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Why Was Muslim Graduation Banned from Hasidic Montreal?

Officials in the Montreal borough of Outremont — which includes a sizeable Orthodox Jewish population — are defending a last-minute decision this weekend to nix a reception hosted by a Muslim organization at a city-owned community center.

According to the Montreal Gazette, borough mayor Marie Cinq-Mars told reporters the event was presented as a graduation ceremony for a language school.

But Quebec’s French-language TVA News reported on Friday that Minnesota-based Mishkah University — aka the North American Sharia Academy — was behind the event, and that “two imams with fundamentalist views, Salah Assawy and Omar Shahin, would host.” Imam Assawy, an Egyptian, is secretary-general of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America, “an organization known for its radical religious views,” according to TVA.

In a statement to media, Mayor Cinq-Mars said she asked borough managers to cancel the reservation because the presence of the “controversial leaders” was “unacceptable” and could lead to conflicts, the Gazette said. Mishkah’s name did not appear on the booking, she said; regardless of the type of group, the borough “shouldn’t ever rent out space for religious or political events,” Cinq-Mars told the paper.

Cinq-Mars’ office acknowledged the Forward’s request for comment, but did not elaborate.

On its website, Minnesota-based Mishkah University describes itself as striving “to be a beacon that lights the path to spiritual enlightenment and moral reformation by nurturing the intellect with Divine guidance. Our commitment to our students and the ummah is to disseminate authentic Islamic knowledge, [and] to make Islamic education accessible using the latest technology.” In Arabic, “Mishkah” means “a niche in the wall where lamps are placed, radiating light to the surrounding areas,” the site says.

Mishkah’s website was still advertising the graduation ceremony on Monday. The school did not return the Forward’s request for comment.

A representative for Outremont Hassid, an organization that promotes “open discussion about Hassidim, Outremont and their neighbors,” declined to comment on the episode. And a representative of Friends of Hutchison, a coalition of “Hasidic and non-Hasidic neighbors” in Outremont, did not respond to requests for comment.

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