. Any Muslim cleric
would have reacted to this book in the same manner as the Ayatollah; any
Catholic priest would have found Madonna’s songs distasteful.” (Ali, Apostasy)
True, the Pope probably doesn’t like Madonna’s work very much, but to suggest,
even slyly, and this is not that slyly, that the Pope is essentially the same as
Khomeini – a man who publicly counseled murder – is an insult of the highest
Still, if that was all that Ali did, I would pass without comment. But I can’t.
Mumtaz Ali is not just a retired Canadian lawyer with a penchant for outrageous
insults. He is, rather, a driving force behind an initiative that could
potentially deprive tens of thousands of Canadians of their most basic rights.
Mumtaz Ali, you see, is a Muslim who wants to establish a beachhead for Sharia –
Islamic law – in Canada, Sharia condoned and enforced by the Canadian legal
Mumtaz Ali, said to be the first Canadian lawyer to swear his oath of practice
on the Quran rather than the Bible (Rhijn, 2003) an oath that one might
reasonably expect entails a belief in and adherence to the Canadian legal
system, apparently has little or no use or respect for the very system that has
provided him a long and presumably lucrative livelihood. I base this on Ali’s
own words, published on-line in Apostasy and Blasphemy in Islam.
In “Chapter 8 – Some Pertinent Issues” Ali presents a shorthand version of his
beliefs. He prefaces a list of these ideas with the comment that, “The following
additional differences and distinctions between the Islamic and western
ideologies, philosophies of life and legal systems (including systems of
punishment) deserve particular attention.”
Paying attention to what he says is indeed illuminating with respect to the very
legal system he has been an active part and beneficiary of for his working life.
Below are some of Ali’s comments (capitals and italics are Ali’s):
Islam does not believe in the principle of separation of the spiritual and the
temporal, the sacred and the profane nor the church and the state.
The Islamic concept of PERSONAL FREEDOM is the complete opposite of western
thought. According to Islam, personal freedom is available and permissible only
in respect to matters which are NOT REGULATED by the injunctions and
prohibitions laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunnah, for these are expressions
of the inherent Divine Wisdom manifested through Divine Will.
Islam repudiates entirely the latest version of the philosophy of western
democracy in which the west accepts the absolute sovereignty of the people, the
absolute powers of legislation rest in the hands of the people, lawmaking is
their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of
Since he professes himself to be a good Muslim, I am left to question his
sincerity in his service to the Canadian legal system, a system that is
predicated on the separation of church and state, that is predicated on the will
of the people.
“Islam repudiates,” Ali says, and Ali is a faithful adherent to Islam. Still,
one might ferret out an idea of how to resolve, to some degree, this seeming
contradiction of swearing allegiance to a system that his religion repudiates.
There is apparently an Islamic version of render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,
to God what is God’s. Muslims living in non-Muslim states are enjoined to abide
by, as far as is possible for good Muslims, the laws of those states.
In a 1995 interview, Ali was asked where he stood on polygamy, a common practice
in Muslim states, but a hot-button issue in much of the West. Ali remarked: “I
stand on the Shariah which states that a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country
must obey Muslim Law to every extent possible, and that we must adhere to the
laws of the host country. Therefore, we accede to the Canadian law on this point
without accepting its superiority or supremacy over Muslim law.” (Mills, 1995)
Given that response, I don’t actually doubt that Ali worked quite appropriately
within the Canadian legal system. His own words, however, make it clear that Ali
is in no way a fan of Canada’s legal system. Indeed he is a prime mover behind
the recent push to sidestep Canadian practice by giving Sharia a measure of
official status in Canadian law.
