The Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) was alerted via its general contact form on February 2 that the turbah in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology’s multi-faith space has been vandalized, and an anti-Shia Muslim note was left at the scene. Turbah are clay tablets that Shia Muslims use in their regular prayers.
Ammara Wasim, Vice-President Communications of the MSA, said that on the day the incident was reported, MSA President Ammar ElAmir went to the Bahen space at 2:00 pm to investigate. ElAmir found that the turbah and note were missing.
The MSA then received a second email reporting the incident, and MSA Vice-President Internal Bilal Hasan went to Bahen to replace the turbah and tablets. When Hasan went to Bahen, the vandalized turbah and note had been returned to the room.
The note left in the space reads: “To the Shia’s: No such thing as following Imam Ali. And no such thing as using a stone for praying. – Kind Regards.”
Wasim said the MSA believes the act was most likely carried out by “another Muslim who does not belong to one of the Minority Sects.”
Sunni Muslims make up the vast majority of Muslims. Shias make up approximately 10–20 per cent of the world’s Muslim population, and they are the largest minority group.
One of the differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims is who they believe was the rightful successor to Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as the leader of the religion. Sunnis believe that Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, was the rightful successor; Shias believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin — and the “Imam Ali” referred to in the note — was the rightful successor.
“We also strongly condemn this act of hatred and recognize the need to provide a safer space on campus for ALL Muslim students,” wrote Wassim. “Anti-Shi’ism is a very real and prominent issue that we will address in collaboration with all other Muslim groups on campus.”
“We want to make sure that the perpetrators and anyone else who holds this prejudice realise that this behaviour is not and never will be acceptable.”
U of T’s Thaqalyn Muslim Association, which aims to “foster a greater acceptance of Shi’a students and the general Muslim student body on campus whilst improving relations amongst Muslims and non-Muslims,” also released a statement on the incident.
“The Thaqalayn Muslim Association strongly condemns the religiously-intolerant act that took place,” reads the statement. “It is not befitting for such a close-minded deed to occur in this country, much less in a university where education is sought. Any sincere seeker of knowledge would not criticize the beliefs and practices of others without first making the effort to learn about them.”
“While the hateful act explicitly targeted Shia Muslims, the pain is felt by the broader Muslim community as well,” continues the statement.
The MSA has contacted U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO), but it had not heard back from the office as of press time.
Update (February 6, 11:00pm): ARCDO is in touch with Campus Police as well as Toronto Police Services and is in contact with the MSA.