Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque and Bilal Philips.
The Canadian Council of Imams is calling on the federal government to investigate their allegations of Islamophobia within the Canada Revenue Agency for making what they call “false” and “misleading” claims against two Muslim leaders.
The allegations come after the CRA stripped the charity status of the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque in 2018 following audits that raised concerns about past guest speakers and “activities that promote hate and intolerance.”
The CCI said that the CRA published “defamatory” statements against two of its members, Imam Abdullah Hakim Quick and Imam Said Rageah, which “falsely” connected them to “hate, intolerance, and terrorism.”
Both Quick and Rageah said their apologies for past comments were not considered by the CRA and there was no effort made by the agency to give them a chance to respond to the allegations, which they said often included statements being taken out of context.
“By falsely connecting two well-respected Canadian Imams from CCI to hate, intolerance, and terrorism, the CRA has driven fear in the Muslim community about the possible existence of Islamophobia in the CRA’s audit process and its auditors.”
The CRA audit also took issue with Abu Usamah At-thahabi and Bilal Philips who spoke at the mosque and who the CRA alleged made anti-Semitic comments in the past and promoted violence. They were not part of the CCI’s complaint as they are not members. At-thahabi did not respond to a request for comment from Global News, and Philips denied he was anti-semitic or homophobic.
According to CRA documents, Quick had “advocated for the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to be liberated from the ‘filth’ of the Jews” and was condemned by the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority in 2004 for what was termed “hate speech” towards homosexuals. The CRA did not accuse any of speakers of making the remarks at the Ottawa mosque.
Quick admitted to making statements about the punishment of homosexuals in the past but has publicly apologized. He said he is not anti-Semitic or homophobic.
Quick, who claimed he’s never been to New Zealand, said his comments condemned by the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority in 2004 came from a video that was recorded in “the 90s.”
According to CRA documents, Quick allegedly said that “AIDS is caused by the ‘filthy practices of homosexuals’” and that the Islamic position on homosexuality is death.
“I stated the position of Islamic law on homosexuality … I apologized online for any hurt that I caused to any individual because of what I said,” Quick told Global News, adding that he has since had the YouTube video removed. “The hurtful thing is that the CRA has now resurrected this old argument, which has been laid to rest.”
“I have never advocated violence, vigilantism or disregard for the rule of law.”
Quick alleged his repeated apologies and work to denounce extremism were intentionally omitted by the CRA and he was never given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The CRA declined to answer a detailed list of questions from Global News about the audit and allegations against the two Imams citing “confidentiality provisions” in the Income Tax Act.
“The CRA registers charities in Canada, and is responsible for making sure they comply with the requirements of the Income Tax Act and related court decisions,” the agency said in a statement. “The CRA achieves this through a balanced program of education, client service, and responsible enforcement, including audits to protect the integrity of the charitable sector.”
Mosque officials have denied promoting intolerance and said the issues dated back to more than five years ago. The audit covered the years 2012 and 2013. Speakers are now pre-screened, they said.
Abdulhakim Moalimishak, president of the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque, said the mosque has formally contested the CRA’s allegations.
“We have submitted an appeal to the Charities Appeal Unit asking for full disclosure on the grounds for their decision in 2018 and are still waiting for a response from them,” Moalimishak said in statement.
Born a Christian before converting to Islam as a young man, Quick is a prominent imam in Toronto with a significant presence on social media with close to 800,000 likes on Facebook and over 12,000 fans on Instagram.
He’s received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contribution to Canada and has worked with the RCMP to help de-radicalize young Muslims. He’s also done work or held positions at the University of Toronto, the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum.
In 2016, he signed two declarations condemning the shooting in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub. In the same year, he was one of two Canadian imams put on a hit-list by the so-called Islamic State, who called for his murder after he denounced the terror group and Jihadist extremism.
However, he’s also faced controversy in the past and a long line of critics who have called for his speaking appearances to be cancelled.
The CRA highlighted a lecture video where he allegedly talks about the “History of the Crusades” and purifying an Islamic shrine from the “filth of Christians and Jews.” Quick said his comments were “wrongly interpreted” and he was solely talking about the desecration of mosques and not calling for the death of Jewish people.
“If you destroy the credibility of a religious figure or a teacher, you’ve basically destroyed that person’s livelihood.”
