Archives for category: current events

Recently I was told that I don’t represent Islam. My Muslimness wasn’t the real thing, being of the Canadian sort.  The way it came out, it was like my Islam was kind of flaky, not AUTHENTIC.

I was told all this by a non-Muslim.

It mainly had to do with the fact that I find the honor-thing really perplexing. Upon sharing my confusion regarding this, I was told that it’s part of my religion, didn’t I know?  That it’s such a very intrinsic part of Islam?

I’ve been a Muslim my entire life, an extremely proud one from the age of sixteen, brought up in a religious household, taught by a father who’s an Islamic scholar, nurtured by a variety of Muslim communities, camps, conferences and never ever once was I informed that “honor” is a part of Islam.

Needless to say, the encounter with the Islamic “expert” left me reeling. No matter how many times I tried to refer to the sources of my religion, I was talked over and repeatedly told that I don’t know my own faith.

It doesn’t help that there exists awful cases of Muslims doing horrible things to each other. But the world is full of people doing horrible things to each other.

Only a bigot would hear of a crime and immediately attribute it to a religion or culture or race. It seems that bigotry rules the day in many parts of the world when it’s so mainstream for news media to attribute crimes to Islam, so unabashedly. Perhaps that’s why this expert felt so expert about Islam – perhaps the experts on Fox News or CNN had given him all the facts.

I thought back to all the horrific crimes I’d read about recently. I tried to deconstruct my own thought processes (on hindsight) regarding the Steubenville Rape case and the Newtown shootings.

There wasn’t an instance when I attributed these crimes to the culture they occurred in. But I know what would have happened if the perpetrators had been Muslim.

We would have all been schooled on what Islam was all about, by people who don’t know the first thing about it.

This week, my class (grade 3’s this year) encountered the word “dandy”.  So I explained to them that dandy was like the “sick” of about a hundred years ago or so (I’m not sure if my etymological dating is logical but it’s not linguistics 101 so…).

They’re currently on an active crusade to revive the word, because it’s just so…DANDY.

And here’s a real dandy video I encountered on Asmaa’s blog:

I absolutely love it.

It’s so nice to hear this from an American president.  Alhamdulillah.

I spent earth hour at the home of the high mistress of candles: my sister. Sure enough we were bathed in the light of numerous wax creations – which still wasn’t enough light for my sister.  So she periodically made quick forays into the kitchen to furtively open the fridge door to bask in its eerie unearth-houry glow. For tsk-tsking her breaching of the sacred earthing hour rules, I got called an Earth-Hour Nazi.

We were both supposed to be spending the evening at a get-together for a friend getting married soon but exhaustion got in the way.  So it was nice to spend some time relaxing in the dark – me curled on my sister’s couch, her cat (Luna Kukaracha) curled on an opposite chair lazily watching my daughter trying to hypnotize her with a fake plastic candle and my sister in the kitchen sneaking gulps of fridge light.  The rest of the fam were all out for dinner.  It was prime re-coup time and worth every minute of that 59 minutes of power-free time.  Yes, my sister put the lights on 1 minute early.

And no, I’m not an Earth-Hour Nazi.

I love…mindless housework. You know when you get in the zone and you’ve totally scrubbed out your kitchen and didn’t even feel it? I was like a miss molly maid zombie (or is it a stepford wife?) and voilà just like that, I could eat off my floors.

Actually it was really mindfull housework – while mopping, scrubbing etc’ing, I was thinking about Aqsa and The Friday Khutbahs. “The Friday Khutbahs”: when you are so sure that all the sermons in your area (and maybe beyond) are going to be about a certain topic – either because it’s in the news or because it’s a particular day (like environmental khutbahs during Earth Week).

I was curious on Friday morning about what was going to be said at the mosques about Aqsa’s murder and the talking points it raised. I’ve gushed about my Islamic center previously, but I just have to gush again! The khateeb was just so phenomenal masha’Allah that I waited for him afterwards and asked him for a copy of his khutbah.

He spoke about our relationships with others and how Allah has never, ever sanctioned compelling another to believe, do as we say or dress or behave a certain way. That our jobs even as parents is merely to guide/train/educate through the guiding years and that when a child hits maturity, we are to stand back and let them make their choices – but of course offer our continued guidance and friendship. That in no way does forcing someone to do as we believe benefit us or them and instead how it harms both of the parties. With poignancy (I knew he was thinking of his own 2 beautiful daughters), he asked the congregation, isn’t it much more better to have a child that is alive – living her life perhaps not as we envisioned it, perhaps even “wrong” in our eyes (his words), but alive – rather than gone in an even worse wrong: the taking of sacred life?

