Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal, 44, is married to Qayyum Abdul Jamal, a 43-year-old Mississauga, Ont., man accused of plotting to blow up sites in southern Ontario. Ms. Jamal — who went by Sherry MacAulay before converting to Islam — wears a burka in public.
“This is not becoming a Muslim; this is bizarre,” Tarek Fatah, a spokesman for the congress, said of the “mask” that covers all but her eyes.
“This is not converting to a religion; this is converting to a cult.”
According to Mr. Fatah, Mr. Jamal was an influential volunteer at the Ar-Rahman Islamic Centre in Mississauga and encouraged young people to adopt extremist ideas. Mr. Jamal is also emerging as the probable leader of the group of 17 men arrested in last week’s anti-terror sweep.
The group “is supported by hardline Saudi (Arabian) Wahabi teachings,” he said.
“It depicts women as people who send temptation and are bad for men, and therefore they should be draped up,” Mr. Fatah said.
“This is offensive to Canadians and offensive generally to Muslims as well.”
Photos of Ms. Jamal’s eyes peering from her burka have appeared in papers across the country this week.
“There’s nothing in the Qur’an about the necessity of covering your face,” said Jamal Badawi, a professor emeritus at Saint Mary’s University and an imam in the local Muslim community.
But it’s a “simplistic stereotype” to conclude “that because she wears the burka, she must be extremist in terms of violence,” he said.
That’s not true, Mr. Badawi said.
“It’s not a requirement, but some Muslim women feel more comfortable with this,” he said. “It’s their choice. But it is not itself an act of extremism.”
He’s saddened by the emergence in Canada of a group whose alleged aim contradicts Islam’s message of peaceful co-existence.
“It has nothing to do with Islam,” Mr. Badawi said. “It is a perverted misconception of what Islam is all about.”
Ms. Jamal, who was raised a Presbyterian, isn’t the first person in her family to adopt a new religion. Her father, Ernie MacAulay, has done the same.
“He’s an accredited native medicine man, among other things, as well as being a superb photographer,” said one family friend who did not want to be named.
“He’s a qualified shaman. He’s a very interesting chap in his own right. He’s travelled and lived with the native people in Canada and the United States.”
A woman who answered the telephone at his British Columbia home Thursday said Ms. Jamal had contacted her family, asking them not to talk to reporters.
Ms. Jamal was “a free spirit” as a child, said the family friend.
“Ernie, in his way, felt that was all right. It was better that you express yourself than be repressed.”
Ms. Jamal’s mother, Diane, came from the Halifax family that used to own Sagadore Cranes.
“She was at the forefront of free quilting that’s now very popular,” said the family friend. “She was very original in her designs.”
Ms. Jamal’s parents broke up early on, and she lived with a grandmother in Cape Breton for a while before attending Cornwallis Junior High School.
She also did a stint at a free school in Halifax, which worried her grandfather, Alex MacAulay.
“Alex was very concerned that the non-discipline would be an open door,” said the family friend. “I think he was very worried about drug experimentation.”
Ms. Jamal attended Grade 10 at Queen Elizabeth High School before dropping out. One school friend has said she joined the military and burned through one marriage before finding Islam and her present husband, with whom she has four children.
The same friend has described Ms. Jamal as “a peacenik Muslim” who couldn’t have known about what her husband is alleged to have been plotting because she was “horrified” by violence associated with Islam.
Some of Ms. Jamal’s Internet postings haven’t been so passive.
“How can your brothers and sisters live in peace and safety while being raped, pillaged and plundered by nations and corporations vying for the wealth contained in their lands, sucking the blood of the people to get at it? Are you going to give them a Qur’an, spread flower petals, spray some nice scents and pray for their enlightenment?” she said in one Muslim forum.
“It is your duty to defend your (community), jihad is the order of your creator to bring about peace, by the sword, not by using misplaced (verses found in the Qur’an) like ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ There is compulsion in stopping oppression. Allah has given you numerous examples and signs and commands to use violence to protect the oppressed.”
In another posting, Ms. Jamal talks about her work as a school bus driver, where she wears the burka.
“Many people don’t like it, and there is a little pressure at my work yard for me to remove it, but I will be fired before I remove it,” she said. “Let the people get used to us, we are not running or apologizing, Allah is sufficient for us.”
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