By TOM GODFREY
A campaign is underway by members of the Muslim community to win the hearts and minds of their young people to keep them busy and out of trouble.
More than 800 members of the Toronto Muslim community attended a gala dinner this month to raise funds to add a gym to their mosque to keep young people in the Rexdale area busy with sports and away from propaganda accessible on Internet websites.
More than $400,000 was raised for the sports centre by the community, whose members claim they have been targeted by irate residents since the slayings of Canadian Armed Forces Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.
Worshippers are dealing with a growing phenomenon of their youths being brainwashed to act as terrorists and are working to recruit them before they fall into the hands of others.
The event was sponsored by the International Muslims Organization (IMO) for the construction of a $1.6 million state-of-the-art 8,000 square foot gym, which will contain two professional basketball courts and weight, training, sauna and change rooms for use by area youth, schools and the community.
IMO president, Omar Farouk, said community members are reaching out to local youth before they can get lured by gangs here or abroad.
He said young people are being encouraged to join clubs, teams and take part in basketball tournaments at the gym that will have coaches and trainers on staff.
The IMO, on Rexdale Blvd., is one of the larger mosques in the Toronto area, with about 10,000 worshippers in its congregation, which includes many Guyanese and others from the Caribbean.
The Rexdale area they serve is largely industrial and young people have long complained that there is little for them to do.
Farouk, who is from Guyana, says the gym will be completed by the end of December and ready for use early next year.
“A lot of work has gone into this project,” he said. “We plan to recruit the youths and bring them here before they are recruited by anyone else.”
During the dinner, that was attended by a Who’s Who of the community, some prominent Imams made impassioned pleas warning attendees to be vigilant and report youths who have strayed from the mosques and are acting suspiciously.
Several Imams warned that their community has suffered enough and vowed not to protect youngsters who have distanced themselves from the congregation.
Shaikh Imran Ally, Imam of the Taric Islamic Centre, told attendees to remain on alert and call police if they see young people from the community acting suspiciously.
“We have to be more vigilant as a community,” he said. “We have to contact the authorities when we see something and not remain silent.”
In an impassioned speech, Dr. Munir El Kassem, Imam of the London Islamic Centre of Ontario, accused a few “troublemakers” of making it difficult for everyone in the community.
The huge room was quiet as Dr. El Kassem made a fire and brimstone plea on ways the community can fight back.
“It is a few boys who are making all this foolishness,” he said, referring to the suspects who killed the soldiers. “Some people analyze Islam too much in a search for answers.”
He said Muslims in Canada suffered another major setback as a result of the senseless deaths, one that occurred at the National War Memorial and led to a siege on Parliament.
“The community is suffering because there are those who believe that these young foolish boys represent Islam,” said El Kassem. “How do you stop this foolishness?”
He said more sports and other facilities and opportunities for all young people are some of the issues that have to be dealt with.
The event attracted hundreds of families who said they’ve had enough of protecting troublemakers who are making it harder for all families and the community to live in peace and without scrutiny.