And he spoke about false “honor”. How, for some, the shame (in front of others) of having a daughter “living her life perhaps not as we envisioned it, perhaps even “wrong” in our eyes” was much stronger than the awareness of God – and how this was a form of disbelief.

This to me was the most powerful part of the khutbah. Using examples from the Prophet’s life, the Shaikh related that by according undue power to the perceptions of people, we are distancing ourselves from the power we accord to God. Does it matter what others will say about how one’s daughter dresses? Isn’t it more important that God sees how we treat that daughter – with the tender and obvious love the Prophet (peace be upon him) showed his daughters instead of the violence of a twisted sense of honor? This was the focus of his khutbah.

Hearing this beautiful khutbah and then turning to read that a Muslim leader said “parents fail and bring shame upon themselves if a child chooses to abandon holy writings and not wear the hijab” (paraphrased in an article) was disheartening. I wonder how prophet Nuh would take that.

I surveyed around and found out that other khutbahs were in a similar vein to my Islamic center’s. One was about the Prophet’s relationship of tenderness and respect with his daughter Fatima and another was focused on how in order to encourage children, parents should focus on their positive points and build a relationship of good-will.

A young girl is gone and we all derive lessons. May Allah, in His infinite mercy, show mercy on her soul. And may He grant us the wisdom to see through the depravity of false honor.

I wear a red poppy. And a white poppy.

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I had a neighbor who was a veteran of WWII. He was a noble and kind man – just the type who would sign up to defend/aid the helpless. I wear a red poppy to remember people like him and the courage of those who put their own lives at risk to enable others to live in peace. And there are more points in history when that happened other than just the European wars so often mentioned.

But I really detest the way the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan are being seamlessly woven into the solemnity of Remembrance Day. For the last three years I haven’t been able to stand being in the audience for the R.D. assemblies at school; we’re always treated to a montage of videos showing “the noble work our troops are doing over there”. There’s pride ringing in the air and I’m slumped, crying inside for the vast numbers of innocents who suffered and suffer still.

We really need to examine the emptiness of our words to our children on Remembrance Day. Settle your differences peacefully we tell them the whole year and then we swell in pride to honor a war that’s killed over 1 million people. They’re going to begin to see through us.

Who’s going to have the guts to stand up and say don’t paint the drilling for bucks with the red of the poppy when it’s the red of blood that’s really drenching the scene?

The Prophet Muhammad said “If you see a wrong, 1. change it with your hands (act); if you cannot do that, 2. change it with your tongue (speak); and if you cannot do that, 3. dislike it in your heart and beyond that, there is no faith.”

I wear a white poppy because I am weak.

1. My actions are very limited: my class – all wearing red and white poppies – performed a poem entitled “Peace Begins with Me”for the assembly. I don’t know how much that helped.

2. I speak only to a few others who I know share my thoughts/sadness. I don’t dare rock the boat that’s swollen with misplaced pride.

3. So I wear a white poppy over my disliking heart. And that is the least I can do.

This is something I made last year for YouTube’s Get Out of Iraq Campaign.

Update: Here’s a moving post on Remembrance Day by Abdiel.

This is a comment I had posted a while ago on a blog I visit:

“I have been thinking of this a lot as well – how as soon as something comes out of someone’s mouth or pen – something that’s substantial – we freeze them in time as though this is who they are – statically. I hope to become the type of person who sees others, including those who dehumanize me as a Muslim, as fluid in their own journeys through life – fluid in their abilities to grow as I believe I am. I hope to be this generous one day, Insha’Allah.”

This is a struggle I face in a world where it is easy to draw lines and brand this person and that person. Where people’s reputations walk into a room before them. Especially individuals with a media face who are on our screens often with their stories or versions of the world we share. Individuals such as Ayan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji. Those in silenced groups who can only watch and suffer in silence begin to ferment their thoughts and voices and soon their commentary – now snowballed amidst solely themselves – rise from the mist to be posited as the opposition, the detractors, the “death-threateners”.

In attempting to give credence to the silenced, or in trying to give ourselves credibility, believing ourselves poles apart, and in the safety of our corners, clutching these poles, we engage boldly in polemics. Words sharp enough to wound unfurl so easily from our wit. We barely struggle against our own judgment.

