In many respects, the sizeable Muslim populations in the United States and Canada have integrated well into the social and political mainstream. Most of them are first-generation immigrants, and face Islamophobic prejudice based on race as well as religious affiliation. Still, they are a comparatively well-educated population, and identify strongly with the countries they now call home. Exploring the response of these communities to sexual diversity, and to growing claims for recognition by queer Muslims themselves, goes to the heart of questions about the place of this growing community in North American settings. This inevitably raises questions about gender relations within those communities, in part because discrimination against Muslims is often justified with reference to their adherence to what are thought to be unchanging patriarchal values. Doubts about social and cultural integration are easily intensified by the racialized “otherness” of Muslim populations in the West generally, and these two North American countries in particular. The Pew Research Center in the United States and the Environics Institute in Canada have conducted surveys of the Muslim populations in their countries, permitting a comparison of attitudes in those communities with those in the general population, and in some cases also providing a view of cross-country differences. What this polling reveals is that Muslims are on balance more politically progressive than non-Muslim populations, and are strongly averse to supporting conservative parties. However, it also reveals relatively negative views of homosexuality, and this is echoed in the public statements, or silence, of the largest Muslim advocacy groups. The strength of such views owes much to the fact that the majority of North American Muslims have emigrated from regions of the world where such opinions are deeply embedded in social and cultural life. Traditionalist views of gender and sexuality are also reinforced by high levels of religiosity, which in other faith currents is also associated with what might be called traditionalist views of family. In the case of Muslims, their religious leadership in Muslim communities remains almost unanimous in its condemnation of homosexuality as an example of “Western” permissiveness. Mosque life, too, retains important elements of gender inequity. There are, however, important indications of change, induced in part by the urban environments where the great majority of Muslims live, and the increasing willingness of queer Muslims to assert their presence within their ethno-religious communities as well as in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) networks. Younger Muslims are more inclined than their elders to hold inclusive attitudes, particularly if they have been educated in North America. In the United States, too, the latest of the Pew surveys has shown an important overall shift toward more LGBTQ-positive attitudes. This is in part a result of Muslims’ recognition that exclusionary attitudes on issues related to sexuality are often held by those who are also harbor Islamophobic views, and that policies designed to protect one community are also necessary to protect them.
Even though the earliest Muslim immigrants did not plan on permanently settling down in their new host countries, by the 1980s, post-1960s Muslim migrants accepted the reality that they were in the West to stay, and they gave up all plans of returning to their countries of origin. Later, serious plans to form a new (i.e., American, Canadian) Muslim identity were in the making. Discussions amongst community leaders who were committed to the welfare of Muslims, to Islam, and to preserve their Muslim identity and culture. Therefore, Muslims became convinced that they were becoming permanent settlers in the West, that they were home, and that they needed to produce a modified version of Islam that suits their needs. As a manifestation of this reality, Muslim youth also started to distance themselves from their parents’ heritage and to move toward a more inclusive identity that contained both their Islamic and their Western heritage. Cesari refers to this as “cultural globalization,” which involves the “deterritorialization” of communities. In this context, Western Islamic identity becomes a powerful source of collective solidarity, recreating connections between groups otherwise separated by widely diverging doctrines, sects, histories, and cultures. Nonetheless, since the early 2000s, Western Muslims have faced significant levels of prejudice and discrimination in host countries—sometimes to an extent that threatens the orderly functioning of society.
