QUMSA’s ‘exclusionary practices’ criticized

Religious exclusivity not aligned with club goals, student says

Stacy Duong, Law ’09
Stacy Duong, Law ’09

“To promote friendly relations between Muslim and non-Muslim students” and “to help discredit a lot of misconceptions about Islam”: These are but two of the many laudable goals Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA) purports to be striving to attain, at least according to their website.

While I certainly don’t disagree with the advantages and, indeed, the necessity, of interfaith dialogue, I am confounded by QUMSA’s insistence that religious exclusivity is requisite to, or even compatible with, the attainment of these goals.

Section 18 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) includes an exception that allows religious special interest organizations, which are primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons who are identified by their creed, to give priority to persons of the same creed with regard to participation or membership.

Giving priority to some, however, doesn’t entail the wholesale exclusion of non-believers.

Exclusion violates both the letter and the spirit of the OHRC, which guarantees individuals the right to equal treatment on the basis of creed. The AMS has erred in finding that exclusion fell under any approved exemption in the OHRC.

Even if we were to leave aside the legal arguments for a moment, there seems to be very little justification for the exclusionary practices of QUMSA.

I find it puzzling that a group espousing interfaith understanding and friendly relations would settle upon segregation as the surest means to achieve their ends.

Does QUMSA feel threatened by the non-Muslim student population? Is there truly a danger of an anti-Muslim coup within the organization?

Ironically, the people affected by the exclusionary policy are those non-Muslims who would be most receptive to a progressive Islamic message.

If we assume that QUMSA has sincerely stated its goals and is truly concerned with eliminating misconceptions, then there is only one word that can be used to describe their current policy: counterproductive.

Though QUMSA protests that it does allow non-Muslims to participate in certain events, this by no means solves the problem of exclusive membership.

Such membership tends to have the effect of creating a feeling of “us” and “them,” both on the part of the Muslims in QUMSA and the non-Muslims excluded.

In such circumstances, even if QUMSA deigns to allow the participation of non-Muslims, these non-members will be hesitant to take part, and even those who do will feel the effects of QUMSA’s segregationist practices. It’s all very well to say that one wishes to foster better relations with other groups, but enforced separation seems to me a policy calculated to do just the opposite.

A further problem arises when we consider how QUMSA ascertains the religion of prospective members.

If employers under the OHRC are barred from questioning applicants about their religious beliefs, should QUMSA be allowed to do so? And if one person’s self-definition as a Muslim is at variance with QUMSA’s notions of what a Muslim should be, how will their membership be affected? QUMSA acts as if it tolerates differences among Muslims, but lists on its website as one of the services it offers “to train [students] to practice Islam.” Who decides what “training” involves?

QUMSA would have been the first to raise the cry of discrimination if the AMS had not ratified the club, and yet their first order of business has been to discriminate against the vast majority of Queen’s students.

As a non-Muslim myself, I don’t expect QUMSA to heed my opinion on the matter, but I would urge Muslims at Queen’s to make efforts to wrest control of QUMSA away from those whose message may be honorable, but whose actions belie injustice.

After all, the Holy Qu’ran says: “Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in the best of ways” (16:125).

Please see QUMSA’s letter below

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