“I hope to become the type of person who sees others, including those who dehumanize me as a Muslim, as fluid in their own journeys through life – fluid in their abilities to grow as I believe I am.”

And yet this is a struggle I must face if I proclaim to follow the gentle path exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I often ask myself how he would respond to all the current Islamophobia or Islamanalysis or Islamtrospection that is so painful to see for someone who loves this religion.

And just as often, I’m brought crashing down as I recall over and over that he, the living Qur’an as Aisha referred to him, responded to harshness with the beauty of his resilience, the beauty of his gentle actions, the beauty of his impressive words. The grievances Muslims suffer now would wilt in comparison to what the Prophet and the early Muslims suffered, yet we find it so easy, so justifiable to dip low to avenge our wounds. And when we do this, we make it seem as though it is inherent in our historical make-up to turn to the ugly to pull ourselves up to the heights of dignity as a religious community.

Inherent? We tarnish the reputation of the Prophet when we dip so low. And how could we dip so low when we’ve read, when we’ve heard and when we know that is within our history that a man walked who exemplified the civilized and “democratic” response to dissent?

“I hope to be this generous one day, Insha’Allah.”

I write this now especially in reference to Irshad Manji. I wrote a negative review of her film Faith Without Fear (which aired 9 p.m. Eastern, April 19, PBS) back in January. She recently linked to my review on her website with the title “I am biased against her”- Muslim-Canadian Blogger. Naturally, with a title like that, I received many hits from people clutching the opposite pole. And they had a few choice comments to make.

Now, long, long before this hullabaloo, I had been feeling uneasy about the last paragraph of my review – which accused Ms. Manji of profiting from fanning Islamophobia. More specifically, I had felt I had dipped low with that last point (more of a jab). I was on a roll, clutching my own pole, and barely struggled against my own judgment.

To begin to be that generous, I state now that I cannot say with certainty that Ms. Manji was bend on profiting from Islamophobia.  That’s a hard judgment to make and I withdraw that last bit because I do not want dip so low. I do not want to stray from the history and example of the Prophet Muhammad.

However, I do not withdraw my critique of her film.  When one struggles to write a book or make a film, with each step of the way, we either strengthen our stances and see the book or film to completion or grow in understanding away from our original thesis and sometimes, some brave-times, acknowledge this growth by visibly changing our stances.

Ms. Manji’s stance is too evident in her film and it doesn’t : the Islam she “wants” in no way resembles the Islam most Muslims believe in and practice – and her contempt for “this” Islam is palpable.

At Salon.com, in his profile of the PBS series which hosted Ms. Manji’s documentary, America at a Crossroads,  Gary Kamiya states,

Then there is “Faith Without Fear,” airing Thursday, about Irshad Manji, an outspoken Canadian critic of Islam. This film is riveting to watch, but it’s about a figure too eccentric to speak for anyone except herself, and its inclusion in the series is highly dubious. Manji is a peculiar figure. She makes some good points about the need for Islam to once again embrace ijtihad, or intellectual openness — a position also espoused by the religious scholar Karen Armstrong. But Manji’s attitude toward her religion seems so perversely critical that it’s hard to believe she really believes either in Islam or any institutional religion at all.

Her attacks on Islam seem oddly gratuitous…Her appearance in “Crossroads,” unbalanced by a corresponding film about, say, Hanan Ashrawi or Sari Nusseibeh or Tarik Ramadan or some Arab or Muslim whose views are actually representative, is all too predictable: The American media just loves Muslims like her.

Still, on this pole over here, I struggle as I wonder how to be balanced myself in a just and truthful way.


Today, for social studies, as we began to speak about Canada being the country of lakes and forests and abundance and about caring for the environment and…and, some of the students’ hands were shooting up and I knew what they wanted to talk about. Their countries. Because – even if they were born here – for many children who come from homes preoccupied with news from war-torn homelands, home is…well, their homelands.

The kids tell me about soldiers and death. They tell me of people never being seen again. They tell me of poverty. And they always tell me about kids walking around with no shoes. They ask “why do they walk around with no shoes?”

We explore this question and I try to steer them to the understanding that walking around with no shoes is not always and, plainly, a result of poverty. We try to see what life is like if your outside world merges with the inside world so much so that your feet are your freest, most easiest shoes. I don’t want them to confuse poverty with lifestyle choices.