Any discussion of Chinese Buddhist diaspora communities in Canada must account for the broader context within which they have been subsumed. To a great extent the timing and nature of Chinese Buddhist activity in Canada was determined by a legacy of racism and harsh immigration laws that were not fully reformed until the late 1960s. The first significant flow of Chinese migration to Canada began in the mid-19th century, commencing with gold rushes in California and British Columbia during the 1850s. Following this, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1881–1885), spanning a distance of approximately 4,700km between Montréal, Québec, and Port Moody, British Columbia, provided the impetus for a subsequent wave of Chinese migration for the purpose of providing rail construction labor on Canada’s west coast. Despite the presence of significant numbers of Chinese in Canada, there is very little evidence of Chinese Buddhist practice and certainly practice within institutional settings prior to the 20th century. Nineteenth-century Chinese religious activity, such as it was, took place in the context of centers serving as clan shrines with altars dedicated to local deities linked to clan home regions. Buddhist figures mixed with popular deities were associated with clan rituals informed by a cyclical calendar of rites. Development of the critical social mass needed for support of Buddhist temples and centers was severely curtailed by an absence of a basic supporting family structure, as the Chinese population was virtually all male through 1885. Subsequent modest population gains made in the first decades of the 20th century were reversed with passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Historically, Chinese religious activity has had a strong public dimension that includes public, and often outdoor, festivals. This, combined with the distinct appearance associated with Buddhist architecture, would make Chinese Buddhist communities’ institutions and practices conspicuous during times when they were viewed with widespread hostility. Relegated to “Chinatowns,” there was little support for building Buddhist institutions and every reason not to make such conspicuous and dangerous cultural gestures. Following World War II, and coincident with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada was a signatory, things began to change for the better. In 1947 the Chinese were finally able to vote, though immigration legislation remained deeply racist. In 1967 Canada’s Liberal government under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau (1919–2000) inaugurated the point system, permitting people to qualify for landed immigrant status without reference to their particular country of origin. In the same year this change was made the community roots of the first Chinese Buddhist institutions were established in Vancouver and Toronto. Major development of Buddhist institutions did not begin to gain any real momentum until the mid-1980s, with a significant increase in Chinese migration from Hong Kong. This accelerated as the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) drew closer. Significant social networks and an increase in economic resources finally made the purchase of land and the construction of Chinese Buddhist temples a reality. Canada’s demographics underwent a dramatic transformation as European migration that had peaked in the mid- to late 1970s was equaled and then eclipsed by migration from East Asia. In Canada, Pure Land Buddhist organizations such as Ling Yen Mountain Temple and Gold Buddha Monastery, with roots in Taiwan and the United States, and International Buddhist Temple, with roots principally in Hong Kong, led the way in the emergence of Chinese Buddhist diaspora communities. Through the 1990s Taiwan-based Dharma Drum Mountain, which provides both Pure Land ceremonies and Chan teaching, established itself in Vancouver, as did Tung in Kok Yuen, an organization originating in Hong Kong. A significant increase in PRC migration, concentrated in Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver, did not bring with it any significant institutional ties, but the new immigrant population did provide a constituency from which temples could draw new members, though they competed in this regard with Christian churches. Through the early 21st century Chinese migration numbers have remained robust, and Chinese Buddhist communities in many cases continue to consolidate and grow with deepening and expanding local community roots and increasingly strong international ties and outreach.
Carl L. Bankston III
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have historically been nations with large Buddhist populations. While Mahāyāna Buddhism predominates in Vietnam, most people in Cambodia and Laos have been dedicated to Theravāda Buddhism. In 1975, these three countries came under the domination of Communist governments, which had earlier been in conflict with factions militarily supported by the United States. This led to the beginnings of the massive movement of refugees from Southeast Asia to North America. An especially radical regime had taken power in Cambodia, and after war broke out between Cambodia and Vietnam the flow of refugees became a flood. All of the new governments of these countries were hostile to independent religious organizations and practices. The Khmer Rouge in power in Cambodia took its antagonism to religion to an extreme, attempting to violently eradicate traditional Buddhist practices and institutions. As refugees settled in ever-greater numbers in North America and other locations, they established Buddhist temples and other organizations in the new homelands. In consequence, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao communities in the United States and Canada have also become sites for the rapid growth of North American Buddhism. Southeast Asian Buddhism has become a part of a pluralistic religious environment, adding new rites, celebrations, and cultural activities to American society. Buddhism has also played a central part in maintaining ethnic identity among refugee populations and their descendants, as well as in helping Buddhists adapt to life under changing circumstances.
