The acceptance of funding from two Muslim groups for a new chair in Islamic studies at a Canadian university is sparking a heated debate in the country, The Toronto Sun reported.
"The main crux of our concern is not that they are establishing a chair in Muslim studies -- in fact, we think it is urgent for the students at Western and the general public to have a better understanding of Islam," said Rory Leishman, a spokesperson for the University of Western Ontario (UWO) alumni and friends.
"Our concern is for the particular funding of this chair."
The Huron College, an affiliate college at UWO, has accepted $2 million from two Muslim groups; local Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) and the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), to fund a new chair in Islamic studies.
But critics accuse the two groups of promoting violence and warn that the move could influence the school's courses and selection of its chair.
Opponents have signed a letter to protest the acceptance of funding from the two Muslim groups.
In the letter, opponents called on Huron College to reject the funding, citing the case of the Temple University in Philadelphia which declined a $1.5 million offer to fund a chair in Islamic studies after similar concerns were raised.
"We urge Huron University College to follow the example of Temple University and refuse funding from both the IIIT and MAC," reads the letter.
They warn that acceptance of the Muslim funding could affect future findings from "individuals and organizations that would not want to provide financial backing to a university that is affiliated with Islamist groups that provide moral and/or material support to violent jihadists."
But college officials and Muslim leaders defend the funding.
"Chairs are the highest status and we believe Islam and the Muslim community is worthy of a chair, rather than some courses in Islam," said Rev. William Danaher, the dean of the faculty of theology at Huron College.
"We view this as vital to what we hope to achieve in religious studies in the faculty of theology."
Trish Fulton, the interim principal of Huron College, also defended the Muslim funding for the chair.
"We have a due diligence process that -- it includes a site visit, a review of tax returns and any other information available on the organization -- and we follow that before we entertain any gift of a certain size or gift from individuals or organizations," Fulton said.
The IIIT "fund education, Islamic studies, courses and chairs -- that's what they do."
"Islamic Studies is a legitimate subject for academic inquiry and we are very proud that this is the first chair of Islamic studies in a family of theology in Canada."
The Muslim Association of Canada defended the funding as an effort to raise awareness about all religions, including Islam.
"People see the value in this, which is elevating the discourse of Islam and Muslim issues …And adding some meaningful dialogue about what is it to be a Muslim in Canada, what are the challenges, what is the Muslim identity," MAC president Dr. Wael Haddara said.
Haddara dismissed the accusations about the funding which, he said, is based on a theory that Muslim immigrants have a greater agenda to replace Western values with Muslim ones.
"It is a very ingenious argument."
Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the Roman Catholic country.
A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.