I’m always struck by the intensity of feeling children bring to the issue of world poverty. They really get it. Every year I’ve had at least one student (and we’re talking seven year olds here) who has made it a point to tell me with confidence, resolution and pride that they are going to grow up and help change the world. Last year, one boy announced with aplomb that he’s going to go back to his home country when he’s older and teach them how to solve their problems without bombs. I’m going to look him up when he’s 25.

The interesting thing is that I myself made a similar type resolution when I was eleven – and at a stage where I couldn’t stop consuming information about global poverty. Seeing it first hand as a teen cemented this desire to do something.

I sat in the kitchens of people who had nothing but because “guests” were visiting, they’d scrape together something wonderful to present. Of course everyone knows the poorest are often the most generous (consider the fact that during the fund-raising drive for famine relief in Ethiopia in the 80’s, “in Canada’s Far North, the area most remote from Ethiopia, those in poor Inuit communities gave the most per capita of any Canadians, perhaps of any in the world” [source: CBC News].)

I also listened avidly to the stories people told. About choosing between money for school uniforms for the girls in the family or rice for the month, about confiscated land and sleeping arrangements in an one room mud house. These stories help me understand the things I read now – like UNICEF’s Millennium Goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. (Uniforms or rice?)

The wonderful (and draining – but exhilaratingly draining) 3 months I spent teaching in a First Nations school (for children from reservations) to replace a teacher on leave gave me a sense of the something I could do: teach in a community in need. (Another Millennium Goal: Achieve universal primary education by 2015). Of course, as often happens, life interrupts our desires.

So there is a forlorn part of me that wants to be “out there” doing something. I know that interacting with my students, listing ways we can live a less wasteful, a less taking life, engaging them through great books on important topics and seeing their consciences throb with ideas, dreams, resolutions and heartfelt desires is doing (a little) something. I’m just wanting to do a big something.

Remember, though the little orange trick-or-treat boxes are no longer, October is still UNICEF’s fundraising month in schools. And here’s a beautiful video for World on Fire by Sarah McLachlan which breaks down what a “less-taking life” might mean. (And I want to thank lallamona as I first saw it on her blog a long while back.)

…Hearts break, hearts mend
Love still hurts
Visions clash, planes crash
Still there’s talk of
Saving souls, still the cold
Is closing in on us

We part the veil on our killer sun
Stray from the straight line on this short run
The more we take, the less we become
A fortune for one that means less for some…

Child mortality around the world is at its lowest since the U.N. began recording such figures (1960). It fell below the 10 million mark.

That is sad in itself – that it is having 9.7 million children die as opposed to 10 million which makes us believe we have achieved something grand.

Now, for the real saddest part: a mosquito net, a vitamin A pill per year, breastfeeding education and a vaccination is perhaps all it would have taken to ensure that many of those 9.7 million did not die last year.

A Canadian-funded grassroots pilot project in several West African countries demonstrated this simple formula cut child mortality rates by 20%.

Stephanie Nolen has a comprehensive story on this in the Globe and Mail: Simple as That: Child Mortality is at a Record Low. She follows health worker, Alfred Malunga, on his rounds of 16 villages/communities in Malawi as he distributes mosquito nets (staving off malaria – one of the biggest killer of children around the world), giving vaccinations and get this, handing out a capsule of vitamin A per child per year (sometimes twice a year) because this is “enough to boost their immune systems so that if they do [get ill], they are much less likely to die”.

One or 2 vitamin A pills a year? A $2 mosquito net per family? Telling women to solely breastfeed for 6 months? And a vaccination? This is all it took for Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, to cut child death rates by a third in such a short time?

Well, also the fact that Alfred Malunga is doing his job. As in: he gets paid ($36/month) to be a health worker. Malawi is one of a few countries which pays people like Malunga to do the work of educating, tracking and being the friendly, approachable face of a nation’s health system for villagers in rural and remote areas. Other countries rely on volunteers.

So if this is all it takes, why is it not being done more? According to the director of preventive health in Malawi, Habib Somanje, donor nations do not consider preventive healthcare as “exciting” as building new clinics and other curative initiatives.

So we need to get excited about this:

Mosquito Net + ONE Vitamin A pill + Vaccinations + Breastfeeding for 6 months (+the dignity of having a paid health worker job) = Less Children Dead

Looking at the picture below, I’m “excited”. Sadly so.

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UNICEF attributed the gains [in cutting child mortality] to the widespread adoption of basic health measures, including early and exclusive breast feeding, measles immunization, Vitamin A supplements and use of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.”

