Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"For Muslim poor, a shameful admission"

On the corner of Dundas and Chestnut Sts., Ahmed dumps a handful of pennies and quarters on the sidewalk, and begins counting his day's earnings.

"Asalamu alakum, can you spare some change?" he shyly asks two men as they rush past him and into Masjid Toronto, a downtown mosque.

A former teacher, Ahmed left war-torn Iraq five years ago for Canada. "I came here but couldn't find a job, couldn't make money," he said. "Now I am homeless. I live in a shelter."

The exact number of Muslims in Toronto who live below Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off, the country's unofficial poverty line, is difficult to determine, as socio-economic data is rarely gathered through the lens of religion.

But among those on the front lines in the Muslim community, those who work in mosques, community centres and the few charitable organizations, there is growing concern about the magnitude of poverty in the community, the lack of resources available to deal with the problem, and the reluctance – among all social classes – to admit the problem even exists.

For the Muslim poor, an admission of poverty is shameful. To the rich, the problem is invisible, or at least not so obvious when compared to the stark conditions of poverty they have seen back home.

"It is a cause for concern," said Uzma Shakir, former executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, and member of the Colour of Poverty campaign. "The repercussions of poverty and systemic poverty are not just economic but have serious social impacts as well," she said.

"Already we can see the formation of ghettos in some parts of the city," said Shakir, referring to neighbourhoods where overt race-based poverty is glaringly obvious, and where halal meat stores are in abundance.

The scant data available paints a troubling picture of a growing community of nearly 300,000 Muslims, which includes a mix of refugees, recent immigrants, and those who settled in Canada decades ago.
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