The Ottawa Citizen (Canada), Apr. 8, 2003
By Kate Jaimet, with files from Kelly Egan The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa’s leading Muslim cleric issued a public apology late Monday for saying he supports a holy war in the Middle East, remarks that caused a storm on Parliament Hill and threatened a review of his citizenship status.
Imam Gamal Solaiman, leader of the Ottawa Mosque, said he deeply regrets remarks he made on Global television on Sunday.
“I do not support or promote violence in any form against any country or any group of people,” the imam said in a written statement sent to the Citizen shortly before 11 p.m.
“I deeply regret and sincerely apologize for my misunderstood comments and the hurt which they may have caused. I hope and pray that peace will prevail in all regions of the world.”
It was hasty about-face for the cleric, who had repeated the thrust of his remarks yesterday, just as they were being soundly condemned by federal politicians.
During a scrum outside the Commons, Mr. Coderre said he wanted to check the imam’s citizenship status and examine a verbatim record of his remarks, which were widely reported in newspapers across Canada.
On Sunday, the imam said he supported calls by religious leaders for Iraqis to wage holy war against the United States in the Middle East.
“I would say first that we have to check the status of the individual,” Mr. Coderre told reporters, urging a cautious reaction, but also pledging to look into the matter. “I don’t know the status of that person — is he a Canadian citizen, what’s the situation? I want to see verbatim what he really said. I’m going to take a closer look at what he really said and what he meant by ‘jihad.’ “
Mr. Coderre did not say what he might do if he discovered Mr. Solaiman is not a Canadian citizen.
Mark Dunn, the minister’s director of communications, said late yesterday the minister accepts the apology.
The imam was scolded by a number of MPs yesterday for escalating tensions in an already emotionally charged conflict between Muslims in the Middle East and Americans.
Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper said he found Mr. Solaiman’s comments disturbing and regrettable.
“My firm belief is that Canadian Muslims are very much on the side of our allies and our own troops who are there and not on the side of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is not a religious leader and his regime does not reflect the values of Islam.”
Conservative leader Joe Clark said Mr. Solaiman should withdraw his remarks. “Those are inappropriate remarks for someone who holds a position of influence as he does and who is in a position where what he says may be seen to be speaking for the whole of the community in Canada.”
Under questioning by reporters yesterday, the imam took pains to stress his remarks apply strictly to the Middle East, and he is not encouraging Muslims in Canada to engage in violence against the United States.
“I am saying to Canadian Muslims: You are in Canada, you are not threatened, your interests are preserved, your rights are maintained, you have to work for the good of Canada … I am not calling for a fight here in this country. It is a peaceful country. It is hosting many different cultures and faiths. Why should I call for violence?”
Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer, a Muslim, said he doesn’t agree with what Mr. Solaiman had to say, but defended his right to say it. He said many in the Muslim community find the U.S. action justified. “Most leaders, whether in the Islamic community or not, want to see a resolution to this war as quick as possible and don’t want to call for further things that could escalate the tensions in that region,” he said.
Calls for a religious war in the Middle East could cause the fight in Iraq to escalate into a wider regional conflict, Liberal minister David Kilgour cautioned.
“I am concerned. I hope that it doesn’t happen. I hope that people of different faiths in the Middle East will realize that must not happen,” said Mr. Kilgour, secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr. Kilgour said Mr. Saddam is merely manipulating people’s religious feelings as a tool to stay in power.
“Anybody who knows anything about Saddam Hussein knows that he is simply somebody who is using religion for political or military reasons. Saddam Hussein has not got a religious bone in his body, and he has shown that when he has persecuted people who do have strong Muslim faith, in his own country.”