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A Temporary Hiatus

Hello and salaams Muslim Lookout readers,

I wanted to let you know that ML will be going on hiatus for the next two months.  With writers out of town, and editors struggling under piles of academic work, we are unfortunately unable to keep posting good articles as often as we would like.

We’re hoping to start up again in mid-September inshallah.  We will be looking for a few more writers before we get things re-started, so if you are interested in writing, please contact us at muslimlookout@gmail.com.

Thanks to everyone who has been following and commenting on our posts, and we hope you’ll join us again once we’re back.

Best wishes,

Krista (and the rest of the ML team)

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An interesting Toronto Star editorial on “Our appalling ignorance of matters Muslim”:

Recent events in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Germany and France challenge some well-entrenched notions.

Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation, at 235 million, and the third largest democracy, after India and the U.S. – held a free and fair presidential election. It featured three secular-minded candidates, including a woman who does not wear the hijab. […]

Neighbouring Malaysia has begun rolling back a decades-long quota system for the majority Malays, which discriminates against Chinese, Indians and others. Prime Minister Najib Razak is pre-empting the resurgent opposition leader, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose pledge to end the quotas was gaining traction.

Democracy is also working well in Turkey. The government has just proclaimed a law limiting the power of military courts. Civilian courts will try military personnel in peacetime and military courts will be barred from prosecuting civilians. […]

If you include the elected governments in Pakistan and Bangladesh (populations 176 million and 158 million, respectively) and add the Muslims of India (155 million), you realize that about 800 million Muslims enjoy varying degrees of democracy.

The Western view of Muslims living under military or monarchical despots is true mostly of the Middle East. And the worst among them (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) are the closest allies of the U.S. – and Canada.

So the idea of America as the harbinger of democracy for Muslims is humbug. (Read more)

Uyghur Muslims in Canada are reacting to recent violence in China…

Uyghur-Canadians are banding together to protest the recent crackdown by Chinese authorities on demonstrations in their homeland, and some say last weekend’s riots have been an “awakening” for the tiny community.

“Usually when we had protests before, it was hard to get 20 or 30 people to show up,” said Mehmet Tohti, an Uyghur-Canadian living in Mississauga, Ont. “But today, everyone stopped working and came together to express their anger.”

Nearly all of the Toronto 120 Uyghurs demonstrated outside the Chinese consulate in Toronto Wednesday while another 30 of Alberta’s Uyghurs gathered at the Chinese consulate in Calgary. The Toronto group was joined by a few dozen supporters, mostly from the region’s Turkish community. The Uyghurs are a Muslim people of Turkic descent who have a long history in a part of northwestern China bordered by Mongolia and Kazakhstan in the north and India in the south. (Read more)

… and worry about family members who remain in the region:

A haunting beep-beep-beep is all that Turan Zayit has heard when she tries to phone her three sons after violent ethnic clashes erupted Sunday in northwest China.

The 59-year-old Uighur mother of four has tried calling her sons, ages 36, 38 and 40, every few minutes since riots broke out between Muslim Uighurs and the country’s dominant group, the Han Chinese, in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province.

“There’s no connection whatsoever. I’m very anxious … worried to death,” Zayit said yesterday through an interpreter. (Read more)

A prayer service is held for a Canadian woman who died in the Yemini Airbus plane crash in early July (may she rest in peace):

Mourners came from as far as Ethiopia to pray for the soul of Ensumata Abdoulghani, the Ottawa woman who died when the Yemeni Airbus she was aboard crashed into the Indian Ocean Tuesday.

Abdoulghani, married to Muslim teacher Youssouf Mahamoud, was on her way to visit her ailing mother in Comoros when the flight went down. Of the 153 people on board, only a 12-year-old girl survived.

Abdoulghani and Mahamoud have a five-year-old daughter and two sons, aged two and six months.

