Toronto Police chaplain speaks out after online comments on women's 'obedience' draw concern

A newly-appointed chaplain for the Toronto Police is speaking out after coming under fire for comments made about marriage and women's duties to their husbands.

Canadian Council of Muslim Women head says Musleh Khan's comments 'appalling'

Musleh Khan stands in police uniform after being appointed as chaplain. (Musleh Khan/Facebook)

A newly-appointed chaplain for Toronto police is speaking out after coming under fire from the police union for comments made about marriage and women's duties to their husbands.

Musleh Khan says he appreciates the criticism of his choice of words after a 2013 webinar surfaced.  

Titled The Heart of the Home: the Rights and Responsibilities of a Wife, the webinar is intended for Muslim couples. In it, Khan states that a woman must be "obedient" to her husband.

In the almost hour-long seminar, Khan is heard saying that a woman must make herself available and "not withhold this right from her husband without a valid excuse," such as sickness or obligatory fasting. The video is posted on the YouTube page for Pure Matrimony, a dating site that brands itself for  "practicing single Muslims."

"Upon deliberating on the definition of 'obedience' as being, 'To yield to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure,' I agree that the term was inappropriate if used out of context," Khan said in a statement Tuesday. 

Words 'inappropriate if used out of context,' chaplain says

"I realise how someone unfamiliar with this nuance can misunderstand my imprecise translation to mean something different to my intended meaning, and the meaning that I know my audience at the time understood clearly," he added, explaining that the Arabic word often translated as "obedience" in fact denotes loyalty, devotion and love. 

We've been fighting for Muslim women's rights and something like this really sets us back.- Alia Hogben, Canadian Council of Muslim Women

In the webinar, Khan breaks down five duties of a wife and then goes on to describe the different rights of a wife. Some Islamic scholars even believe that if a woman "refuses without a valid reason then she has committed a major sin," Khan says in the video.

"Even some scholars went as far as saying that even if it doesn't feel right, or you're just not in that emotional relationship you know it's not the right manner, you're not feeling that at that particular time, still try to make it happen, still try to force yourself even if you have to do that," Khan said.   

This list and the explanations behind it have the Toronto Police Association, the union that represents the city's police officers and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women worried. Earlier Monday, the association raised questions about how the police service vets its chaplains. 

Mike McCormack, president of the association, said he's taken a look at the webinar and has received many calls and emails from concerned members.

'It's difficult enough having these comments out there in 2016'

"The comments that are attributed to this individual are not what the Toronto Police services or the Toronto Police Association is all about," McCormack told CBC News.

About 20 minutes into the video Khan explains that a woman should ask her husband's permission before leaving the home because the man is "the main decision maker of the home."

"I think it's appalling," Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, told CBC News. "We've been fighting for Muslim women's rights and something like this really sets us back." 
Executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women Alia Hogben calls Khan's comments "appalling," adding when she first heard about the comments she thought Khan had been misquoted. (Canadian Council of Muslim Women)

"If his personal opinions are going to interfere with the work he does as a chaplain, that's pretty damaging for not only the police in Toronto but for the women he might counsel."

What's more, Hogben says, Khan's comments reinforce a stereotype that anti-women views are intrinsic to Islam.

"It is not the Muslim view. Some people, as in any other religion or any other religious communities, think women should be quiet and all the rest of it but that is not the general view within Islam."

Chaplain underwent 'thorough background check,' police say

McCormack agrees, saying comments like these aren't appropriate for the police service to be associated with.

"We're dealing with victims of domestic violence, where it is very traumatic for those victims and asking those victims to come forward," he said.

"It's difficult enough having these comments out there in 2016 in a country and in a city that doesn't support this type of position."

In an email to CBC News, Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said Khan, like other civilian members, "went through a thorough background check that includes reference checks with family and friends and a review of social media footprint."  

"I appreciate the criticism of the choice of my words and will be more mindful in clarifying my steadfast support of women's equality," Khan said in his statement Tuesday.  

"I remain ready to serve my community as the Muslim Chaplain of the Toronto Police Force."