CCI member Imam Rageah, who runs the Toronto Islamic Centre, was quoted in an Australian newspaper report, according to the CRA, that said he had been denied entry to the country and “displayed anti-Western and homophobic attitudes.”
“The CRA also has concerns with regard to Mr. Rageah’s relationship with the Al-Maghrib Institute, and his role as founder and leader of the Journey of Faith conference, which has afforded individuals known for their extremist opinions, an opportunity to address thousands of gatherers in Toronto,” according to the documents.
Rageah immigrated to Canada from Somalia when he was just 14 and grew up in Welland, Ont., as a Catholic. He now serves as an imam at the Sakinah Community Centre in Scarborough and also has a large following on social media boasting hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube.
He’s appeared at anti-racism talks alongside Toronto Mayor John Tory and hosted other politicians from all stripes including Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair at events at the Sakinah Centre over the years.
Rageah, like Quick, said he was never given the opportunity to respond to the CRA’s accusations and his positive work in the community was intentionally omitted in the CRA report.
“The work of the CRA really damaged me at all levels,” Rageah told Global News. “They never gave me the opportunity, never asked ‘Why did you say this?’ They just concluded.”
“They said ‘this is a preacher of hate’ and this is the evidence. It was all baseless evidence.”
Rageah said the Journey of Faith conference has not been held in Canada since 2011.
“The conference was public, and the conference organization team had due diligence measures in place. There were never any instances of controversy or expressions of hatred by any speaker occurring at the conference, or prior to the conference,” he said.
“The CRA’s insinuation that I facilitated a forum in Canada where hate preachers could express their intolerant views is false and irresponsible.”
Rageah said the CRA mostly based its comments on news stories from media reports around the world and did no work to verify any claims. He claimed he’s never been denied entry to any country.
The CRA footnotes each allegation with a link to a news story and did not respond to questions about whether they verified the claims.
“If you’re a government entity, a trustworthy entity, an entity that people rely on, your sources should not be from a third party,” Rageah said. “It shouldn’t be cut and paste.”
The CRA highlighted a 2014 news story by the Newcastle Herald that said Rageah had been denied entry to Australia and displayed homophobic attitudes for saying “homosexuals, they are fighting for their rights day and night and then it became legal and you cannot do anything about it.”
Rageah said he was speaking about this in the context of Muslims fighting for their rights the same way the LGBTQ2 community has.
“In many of my talks I use them as platform of struggle and success … I do respect their struggle.”
“I said to my congregation, ‘look they had no rights in the past, they struggled they fought for their rights, and they were given their rights,’ not that we should take away their rights.”
Although the CRA took issue with the imam’s connection to the Al-Maghrib Institute – a U.S. organization with previous ties to extremists – Rageah said his “ties” were limited to a handful of guest lectures and it was “irresponsible” to link him to extremists. He claimed to have no relationship with the institute since 2013.
“The CRA has ruined my reputation by accusing me of something that I’m not,” he said. He claims he’s been frequently stopped at the border for additional questioning since CRA’s report was publicized in the media last year.
The Al-Maghrib Institute has received media scrutiny in the past for it’s connections to alleged extremists, like Anwar al-Awlaki, who U.S. intelligence has alleged was a senior recruiter for Al-Qaeda. Reports alleged that the Al-Maghrib Institute had sold al-Awlaki’s recordings in the past (although a media report says the Al-Maghrib Institute banned the recordings in 2009). Media has also reported that some of the Al-Maghrib Institute’s students would later be alleged to be involved in terror plots.
Navaid Aziz, a spokesperson for Al-Maghrib Institute, said the organization and its instructors have taken public stances against violent extremism.
“Al-Maghrib Institute has a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination or expressions of extremism from its platforms,” Aziz said. “It is unfortunate that the CRA maligned the name of the institute in this report without giving Al-Maghrib an opportunity to address their concerns, which we would have gladly done.”
Rageah faced criticism in the past for controversial comments including that the 9/11 plane attacks were not the work of Muslims and calling for Allah to “destroy” the enemies of Islam.
He admitted he said, “9/11 was not the work of true Muslims.” He claimed his words were taken out of context and intentionally misrepresented to be used against him for political reasons.
Rageah and Quick said the CRA should issue a public apology and retract the comments in the audit.
“It’s a big trauma because I’ve been known as a person who stood for social justice and against extremism and now I’m being labeled as a hate preacher,” Imam Quick said.