The imam at Winnipeg's Grand Mosque gave worshippers a jolt Friday when he said during his sermon that the Conservatives don't deserve their vote.

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The imam at Winnipeg's Grand Mosque gave worshippers a jolt Friday when he said during his sermon that the Conservatives don't deserve their vote.

"We cannot vote for you," Imam Hosni Azzabi told close to 1,000 people who packed Manitoba's largest mosque on Waverley Street.

Imam Hosni Azzabi: singles out Tories

Imam Hosni Azzabi: singles out Tories

Azzabi pulled no punches, saying he wanted to "single out" the Conservatives for making Canada "the first Western country to deny humanitarian aid to the innocent Palestinian people."

The Conservatives support ongoing "Israeli aggression on both Lebanon and Palestine," he said in a recording of his sermon that was removed from the Internet Tuesday afternoon.

Azzabi's partisan pitch included a claim that Canada, under the Conservatives, is perpetuating the loss of life with a war in an already devastated Afghanistan.

Canada used to work for peace in the Middle East, but now it's taking sides, he said over the din of babies crying and kids being shushed at the prayer service. "With the Conservative party, we have decided to shift that mission and to shift that position and to blindly support one side," Azzabi said. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Manitoba Islamic Association president, Dr. Naseer Warraich, downplayed the tone of the imam's talk.

"It was just the imam talking about normal things," said Warraich. "People are making up a lot of stories. (The mosque is) very neutral," said Warraich.

Conservative MPs Shelley Glover and Rod Bruinooge have been invited to the Grand Mosque, Warraich said, adding the place of worship has no axe to grind with the Tories nor does the imam.

"He is not a political person," said Warraich. "I am involved in the political process... He just does the sermon and talks about the holy Qur'an. He does his own thing."

But other members of the msoque's board were taken aback by the imam's sermon, and issued a statement after the service.

"The Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) is a charitable, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. The political views expressed by MIA-employed Imam Hosni Azzabi and approved by president Naseer are their personal views and must not in anyway be considered the official views of the executive council (EC) of Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA)."

In his sermon and without naming names, Azzabi took local Tory MPs to task for their treatment of Muslims. "From experience we know that when we would like to meet with one of the MPs of the... Conservatives, the doors are locked."

He pointed out Liberal candidates in attendance Friday, without naming them. Liberal candidates Terry Duguid and Ray Simard were both campaigning at the Grand Mosque Friday.

The anti-Tory sermon came as a shock to some members of the community.

"Naturally, during some sermons, you can get a little tired of listening," said one Muslim man who was at the mosque for Friday prayers. The imam got the worshippers' attention when the tone of his sermon changed. "Everyone started waking up," said the man who didn't want to be publicly identified. "They'd never heard the imam use the pedestal to talk about a political party."

News of the anti-Tory sermon surprised Bruinooge. "Everyone in that community has always been very friendly to me," said Bruinooge, who is running in Winnipeg South against Duguid. "I've always been treated with respect," said Bruinooge.

Arrangements for him to speak at the Grand Mosque later this week were already in the works before he heard about the imam's sermon. "They have invited me to come and speak a number of times before," said Bruinooge. Duguid wouldn't speak to the Free Press about the imam's comments but his spokesman said "he's been very well received" at the mosque and church services he's attended. If there were any nasty comments about the Tories made it's because of their "divisive policies," he said.

The fact the imam is from Tunisia and a newcomer to democracy may have something to do with it, said Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association.

"There is absolutely no freedom of expression there," she said of Tunisia. The imam and the four-year-old Grand Mosque are both learning. "They're just finding their political legs," said Siddiqui.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.