MHA criticized for associating religious title with violence

James McLeod
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Dr. Syed Pirzada, head of the provincial Muslim association, speaks to the media Wednesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Comments made by Government House Leader Darin King Wednesday are drawing condemnation from the Canadian Islamic Congress, after King said the term "ayatollah" is associated with violence.

King is defending the comment, saying that in the minds of many people, the word "ayatollah" is associated with Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, who was connected with violence and terrorism.

"I'm arguing that the connotation in which the member used, that term is a culmination of an attack on volunteers in this province," King said. "In that connotation, I think most people in the western world associate ayatollah with Ayatollah Khomeini, an individual who was connected to violence and suspected mass murder."

Ayatollah Khomaini was involved in the 1979 Iranian revolution; he died in 1989.

The whole thing started when Liberal MHA Jim Bennett asked a question about the unelected board which is overseeing the amalgamation of the province's four English-language school boards into one mega-board. Bennett wanted to know how long the unelected trustees would be in place; he called them "the ayatollahs of education."

After question period, King raised a point of order in the House, arguing that the way Bennett used the term was an insult, and he should be forced by the Speaker to apologize.

"I believe he used it in a negative sense," King said. "In the negative sense, 'ayatollah' would reference violence - an individual who is connected with mass murder and death."

Amin Elshorbagy, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said that the term "ayatollah" refers to a religious scholar in the Shia sect of Islam. It is akin to a archbishop or cardinal in the Roman Catholic church.

"I'm not sure how this can be related to violence," Elshorbagy said. "Many of the ayatollahs may not be involved in politics at all. They're just sitting in schools and academic institutions and learning and teaching people Islamic studies."

Elshorbagy said the incident could have been an opportunity to teach people about Islam, instead of equating senior Muslim religious figures with violence.

"Actually, it might be even an opportunity to educate the public about the meaning of this terminology, rather than giving the impression that carries a meaning of violence or anything, because it does not," he said. "When they give such comments, they will leave Muslims with the feeling that some politicians insist on making this link, even though its completely false."

Elshorbagy wasn't impressed with Bennett's comment either.

"I think whoever the politician that referred to it, I don't know what he really means. In what sense is the behaviour of those trustees similar to an ayatollah?" he said.

Speaker Ross Wiseman has said he's going to study the transcript of the House of Assembly and take time to consider the matter before he delivers a ruling on whether the term "ayatollah" is considered unparliamentary language.

King said he'll live by whatever the Speaker rules.

"You don't condemn the lawyer if he loses the case," he said. "I'm just the Government House Leader raising points. If I win the point, it'll be dealt with. If I lose the point, that's where it is."

Bennett said he knows exactly what an ayatollah is, and in his original comment, he was making reference to the fact that they're unelected.

"The members of the transition team are not elected, so that means it's undemocratic," he said. "They're not elected, and we need democratically elected school boards in this province. The ayatollahs are simply highly educated clerics."

Bennett said he can't imagine why King is associating his comments with violence.

"This just shows a government that isn't very worldly, and regrettably, we're suffering from their lack of knowledge of the world, and their incompetence," Bennett said. "Christians have killed a lot more Muslims than Muslims have killed Christians."

Dr. Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (MANAL), said that when he heard about the whole brouhaha, he just had to smile.

Pirzada said he doesn't believe that either Bennett or King were deliberately trying to demonize anybody.

"As a member of the community I feel that, when we are given any position of importance, no matter in the community or in the government, we have an obligation to be responsible in our actions, behaviours and public speaking. We must promote peace, harmony, love and tolerance for each other as we are judged on a higher pedestal," Pirzada said in an e-mail. "As a president of MANAL this is our motto and this is our aim to promote peace, love and tolerance in our beautiful Island."


Organizations: Canadian Islamic Congress, Bennett's, MANAL Government House Leader Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Government House, Iceland

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • ed sullivan
    May 16, 2013 - 14:55

    If the people of Canada are not watchful,everybody will be praying in an easterly direction.How come no politician anywhere is speaking up about the current persecution of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Moslem world?

  • mainlander
    May 16, 2013 - 14:24

    Listen to yourselves. The only one that makes any sense of this is Dr. Syed Pirzada. Get as grip....are you trying to be like CNN sharks?

  • Ben
    May 16, 2013 - 12:29

    Once again King shows us what a fool he is, time for all these fools to move on to something else and allow the House Assembly to regain the respect it deserves.

  • Bow to me...
    May 16, 2013 - 11:56

    King is defending the comment, saying that in the minds of many people, the word "ayatollah" is associated with Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, who was connected with violence and terrorism. Where does he get off making such statements. "mind of many people".? for his information, many means--constituting or forming a large number. Even then it does not mean that their view is the right one. Is that the same logic that this PC tyranny is using to govern our land? I think so, for their decisions are so out of touch with the real situation. Lost a billion dollar?

  • Aye me heartys
    May 16, 2013 - 11:09

    Considering that Darrin King has been to the Middle East he should know better. He was in Qatar to visit us when we worked at the College of the North Atlantic there. If this is the kind of intelligence this man exhibits it will be a blight on the Governments attempts to manage the College there.

