Archives for category: islam

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.

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Looking forward, insha’Allah to many things…getting married, blending families, sharing and more sharing. Also, looking forward to Ramadan, the most beautiful of months which is just around a-not-so-distant corner. And I just love this ultra-cute children’s video of one of the blessings of Ramadan: increased time at the mosque.

A Land Called Paradise is

#68 – Most Linked (This Week) – Music
on YouTube!
plus, as of the time of this post, the:
#22 – Most Discussed (This Week) – Music
#65 – Most Viewed (This Week) – Music
#26 – Top Favorites (This Week) – Music
#33 – Top Rated (This Week) – Music

If you think it’s the right message we need to get out, please tag 5 others to post it on their blogs…

I tag asmaa, proggiemuslima, hadeel, noha and margari (i kinda only tag sisters, but brothers you can play tag if you want to as well …) I also tag the sister I always wish I could link to but can’t – you know who you are. Oh yeah, and I tag my real brother!

(Of course, mona beat everyone to it – but still I’d love it if you tag 5 more of your friends out there, mona!)

If you live in the U.S., you can vote for it (for the onenationforall.org film contest) here.
And please try to to go to Youtube and give it a rating there. I hope the director of this awesome video, Lena Khan, continues with her amazing work.

On Friday, I was rescued when I didn’t want to be. It was parent-teacher interview time and some nice teachers had noticed through the almost all-glass walls of my classroom that I’d been with a parent for over an hour. He was standing, I was sitting and the student was sprawled on a chair half-asleep.

They motioned with their hands – querying are you ok? I flicked them a smile back. But 10 minutes later, an extra-nice teacher knocked on the door, opened it and informed me I was needed in the library. The parent left and I found out in the library I’d been rescued from what they thought was a hostile parent situation. No, I said, it was a faith-less parent situation.

He was standing because he could not sit. A portion of his spine had been damaged in a terrible car accident in mid-September. He was a hard-working man unused to spending his time waiting to hear what was to become of his ability to contribute to his family. The doctors were unsure. The insurance company was weighing things. His wife was working non-stop.

We spent over an hour going from his daughter’s achievements to her preoccupation with her father’s injury to his inability to hope. He had grown up with God he said and it had very much grown on his heart – the focus on being good, ethical, value-driven. But now, the happenings in the world (“why are the vulnerable getting the worst of it?” he asked), the accident and the unethical way he perceived he was being handled by insurance companies, doctors etc was taking a toll on his beliefs. Why, if I lived my life following all rules and then some (he got into the accident swerving to protect another car), did this happen to me? he wondered.

How do you persuade someone to continue faith? I wondered as I listened. I could hear, in his voice and from the way he spoke, that he desired to be convinced. I was a Muslim, he was not – what currency would I use to convey the importance of hope?

As we spoke, I realized how valuable faith was. By faith I mean a strong world-view centered on God. This man, though he had believed in God before, had become slowly disillusioned with his own religious tradition to the point that he used the deficiencies he saw in it to justify his current faith-lessness.

Our world-view as Muslims includes the belief that all good and bad comes from God. That our conduct through the extreme bad times is the truest test of our mettle. And that some get tested with worse times than others and those are they who are most beloved by God and the weight of these souls – should they continue with grace and faith and patience – was of more worth than of those who lived their lives with ease. To believe all this through the hardest of times is true faith.

I did my best to try to rescue and bolster this father’s faith. At the end of it, he shuffled out accepting my offer to pray for him, his daughter holding onto his hand to lead him into the hall.

I have a confession to make: I have 44 unpublished posts; some on controversial topics, some unfinished, a couple of reviews that just need some tweaking and some which deserve to stay unpublished.

I’m sure that this is some sort of record – 44 posts.

I can’t figure out why I don’t want them posted – they’re not personal or diary-like; they’re actually more like articles and op-ed pieces.

I guess I’m having some sort of blog-crisis… And I’m going through a phase of questions again. The last time was back then.

Recently, I had some opportunities to see rigorous ignorance/deliberate prejudice in action. They were quite astounding – maybe because there was a stretch without much of it for a (medium) while in my life. Having grown up in a pretty activist family, I’ve learned not to have any qualms about speaking up when faced with such stuff. And while in L.A., I saw a very moving, standing-ovation earning play about the awakening of an Oklahoman-Cherokee teen’s activist conscience; upon hearing of her little brother’s shame at being “Indian”, the teen went from reserved athlete to a vocal challenger of her high school’s choice of a native mascot. The play resonated with me – it was seeing the injustice of the first American venture into Iraq which made me go from quiet hijabi in the corner to requesting a meeting with my high school principal to ascertain that the war was going to be covered with sensitivity by teachers.

