Glad to be Canadian, Muslims say

Ottawa, Canada - More than 80 per cent of Canada's roughly 700,000 Muslims are broadly satisfied with their lives here and only a very small percentage — 17 per cent — feel that many or most Canadians are hostile toward their religion.

According to a new Environics poll conducted in association with the CBC, a much larger proportion of Canadian Muslims is satisfied with the way things are going today than is the case in Europe. The proportion is greater even than the 61 per cent of Canadians who generally feel their lives are on the right track.

At the same time, there are clearly different perceptions between the Muslim community and other Canadians over such flashpoint issues as integration, the role of women and the wearing of headscarves.

And despite intensive efforts by the Stephen Harper government to reach out and recruit prominent Muslims to its cause — witness the recent floor-crossing of former Liberal MP Wajid Khan — there is little sense that this is yet taking hold.

Asked whom they intend to vote for in the next federal election, 54 per cent of Muslim respondents said the Liberals, 13 per cent said NDP, and only seven per cent said the Conservatives, which is virtually the same way they voted in the last election.

These are some of the key findings of a wide-ranging new survey of Muslim attitudes in Canada as well as attitudes toward them.

The survey — conducted by Environics Research Group in conjunction with the CBC and other clients — interviewed 500 Canadian Muslims and 2,045 members of the general population between Nov. 30, 2006 and Jan. 5, 2007 and is said to be accurate within 4.4 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points respectively, 19 times out of a 20.

In general terms, the poll found that 73 per cent of Canadian Muslims describe themselves as "very proud" to be called Canadians, even if many of them see their religion as coming first in certain instances. As well, they have very little sympathy for extremists or terrorist groups and they aren't crazy about the northern climate — it tops the list of things they like least.

Asked about the arrests last summer of the 18 Muslim men and boys who were allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in southern Ontario, 73 per cent of the Muslim respondents said these attacks were not at all justified and 82 per cent said they had no sympathy for those who wanted to carry them out.

"The good news," says Environics vice-president Keith Neuman, is that despite everything that's gone on over the past few years, "these numbers do not suggest a minority that is feeling isolated and resentful."

Canada's Muslims have different priorities, the poll suggests. Unemployment and immigration issues are more important to them than the health care and environmental concerns that are driving other Canadians.

There are also differences over how much and to what extent minority communities should "blend in" with the Canadian norm.

Almost half (49 per cent) of the general Canadian population feel new immigrants should blend in with the rest of the country, while 40 per cent feel they should be encouraged to maintain their religious and cultural practices. For Canadian Muslims, these numbers are 15 and 65 per cent respectively.

The differences are more pronounced when it comes to women: 81 per cent of non-Muslim Canadians feel ethnic minorities should adapt to mainstream Canadian beliefs about the rights and roles of women, whereas only 36 per cent of Canadian Muslims feel that way, the poll suggests.

A majority of the Muslim respondents (53 per cent) would also like to see Islamic Sharia law adopted for divorce and other family disputes, and a much larger number, 86 per cent, of Canadian Muslims do not feel governments should ban the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women in public, including public schools.

Many of these concerns are more strongly backed by young Muslims under 30, the survey suggests, and Haideh Moghissi, a York University sociologist who has worked extensively in this area, says these should probably be seen as more of a "political gesture than a religious one" by those who have felt their community "bearing the brunt of this suspicion and fear" since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In fact, almost 60 per cent of Muslim women do not wear any kind of covering on a regular basis, the survey found. And 72 per cent of the respondents said they were not too worried or not worried at all about Muslim women taking on more modern roles in Canadian society.