Exploring the faith

An outside look into the impact of extremism on Islam

Two weeks ago the country was shaken by the deaths of two men in uniform. 

On Monday, Oct. 20, warrant officer Patrice Vincent was run down in Montreal, and on Wednesday, Oct. 22, a gunman shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo who was guarding the National War Memorial. 

The shooting appeared to have ties to radical Muslim extremists, prompting Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call it a terrorist attack on the country. 

Following these events, a mosque in Cold Lake, Alta. was vandalized with spray-painted words reading “go home.”

To find out how the Muslim community in Winnipeg has been impacted, I meet with Idris Knapp, executive director of Winnipeg Central Mosque. Having never entered a mosque before, I find it to be a wide open space, which feels extremely comfortable. Knapp is very comforting and welcomes my presence in the building. 

These are all violent misrepresentations of faith. Any faith. It is a distortion of just human values when people don’t want peace.

Irdis Knapp, executive Director of Winnipeg Central Mosque.

“Muslims know and recognize this for what it is,” Knapp says regarding the community’s initial reaction. “Though a lot of non-Muslims would probably think ‘why are these people even associating themselves as Muslims, is there something inherit in the faith?’” 

That thought is pretty accurate among some conversations I’ve had with non-Muslim people. 

“These are all violent misrepresentations of faith. Any faith,” Knapp explains. “It is a distortion of just human values when people don’t want peace.

“The news media, the political decisions, everything, jumps on board and says: this is Islam,” Knapp says of the misrepresentations.

Talking to Knapp, I learn how Islam is a peaceful and loving faith. However, he also acknowledges the existence of an extremist mindset. 

“There’s obviously mental health issues, there’s a lot more things behind an extremists ideology.” 

I then speak with Michelle Morand, founder of Cedric Centre for Counselling Inc. to find out more about the relationship between extremism and mental health. She says extremism comes from the “cultural indoctrination of a belief system that others perceive as extreme.”

Her very detailed answer gave me insight to how extremism and mental health can be connected, but not noticed. 

“From the perspective of those raised in these belief systems they are a fact not to be questioned,” she says. “These extremists are not insane or mentally unwell by the standards of their culture or by the ability of their brains to think rationally when presented with reasonable options for a solution to a problem.”

Two Muslim students at the U of W told me the association of Islam to ISIS is insulting to the Muslim community. Both students asked to remain anonymous but were passionate in their belief that extremists are distorting not only the faith, but the reputation that follows. 

On the other side of the spectrum, YouTuber Omar Albach set out to discover what impact this has on Canadians by conducting a social experiment.

In a hidden camera video, a man dressed in traditional Muslim fashion is harassed by a man in typical street clothes saying he “looks like a terrorist.” Nearly everyone in the video explains to the harasser that it is not okay to make assumptions based on a faith. 

Canadians generally are an accepting culture, and it’s nice to see that after such tragic events we can, as Knapp says,  “recognize this for what it is.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 5, 2014)

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