Agence France-Presse

People are always looking for silver bullets – a new technology, a new intervention, a new discovery. What we’ve learned is that the focus in child health needs to be less on finding a new silver bullet…and much more on delivering at scale these things that we know work.”

Dr. Peter Salama, chief medical officer, UNICEF

A friend of mine, Shaila Kibria, just won the nomination to run as the NDP candidate for Mississauga-Erindale in the provincial elections (October, 2007). Shaila is a mother of three and a long-time activist for a number of causes. She’s the most outgoing, sociable, people-person I know. Her speech came from her heart – that’s just the type of person she is.

Her website is www.shailakibria.ca .

1. Mahar Arar and Monia Mazigh are giving a $20,000 scholarship to Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. It is meant for a student pursuing studies in social justice. They are moving back to Ottawa next month so this was their thank you gift to Kamloops.

2. This second story is depressing in this day and age: a crackdown – after months of lobbying by parents with missing children – in China on brick kiln factories using people – including kidnapped children and mentally impaired adults – as slaves. Forced to work from 5 a.m. to midnight, they subsisted on pickled vegetables and were prevented from escaping by dogs and guards. They were not allowed to wash or change their clothes. When rescued, their bodies were covered with burns and bruises; some reported fellow workers being beaten to death. One of the factories was owned by the son of the local communist party boss.

Please watch the trailer for Stolen Childhoods, the first documentary on global child labor and trafficking ever made. One of the saddest parts is watching the boys left for months on a platform in the middle of the ocean to fish for shrimp. Alone. Death is frequent due to heavy winds, falling off and the visiting foremen just pushing them off into the water in anger.

These things which won’t leave our minds eventually drop leadenly into our hearts. We can carry them around there heavily or we can let it soften and transform our actions, our prayers and our thinking. Can anyone bear to look at the picture below and not cry?

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The Virginia Tech shooting: For all those who passed away, I pray for peace for you with God and for comfort for your loved ones here on earth. For all those who were/are wounded in body, mind and heart, I pray for peace and resilience for you and your families and friends.

Waleed Shaalan would be the closest person I “know” to this tragedy – he was a member of the MSA at Virginia Tech and so, knew the nephew of a childhood friend, also at Virginia Tech, who I had lost touch with until just last month when I sort of reconnected through facebook. Here’s an excerpt from the tribute to Waleed on facebook:

Waleed Shaalan, 32 years old, first stepped onto the Virginia Tech campus in August 2006. An international student originally from Zagazig Egypt, with no family members in the United States, Waleed was quickly adopted as an essential member of the Blacksburg Muslim community. Among those mourning his death are his two roommates (Fahad Pasha and Irfan Waseem) to whom Waleed was their loving older brother, cook, academic and spiritual mentor…Though he had a hectic schedule, juggling classes, PhD research and TA responsibilities, he always made time for the people around him. Waleed was known for his broad smile and wave that he gave everyone.

Waleed left behind Amira his wife of 3 years, and Khaled his one-year old son. Waleed will always be smiling in our hearts.

Fahad was the last person to have spoken to Waleed [and] he remarked, “He was studying late for an exam the morning of the incident; it was about 4 am when I last saw and spoke to him. We were talking about how amazing it would be once he brought his wife and son to Tech after the summer. I could never have imagined that in 5 hours he’d be gone forever.”

There were indications he died trying to protect another student from being killed. An excerpt from The New York Times:

He was gunned down on Monday while he was studying in Norris Hall, but witnesses say he died a hero.

According to Randy Dymond, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, Mr. Shaalan was in a classroom with another student when the gunman entered and opened fire.

Mr. Shaalan was badly wounded and lay beside the other student, who was not shot but played dead, as the gunman returned two times searching for signs of life. Just as the gunman noticed the student, Mr. Shaalan made a move to distract him, at which point he was shot a second time and died. The student believed that Mr. Shaalan purposefully distracted the shooter to save him, Mr. Dymond said.

There’s an MSA National Memorial Fund for Waleed’s Family set up.

Reading about senseless tragedies is difficult; I feel it’s particularly so because we cannot move into action to help alleviate or lessen the pain.

Tom Harpur, a religion writer, had an article (many years ago) about this feeling of helplessness. He talked about how he was looking at a picture in the newspaper of an Iraqi child wounded in the war and discussing with his wife about that terrible feeling rising – a feeling that his hands were tied being all the way over here. They both decided to offer a quiet prayer for the child – an unknown person, but still a person – to channel their feelings from despair to hope. From then on, he decided to do this when he encountered stories or pictures which he felt he could not move to action on except, and what an exception, through prayer.

