For Muslim Canadians, the fallout from 9/11 was personal

The oddest thing was having to prove her community didn't approve of madmen, terrorists and bombings, one young woman recalls.

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Fortunately for Khan, that fear proved groundless in each of the three provinces he's called home, including his current city of Edmonton. The experience, however, did force him to ponder the complex dynamics at play in Canada's Muslim community.

His former schoolmates who turned extremist were driven by a powerful sense of isolation and humiliation, he said, adding their views were fuelled by turbulent politics in the Middle East combined with subtle snubs at home.

Khan and his friends, however, took a different path. The tragedy of Sept. 11 proved beyond a doubt that fundamentalist doctrine had no place in mainstream society, he said.

"From what I've seen amongst my own friends ... before, they might have had some kind of sympathy with Osama Bin Laden and everybody else,'' he said. "Seeing that there's absolutely no success, there's absolutely no divine support, I have to think the sympathy for him has completely waned away.''

Questions of identity also dogged Ali and Massa as they came of age in the post-911 era.

Ali said she questioned her faith more critically in her teens and now calls her belief in Islam a "more salient'' part of her identity.

The issue runs even deeper for Massa, who said the systemic distrust of Islam she believes has crept into Canadian culture has made her question the relationship between the religion she practices and the country she calls home.

Massa feels particularly threatened by legislation banning traditional Islamic attire, such as a proposed bill in Quebec that seeks to ban the use of the face-covering burka or niqab when providing or receiving public services.

The law -- which has languished in Quebec's National Assembly for months -- would ban women from receiving government services while wearing the burka or niqab, which cover the face. Some Quebec legislators want the proposed ban extended to all religious symbols, such as the Sikh ceremonial dagger known as the kirpan.

Such attitudes trouble Massa.

"What exactly is Canadian identity? I thought it was about being Canadian and being able to continue your religious or cultural traditions and having the freedom to do that,'' she said.

"Those sorts of things are slowly being taken away. It's a small minority of my community that is under fire right now, but I fear that those types of things will be extended.''

Not all Muslims have felt the sting of victimization.

Amir Shahzada, a Toronto cab driver who moved to Canada in 2002, said he has never experienced discrimination during his time in North America.

"I'm driving a cab for almost five, six, seven years, and I have a lot of people, different mentality people ... They are very good,'' he said.

Sohail Raza, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, says any tensions that exist can be traced back to the Muslim community rather than the rest of Canada.

Mosque leaders have capitalized on the notion of Islamophobia, convincing Muslims they are under attack and driving the community towards fundamentalism, he said.

"I'm free to critique Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, but why am I not able to take any critique on myself?'' he said. "(Mosque leaders) get away with that. They play with the human rights issue. They play with freedom of speech. They have infiltrated institutions just to harm Canada.''

Massa disagrees, saying the post-9-11 years have encouraged more Muslims to educate themselves on the tenets of their religion and question teachings handed down from family members or community leaders.

Still, she said, Muslims should be allowed to grapple with identity questions and sort out their internal differences without judgment or interference from the rest of Canada.

"I'm the first person to criticize the actions of my own community, but I think that is a discussion we have to have as a community.''

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