In that same interview, Ali says the following: “Do you want to govern yourself
by the personal law of your own religion, or do you prefer governance by secular
Canadian family law? If you choose the latter, then you cannot claim that you
believe in Islam as a religion and a complete code of actualized life by a
Prophet who you believe to be a mercy to all.” (Mills, 1995)
If Ali was adhering to Canadian law while also recognizing Islamic law as
superior, and the one to which every good Muslim must attempt to adhere to, he
must have been tap dancing pretty much constantly. In drawing up something as
simple as a will, for example, would he have counseled his clients to draft a
will in ways that would reflect Canadian norms or Islamic law? Islam assumes
that a man is the provider for a woman, so that a son inherits, as a matter of
course, proportionally more than a daughter.
Really, there is little conflict in this simple example. In Canada people are
fully entitled to dispense with their property as they see fit so long as no
Canadian law is broken in the process. Disputes over wills, however, are legion,
and often the legal system is left to sort out the issues – to sort them out
according to Canadian legal norms.
This arrangement, however, is no longer good enough for Ali and others in the
Canadian Muslim community. They want personal family law (PFL) to reflect
specifically Islamic dictates for Canadian Muslims, and they want Canadian law,
initially Ontario’s Arbitration legislation, to sanction this. It is not enough
for them to allow individuals freedom of choice. Even mediation, in which
parties gather voluntarily to solve disputes in the presence of disinterested
parties, is given no value. For Ali, if mediation cannot force Canadian Muslims
to settle according to Islamic law, then mediation is of little consequence.
About mediation, Ali says, “From the point of view of the Canadian society of
Muslims and our campaign goals, mediation is a toothless form of conflict
resolution because it still does not address our needs for legislation to enact
Muslim PFL within the Canadian domain. (Mills, 1995)
Yet Ali still is trying to tread carefully. Polygamy is a hot-button issue, and
he has already side-stepped that by saying he an other Muslims will have to
“accede to Canadian law” on that. He suggests the same for child custody
disputes. Ali is quoted as saying, with respect to child custody, “We cannot use
that aspect because Canadian law is very sensitive to the interests of the child
and courts must decide custody.” (Jiminez, 2003)
The implication is that Sharia treatment of children is less “sensitive to the
interests of the child” that Canadian legal norms. However, I doubt Ali really
believes that, especially when recalling that any Muslim who chooses to govern
himself by “secular Canadian family law” is someone, according to Ali, “cannot
claim … [to] … believe in Islam as a religion and a complete code of actualized
life by a Prophet who you believe to be a mercy to all.”
Rather, it seems that Ali is going for what he can get. Care for children is
incorporated into Sharia, and Ali’s purpose is to extend Sharia into Canadian
life as far as possible. If that means – for now – ceding child custody to the
system he repudiates, fine. He has enough to do breaking down other repudiated
legal processes, processes like mediation.
Ali clearly doesn’t like mediation. He does, however, like binding arbitration.
In fact, binding arbitration is what Ali is after. He wants personal family law
for Canadian Muslims to be subject to binding arbitration based specifically on
Sharia principles. And he wants Canadian law to enforce his plan.
Given his apparent willingness to restrict his initiative so that sensitivities
such as those over polygamy or child custody are not abused (mostly, in my
opinion, so that opposition won’t be roused) you might think that is as far as
Ali wants to go. Think again.
Ali’s words over the years make it clear that a beachhead for Sharia in civil
law is only the beginning. He sees the international Muslim community as a
distinct society, and in Canadian political history, in the struggle with
Quebec, he sees an opportunity to make his beliefs real.
For starters, he suggests Canada needs to be “cured.” In his defense of Sharia
sanctions against blasphemy and apostasy – both punishable by death – Ali
discusses what he sees as differences between Islamic and western views of the
concept of the nation state. Ali says the following:
Islamic concepts of “State, nation/nationality,” “citizenship” and
“naturalization” are drastically different from these notions as we understand
and routinely use them in Western secular countries where they are defined as
follows: a nation” is defined as “a body of people recognized as an entity by
virtue of their historical, linguistic or ethnic links; a body of people united
under a particular political organization, and usually occupying a defined
territory.” And a “state” is defined as, “a self-governing political community
occupying its own territory; a partly autonomous member of a political
federation; the political organism as an abstract concept.” Islam came to class
these notions among the evil traits of humanity and tried to bring about a cure.