Her husband, who teaches at Ecole Ibn Batouta, a French Islamic school where the prayer service was held Saturday evening, is currently in Comoros, waiting for updates. On Saturday, the Yemeni transport ministry reported a large piece of debris had been found by a U.S. search crew.

Mourners at the traditional Muslim service said a prayer of absence since Abdoulghani’s body had not been found. Typically, the prayer service is held on the day of burial. (Read more)

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Due to the extra busy-ness of our contributors this week we unfortunately had to miss a couple of days of posting. Insha’Allah we will be back to posting very shortly. Thank you for your patience.

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Lookout Links: July 6

Nazem Kadri, a Muslim Canadian of Lebanese origin, is getting a lot of attention as one of the newest players to join the Toronto Maple Leafs:

A father’s dream of the NHL is unlikely for any Canadian kid, but even more so for Nazem Kadri. The centre will be only the second Muslim to play in the NHL when he suits up for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected him with the seventh pick in Friday’s draft.

Canada’s increasing diversity hasn’t been quickly reflected in the nation’s favourite sport. […]

He will play for the iconic Leafs in a multicultural city that has 250,000 Muslims. “It’s nice for my community to be recognized as a pro hockey player,” Mr. Kadri said. “There’s a lot of stereotypes about Lebanese, like they don’t set foot on ice, but here I am.

“Being a role model is an important thing for me. Hopefully, these kids can look at me and use me as a role model. A lot of Muslim kids are going to start playing hockey because they see someone like them be successful in that area.” (Read more)

Alia Hogben writes about this history of Muslim communities in the Toronto area:

Within the fast-growing Canadian Muslim population, few people seem interested in the history of Canadian Muslims. Who were the handful of Muslims in the early days who tried to create a community in Toronto?

In the 1940 and ’50s, about 100 Albanian families were the majority of Muslims, with some Yugoslav/ Bosnians and some foreign students at the universities. The Albanians had their own registered society, but in the late 1950s, decided to start the Muslim Society of Toronto.

They met in each other’s homes or in one of the restaurants owned by a member, but they had no gathering place.

In 1958, my husband Murray Hogben moved to Toronto from Ottawa and immediately set out to find some Muslims.

He met a few wonderful families of Indian and Pakistani origin as well as the Albanians and Yugoslavs/Bosnians.

When I arrived in Toronto in 1959, I was welcomed by these Muslims and we quickly became active in the community. (Read more)

A coalition of Muslim clerics and organisations is attempting to start an interfaith dialogue with Christians:

Can Muslims and Christians work together to bring peace to the world?

That’s the question raised by A Common Word Between Us and You, a project supported by almost 300 Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals and more than 450 Islamic organizations.

The project has issued a letter to Christians around the world, inviting them to find common ground so that the two great religions can work towards peace. […]

The initiative takes its name from a verse in the Quran, which says: “O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. (Aal ‘Imran 3:64)

It goes on to quote the Prophet Muhammad, who said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”

It also invokes the Bible, quoting the words of Jesus in the book of Mark after he was asked to name the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” he says. “This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Read more)

Abousfian Abdelrazik has finally returned to Canada after being exiled in Sudan for several years:

An exhausted but joyful Abousfian Abdelrazik had just a few words for a noisy, happy welcome-home crowd in his home city just before one a.m. Sunday.

“I am very happy to come back home and to be in this lovely city,” he told more than 50 supporters who, accompanied by a brass band, gathered downtown to greet him.

His return followed six years in exile, alleged torture at the hands of Sudanese authorities, several thwarted attempts to return earlier and almost exactly 14 months stranded in exile at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum.

“It is your support that (was able to) make this happen now,” Abdelrazik declared, wearing an open-collared shirt and a broad smile. He gave credit to “fellow Canadians and Montrealers, everywhere” for the ultimate success of what sympathizers had dubbed the “Fly-home project.”