Though I read this article when I was in my teens, it has always stayed with me. Responding to situations out of our reach through prayer is powerful. It is an action which, once taken, can bring real results, God willing. Certainly one of these results would be to keep us connected to “unknown persons” as opposed to just turning the newspaper page on them with a sigh.

Re: the 6 teens arrested today in the murder of Omar Wellington (July, 2006) – how can children grow up to become teenagers who surround another teen to spend 5 hours beating, stomping and stabbing him to death?

What happens along the way in the journey of childhood – from the beautiful, innocent faces I see in classrooms everyday, the ones running in after recess to solemnly show me the tiny block of ice that’s “‘xactly like a diamond”, those who tell me in shocked tones that somebody said the D word – dumb, the ones who gather around the window during a stormy, windy day in worry about the newly planted trees in the school yard, who find wonder in the clouds, ants, rocks, who all huddle with furrowed, open-mouthed concern around another child because of a paper cut, a loose tooth, a new scab, a hangnail – what happens to cause some of these beautiful children to turn impassively violent as young adults?

Islam teaches us that everyone is born with fitrah – the innate inclination to choose good over evil.  And yet somehow our society allows some of its members to grow up to torture others to death.

We permit our children to sit stoically through scenes of violence on all kinds of screens, bodies either held still in viewing-stupor or moving in rhythmic sway to the game controllers while we read studies sponsored by this media conglomerate or that gaming company assuring us that viewing violence “in no way encourages children to commit violence”.

We find children who are bullying others and begin to build up a case to keep them bullying well into their teens by clearly marking them as they move through the grades, as though the word BULLY is branded on their foreheads; we do this instead of reaching in to see the thriving soul, the fitrah, to turn that fascination with flies away from pulling their wings off to being interested in their growth cycle.  We diagnose them as bully and keep on the look out to confirm this diagnosis instead of catching them in the acts of goodness children are innately programmed to exhibit; instead of granting them a new diagnosis, a new reputation as the kid who stopped others from stepping onto broken glass in the schoolyard, instead of giving them a new way of defining themselves.

We allow some of us to torture others to death.  And some of us, well, sadly, hundreds of us, lock our doors, close our curtains and not pick up a phone to call 911 while it happens outside our steps.

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Omar Wellington won’t leave my mind.

From the Toronto Star, Letters to the Editor, January 29, 2007 :

Monia Mazigh is the Laura Secord of our time


Opinion, Jan. 28.I read Robert Meynell’s article and felt such an overwhelming sense of guilt. I had not even given a thought to the desperate loneliness this gallant lady must have felt. I hope she runs for politics. I would surely vote for Monia. Write a book, Monia, and I’ll buy it; speak and I’ll come and listen.

She did indeed make me realize how powerful love makes a person. She did it with dignity, so quietly we almost did not see it.

Evelyn Lowery, Brampton

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EDITORIAL:

TheStar.com – opinion – Temper, temper, Mr. Ambassador

Temper, temper, Mr. Ambassador

Jan 29, 2007

….After almost a year of torture in Syria, Arar returned to Canada. An inquiry cleared him of involvement with terrorism, and he is no longer considered a security risk here. But the Americans still think he’s a threat.

Day has been vocal in his criticism of that stance. Last week, it was Wilkins’ turn to get vocal.

“It’s a little presumptuous of (Day) to say who the United States can and cannot allow into our country,” the ambassador huffed. “Canadian officials would rightly never tolerate any American official dictating to them who they may or may not allow into their country.”

Was it not “presumptuous” for the Americans to pack Arar off to Syria, instead of simply sending him back to Canada?

Suppose Canadian authorities seized an American citizen at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Suppose said citizen was not sent back to the United States, but spirited away to another country, one with a dubious human-rights record. Suppose said citizen suffered torture in that country.

This would, rightly, never be tolerated by the Americans.

So why should it be tolerated by us?


This is an edited version of an editorial that ran Friday in the Halifax Daily News.

Two days ago, I went to a film screening. The film was about Islam. The film was by Irshad Manji.

Now having just written the post below about listening to Muslim musicians with the heart of faith and not the heart of judgment based on a fortress of fear (my exact words), I had no choice but to walk the talk (ain’t it awful when your words come back to snack on you?) Had the National Film Board of Canada (which was holding the screening) told me in the subject line of their e-mail: consultation on a screening for a film by Irshad Manji, writer of the book The Trouble with Islam Today, I would have dropped them a quick telegram back: extremely busy. stop. too busy. stop. to write. stop. a full. stop. flat. stop. out. REFUSAL. stop. and then would have dropped that email right into the handy dandy trash bin on the left.

But it didn’t happen that way. So there I was sludging through the snow, subway, sidewalk and finally, screening room all the while with visions of this next glorious addition to the Muslim Canadian arts tapestry floating in my head. We had Me and the Mosque (Zarqa Nawaz), we had Little Mosque on the Prairie (Zarqa Nawaz) and before that we had Death Threat (Zarqa Nawaz) and even before that, BBQ Muslims (Zarqa Nawaz) – man, Zarqa Nawaz was a one woman industry! – and now we were going to have… Faith Without Fear (Irshad Manji)?

I have some confessions to make before I dissect this film with all the rigor of an Irshad Manji-detractor released from a fortress. I have not read The Trouble with Islam Today. I have no desire to do so. I’m always told the trouble with Islam today – usually from my daily newspaper, certain news channels and complete strangers who, while muttering profanity about my faith, step on my long skirt while I’m heading down subway stairs. And while I’ve viewed Irshad Manji speak on discussion panels on TV, most of my knowledge about her comes from Muslim conversations and things I’ve read about things she said/wrote/did and, things she wrote on her website.

Extending my confession, I will have to state that I am biased against her. My bias before I saw this film and my bias after I viewed the film has remained constant. And it has to do with more than her views on the religion of Islam – which, in this film, appear to be reverential (in contrast to content on her website). More on that later.

I really, truly tried to be a good person and even took a deep breath to dissipate that fortress of fear closing in as I sat back in my seat to watch Faith Without Fear. From the opening scene of a pensive Ms. Manji surveying a night city skyline from an apartment fortified against the “faithful” who have vowed to wish “her to eat rotten goat meat causing diarrhea” (an actual emailed threat – apparently, I think, from a halal butcher specializing in goat) and another who believes that “even the hair on her head stands up in protest of her lies” (apparently from a halal hairdresser), to the interviews with other Islamically-challenged personalities, Salman Rushdie and Ayan Hirsi Ali, I knew I’ve seen this film before. The refrain running throughout it almost served as a broken soundtrack to the documentary. Out of all the negative feelings Faith Without Fear rustled in me, the worst was the instant recognizability of the premise trotted out: Muslims are ruining the soul of Islam.

Tell us something we didn’t know. I don’t know one Muslim – NOT A-ONE – who’s sitting back, licking his lips and patting his biryani filled stomach smug with the knowledge that Muslims are living up to the standards set by the Prophet Muhammad. Every Imam I’ve heard has said it. Even the head of the Islamic Supreme Council said it on her film and he’s supposed to be one of her supreme detractors.

The trouble, apparently Ms. Manji has with Muslims – besides the fact that Muslims are oblivious to the fact that there are a lot of Muslimals (sort of like cannibals – except that cannibals are humans who eat other humans and Muslimals are Muslims who kill other Muslims [not to be confused with murderous Islamophobes who are merely other humans who kill Muslims – boy, Muslims are getting it from all sides]) and besides the fact that a lot of Muslim men walk around with…news flash… ceremonial daggers at their waists (we saw so many shots of these in the film that my mind started wandering to the artistic beauty of the designs on their sheaths) and besides the fact that Muslim women are either so ugly they’re covered up or so erotic they’re covered up and besides the fact that Muslims don’t let every Tom, Dick and Irshad just wander on to private property and start filming (which was a classic borrow from Bowling for Columbine except instead of the NRA and Charlton Heston we had a suburban mosque and a man with a large stomach) – the trouble Ms. Manji has with Muslims is that they can’t tolerate pokes at the Prophet Muhammad and the veracity of the Quran. As she reminds us more than once, Muslims have not learned that being offended is the price you pay for living in a free society. In other words: prepare to be poked. Even if the poking is done with the sharpened points of racism and xenophobia (one word: Europe), we are to bear the wounds with a grinning, bowed head salaam. Brings to mind other peoples in history who were constantly lectured about how they should bravely bear offences and be a good little white man’s burden.

As professor Michael Neumann points out in his article, Respectful Cultures & Disrespectful Cartoons: East Meets West, the ideal, or “piety” as he calls it, of respecting others and the very act of disrespecting their sacred ideas/events/beliefs being a punishable offense had become the “official Western culture”. Hence, the sacred topic of the Holocaust is rightly kept aloft from smears and challenges by anti-Semitic tirades in the Western world. But as a child hides a candy she was sharing with her friend when a stranger comes into the room, this ideal, this piety, was wrenched away as soon as others started reaching their hands out. Instead, these others are poked and told that it’s part of staying in the room. As he states:

The point is rather than the West has put ideological weapons in the hands of those it now wants to repel, and thrown away the weapons that might have proved useful in such an effort. The most basic notions of the rule of law — that you should not be punished for what you cannot help, like the feelings you have, that no one should be expected to obey laws so vague that the criteria of obedience are mysterious — were thrown away years ago. They cannot be picked out of the trashcan and held up as shiny Western ideals just because it is now convenient to do so.

Apparently, we newcomers into the room are not to dare even dream of this expectation of respectful treatment. Well, we all know from African-American poet Langston Hughes’ popular civil rights poem what happens to a dream deferred:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Ms. Manji, cue the crowds…and, ACTION! We are offered scenes of masses of people waving fists, angry screaming raisins about to explode. Ms. Manji: there’s nothing more cliche in a documentary on Islam and current events than images of chanting Muslims. I practically fell off my fortress snoring. Again, tell us something we didn’t know. Muslims are angry. But we’re not angry because you have candies called freedom, rights and respect. No, we’re angry because you taunt our share of candy. And when you pretend to “share” yours (like in Iraq), it’s usually to make sure we don’t have anything left for ourselves.

My Irshad-Manji-bias has to do with her convenient glossing over of the underlying political, social and economic factors of current events in the Muslim world and Muslim communities. Has she not considered the “Trouble with Islam Today” might not actually be the “Trouble with the World Today”? Hand me a historical map of the Middle East – but first be sure to erase evidence which shows the amount of racist colonization, wars and arbitrarily drawn borders the region has suffered – and then tell me all the current anger has to do with Islamists agitating. Give me statistics to show that the status of women is not declining all around the world – just among Muslims. Bring me the bank account balances of the average Afghani, Iraqi and Palestinian – oh, wait, they either don’t make enough to open an account or it’s frozen until they’re proven innocent of the guilt of terrorism.

So there lies my bias against Irshad Manji. I have no trouble with Ms. Manji’s calls to reform the Muslim world. I’m really genuinely sad that she happened to be in a Sunday school class which didn’t allow her to question her faith. As the daughter of a religious scholar, I can state that that’s not the norm I know. If it were, you wouldn’t see popular sites like Islamonline.net – which is all about questions and more questions. You wouldn’t see 23 000 Muslims convening to an American city every labour day weekend to question, discuss and debate diverse topics as they do annually at the Islamic Society of North America’s conventions. I’m not going to glazingly state that Muslim communities are the heights of democratic discourse and friendly dissension but nevertheless, it is alive and beginning to kick once again. Getting it to the healthy state it was historically (as Ms. Manji points out in her own film) is going to take contemplative reform not attacks in the form of books and films which shut out the very people you want to recharge.

It’s easy to wave the red flag of the “trouble with Islam” and lump it with terrorism, patriarchy, tribal warfare and dogma-obsession – and then, paradoxically, state these issues have nothing to do with the “Islam she loves” as Ms. Manji does in the film. I was actually quite confused by this. While the film made me blush with pride at all the personal references to the guidance of the Qur’an and the nobility and justice of the Prophet Muhammed, Ms. Manji’s website offers another take. To give her the benefit of the doubt, we’ll have to assume Ms. Manji’s website has to be updated to reflect the perhaps newly-attained reverence for Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an she periodically punctuates (and lights up) the film with. As a practicing Muslim it would be no news flash to state that those were the best parts of the film for me – those and Ms. Manji’s discussions with her mother on piety.

But as we all know, discussions on personal piety don’t sell films. Waving red flags does. And if there was one thing each and everyone who was there for the screening (and we were a batch of varied voices for the most part) agreed on, it was this: this film is all about Irshad Manji. Irshad Manji doing what she does best – lamenting her unfortunate and dangerous position as the harbinger of reform to the tumultuous Islamic world.  My bet is that her Faith Without Fear will lead to more Islamophobia: the hatred and fear of a Faith.

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I want to thank the National Film Board for the exceptional job they did of facilitating the discussion on this film; their stated mandate was to open up the discourse in a way which would allow other voices to speak alongside those more often heard, as well as provide a wider context to the views expressed in Faith Without Fear.

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