One of Canada’s most notorious anti-lockdown groups is attempting to recruit Muslims by hosting a “proper” Eid prayer event where Muslims can pray “shoulder to shoulder” during lockdown. But Canadian Muslim groups aren’t buying it, and are urging community members to stay away.
As the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end on May 13, Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area will be celebrating their major religious holiday of Eid under a province-wide stay-at-home order. Deep into the third wave of COVID, Ontario’s daily COVID counts have stood at roughly 3,400 cases a day over the past week, despite the tightest level of restrictions.
But The Line Canada appears to be capitalizing on the holiday, with ads for their “Proper Eid Prayer” event demanding “every practicing Muslim” abandon socially distanced prayers and come to their gathering in a public park in Mississauga, the city just west of Toronto.
Non-socially distanced prayer will prevent “negative spirits and energy” from disuniting Muslims, The Line says in its promotional posts circulating on social media. “We must decolonize our minds from these fraudulent narratives and forbidden practices.”
Neither the City of Mississauga or Peel Regional Police responded when asked if the event would be allowed to go ahead.
The religious messaging the group has co-opted is incongruous with The Line’s usual social media fare, which regularly peddles anti-vax misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Its strategy echoes recent attempts by anti-mask groups to recruit people of colour to defend the movement from accusations of being far-right. The anti-lockdown movement has also made headway in religious circles, with some Canadian pastors arguing lockdowns violate their constitutional right to assemble.
Prominent Muslim organizations across Canada are urging members of the community not to be tricked into attending an Eid prayer hosted by “conspiracy theorists.”
“The ‘Proper Eid Prayer’ event is an unsanctioned gathering that threatens the health and well-being of Muslims,” said the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force in a joint statement.
“The last thing we wanted was for media outlets to see it and actually assume that it may have been something that came from the Muslim community,” Fatema Abdallah, communications coordinator for the NCCM, told VICE World News.
A spokesperson for The Line, Rose Jazmin, told VICE World News the group is aware of Mississauga’s current stay-at-home order, but it “do(es) expect to exceed the 10-person limit.”
Jazmin said she and some other members identify as Muslim, and the event is meant to cater to the needs of Muslims who are “frustrated that they have to fast for one month” without getting to have Eid prayer at the end. (In Islam, the Eid prayer is not mandatory, and is not intended to be the motivation behind partaking in Ramadan.)
But Abdallah said rather than appealing to Muslims, The Line’s messaging frames them as “the other,” portraying them as “being harmful, or hateful towards the restrictions, which is entirely not the case.”
“It’s infuriating when you see events like this taking place, and the kind of perception that it can bring onto the Muslim community,” she said. She mentioned that out of care for public health, some mosques and community centres actually closed down prior to the restrictions.
Imam Yusuf Badat, the faith leader at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, one of Canada’s largest and oldest mosques, said he’s already been contacted by many members of the community, “questioning this so-called Eid prayer.”
Islam’s actual teachings completely contradict the messaging used by The Line Canada to promote their prayer, Badat added.
Islam’s instruction is to “follow the law of the land,” he said. “We’re supposed to be praying at home and...adopting all the precautions possible to ensure that we do not become the source of a deadly virus to spread and cause harm in the community.”
As for what Muslims might be doing instead of attending this event, Badat said there’s a thriving online community to take part in. “We’re living in an amazing time, where we have great technology. We may not be able to physically gather, but we can gather—as we have been doing throughout the pandemic—online.”
When asked whether The Line had consulted any Muslim groups or scholars in planning the event, Jazmin said they had talked to their own scholars, who choose not to talk to the media. “We are not required to consult with any authority to allow us to exercise our religious rights,” she said.
However, a Facebook group where The Line appears to have hoped to recruit Muslims to their cause paints a different picture. There, an organizer mentions having “reached out to so many Imams,” bemoaning the fact that none have agreed to come speak at their anti-lockdown rallies.