Quakers Appalled by Islamophobia

October 20, 2015

Quakers are appalled at the bigotry and discrimination we see targeting the diverse members of the Muslim faith in Canada. We call on all Canadians to stand against this.

We cannot help but think that deeply divisive and harmful political rhetoric is one of the drivers of this growing hostility. We are witnesses to scapegoating of Muslims, which distracts from the many significant issues this country faces. We ask our politicians and news media to take firm stands against Islamophobia, hate, racism, division and inequity.

To retain and strengthen its multicultural identity, Canada needs to increase educational and intercultural dialogue initiatives that will foster understanding and share accurate information about our diverse communities. Like Christians and Jews, most Muslims live by the creeds of the Abrahmic Traditions, which honour peace, love, commitment to God and to creation. These Abrahmic faiths share history, and some fundamental moral and spiritual beliefs.

We support the right of individuals to choose to wear the clothing that they feel is appropriate to them, including the hijab, burka or niqab. Human rights, such as the right to religious expression, are of critical importance. When human rights are taken away for any Canadians, rights are effectively made vulnerable for all. We recognize that the niqab has been worn by some Muslim women in Canada for decades and it is neither new nor a threat. We encourage those who are afraid of the clothing or customs of their Muslim neighbours to remain calm and to examine the real sources of their discomfort.

A truly tiny number of individuals claiming to be motivated by Islam have acted or planned to act violently in this country. The same can be said of individuals claiming to be motivated by Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, and so on. We unequivocally condemn all expressions of violence, whether arising from religious or secular motives.

We equally condemn the conditions of exclusion, injustice and inequality which too often lie at the roots of violence. Services including adequate housing, employment opportunities, and culturally safe mental and other health services, promote feelings of belonging. Quakers support such initiatives for all Canadians, noting that these are among the conditions that result in healthy and peaceful communities.

We acknowledge the responsibilities of the State to ensure security for all who live in Canada.  However, we join with others in profoundly questioning measures taken by Canada which appear to have disproportionately impacted Muslims, Indigenous peoples and people of colour. These have included increasing surveillance, extrajudicial renditions, security certificates, and closing the space for legitimate forms of dissent. As recent and interrelated examples, we are deeply concerned by the flawed “Anti-Terrorism Act” Bill C-51 and changes to Canadian citizenship which has become increasingly restricted through Bill C-24.

We know that there are countless people of all faiths and of no particular faith who seek thoughtful and caring responses to ignorance and violence wherever they appear. We acknowledge with thanks all those who persevere tirelessly for justice and peace and against the marginalization of Muslims or other Canadians. Quakers remain committed to working together with these groups and individuals to put our faith into action.

With hope and in Friendship,


Lana Robinson

Clerk, Canadian Friends Service Committee


Elaine Bishop

Presiding Clerk, Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)


*A Word copy of this letter is available here.




Mark Stanley Reflects on Discovering Quakers

Mark Stanley

Mark Stanley

This piece was originally published in the author’s blog.

I came to Quakers because I was looking for a Christian-based pacifist tradition, seeking companions and examples for the pacifist beliefs I had formed in isolation. I found the religious basis of Quaker pacifism very compatible with my own religious experiences. That there is “that of God” in everyone, and that everyone has the capacity to hear the voice of the Spirit and communicate it to others, was something I had felt for myself.

I was already worshiping alone in a way similar to the manner of Friends, sitting in silence and waiting for a religious experience like the two I’d already had in similar circumstances. While worshiping in Meeting I’ve had other profound religious experiences, though I’m not gifted with ministry very often. My personal worship is profoundly enriched by the company of my community.

I had a sex change many years ago, transitioning from female to male as a young adult. I’ve since described it as discarding that which was false, so that I spoke the truth with my words, my deeds, and my physical body. For me it was a powerful way to let my life speak, to act with the integrity Friends strive for. It was something I did years before coming to Friends, but it was another example of the way I wanted to live being the way Friends practiced their spirituality.