“Thank you so much,” he added, “for everything.” (Read more)

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Women in a Gaza City suq

Women in a Gaza City suq

The opening paragraph of “Palestinian sheds light on who’s right in Middle East” by Naomi Lakritz of The Calgary Herald is full of promises; promises daring to oppose those who speak against the brutal treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israel. Lakritz believes that by presenting this one Palestinian, Khalid Abu Toameh, an Israeli citizen, “reporter for the Jerusalem post” will forever open the eyes of the world to who’s really at fault in the Middle East. In her pathetic attempt to prove this “incendiary rhetoric about Israel” as a lie, she makes another stunning accusation: how this rhetoric is actually about hating the Jews rather than abuse of citizens, or on a humane level, of humans. Though her article does provide an insight on the other side of the story but is premature in even recognizing the ugly side of the story.

Lakritz employs an interesting technique: use of those who identify with the oppressed to prove the innocence of the oppressors. Lakritz finds much of the support for her statements in Toameh. The obvious declaration of Toameh as an Arab Muslim Palestinian, citizen of Israel, and a reporter for the Jerusalem Post is an indication of Israel’s all inclusive citizenship rules, although it is quite clear even by statements made by Toameh that Palestinian citizens of Israel are treated as third- class citizens, with no right to vote but an obligation to pay full taxes. Toameh states Palestinians are living a peaceful or lived a peaceful life under Israel’s rules and it’s only the international media, more specifically, Canadian media that is finding faults in a perfectly peaceful situation. According to Toameh those protesting against Israel’s actions are not “Arabs and not Palestinians” supporting the claim that Palestinians are perfectly satisfied with the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. From this perspective Toameh and Lakritz wish to defy thousands of those Palestinians who have been raped, murdered, forced out of their lands, have had their pristine lands occupied by Israeli settlers, have no access to education, to even the basic needs for survival. In this respect she either denies these treatments or finds them acceptable and humane. Under Israeli occupation and colonization Palestinians are denied even the basic right of food, education, and medicine, and are terrorized on a day- to-day basis through military occupation.

Lakrtiz also strongly believes that the “incendiary rhetoric” condemning Israel stems from the hatred towards Jews. It is the Jews who are the problem, Israel is just an excuse. In the “incendiary rhetoric” she points to, Jews are not stated as being the problem but Israel’s army and it’s government’ policies are stated as corrupted. The social taboo of blaming or hating Jews as a whole nation for any action is interesting. It is understandably unacceptable to blame the actions of Israel on Jews or Judaism, but it is entirely acceptable to blame the whole of the Muslim world and its religion for the actions of a handful of Muslim extremists. Attacks by Muslim extremists always create frenzy in Western Media but attacks by Jewish extremists or Christian extremists are ignored or vaguely mentioned. The generalization is so great that individual Muslims are easily prejudged as terrorists by the general public. I would like to make it clear that I do not blame Jews or their religion for the abuse of Palestinians, but what makes it acceptable to generalize one group of people but on the other hand generalizing the other population is considered social taboo?

Although I am against Israel’s policies and blame them, to a certain extent, for the situation of the Palestinian people. However, we as Muslims, especially those neighboring Israel and Palestine, fall no short of sharing this responsibility. In this respect I agree with Toameh and Lakritz. The Palestinian government has never been able to serve the interest of Palestine in full capacity and whatever destruction is upon Muslims is actually to a certain extent our own fault. Our inability to act against such abuse is witness to what we value. Muslim leaders speak out against these actions but have never actually taken a firm step, regarding political policies, against the Western powers in opposing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Our leaders seem to be sold to Western powers to keep their national interests as their top priority. One wonders if to them the life of luxury is more important rather than provision of basic rights for their citizens, or even other Muslims. It is about time Muslim leaders take strong political action, rather than resort to violence, against such atrocities.

Lakritz refuses to recognize the oppression of Palestinian people but she cannot deny it. According to Lakritz “a journalist has an innate obligation to tell that truth.” Maybe she should act on it herself by presenting both sides of the story.

