Toronto's anti-Semitic madrassah
A Toronto Islamic school under police investigation over its “anti-Semitic” curriculum has apologized to the Jewish community and promised to review its teaching materials following an outcry.
The East End Madrassah acknowledged in a press release that passages of its educational texts that referred to “crafty” and “treacherous Jews” and contrasted Islam with “the Jews and the Nazis” were a mistake.
But the apology did not end the controversy. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters on Tuesday he was pleased the matter was being probed by police and school board officials. “There is no room for hatred or intolerance in this province,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jewish groups said they were not satisfied with the school’s response, and neither was Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. “It’s not a matter of reviewing materials,” he said. “This is hatred. This is poison. This type of material has no place in our classrooms, no place in the province.”
The East End Madrassah rents space every Sunday in a high school owned by the Toronto District School Board. The madrassa said in a statement it had operated for almost 40 years and had taught thousands of Muslim students.
“Our curriculum is not intended to promote hatred towards any individual or group of people, rather the children are taught to respect and value other faiths, beliefs and to uphold Canada’s basic values of decency and tolerance,” it said.
But last Thursday, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sent an email to a Toronto Islamic centre affiliated with the school to complain about “anti-Semitic material” in the curriculum documents.
The Friends also filed a complaint with the York Region Police Hate Crimes Unit, which has launched an investigation. The Toronto school board said it would “take appropriate action” once police have finished their probe.
“We unreservedly apologize to the Jewish community for the unintentional offence that the item has caused,” the school responded in a statement. “Our team of scholars has already undertaken to review all texts and material being used in the curriculum to ensure that our teachings are conveying the right message.”
The school principal did not respond to an email from the National Post asking whether the review would examine sections of the curriculum dealing with jihad and the participation of girls in sports.
Before it was taken off the school website, the curriculum advised boys to physically train so they are “ready for jihad whenever the time comes for it.” It explained that, “jihad means struggle. It means to fight in the way of Allah. Islam believes that we should be able to defend ourselves if an enemy attacks us.”
It also suggested that girls limit their involvement in physical exercise and sports, and instead “involve themselves in the activities and hobbies, which will be helpful for them in the future as wives and mothers.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said while the apology was “a welcome first step,” it did not resolve the concerns. “The real issue is that public school facilities appear to have been used as a platform to promote a curriculum that is fundamentally inconsistent with Canadian values.
“We will continue engaging the school board to ensure that they review the curriculum and any associated programming, and take appropriate action,” said David Spiro, the group’s Greater Toronto co-chair.
Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the school’s response was not enough. “In order to regain public trust, they need to convince us the problem is not systematic and institutionalized.”
The school is one of three affiliated with the Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat, an Islamic centre that once demanded the Ontario government apologize for hosting Salman Rushdie, the British author condemned to death by Iran over his book The Satanic Verses.
More recently, the centre’s resident scholar complained in a sermon posted online that the West was “hyping the whole world up” against Iran over its nuclear program, adding, “this is all because of this fellow sitting in the Middle East, Israel.”
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press