But now I wonder about the fervor we feel to right injustice. Often, that fervor comes from pride or anger. Witness the bluster behind the indignation at Muslim-baiting set-ups – like idiotic cartoons. You know there’s a lot of anger driving those pumping fists.

When our intentions are based purely on the Qur’anic injunction to “stand forth in justice”, it would be natural to extend that fervor to addressing all injustices; if we are told by our Shuyukh that even a small insect killed unjustly will come before God on the day of judgment to plead its case, than it makes sense to ensure that our energies go into securing justice for all.

So during these acts of ignorance I witnessed recently, I of course spoke up. Some of the things were directed at Muslims, some at the homeless, some at African-Americans; but after articulating my views, I had to examine my intentions over and over. Was I just being indignant? How far do you stand forth without sounding like a broken record?

And I also wonder about the people who get all worked up about the tarnishing of Islam but who don’t give two hoots about Islam itself. I once asked someone quite frankly, “what is this Islam you spent so much time defending?” If you’re willing to commit crimes for it, we don’t want you to defend it. If you’re willing to blatantly flout its very essences – peace and mercy – by your actions, we don’t need your pumping fists. Those fists will just end up punching us where it hurts.

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.


Strangely, our class visit to the zoo ended up being spiritual. There we were, in front of the gorilla exhibit, staring straight into the sorrowful face of the head honcho of the fam with me thinking the same thing I’ve thought every year that I’ve taken a grade 2 class to the zoo (4 years) – I don’t think I want to come again next year and marvel at these poor creatures staring blankly back at me – when a small voice piped up from beside me and invaded my private thoughts: “I think…I think it’s better if we went to the jungle and saw these animals there…then they would be happy and we would be happy. I’m not happy seeing them not-happy.”

It was one of my students, one of the lively, rambunctious ones that I’d especially selected to tour the zoo in my group (with the parent volunteers splitting up the less “explorative” rest of the class).

The other students heard this girl’s opinion and a strange silence fell on us. It seemed to be just us 7 and the old male gorilla with his sonorous face and slow-blinking eyes. Why do primates staring full into your face compel such bouts of conscience in us humans?

After that, the students couldn’t stop talking about the feelings of the animals. I was toting around not only gorilla-whisperers, but also elephant-whisperers, camel-whisperers, polar bear-whisperers and even red-tailed green rat snake-whisperers. At one point we went into a mock ranger cabin on the “African Savannah” and those students who were Buddhist and Hindu felt compelled to tell the presenter about some of their views on the sacred treatment of animals. One student gently touched a piece of zebra skin and asked how it had died. I could tell the presenter was a bit flustered. But then she came around and moved about the cabin gamely pointing out all the things that were fake (“See this lion skull? Guess what? It’s NOT real! We made it here at the zoo!” “Well, what about this tusk? Is that real?” “Well, er, yes but…we’re sure the elephant died of an illness…We’re the Zoo, we LOVE animals.”) I’m sure she was relieved when we moved on and the next group of bouncy, less-whispery kids bounded in.

The whole trip was obviously not like that – and as usual, the very same things that happen every year inevitably happened. In front of the spectacular view of the giraffes languidly moving across the field or the lion yawning majestically, the kids energetically pointed out “LOOK! An ant! An ANT!” or “Ms. K! IT’s A PIGEON! A PIGEON EVERYONE!” Every year without fail this happens in front of the most exotic animal exhibits.

But then…as we sat down in a quiet spot under a tree to eat our lunches, I pulled out my translation of Shaykh Al-Amin Ali Mazrui’s collection of hadith The Content of Character. I thought all the kids were involved in chatting with each other but a few of them drew near to me to ask what I was reading. I explained that it was something from my religion. What? they asked. It was about goodness, I explained. The gorilla-whisperer noticed the Arabic on the pages and wanted to hear me read it. So under the tree, amidst all the animal whisperers, I read in a lulling language which they did not understand but seemed content to just listen to without explanation. I read the meaning in my head: Those who show mercy have God’s mercy shown to them. Have mercy to those here on earth, and the One there in Heaven will have mercy on you.

This is something I want to revisit – it being a dull, gnawing, growing sort of a pain. Wait…I don’t know if I can call it a pain because pain really bothers you and this doesn’t so much except when I happen to find it in my face.

