Statistics released Wednesday confirm what can already be seen: More mosques with busier prayer services and the increasing prevalence of women dressed in hijabs (headbags) and niqabs (full-face headbags) in all walks of life. Islam is the fastest-growing religious group in the country.
O Canada Across Canada, the Muslim population is growing at a rate exceeding other religions, according to Statistics Canada. It is even growing faster than the number of Canadians who identify themselves as having no religion, though just barely, according to the National Household Survey released Wednesday.
The Muslim population exceeded the one-million mark in 2011, according to the survey, almost doubling its population for the second-consecutive decade. Muslims now represent 3.2 per cent of the country’s total population, up from the two per cent recorded in 2001.
The majority of growth in the Muslim population is the result of immigration, as it is with Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, with the largest share coming from Pakistan over the past five years, according to Statistics Canada. Muslims are also the youngest religious group in the country with a median age of about 28 years old.
“The phenomenon of the younger age for groups such as Muslims and Hindus is a reflection of the immigration trends,” said Tina Chui, chief of immigration and ethnocultural statistics at Statistics Canada. “People tend to migrate when they’re younger.”
The growth of the Muslim population is part of a larger trend: minority religious groups becoming a larger slice of the Canadian cultural mosaic, although Christian religions still dominate with almost 70 per cent of the population. That raises questions of accommodation and integration of a religion that experts say is often unfairly viewed through a lens of fear.
“Polling has shown that Canadian Muslims are proud to be Canadian, more so than the average Canadian,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Canadian Muslims very much want to integrate and be part and parcel of the society.”
One-on-one, non-Muslims can have favourable views of their Islamic colleagues, but that feeling doesn’t always extend to the wider Muslim population, said Pamela Dickey Young, a professor of religion and culture at Queen’s University. “It isn’t like Canadian Muslims have not tried to educate the Canadian populace … but for some reason there’s still that edge with it that some Canadians have problems getting over,” Dickey Young said.
The survey results should be taken with caution. Experts say the voluntary nature of the National Household Survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census, leaves some gaps in the data from groups that tend not to respond to such surveys, such as new immigrants.
Experts believe the data provide a fairly good, broad picture of Canada, but data on smaller groups may provide less reliable information. There are also no breakdowns within the different religious groups. For instance, the survey provides no breakdown of type of Muslims living in Canada, as the survey didn’t ask respondents whether they were Shiite or Sunni.
“People keep blocking us into one cohesive mass and we’re not that at all,” said said Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. “We need to sit down as Muslims — not as a community because there isn’t one community — and decide what we want to be accommodated and what we want to give up.”
That internal debate in the Muslim community gets sidetracked because of the backdrop of violence done in the name of religion, which Canadian Muslims regularly and quickly condemn. “It is an additional pressure and a big one on the Muslim community,” Elshorbagy said.
“We need to be extra nice just because we’re Muslims. We need to go beyond certain limits, which is very unfortunate for people like me,” he said. “Sometimes the media will call something Islamic terrorism — once you call it Islamic, you’ve brought me into the picture even though I haven’t done something wrong.”