For Ali, the Islamic cure is religion, specifically Islam, and this is achieved
by claiming that Islam is a nationality: “What is the Islamic cure? Or to put it
another way: How different then is the Islamic concept? To start with, the basis
of the Islamic nationality is religious (sic) not political, ethnic, linguistic
or regional.” (Ali, Apostasy)
To some extent I share a sympathy here. Identity politics – the politics of
race, colour, nationality – seem historically to be corrosive by their nature.
But so, perhaps even more so, is religion. Catholic versus Protestant, Christian
versus Muslim, Hindu versus Sikh, none of these has resulted in lasting peace.
The idea the Islam will “cure” the problem – presumably by making everyone
Muslim – is more than a little disingenuous.
There would be far fewer conflicts around the world if everyone was Jewish, too.
Or Hindi. Or Buddhist. Or Catholic. But that is missing the point. Ali doesn’t
want to be in a Buddhist state, he wants all Muslims to be in a Muslim state,
one not bounded geographically, and he will start the creation of that
international state by demanding the acceptance of Sharia in Canadian law.
Ali and friends may be willing to start with personal family law, but it won’t
end there. In fact, Ali makes his case that Islamic punishment for blasphemy and
apostasy – death – is not only reasonable in Islamic countries, but in Canada,
too. He makes the argument that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
would accept this (the italicized phrases are Ali’s):
It is our position … that the limits prescribed by Islamic law, with regards to
blasphemy/apostasy, do satisfy both the Charter requirements: namely (i) the
Islamic limits are reasonable limits, and are (ii) demonstrably justified within
the meaning of Section 1 of the Charter on these grounds: a) The provision of
the Preamble regarding the supremacy of God, b) the constitutional obligation to
interpreted (sic) in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement
of the multicultural heritage of Canadians, c) that over one billion people
worldwide consider these limits to the freedom of speech/expression to be
reasonable, d) (i) what such a large segment of the Canadian minority believes
as a precept of their faith/religion ought to be fully recognized if the
Charter’s provision respecting freedom of religion are to have any real meaning.
(ii) Adherence to Islamic principles in this context, ought to be accepted as
sufficient enough to satisfy the Charter Requirement of demonstrable
justification. Recognition of Islamic standards of reasonable limits on the
freedom of speech does not necessarily entail any obligation to enforce the
Islamic punishment for blasphemy/apostasy within the Canadian jurisdiction.
The punishment Ali is arguing for is death. He is using the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms to suggest that Muslims in Canada should be subject to death
for either apostasy or blasphemy, although he is so open-minded as to suggest
that Canadian Muslims would not be obligated to kill one of their own.
This is the same man who is arguing for the acceptance of Sharia – in binding
arbitration – in Canadian personal family law, even if, for the moment, he can
live with restricting the initiative so that polygamy and child custody might
not be involved.
For some, I suppose, bending Ontario arbitration legislation to the point of
enforcing Islamic PFL may be a modest, even innocuous move. For Ali, who clearly
envisions an amorphous, international Islamic state divorced from any western
legal norms, this would be a huge first step.
List of Sources
Ali, Mumtaz. Apostasy and Blasphemy in Islam. Downloaded 23 March 2004 from the
Canadian Society of Muslims web site: http://muslim-canada.org/apostasy.htm
Interview: A review of the Muslim Personal/Family Law Campaign. (1995).
Coordinated by Rabia Mills. Downloaded 21 March 2004 from the Canadian
Society of Muslims web site: http://muslim-canada.org/pfl.htm
Van Rhijn, Judy. First Steps Taken Towards Sharia Law in Canada. (25 November
2003). Originally published in the Law Times. Downloaded on 10 March from
from the Vancouver Indymedia web site: