I spy with my little eye…

Am I being spied upon?

That’s a common question many Muslims ask themselves nowadays.

The use of informants within Muslim communities in Canada is no secret. My feature article in the Montreal Gazette (back in 2007) looked into the issue. I also spoke to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to get their response.

I still get reports every now and then of CSIS agents meeting up with people and wanting to ask questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how it’s done.

But the interest in the Muslim community raises some serious dilemmas for ordinary Muslims like myself.

Who do you trust?

Trust is an important value – or so we like to think – in the Muslim community. We’re all brothers and sisters. Yet, a lot of times we’ve got to be very careful about what we say and how we say it, just because we don’t know who might screw us over.

Now, you might be thinking: “Aha, that mean’s you’re hiding something and don’t want ‘others’ to know about it!”

Not really. A lot of times, benign discussions (opposition to the Iraq war or the setting up of religious study circles, for example) can spark interest from CSIS. In the worst case scenario, something that’s said can be misconstrued and used against a person. That’s the fear anyway. Or an informant can possibly provoke a subject into saying something that could be remotely incriminating.

In any case, it’s not fun to have the feeling that you’re being spied upon. It’s even worse to know people think you’re a spy when you’re really not one.

That often happens to converts to Islam, mainly because the FBI has used supposed converts to spy on people and conduct sting operations. It happens to others too, like myself. While working at the Toronto Star in 2005, I was told by an imam (a friend) that some elder folks in the community were telling him to be careful of me as I might be a spy.

The bottom line is: There’s a serious trust deficit in the community, even if we don’t like to talk about it. Maybe that’s what CSIS wants.

To suspect or not to suspect?

The Qur’an clearly tells us not to suspect people. But the same verse tells us not to spy.

O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (49:12)

Despite that fact we have nothing to hide and aren’t up to anything sinister, sometimes people act in such a way that it’s hard not to think of, at the very least, the possibility that they are informants.

Is it really bad?

When CSIS is criticized for spying on Muslims, the solution often given is that it needs to work with Muslims and be more open. But if a Muslim starts working for CSIS (not that anyone goes announcing it) and if word got around, they’d be shunned and looked down upon. Take Mubin Shaikh as an example.

So the question is: Is it bad to work with CSIS? Maybe you could do it with good intentions, like stopping terrorism and making sure the innocent don’t get screwed over? How about the argument that if I don’t spy for CSIS, somebody else will and that somebody might not know much about the community and could start causing trouble for truly innocent people? What if the intention is just to keep an eye out for truly bad folks and stopping CSIS from unnecessarily bothering innocent people?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I just think about this sometimes. And no, I’m not contemplating about becoming a spy.

How to know if you’re being spied upon

Whether it’s bad or not, no one likes being spied upon. If you want to know if you’re being watched, here are some signs.

1. CSIS knocks on your door and wants to speak to you. That’s a no-brainer.

2. If you’re too high-value of a target or a big mouth, they’ll use a more undercover method of spying on you. Now remember, the best spies are those who arise the least suspicion. So someone will get close to you and ask you for advice and seemingly benign questions on your views on stuff.  Or they might try to provoke you to see what sort of reaction you give.

3. You notice strange clicks on your phone line, your line suddenly goes dead and a Bell repairman shows up, you come home and your security system is strangely turned off, your car is broken into (especially if it won’t start afterwards). These are all signs that you’re likely being watched.

Some of the above has happened to me and for all those undercover informants I’ve dealt with: I know who you are.

But it’s all good. I’m not doing anything wrong and believe it or not, I trust you that you won’t either. InshaAllah (if God wills).


6 thoughts on “I spy with my little eye…

  1. Amazing read, honestly! I agree that we should be of help to the CSIS in any way, because they’re there to weed out the bad apples in all walks of society- not just Muslims.I, like many others, am a Muslim and a Canadian Citizen and i put the safety of my country first. Also, as someone mentioned, we shouldn’t give anyone any reason to label us a “terrorists” and such, and the best way to do that is to mingle with society whilst maintaining the core of your religion. In other words, have a beard;wear a hijab/jilbab/niqab, but don’t shy away from society and community events because if you act like a hermit, they’ll most def. treat ya like one.

  2. @the mole

    Do you think the government should spy on ordinary Muslims just because they are Muslim?

    The fact of the matter is they are out of control in their spying efforts. They are focusing on anyone with a long beard and a jubba and a niqabi wife. That’s a waste of taxpayer money. But I’ll be surprised if you don’t get this. Individuals like do it for the money (remember?).

    • 1. Canada does not spy on Muslims just because they are Muslims – that is patently false. Do they spy on Serbian nationalists because they are white? NO. How about African government operatives – because they are black? NO. They spy on those who give them reason to – so don’t give them a reason, simple.

      2. It is also not correct to assume CSIS focuses on bearded, robe-wearing Muslims or Niqabi Muslimah’s. That is just not correct – I can tell you I have investigated many non bearded types also. Nor is it out of control: CSIS acts according to very high levels of ethic and legal conduct – we are not in the Middle East or Asia – this is Canada, The Great!

      My suggestion to all of you is to take a look for yourself at the EVIDENCE in this case because as Muslims, we are obligated not to rely on doubt but the FACTS:


  3. As-salaamu Alaykum

    Brother, I fear you have somewhat misrepresented the issue by three ways:

    1) The verse you quote refers to spying for the purposes of backbiting. It is not a reference to the investigative function of government, which is found in every society, anywhere and in every period of time.

    2) I rarely see anyone in the community saying the simply: if you have nothing to hide why the problem with cooperating? Thank Allah this is not the Middle East – if the Mukhabaraat came to your house – it’d be in the middle of the night and you end up leaving with a hood over your head. How about a little gratitude for living in this great country? Remember, “…among the people of the book are good ones too” (paraphrase) – remember the first Hijra was to a Christian country – and they stayed there for several years. It can’t be ALL bad!

    3) You are right in that I was shunned by the community but what that has shown me is how underdeveloped we are as a community. You have asked a number of questions under your section, “Is it really that bad”? I too asked these questions and many others. I learned that we Muslims (and even non) forget how good we have it here – and that we need to be proactive with the Deen because it is the truth. Heck, invite the spies too! By our non cooperation, it only fuels the mistrust.

    Again, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?

    Thank you Sikander for the space to write.


  4. As salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah,
    JazakAllahu Khairan for the informative article, it’s a great read. Looking forward to more such insightful remarks. Was salaamu alaykum.

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