Two Muslim men — an activist turned Shariah mortgage seller and an Islamic cleric who sold his Islamic seal of approval on such mortgages — were acquitted on Friday of a dozen criminal charges by an Ontario Superior Court judge who validated aspects of Sharia law in reaching her decision. Justice Jane Ferguson described the trial as a “huge learning curve in Islamic finance.”
Shariah in Canada?
But what happened to the declaration by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, on September 11, 2005, that “there will be no Shariah law in Ontario”?
It wasn’t just Ontario. Earlier that year, on May 26, 2005, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously for “a motion against allowing Shariah to be used in the legal system.”
Speaking for the motion, Fatima Houda-Pepin, then a Liberal member of the legislature, said: “The application of sharia in Canada is part of a strategy to isolate the Muslim community.”
And now comes this 68-page judgement of Justice Ferguson in the case of Omar Kalair and Imam Yusuf Panchbaya who were alleged by the Crown to have unlawfully taken millions of dollars in mortgage money from Kalair’s Shariah-compliant mortgage company. The two accused were charged with theft, fraud and money laundering that involved 15 gold bars that are still missing, silver coins and a $2 million fatwa fee by the Islamic clerics.
The complex plot involves a tiny minority of Muslim homeowners in the GTA who were warned by Islamic scholars that taking a conventional mortgage from a bank was an act of sin as it involved paying interest to the loaner. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, however, know that Shariah mortgages promoted by Mullahs are akin to priests selling indulgences. By simply changing the word ‘interest’ and calling it a ‘fee’ the transaction supposedly becomes Islamic.
Justice Ferguson in her decision stated: “Even if Kalair’s understanding of the application of Shariah law was wrong in law, I find he honestly believed at all times, and had reasonable grounds to believe, that he was acting appropriately under the circumstances.”
Justice Ferguson ruled the Crown had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Ontario Superior Court judge relied on testimony by an overseas expert named Abdel Qader Thomas who appeared via video to educate the court about Islamic financial products, and who Justice Ferguson credited for educating her about Islamic banking terminology.
In her judgement, Justice Ferguson writes: “I initially believed that an unwillingness to pay conventional interest on a loan appears “bizarre” until I learned that the payment of interest is considered a serious sin in the Islamic faith and violates a central pillar of Shariah law. This understanding was essential in my understanding of Kalair’s operating mind. Thomas’ evidence was also educative regarding industry standards against which Kalair’s conduct must be assessed.”
Justice Ferguson shared facets of Islamic culture that she picked up in what she referred to as her “steep learning curve.”
Commenting on the 15 gold bars paid to Islamic scholars instead of a cheque to the amount of $2 million, she wrote: “There is a cultural attraction to gold in Islamic communities. Gold has an ancient religious connection to Islam as one of the six staple goods mentioned in the Quran.”
However, as Australian Imam Muhammad Tawhidi, currently in Toronto, told me: “Muslim men are prohibited from wearing gold and silk.” He added, “this was a directive from Prophet Muhammad himself, not some latter-day scholar in the Arab Gulf.”
After the judgement, Omar Kalair boasted in a statement: “This [decision by Justice Ferguson] in my view, is a victory not only for myself but for the Islamic finance industry, that actions we take due to our religion [Islam] are accepted in certain courts .”
-by TAREK FATAH
(This article was first published on torontosun.com on June 11, 2019 and has been reproduced here.)