An Ontario man convicted of promoting hatred against Muslims says his community-service sentence has included indoctrination into Islam.
After losing an appeal to Canada’s Supreme Court on Oct. 17, Mark Harding must resume his sentence of two years probation and 340 hours of community service under the direction of Mohammad Ashraf, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, Ont.
Harding, 47, said he had one session under Ashraf in 1998 before an appeal process stayed the sentence.
Ashraf, according to Harding, said that instead of licking stamps and stuffing envelopes, “it would be better if you learned about Islam.”
The cleric made it clear, Harding recalled in an interview with WorldNetDaily, that during the sessions nothing negative could be said about Islam or its prophet, Muhammad.
“He said he was my supervisor, and if I didn’t follow what he said, he would send me back to jail,” recounted Harding, who had been prevented from speaking publicly about his case under a gag order.
Harding was convicted in 1998 on federal hate-crimes charges stemming from a June 1997 incident in which he distributed pamphlets outside a public high school, Weston Collegiate Institute in Toronto. Harding – who said that until that point he spent most of his time evangelizing Muslims – was protesting the school’s policy of setting aside a room for Muslim students to pray during school hours.
In one of his pamphlets, Harding listed atrocities committed by Muslims in foreign lands to back his assertion that Canadians should be wary of local Muslims.
The pamphlet said: “The Muslims who commit these crimes are no different than the Muslim believers living here in Toronto. Their beliefs are based on the Quran. They sound peaceful, but underneath their false sheep’s clothing are raging wolves seeking whom they may devour. And Toronto is definitely on their hit list.”
“The point I was trying to make is you shouldn’t have a violent religion like Islam allowed in a school when Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism is not allowed,” he told WND.
Harding, an evangelical Protestant, insists he has love rather than hatred toward Muslims and wants to see them go to heaven.
A lawyer for Harding, Jasmine Akbaralli, says she is trying to obtain permission for her client to serve out his sentence in an Islamic community closer to his current home in Chesley, Ont., north of Toronto and about a three-hour drive from the Islamic Society of North America.
The plea is based on humanitarian grounds, she said, due to her client’s poor health.
Harding said he has suffered four heart attacks since 1997, and he and his wife and two children are penniless because his health has prevented him from maintaining his trade as a cabinetmaker.
Akbaralli said she would not comment on Harding’s previous experience with Ashraf, noting that she was not representing him at the time. Calls to Ashraf and others at the Islamic Society of North America on Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.
During his 1998 session with Ashraf, Harding was told to read a book called Towards Understanding Islam, by Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi.
On page 12 of the book, Harding noted, it gives a description of a “kafir,” or infidel, a person who does not follow Islam.
“Such a man … will spread confusion and disorder on the earth,” the book says. “He will without the least compunction, shed blood, violate other men’s rights, be cruel to them, and create disorder and destruction in the world. His perverted thoughts and ambitions, his blurred vision and disturbed scale of values, and his evil-spelling activities would make life bitter for him and for all around him.”
“It was obvious that he intended to make sure I understood that I was a kafir,” Harding said of Ashraf.
Harding’s 1998 conviction on three counts of willfully promoting hatred was commended by Canadian Muslims.
“The verdict sends a message to Christians, Muslims and Jews that personal views of that nature can’t be allowed in a public forum,” said Shahina Siddiqui, coordinator of community relations and social services for the Manitoba Islamic Association, in a report by the Canadian evangelical publication Christian Week. “There’s a fine line between freedom of expression and hatred. Harding crossed that line.”
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said after the verdict that “spreading hate is against Canadian values and against Canadian law, and it doesn’t matter the group that is victimized.”
The verdict was not a suppression of free speech, Elmasry insisted, according to Alberta Report magazine, arguing that he would not consider scholarly books in the library that criticize Islam to be hate literature. Harding “is just trying to stereotype and put out hate literature, and he was found guilty by the courts,” he said.
Harding asserted at the time that he meant to criticize only Islamic terrorists, not all Muslims. But he added that faithful Muslims will always engage in jihad, or holy war, against non-Muslims because it is required by Islamic teachings.
Many Muslim scholars in North America argue that jihad essentially means “struggle” and is not necessarily violent.
But Harding said that after his case became public, he no longer felt safe, due to threats from Muslims. When he entered court for the first time for his trial, he required police protection as a large crowd of Muslims gathered, with some chanting, “Infidels, you will burn in hell.”
Harding said he received many death threats among more than 3,000 hate-filled calls that came to his answering service in 1997. Similar calls were received by police and the Ontario attorney general, he said.
“I had a call from someone who said they were from (Louis) Farrakhan’s (Nation of Islam) group, and they were going to break my legs,” he said. “Another caller said he would rip out my testicles.”
The Islamic Society of North America in Canada, where Harding is required to fulfill his community service, describes itself as a “broad-based unity of Muslims and Islamic organizations committed to the mission and movement of Islam: nurturing a way of life in the light of the guidance from the Quran and Sunnah for establishing a vibrant presence of Muslims in Canada.”
The organization shares facilities with the Canadian Council on Islamic Relations, an affiliate of the controversial Council on Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR, in Washington, D.C.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper indicated in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he wants to see the United States become a Muslim country.
“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper told the Star Tribune. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”
Judge Sidney B. Linden’s 1998 ruling against Harding was based on Canada’s genocide and hate-crimes law. The judge determined he was guilty of “false allegations about the adherents of Islam calculated to arouse fear and hatred of them in all non-Muslim people.”
The law bars a public statement that “willfully promotes hatred” against groups “distinguished by color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” The code has an article that excuses statements expressed in “good faith,” including religious expression. But the trial judge found that Harding had either “tried to incite hatred or was willfully blind to it,” according to lawyer Akbaralli.
Canadian Christian groups are fighting a bill reinstated this month by a homosexual parliament member that would add “sexual orientation” as a protected category in the hate-crimes statutes. Known previously as bill C-415, it is now registered as C-250.
Evangelicals have supported Harding in principle, though many have signaled their opposition to his aggressive tactics or have expressed reservations.
Harding said he’s received support from Christians who immigrated to Canada from Muslim countries, where minority religions experience discrimination and persecution.
“I have a lot of Pakistani and Egyptian friends helping me through this because they understand what Islam is all about,” he said. “When they heard about me in the news, they called to offer their support.”