I became a convinced Friend very quickly after I started attending Meeting, though I waited a few years to take membership. The practices of the society made a lot of sense to me, and the accumulated wisdom of centuries of Friends is a wonderful spiritual and intellectual resource for me. When I’m feeling fearful, angry, or bereft, I can look to the experiences of people like me who have overcome their own human frailties to act with courage and love, upholding the values of peace and justice, speaking to the powerful and the powerless as children of God.

Quakers at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Walk

Quakers from Ottawa and beyond, some of whom are pictured here, were a very few of the 10,000 Indigenous and Settler peoples who walked in the Walk For Reconciliation, on May 31st in Ottawa. The walk was one of the activities that were part of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report on the experiences and effects of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. It was amazing to walk with such a diverse and committed community! The summary findings of the TRC in English can be found here.


Clerk of Canadian Yearly Meeting, Elaine Bishop, attended the release of the report on behalf of Canadian Quakers. She invites everyone to respond to the invitation issued by Chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, to walk the path shown by the TRC up to the mountain peak of reconciliation even though it will take more than this generation.

Our past can help shape our future: The Canadian Friends Historical Association

Quakers have often been ambiguous about honouring historical figures.  Plain language made sure that no honour was paid to leaders in the community; everyone got the informal ‘thee’ or ‘thou.’  There was no tangible honour paid to a dead leader in the community.  The gravestone of an important man or woman was exactly like the gravestone of the humblest member of the community. No inspiration was taken from historical records of great leaders.  Pre-Fox Church leaders had largely gotten it wrong, so their record was not worth looking at. Not even leaders in the Bible were noted as examples meant to inspire us.   To the extent that history is often the record of battles fought and battles won, there was little interest in keeping these records in the Society of Friends.  One’s inspiration was to come from the Inner Light, not the dark past.

On the other hand, the Quaker life is not merely an inner experience.  If the Inner Light is given its proper place in the life of a Quaker, it will show through in the testimonies.   These testimonies will shape the life of the Friend, and shape the place where he/she lives, works and plays. Looking into the history of Quakers as individuals and as communities will reveal the cultural impact of their testimonies, and give us examples today of how we can apply the testimonies to make this world a better place, and bring it  closer to the Kingdom of Peace.spart quaker plaque

We all know about the impact of the Quakers on the slave trade, but there are many other examples of how the Quaker ideals shaped local realities, and the knowledge of them is worth preserving. For example, Fair Trade is a popular expression today of the testimonies of integrity and stewardship, amongst others. Did you know that a Quaker teacher named Elias Hicks was preaching Fair Trade in the 1820’s?  Even as he lay dying, he resisted the use of a cotton sheet to keep him warm because the cotton industry was tainted by slavery.  Maybe you knew that the first women’s rights convention in North America was convened in 1848 by five women, four of whom were Quaker.  A number of Canadian settlements were founded by Quakers. In Ontario alone, there are the examples of Lloydtown, Newmarket, Norwich, Pelham, Pickering, Schomberg and Whitchurch. Nicholas Austin founded Austin, Quebec. When the Quakers came to existing settlements, their sense of conviction and purpose often mobilized the earlier settlers to build the first local school house, meeting house, and saw mill. Timothy Rogers founded both Newmarket and Pickering and his descendants founded Rogers Telecommunications Inc. The first woman principal of a public school in Ontario who went on to become Canada’s first woman doctor, Emily Stowe, was a Quaker.  Crop scientist Charles Zavitz developed a strain of barley that dominated Canadian agriculture for 38 years but he refused any public accolades from the Canadian brewing industry.  Quakers have enhanced many aspects of Canadian life.

In Canada, there is a group of Friends and friends who have been active since 1972 in collecting and publishing the historical impact of Quakers. The Canadian Friends Historical Association (CFHA) is responsible for two publications, a monthly newsletter and an annual journal,  and one annual conference in September.  On top of that, it has three projects on the go.  The oldest project is the Built Heritage Register. The purpose of this register is to document, recognize and, if possible, preserve Quaker-built heritage in Canada. Another project is the Family History Project. According to the CFHA website  “the Canadian Quaker Family History Project seeks to document the lives and experiences of the thousands of descendants of Quaker settlers from the 18th century onwards.  A more recent project has been the Transcription of Minute books and Registers of the Nine Partners Meeting in Millbrook, New York which contain many references to Canadian Friends. Another project being discussed might take the form of a Quakerpedia and be made up of an open directory to collect in one, easily accessible place a list of Quakers in Canada who have made a difference in their communities by their faithfulness to living out the Quaker testimonies.


