Today, Canada welcomes more immigrants from different backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities and religions than ever. It is a diverse haven for many reasons. The article will examine the Muslim perspective- as one of the leading minority religions- its population statistics, past, and how Muslims today benefit from immigrating here.
A Brief History of Muslims in Canada
Islam in Canada can trace back its presence to 1854- the year of the first recorded Muslim migration.
This was followed by various milestones amid the pervading restrictive attitudes of the period. The community made significant contributions to Canada’s growth. It was predominantly Muslim labourers from Syria, Lebanon, Albania, Yugoslavia and Mongolia who were integral in constructing the Canada Pacific Railway.
Mention must also be made of the community’s Literary contributions, the earliest being Mahommah Baquaqua’s narration of his life’s journey from being enslaved in Brazil as a West African to his escape with help from abolitionists of his time.
Other notable figures include Bedoin Ferran (Peter Baker), who published “Memoirs of an Arctic Arab: The Story of a Free-Trader in Northern Canada” in 1976. He was also the first Muslim to be elected to public office.
Canada’s first mosque- the Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, was built in 1938 when the Muslim population only totalled 700. A Muslim woman, Hilwi Hamdon, was instrumental in getting the project underway with funding and talks with the Mayor.
The McGill University, one of Canada’s prestigious institutions, introduced its Islamic Studies program in 1952. This was followed by increased Muslim immigration after Canada removed its European Immigration preference in the 1960s.
Since then, Canada has given refuge to Muslims fleeing wars and conflict in Lebanon, Somalia and Bosnia. The immigration boom of the 2000s saw more Muslim immigration from majority-Muslim nations and led to the establishment of Muslim associations all over the country
The country has come a long way in terms of attitude towards immigrants. Today Canada is home to many Muslims from South Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide.
Statistics of the Muslim population in Canada
Canada’s General Social Survey had an optimistic outlook for the future of Muslims in Canada. The 2021 census reported more than 450 ethnic or cultural origins of present-day Canadians, including Muslims. They constituted the second most common religious affiliation, with 1.8 million or 1 in 20 people.
The proportion of this population reporting as Muslim more than doubled in 20 years from 2001 to 2021, rising from 2% to 4.9%.
Religious Work in Canada
Canada has specific provisions regarding religious work in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR).
- Paragraph R186(l) A foreign national may work in Canada without a work permit as a person who is responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counselling
The paragraph provides a work permit exemption for religious leaders of Muslim communities in Canada.
- Paragraph R205(d) A work permit may be issued under section 200 to a foreign national who intends to perform work that is of a religious or charitable nature.
The paragraph provides a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) exemption (code C50) for religious workers of the Islamic faith.
Help for Muslims in Canada
Today, Muslims in Canada have many advocacy groups, organizations and councils that represent their interest. This includes the National Council of Canadian Muslims, one of the largest advocacy groups, most recently involved in the fight against Quebec’s Bill 21 that banned teachers, lawyers, police officers and other public professions from wearing religious symbols, including the hijab.