Canadian Forces to recruit at mosque

The Canadian Forces will make a rare appearance at a British Columbia mosque tonight. The aim is to generate interest among Muslims in careers in the military. But not everyone at Burnaby’s Al-Salaam mosque is thrilled about the open house.

Some members say they don’t think a religious institution should be used to showcase the Canadian military. Others aren’t keen on the mosque hosting an organization that is involved in a combat mission in Afghanistan in which fellow Muslims are being killed.

A spokesman for the Canadian Forces said the event isn’t aimed at pitching or defending the war or military careers.

Lieutenant-Commander Kris Phillips, of the Canadian National Defence Public Affairs Office, said Canada’s Muslim community – like women and aboriginal people – is underrepresented in the Forces. And the information sessions are designed to provide minority groups with direct, unfiltered information

Another meeting was scheduled last night at a Vancouver native community centre.

Among the panelists answering questions tonight will be Sub-Lieutenant Wafa Dabbagh, a navy officer and the first woman to wear a hijab, or head covering, in the Canadian military.

However, the event has raised eyebrows and even indignation among some mosque members.

Student Toshio Rahman said he thinks it’s inappropriate for the Canadian military to recruit in a mosque.

“When it comes to something like the armed forces, the military, the navy, or anything that has to do with security issues, I don’t think it’s the proper venue for that,” said Mr. Rahman, 23.

“It goes against the ideals of Islam, in that we are a peaceful religion, and we are trying … at this stage, to fix our persona in the world right now, and I don’t think that an image of violence or a representation of violence at the mosque is appropriate.”

Mr. Rahman said he’s opposed to Canada’s role in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The prospect of joining a military organization that has troops fighting in a Muslim country is anathema to many Canadian Muslims, he added.

“I don’t agree with the reasons we went there in the first place. If this was a truly peacekeeping mission, I would agree with it. Afghanistan is much more complicated and I think the only reason we went in there was because of America,” Mr. Rahman said.

“I hear that the two [recruiters] are Muslim. I respect what they’re doing. I don’t agree with what they’re doing. I don’t think it would help to have Muslim Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.”

However, the mosque’s youth director, Imaad Ali, said many young Muslims are intrigued by a career in the military.

Mr. Ali, who helped organize the event, said he would like to see more Muslims in the military. Most of the people who have expressed opposition to the event, he said, are educated professionals. “They see the military as the potential to go to war and fight.”

Mr. Ali said he disagrees, adding there’s also a patriotic aspect to joining the military. Many of his contemporaries, he said, “don’t realize where democracy came from, and that people had to fight for it and had to lay down their lives.”

The Canadian Forces has about 200 Muslims, Mr. Ali said, although the military could not confirm those statistics.

Mr. Ali noted that the vast majority of Canadian Forces members aren’t involved in combat.

Approximately 2,500 troops are stationed in Afghanistan at any given time. There are more than 63,000 men and women in the Canadian Forces, and another 44,886 reservists, making it one of Canada’s largest employers.

The Canadian Forces has made strides attracting women; about 37 per cent of the Canadian Forces is female. But only 5.4 per cent are visible minorities, and just under 4 per cent are aboriginal. The military would like to increase these numbers to make the Forces more reflective of Canadian society, said LCdr. Phillips.