According to recently released Wikileak documents focusing on the funding of religious education by foreign states, the Saudi Arabian government is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance a number of private Islamic schools within Canada.
The documents include conversations between diplomats at the Saudi embassy in Ottawa and government officials in Riyadh which took place between 2012 and 2013, concerning donations totaling $211,000 to a school in Ottawa, as well as donations of $134,000 to a school in Mississauga.
According to the schools, the donations were asked for in order to renovate or purchase new facilities because the number of students attending the school began to increase.
While foreign donations to schools are legal, Riyadh has been continuously accused of spreading a fundamentalist form of Islam.
A parliamentary committee is currently looking into foreign donations. Over the past 8 months, a number of questions have come up concerning Saudi funds offered to Muslim communities across Canada, writes Tanisha Rowland for Rowland County News.
“We have to be concerned about all foreign funding coming in,” said Conservative Senator Daniel Lang, who is the chairman of the national security committee.
Critics of the move claim that accepting Saudi dollars comes at the cost of also accepting Saudi doctrine. However, officials at the schools maintain that there has been no Saudi influence, as donations are only accepted on an unconditional basis.
“It’s not the way we operate. We are solely Canadian and we have our own way of doing things,” said Sharaf Sharafeldin, the executive director of the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC). The association runs several mosques and private Islamic schools, including Olive Grove School in Mississauga, which got the $134,000 Saudi donation.
According to the conversation pertaining to that donation, MAC “needs support and aid to carry out a development and construction project for phase two at the school. There is no observations or anything against it.” The school is one of the top performers in the country and currently has a waiting list of 1,200 students.
After questions were brought up about the donation by the media, MAC sent out an email to parents to let them know there was no Saudi influence over the donation, saying, “the grant came with no conditions.” However, the school did need to apply for Saudi financial support in order to receive the donation.
Sharafeldin maintains that the $134,000 donation is minuscule when compared to the entire price of the project, which totals $7 million.
The same response was offered by the Ottawa Islamic School when asked about any Saudi influence that may have come attached to the $211,000 donation they received to help with their $4 million project. “We do not accept such donations with strings attached at all,” said principal Mohamed Sheikh Ahmed.