Imagine you’re at a party and you know someone’s seen you (you glimpsed them catch a glimpse of you or maybe more than a glimpse of you – maybe a full-blown stare?) and then they pretend you’re not there. You’re off their radar. Supposedly.

That’s what it feels like to me when I read or view things that totally ignore Islam or Muslims. Now you might be going, what?? The topic of Islam and Muslims are always on the radar these days!!

Sure, there’s no lack of attention on “Islam” and “Muslims”. But context is the key here.

I’m talking about the cheery, apple-pie times – when people need to throw in a place of worship or an adherent of a religion or a religious custom to fill in a sentence, story etc. I think I first started noticing this ignoring of my identity in high school. I walked into Calculus class and saw the history of mathematics posters pasted all over with almost every civilization/religion/country covered except Arabs and Muslims. In English, I would be reading an offering from the modern canon and it would say something like: “he couldn’t find one church, temple, synagogue or gurdwara in town”. I shrugged back then about the lack of references to Islam thinking that Muslims were small in number.

However, now Muslims are not really small in number. According to census figures, Islam is the second largest religion in Canada.

So the omission in many cases cannot be attributed to the size of the Muslim community. It could be because, as a friend pointed out, people are unsure of how anything referring to Muslims would be taken by the Muslim community. She recalled that when she worked for a Muslim rights group, some Muslims had the oddest complaints – even when Muslims were included in “apple-pie” ways. They were sometimes unduly suspicious – the smell of warm pie couldn’t even entice them out their post 911 shell shock.

It could be because of a lack of general information about Islam and Muslims – besides politics and dogma. I was awakened to this insight again just recently as I was doing a puppet show with a friend – another teacher – for a student assembly. She was telling me something in a low voice in between our speaking parts and I had to ask her several times to repeat. I was wearing a particularly thick hijab that day (brrr…Canadian winter, anyone?) and I plainly told her my hijab was making it hard to hear her. She asked me what about when you use the phone. I said that the hijab served as an excellent hands-free device when I was driving and using my cell phone – a tuck-in is all it took. In between stifled laughter, she asked me what about at home, how does the hijab fare there? It hit me – this friend – who is very enlightened, open-minded, who knows me – didn’t know I don’t wear hijab at home. (That’s why I think one of the best parts of Little Mosque on the Prairie is when Rayan, the young hijabi, has her hijab off at home and grabs it just as she’s about to head out).

And it could be because some people just don’t want to include Islam and Muslims in apple-pie references. Perhaps it wouldn’t suit certain views that they have and wish to maintain about the religion and its adherents.

This whole topic also brings up the point about other groups who are also routinely off the page. Do we just limit the page to groups that are large in numbers? Or loud in voices? Or rich in resources? That doesn’t seem very inclusive.

As a Muslim, there are two people – two pretty dissimilar people – I want to laud for being consistently inclusive. One is not very surprising and the other may raise eyebrows. I’m sure there are many others – and I would love to hear what others have to say about this – but my picks are Oprah (!!) and Leah McLaren (??). I don’t think/know (if) it’s Oprah herself who guides her magazine ( O) to feature stories which have included Muslim women just being women (fancy the idea) amongst other women but I find that pretty commendable. I was particularly struck by this one story that was all about time-management. They profiled a few women and their lives – one of whom happened to be a Muslim who was into health, bikes to work and wanted more time to volunteer at the local mosque. Bam, with a reference like that, she was stitched into the American quilt.

Leah McLaren. How does she fit in? First, I’ll state that I actually look forward to reading her every Saturday in the Globe. It used to be her and Heather Mallick but now that Heather’s gone, it’s only Leah (although Margaret Wente and Jan Wong are also witty writers – Wente I read with a scowl and Wong with a smile and one raised eyebrow).

So why does Leah McLaren get lauded? For making a few references to Islam and Muslims in an outright apple pie way. The most recent one was when she threw in “mosque” in a list of places of worship (nestled, I think between church and temple) that an average Canadian may visit. I believe Leah does this so easily because her sister’s boyfriend happens to be Muslim (as of the last reference to her sis’s love life).

The power of choice while writing, producing and creating cannot be undermined. Who you choose to highlight, leave on the page, on the margins or erase out of the book can have an impact on the way communities who feel like they’re under scrutiny integrate with (or seperate from) the larger populace.

7654656_c3710e4d3f_o.jpgmclarenphoto.jpg UPDATE: Via e-mail, Leah McLaren graciously accepted her apple pie. She’s also going to be sending me her fabled column on hijab – which she wore for a day – that I had missed reading.

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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