Whether in offhand conversation or in media reports, the concept of “Islam” tends to be treated as a monolithic idea in Canada. The word too often becomes shorthand for a reductively narrow set of beliefs, represented by its most zealous and intransigent proponents.
In truth, Islam is no more (or less) rigid and uniform than Christianity or Buddhism. It ranges across a swathe of countries and cultures from south-east Asia through the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East to Africa and Mediterranean Europe—not to mention growing communities in inhospitable climes like Scandinavia and Canada. Its true meaning is as vexed and elusive as that of any other set of beliefs shared and disputed by large numbers of followers. There are Shiites, Sunnis, Sufis, and more, each with their own interpretations. For every regime of hardline mullahs, there is a pluralistic and tolerant vision of Islam, like that of the Indian Mughals. Talking about the ethnic hodgepodge of Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, Abdallah, a Djiboutian Muslim, tosses off metaphors for multiculturalism: bees gathering pollen from different flowers, a store attracting customers by offering various products. In a certain light, Islam too could serve as such a metaphor. As its manifold forms around the world reveal, it is as much a blueprint for diversity as a recipe for authoritarianism. – DD