OTTAWA, 17 Dhul Hijja/13 Nov.(IINA)-Carrying a message of tolerance, a new Ottawa imam has taken up his job with a commitment to advance the cause of moderate Islam, help the Muslim minority contribute more to the wider society and enhance interfaith relations.

“I have a mission of building bridges, helping the Muslim community to know the moderate approach of Islam and coexist with the wider community like we have here in Canada,” Samy Metwally, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, told the Ottawa Citizen on Sunday, November 13.

“My mission is to help Muslims understand their role in society, help them to understand they have duties and responsibilities to each other, to their neighbors who might be non-Muslims, and to the whole society.”

Holding a degree in Christian-Muslim relations, Metwally has been appointed imam and spiritual leader of the Ottawa Mosque, home to the city’s largest Muslim community.

He will replace scholar Khalid Abdul-Hamid Syed, whose three-year term ended in the summer.

Khalid too was an Egyptian seconded to Ottawa by the Egyptian government after a request by the Ottawa Muslim Association.

Metwally paid tribute to his predecessor, saying Khalid “did good for the community.”

The new imam graduated from Egypt’s renowned Al-Azhar University in 1998 and then worked for a while as a religious translator in his native country.

Later, he worked for the website IslamOnline as a senior Shariah researcher where he used to answer religious questions and give fatwas – legal rulings – on a variety of issues to an online audience largely made up of North American Muslims.

In 2009, the imam, 38, became a Fulbright scholar at the Hartford Seminary, a US institution well-known for its multi-faith programs.

A master’s student in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, he graduated in September.

In between, he studied American culture at Arizona State University, and was imam in the city of Berlin, Connecticut.

Understanding the nature of the society, Qasem Mahmud, chairman of the Joint Committee of the Ottawa Muslim Association who led the search for a new imam, said they were not looking for someone with just a religious pedigree.

In their search, they wanted a spiritual leader with “moderation, flexibility and ability to communicate with non-Muslims,” Mahmud said.

After an exhaustive search, Metwally was chosen because he has not only the necessary Islamic knowledge and grounding in Arabic, but also has the right temperament.

And in a diverse community like Ottawa where English is critical, his language skills are very good.

“You need someone who is open, knowledgeable, has a good command of English and Arabic, and can communicate easily with youth, women and members of the community regardless of ethnic background,” Mahmud said.

“You also need someone who can present Islam in its true form – moderation, flexibility, love for others and an understanding that people have a right to hold different views. He has all the qualities and he is the right man for the time.”

Mingling with Canadian society, Metwally, who has four children, three boys and a girl aged four to 12, enrolled two of his boys in a public school.

He says this would help them “learn more about the culture of the community and country they live in.”

He has also dedicated much of his time meeting and hearing from as many people as he can from the community, hoping they will “open their hearts to each other” and that way, help him guide them to faithfully practice their religion.

Through such meetings, he will be able to present a better understanding of what Islam is really all about.

“We have a very diverse community and my vision is to help them love each other, live in harmony with each other and widen the relationship with the wider community,” he said.

“What’s more important to me is to help Muslims contribute to the society in which they live in order to create a positive image of Islam through their behavior.”

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.