By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
When it comes to Muslims, Metro Vancouver continues to shatter the kinds of stereotypes that tend to frighten people.
This metropolis of 2.1 million people is developing its own unique Muslim community, with a particular eclectic style and pluralistic attitudes.
The Muslim populations of Canada and Metro Vancouver are expected to triple by 2031, according to both Statistics Canada and last week's major Pew Forum report, titled The Future of the Global Muslim Population.
Yet, even though such projections raise worries that a Muslim juggernaut is set to take over the country, the kind of Muslim community emerging in Metro Vancouver is anything but monolithic.
There is no doubt the religious face of B.C. has changed a great deal since 1971, when the census reported the province had only 1,335 Muslims.
But even though the number of Metro Vancouver Muslims is expected to rise to 230,000 in two decades (to six per cent of the population), the city's Islamic community will likely continue to be a highly diverse collection of people hailing from scores of nations.
The last thing West Coast residents can expect to see is city streets teeming with hijab-wearing women, or calls by one powerful, uniform group of conservative Muslims for Canadians to follow strict Shariah law.
Mosques in Metro Vancouver operate relatively independently of one another, with no single ethnic group dominating.
Walking into a Metro Vancouver mosque is a bit like entering a United Nations forum. It is common to see Muslims worshipping together from dozens of different countries, usually with English as their only shared language.
Simon Fraser University professor Derryl MacLean is among those who predict that immigration patterns will continue to give us an incredibly varied Muslim population.
Without arguing that Metro Vancouver is giving birth to an "idyllic" Islamic community, the head of SFU's Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies says the way the region's Muslims are developing is unlike anywhere else, including Toronto and Montreal.
Figures from Statistics Canada show that the single largest source of Muslims coming to Metro Vancouver is the country of Iran, followed by Pakistan, India and the region of East Africa.
But Muslims of these nationalities mix with many Canadian-born Muslims, as well as those from dozens of other countries, such as Fiji, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq, Kosovo, Serbia, Sri Lanka, the U.S., Indonesia, Britain and more.
Unlike in many parts of the world, Metro Vancouver's varied mosques are co-run by an assortment of ethnic groups who have not been able to impose one ethnic norm or language, said MacLean, who contributed a chapter on Muslims to the helpful new book Asian Religions in British Columbia (UBC Press).
As I also sometimes emphasize in writing about religion and diversity, MacLean stresses that many Canadians need to get over the stereotype that anyone who calls themselves "Muslim" practises the religion of Mohammed with intense devotion.
At least half of the Muslims in Metro Vancouver, MacLean suggests, are similar to the majority of Canadians who call themselves "Christian" but only show up at churches for weddings and funerals, and maybe Easter.
Indeed, based on his long involvement with the city's Muslims, MacLean agreed it's possible that less than half of Metro Vancouver's self-identified Muslims are devout, regular attenders of mosques.
For instance, most ethnic Iranians, who make up about 25,000 of the province's roughly 100,000 Muslims, have developed an antipathy to organized Islam because of the way hard line ayatollahs abuse political power in their homeland.
Any likelihood that Metro Vancouver's diverse Muslims might develop into an overwhelming force is also softened by the fact that the city's Muslims hail from three highly different Islamic traditions: Sunni, Shia and Ismaili.
MacLean further points out that many of the Muslims who first came to Metro Vancouver are ethnic Indians from Eastern Africa and Fiji, where Islam is not the majority religion.
MacLean calls them "second diaspora" Muslims, because their ancestors had already left their homelands before they made their later expeditions to Canada.
"Second-diaspora Muslims don't idolize where they come from," MacLean said, and they don't hold onto "myths" about returning home.
"This large group of Muslims has acquired a certain taste for Canadian multiculturalism."
With its large numbers of immigrants, Metro Vancouver remains one of the world's most intriguing inter-religious social laboratories.
For all these reasons and more, there is a good chance the face of Islam in this city will continue to be unlike that witnessed anywhere else.
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