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Statistics Canada projected Tuesday that Muslims are on target to make up half of the country’s expanding non-Christian religious population by 2031. That means roughly one out of 10 Canadians might be Muslim in two decades.

Although the proportion of Muslims will vary from region to region across the country, the Statistics Canada forecasting suggests Metro Vancouver will be home to more than 230,000 Muslims within two decades, compared to 72,000 now.

Many of those new Muslims will have origins in Arabian countries, Pakistan and India, which are a rich source of new immigrants to Canada.

The projected rapid growth of Islam in Canada might paint a controversial scenario for some people. There have been outcries in certain quarters, for instance, when some people have projected — incorrectly — that Europe will be almost dominated by Muslims by 2040, with some fear-mongers claiming the continent should be renamed “Eurabia.”

Such worries — that European Christianity is on the defensive and that waves of Muslim immigrants to the continent have higher birthrates — contributed last year to Swiss voters deciding to ban the construction of new minarets on mosques.

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Federal immigration officials say there’s little they can do to stop “child brides” from being sponsored into Canada by much older husbands who wed them in arranged marriages abroad.

Top immigration officials in Canada and Pakistan say all they can do is reject the sponsorships of husbands trying to bring their child-brides to Canada. The men have to reapply when the bride turns 16.

The marriages are permitted under Sharia Law.

Muslim men, who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, return to their homeland to wed a “child bride” in an arranged marriage in which a dowry is given to the girl’s parents.

Officials said some of the brides can be 14 years old or younger and many are forced to marry. The practice occurs in a host of countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Lebanon.

In classified documents, Canadian visa officer Steve Bulmer said he refused to allow one Pakistani man to sponsor his 15-year-old bride in August 2009.

“I can find no section (of law) that states the marriage is ‘invalid’ or ‘void,'” Bulmer wrote in e-mails obtained by lawyer Richard Kurland under Access of Information. “I am afraid the age does not invalidate the marriage even if it is illegal to marry.”

Abdul Hameed, of the Canadian embassy in Islamabad, said child marriages are not valid in Canada.

“A child marriage is punishable but it does not render the marriage invalid,” Hameed said. “We are refusing such application on grounds the marriage will not be valid as per Canadian laws.” William Hawke, of immigration’s Permanent Resident Unit, said the young brides won’t be allowed in Canada.

“Sponsorship applications submitted for a spouse under 16 will be refused,” Hawke said. “Once an underage spouse turns 16 they are a member of the family class” and can be sponsored.

He said the application is rejected if a spouse turns 16 during processing. Kurland said there’s little that can be done to stop Canadians from marrying child brides.

“A 15-year-old bride doesn’t void a marriage,” Kurland said on Thursday.

“The application is turned down and the person can reapply when his bride turns 16.”

He said the practice has been going on for years and “is a concrete loophole that can’t be fixed.”

Immigration officials quoting an Afghanistan Law of Marriages said in some countries it is “customary for young females to wed men considerably older, especially if the man is in a position of financial or social power.”

According to the law, it is not uncommon for marriages between first cousins or extended family members.

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Imam Khaled Abdul-Hamid Syed from Ottowa has issued a fatwa against credit cards, even if they are paid off every month.

“I conclude that it contains usury … which is forbidden in Islam, so it should not be used,” Imam Syed said in a mass email to members of the city’s main mosque.

Islam has always banned interest for the same reason usury is condemned in other faiths: It can sink debtors, even whole economies, as recent years have shown.

“It’s to protect people from falling in a lot of debt,” the imam said in an interview.

“Interest is demeaning to people,” added Ismail Barreh, an MBA student at the University of Ottawa who sat in on the conversation. “They are in need, and then you can take advantage of them.”

There are two schools of thought about credit cards among Islamic scholars. Some argue they are permissible as long as no interest is accrued, meaning bills must always be paid in full.

Others disagree, quoting one of the earliest religious authorities, Ibn Mass’ood: “Allah has cursed the one who consumes Riba [usury or interest], the one who gives it to others, the one who records it and the one who witnesses it…. All of them are equal in sin.”

This group believes anyone who signs a contract for the card “is ready to pay interest, thus he freely approves of dealing with interest.”…

Imam Syed replied in the mass email that she should rely instead on a prepaid credit card that can be loaded with set amounts. Cardholders can only spend what is on the card, and no interest is incurred.

In the interview, the imam stressed the fatwa is not binding, nor would every imam hold the same opinion.

“A fatwa is a religious decision, to tell people what their God loves, and what makes their God angry with them…. It is a religious decision to the person who asked.”

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