If this blog entry has sparked an interest in you to help with maintain the historic Quaker testimony in Canada, please contact the CFHA through

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On Visitation

Some of you will have had the pleasure, as I did, of attending Mark Burch’s Quaker Study sessions at CYM in August (available to watch in the Video section of our Resources page). Mark talked about simplicity, and what it means to us and to others when we choose to live a more simple life. If you were inspired by Mark’s lectures, if you enjoyed his gentle and friendly presentation style, you may be delighted to know that Mark is one of the Friends available to come and visit your Meeting through the CYM Visitation Program! How cool is that! 

Maybe simple living isn’t what your Meeting needs to hear about right now. Maybe you’re struggling, as many of our Meetings are, with what eldering means, and how to develop the gifts of eldership. If so, you could have Ellen Helmuth, Margaret Slavin, Laurel Beyer, or one of our other seasoned Friends come for a visit.

What about help with managing conflict in your Meeting? Unless you’re that mythical Meeting that never has conflict, you might be interested in inviting Bruce Dienes, Lesley Read, or Elizabeth Azmier Stewart – just some of our Visitors with excellent skills in conflict management. Whether it’s resolving a conflict or learning how to live with conflict in better ways, we can help!

Quaker process? We’ve got all the heavies: Marilyn Manzer, Dana Mullen, Anne Marie Zilliacus, Elaine Bishop, Jane Orion Smith, Dan Cooperstock, and many more.

Why would a Meeting invite someone from another Meeting, when many of us have these resources right at home? Well, we know that people accord more respect to people they don’t know as well – the ‘prophet in his own town’ syndrome. A Friend who has been invited to speak on a particular subject may draw more people, and be listened to more closely, than a member of the home Meeting. Also, bringing in someone from another Meeting means that everyone in your Meeting can participate in the discussion or event. Having a visitor can revitalize and engage your Meeting.


Here’s what Friends had to say after having Visitors at their Meetings:

.      I always find our retreats nurturing. This one especially as we were so much more focused and a thread ran through the weekend making it feel like a whole. 

.      It brought the meeting together in a focus on the origins of Quaker Faith and Practice and will serve as a base for us moving forward as a meeting.

.      I hope it made us familiar with Quaker process and will help the Meeting be more aware of the discernment process and Friends’ reasons behind the testimonies.

.      I feel a stronger connection to meeting members who were present. I think the experience probably fostered the feeling of community among all of us.

.      I think our meeting benefited from learning together, from better grounding in the early roots of Quakerism, and from meeting spiritually grounded Friends from other meetings.

.     This has been a rich and spiritually enhancing experience.  

.      … it was nice to relax into being strictly a participant, not a facilitator or process designer.

.      Having a week long visit made certain kinds of nurture possible that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

.      [Having visitors] helped some people feel supported by the unity of the body of Canadian Yearly Meeting.

.      … we may have the beginning of a process we can continue, for nurturing and transforming relationships.

.      Let’s keep this valuable process going. Quakers come from diverse religious backgrounds and our two travelers gave us a lot of interesting Quaker history and allowed us to share our diverse belief in a respectful and tactful way.

.      This is great and I highly recommend other Meetings take advantage.

.      Having fresh eyes is especially helpful in seeing beyond the limits of ourselves

.      Do it!!

My own Meeting recently had visitors from Friends General Conference, and it was a delight to get together for food and learning, and to see 50-60 Friends in the room instead of the usual 20-30. That’s what having visitors does.

So what are you waiting for? What would Friends in your Meeting most like to learn? What might strengthen or improve the health of your Meeting as a whole? Where are the gaps in knowledge or experience? There are all kinds of topics available to choose from, and all flavours of Quakers available to come visit. If you don’t see what you need, just ask. Remember too that the ability to afford a visitor shouldn’t be a barrier. If you need help, we’ll find it.  Just ask.

 Stephanie Deakin

CYM Visitation Program Coordinator