Image by Flickr user Ahron de Leeuw, used under the Creative Commons License.

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Haroon Siddiqui

Haroon Siddiqui

Recently journalist Haroon Siddiqui tried to answer the question “Why is it “politically toxic” to say that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario be scrapped?” In his piece in the Toronto Star entitled Why Tories are worrying about rights tribunal” Siddiqui presents an eye-opening, yet seemingly obvious, role that Muslims have unwittingly played in scaring Canadian policy makers into doing things they may not have done otherwise, had they not been so damn terrified of us “big, bad Muslims.”

In answering his question Siddiqui explains that the “subtext here is Muslims.” In other words, in many controversies, in many controversial and difficult decisions, there has been an undercurrent of fearing Muslims. The Ontario controversy of funding religious schools would not have occurred had there not been the prospect of funding Islamic schools. The decision to not allow religious arbitration in Ontario would not have been made had it not been for Muslims asking to be allowed to religiously arbitrate.  This fear of Muslims hurt not only Muslims, but other religious groups who had already been using religious arbitration but were now not able to.

And now the fuss over human rights tribunals has been sparked because Muslims accused Macleans of printing Islamophobic content. Otherwise, before that, human rights commissions were going about their same business with very few complaints. It was only when Muslims got involved that accusations of silencing free speech and freedom of press were thrown around.

Siddiqui’s piece reveals an underlying fear of Canadian Muslims which is based on the  false and harmful belief that Muslims are somehow not really Canadian. The assumption, if one looks at Siddiqui’s examples, is that Muslims living in Canada, do not understand “Canadian values” * like freedom of speech, religious freedom, or the law.

In the Sharia debates, which lead to the outlawing of religious arbitration, the detractors of Islamic religious arbitration were up in arms worrying about Muslim women. The fear was that if Muslims were allowed to decide for themselves on certain civil matters we would most certainly fail in any attempt for justice. Muslims, unlike the Christians and Jews who had been arbitrating for years before us, were not deemed capable of meting out fair and equal justice. That was something only the Canadian courts  and Christian and Jewish arbitrators could do – not Muslims ones. It was assumed that somehow Islamic forms of justice, unlike other religious forms, were inferior to secular Canadian ones and thus had no space in the Canadian arena.

With the religious schools kerfuffle we saw a similar uproar when funding for all religious schools was suggested. Funding Christian schools for some reason has been and still is fine. And funding other religious schools would have been fine. But it’s those damn Muslims again. Governments could not fund an Islamic school where they teach God knows what kind of un-Canadian stuff.

And finally, the recent fuss over human rights tribunals has been spurned by Muslims using the tribunal to fight Islamophobia. This regardless of the fact that other religious groups have used (and probably abused) the human rights tribunal in the past without a peep from others (with the exception of a few).

There seems to be an “understanding” among non-Muslim Canadians that there is something inherently pathological about Muslims and Islamic beliefs. Therefore, Muslims and our beliefs cannot be allowed  into the public arena. The “understanding” that Muslim values counter and clash with Canadian ones further others Muslims. What are Muslim values and what are Canadian values? Are they really distinct from one another? And aren’t the values of Canadian Muslims also Canadian? And where in this debate between Canadian versus other values do our indigenous populations come into play?

A “Canadian versus Muslim” dichotomy creates the illusion that somehow there exist distinct value systems that are at odds with one another and cannot co-exist. Consequently, a hierarchy is created in which one “set of values” (Canadian) is deemed superior to the other. Those whose “set of values” are deemed inferior are themselves seen as inferior and less Canadian. Additionally, this dichotomy leaves no room for a discussion of Canada’s indigenous peoples pushing them out of “Canadianness” altogether.

* Very arbitrary and subjective phenomenon. I am not using in the sense that distinct Canadian values exist. Rather I am using it as many use it to other certain people.