  • Sylvia J.
    May 16, 2013 - 11:01

    The only one offended was Dunderdale because she wants to be known as "Her Majesty".

  • Mohammed says Two Flawed Arguements
    May 16, 2013 - 10:42

    Mr. Bennett may have chosen his word to reflect that Islamic leadership is undemocratic as Women are forbidden to participate equally with men. Christian faiths do the same thing though. There will be no female Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury. That does not indicate violence, Mr. King.

  • Mike
    May 16, 2013 - 10:22

    Please, madame Premier, for the love of God, please tell King to shut up! Obviously, it was an inappropriate for Jim Bennett to make that reference. An Ayatollah is a Shiite religious leader who is considered so enlightened that they are to be immitated by their followers. Not the reference that our esteemed MHA intended, I am sure. However inappropriate his gaffe was in that regard to have our Leader of the House, our Justice Minister, to compound the issue by raising a point of order and drawing a direct connection between the term and violence...mass murders? Has he lost his ever-loving-mind? Then, for whatever unforgiveable reason, he publicly attempts to defend his stupidity by expanding on his racist rationale! Does he not understand the international implications? How freaking opaque can he be? Is he looking for a job with Jason Kenny or John Baird? He is a proven embarrassment, the Premier needs to take immediate action to disassociate herself from him and his comments. Immediate and permanent. If he won't resign, he should be removed as an MHA.

  • Scott Free
    May 16, 2013 - 10:21

    Advice to Darin King....keep your mouth closed and keep them guessing; rather than open it and remove all doubt.

  • Mark
    May 16, 2013 - 09:53

    Why is this news? Just because politicans act like children for a contrived 5 minutes doesn't mean you have to print it. It only encourages repetition of this silly behaviour. Person x makes silly accusation against person y might be entertainment, but it's hardly news.

  • expat Newfoundlander
    May 16, 2013 - 09:52

    Like was pointed out... much ado about nothing...shame on the government for splitting hairs... as if there weren't enough issues that carry a greater importance within the province such as poverty...prostitution..drugs and a growing crime rate....I fail to see how the term ayatolla used in the context that it was used could be associated with Khomeini...King sets the political system back a hundered years every time he opens his mouth... when there should be progress..then just dragging the muslim community into it to justify his actions..? Mr. King sir.. you are in every sense of the word a childish moron...

  • Wally Keeler
    May 16, 2013 - 09:38

    “Christians have killed a lot more Muslims than Muslims have killed Christians,” announced Liberal MHA, Jim Bennett. Really? Is there any evidence whatsoever to support such a contention either way? What is the purpose of such a prejudicial assertion, other than a venal politician grovelling on a mat of humility. Przt!

  • Jay
    May 16, 2013 - 09:33

    Is Darin King on some kind of a mission to prove himself an idiot? Could the premier just tell him to keep his mouth closed? Bennett is no better.

  • dan
    May 16, 2013 - 09:19

    Typical response from the ruling morons! DK looking to make points gets jabbed again! lol

  • Not Again
    May 16, 2013 - 09:11

    Geez, Darnit King went and put his foot in his mouth again; another severe case of hoof and mouth disease.

  • tom
    May 16, 2013 - 08:33

    Sad part here is that our own Govt. had no idea what they were talking about. Again. It just shows the absolute ignorance King has to the real world. This should help them in their bid to attract more immigrants to the province. I think he should do some diversity training so he can stop looking like a buffoon and reflecting poorly on the rest of us. But his flippant attitude about it means, as always, the PC govt. holds zero accountability. Sickening. Sad part is that this guy IS an elected official.

  • Steve
    May 16, 2013 - 08:03

    Bennet made a molehill, King tried to make a mountain out of it.

  • Jeff
    May 16, 2013 - 07:25

    I am not an expert of Islam in any way shape or form, but I believe that an Ayatollah is a reilgious "rank" so to speak. A figure of the word of god, in reference to the Quran. Someone of religious power and one that is looked up to. Maybe i'm wrong, but I don't think that an Ayatollah is any way a violent person by definition. Just because one man was, it doesn't mean that Mr. Bennett was reffering to violence. Adolf Hilter was a leader of a country. That doesn't make a leader of any given country a horrible human being like Hitler was does it? Sounds like Darin King is trying to ruin someones personal reputation for his own personal gain due to the known sensitivity of racial/religious comments.

  • Paul
    May 16, 2013 - 07:17

    what you see here is the result of anti-muslim rhetoric ongoing throughout Canada and the USA since 911, if not before...clearly the Ayatollahs in people's mind are those running Iran...which is clearly and by definition, not an institution of democratic values...which is fitting for the usage made by the opposition member...but there is no valid association with mass more than any other national leader including those in the west. Are the Ayatollahs squeaky clean? I doubt it. are Presidents and Prime Ministers squeaky clean?... ignorance people, its just ignorance. should we expect better in our own leadership? I would like to, but do not expect to see it...islamophobia runs deep in Canada and NL, at least based on the comments one sees on line...I expect someone to attack my comments, and will try to justify islamophobes in NL.