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Islamic bookstore sparks controversy

TORONTO – Shamim Ahmad has run his Islamic bookstore for 20 years in the popular East York neighbourhood of Little India. A green and white sign advertises Islamic books and souvenirs.

This quiet store is the site of a Canada-wide uproar because it sold a copy of “A gift for the Muslim couple.”

The book was written by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, an Islamic scholar from the late 19th century who passed away in 1943.

“I didn’t read the book, I only bought because of the title,” Ahmad said. “It’s a hundred-year-old book and I don’t know what was inside.”

While visiting India, he bought the book because of the author’s reputation as a respected Islamic scholar. A customer then bought the book, took it to Newstalk 1010 from where the contents went viral for the allegedly shocking language against women.

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Ahmad now finds himself harassed on a daily basis. He even gets calls from all over the world asking about the book.

“It’s impossible to read each and every book,” he said.

Muslim Canadian Congress founder Tarek Fatah finds that hard to believe.

“We looked at it and of course, there were pages after pages of, you have to say, sharia laws,” he explained.

Fatah believes that marriage manuals targeted against women are common in South Asian culture.

“This is where the Muslim community needs to be honest, truthful and have integrity,” he said. “They make a mistake, they should say this will not happen again. Don’t try to play this victim card.”

Imam Shaykh Yusuf Badat of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto feels that the book, originally written in the South Asian language of Urdu, has been taken out of context.

“There’s a whole chapter just on kindness towards women,” he said.

The controversial book has provoked political leaders to question Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney on what the government is planning to do about the issue.

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How does Ahmad feel about the attention?

“Terrible,” he replied after a pause. “I’m trying to be polite, I’m trying to serve the community, and that’s it.

“Every day there is something against us,” he said.