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Originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Kamala Das. via Jaihoon.com

Kamala Das. via Jaihoon.com

I wrote last week about a positive portrayal of a Muslim woman who had recently been voted president of a mosque.  I’m going to stick with the positive stuff for at least another week (although, considering the state of global media portrayals of Muslim women, this probably won’t last too much longer) and talk about a recent Toronto Star article about Kamala Suraiyya, a Muslim poet and writer from southern India, who has recently passed away.

Cleo Paskal, the journalist, who knew Kamala Suraiyya as a family friend, remembers her as

an award-winning writer and poet who was famous for unflinchingly, and controversially, writing about every aspect of being human, including love, sex and religion.

Her honesty, beautifully packaged in elegant turns of phrase, combined with her social activism to make her an icon.

Paskal describes Suraiyya as a popular and gracious figure who was constantly receiving visitors:

They came from all over the world: editors from New York wanting to include her poems in their anthologies, village women wanting to talk about their hardships, TV producers wanting to serialize her short stories, politicians wanting endorsements, believers wanting blessings.

They were all looking for something. And what they found was Kamala. I watched as she gave and gave and gave. Time, bangles, tears, laughter, advice, admonitions, poems. She held court in the grandest tradition, welcoming each and every one with honour and respect.

By this point, when I was reading the article, I had assumed that Suraiyya was not Muslim, so I was surprised to get to the part where Paskal mentioned that Suraiyya had in fact become Muslim in 1999, at the age of 65.  I had to ask myself, why had I been so quick to assume that she was non-Muslim, especially because the whole reason that I was reading the article was that my Google News search had indicated that the word “Muslim” appeared in the article?

I think one of the reasons I was surprised is that Muslim women are so often talked about as if the “Muslim” part overtakes all other facets of our identities.  To go more than half an article before specifying that its main subject is Muslim seems pretty unusual.  Granted, the article was written by a friend of Suraiyya’s who knew her before she was Muslim, so it makes sense that the focus was on other things (and that the journalist obviously saw her as more than just “a Muslim woman.”)  However, given how rare it is for “Muslim” to be represented as only one facet of a person’s identity, instead of the overarching label that dominates the portrait, it was good to see this description emphasize the multiple identities that any Muslim woman may happen to have.  Even the fact that she had embraced Islam after coming from a Hindu family isn’t made into a big deal.

Suraiyya passed away on May 31 of this year, and Paskal’s description of the multi-faith memorials for her is especially powerful:

The burial was at Palayam Mosque in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram. It is one of the most conservative in Kerala and was chosen in part because it shares a wall with a temple, and is close to a church – symbolizing Kamala’s universal importance.

In keeping with the spirit of Kamala, the Islamic community made sure that all were welcome.

I was privileged to be there, and it was remarkable. Women, including non-Muslims, were allowed to participate in preparing the body for burial. Hindu and Christian leaders, and one of the city’s oldest Jewish families attended. It was accepting, emotive and powerful. Like Kamala. Already the unprecedented coming together of so many faiths on the welcoming grounds of the mosque is having a resounding, rebounding, positive effect.

Mosques throughout the world held prayers for Kamala, and prayers were said for her in churches and temples.

This description provides a welcome contrast to images of Islam and Muslims as intolerant of other religions and incapable of existing peacefully with followers of other faiths.  This isn’t even portrayed as something out of the ordinary, but as a normal way that one woman related to the members of her community.

I am not at all familiar with Kamala Suraiyya’s work, so I can’t comment on her as a writer; however, the positive and loving portrayal in this article shows that Muslim women fall into many different categories besides “Muslim” – writers, activists, mentors – and that it is possible for Muslims to exist in close and respectful relationships to people of all different religions.  It is, perhaps, sad that we should have to celebrate this fact (since this image may seem obvious to many of us), but considering all the representations out there of Muslims as inherently violent and intolerant, descriptions such as this one, of alternate possibilities, are always nice to see.

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