The Toronto Sun
TORONTO – The City of Toronto is investigating a controversial publicly-funded mural which critics say promotes a holy war against non-Muslims.
The city-funded piece of art on the wall of a building housing the Al-Tawakal mosque on Gerrard St. E., near Greenwood Ave., incorporates a verse from the Qur’an, which is written in Arabic and scrawled in modern, urban-style graffiti.
Critics charge it is a jihadist battle-cry against the West — an assertion disputed by the artist and at least two Toronto academics.
“City staff are currently investigating the concerns raised about this mural,” city spokesman Lynne Kyle said in an e-mail, adding “there was an extensive amount of community consultation that went into the design of the mural and there were no issues raised at that time.”
Taken from a chapter of the Muslim holy book, it is a verse that talks of Allah’s blessing and an Islamic victory of some kind being close at hand.
Salim Ahmad, a member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has launched a petition calling on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to remove the contentious image.
“It’s an excerpt from the Qur’an, (and) it is used as a slogan when you’re fighting a jihad,” he said.
In the petition, Ahmad claims the verse is used by both the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist groups.
The Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Centre (RIWC), located just west of the mosque, applied for a grant and was awarded $17,000 in 2012 for mural projects under a city art program.
Laury Silvers, a part-time professor of Islamic studies at University of Toronto, said the mural’s message has been blown out of proportion.
The verse used in the mural, she added, is based on an ancient Muslim battle with those of polytheistic faith over land and property.
And Adrian Hayles, a non-Muslim artist commissioned to come up with the mural, added Tuesday he chose that Qur’an verse because he was attracted to the look of the Arabic script and felt the English translation conveyed a positive message.
He also said the community was consulted about the project before any paint was put to brick.
Anver Emon, a professor of Islamic law at the University of Toronto, says the word “victory” has many meanings in Islam, depending on the reader’s interpretation.
“The words themselves can take on a large number of meanings. It all depends on how you think the language works,” Emon said. “Could these words be used by someone wanting to espouse the virtues of jihad? Sure. Could these words be used to give patience and endurance to someone who is suffering economic hardships? Absolutely.”
However, Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah, a moderate Muslim voice, isn’t buying it.
“This is about a guarantee of instant victory in a conquest … which is used as a slogan by the Pakistan military, by the Taliban, and by al-Qaida,” countered Fatah, who was recently critical of the project in a column in the Sun.