Karim H. Karim
Khojas constitute the predominant group in the Shi’a Nizari Isma’ili movement of Islam, globally and in North America. They are of South Asian ethnicities and belong to the 700-year old Satpanth tradition. Other groups attached to the movement are indigenous to Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. Khojas have led them in the formation of a diaspora spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australasia. This transnational religious collectivity holds Aga Khan IV, who ascended to leadership in 1957, to be its Imam in lineal descent from ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib and Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. He has established a “Seat of the Imamat” (also designated a “Diwan”) in Lisbon, Portugal, and he resides in France, from where he provides religious and worldly guidance to followers around the world. The Imam appoints the leaders of the system of councils that govern the jamats (communities) in various countries. His non-denominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which operates social, economic, and cultural programs, has become one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Elite Khoja families, particularly those of East African provenance, tend to dominate the leadership of the Imam’s institutions. They also have hegemony in the Canadian and American self-governance structures. As a group, Khojas are the wealthiest and most educated in the movement, offering substantial funding as well as professional and voluntary services to the Aga Khan’s institutional infrastructure. Their North American ranks provide a steady stream of monetary, physical, and intellectual resources for the Imam’s transnational programs. However, a paradox lies at the heart of the movement. The Satpanth tradition and Khoja cultural identity has been in the process of marginalization since the early 20th century. A steady effort has sought to eliminate what are perceived to be “Hindu” aspects of the Khojas’ religious and cultural heritage. The movement’s research, educational and cultural bodies give minimal attention to Satpanth. An essentialized Isma’ili Muslim identity is favored over what was, since the movement’s earliest days, a pluralist pursuit of universal truth.
M. Kabir Hassan, Tahsin Huq, and Aishath Muneeza
Islamic finance is an alternative source of financing to the conventional financing that emerged via institutionalization in the 1960s. It has gained popularity in the world irrespective of faith convictions due to the universal and ethical principles adhered in the practice of it. In this regard, North America is not an exception. In the United States and Canada, Islamic finance has been adopted, and there is an established regulatory environment for the operation of it with political support. There is also a wide range of innovative Islamic finance products structured and used in this part of the world that is conducive to the demand of the population and regulatory environment of Islamic finance found in the respective jurisdictions. These two countries are often described as competitors in the region, but the reality is despite the competitive relationship they are in by default, they are also collaborators in developing Islamic finance in the region. More than one million self-identified Muslims in Canada represents 3.2 percent of the total Canadian population. In comparison, the Muslim population in the United States represents 0.9 percent of the total population. Hence, Canada has been viewed as more suitable to become the hub of Islamic finance in the region simply because the number of Muslims in Canada is greater than that found in the United States in terms of religious representation in each nation’s total population. Furthermore, in terms of the regulatory environment, though the regulatory landscape applicable to financial institutions including Islamic financial institutions in the United States is much more sophisticated, the lack of a regulatory environment in Canada for Islamic finance is viewed as an opportunity for Canada as this provides flexibility required to develop and innovate unique Islamic finance products and increase the number of institutions dealing with Islamic finance. Sharia governance is the backbone of the Islamic finance industry in any jurisdiction. A common weakness found in both countries in the development of Islamic finance is on adopting a uniform Sharia governance framework applicable to all institutions offering Islamic finance products and services. In the early 21st century, the practice of Islamic financial institutions in the region indicates that there is no uniform yardstick to adopt in this regard, leading to confusion as well as lack of confidence—not only among “laypeople” but among Sharia scholars as well—in the Sharia-compliant products offered. In the absence of regulatory backing in this regard, an agreement among the industry stakeholders in the region would be sufficient to standardize this practice and implement procedural requirements that ought to be followed in offering Sharia-compliant products and services.