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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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A Toronto private school is being sued by a Muslim student for defamation, as a result of the school’s response to a fight in which racial slurs were made against the student:

A private French school run by a former Liberal MP defamed a 15-year-old student during an assembly and did not treat alleged racial slurs made against him seriously because he is Muslim, a lawsuit alleges.

Omar Elgammal is suing the Toronto French School, headmaster John Godfrey – who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 – and principal Heidi Gollert over alleged remarks at a school assembly denouncing the teen after a fight apparently sparked by racial slurs.

In the defamation lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court, Elgammal alleges that on Oct. 23, 2008, a student from another private school was at Toronto French School and insulted Elgammal.

The student “seized” upon Elgammal’s Muslim heritage, calling his father “bin Laden,” calling them terrorists and saying, “What are you guys going to do, call out, `Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah?” Elgammal alleges. (Read more)

The Canadian government has decided not to pursue legislation that would have forced niqab-wearing women to show their faces when voting in Canadian elections:

The federal government has no plans to move forward with proposed legislation to force veiled women to show their faces when voting, the minister of state for democratic reform said Thursday.

“We have other priorities as far as increasing voter participation and with the expanded voting opportunities legislation,” Steven Fletcher said in an interview.

“And that is our focus. That obviously will affect a lot more people.”

Dmitri Soudas, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, confirmed the government still supports the idea of forcing voters to reveal their faces, but said the bill doesn’t have opposition support.

“The bottom line is even if we were to proceed with legislation, it would be voted down immediately,” Soudas said. (Read more)

More on Adil Charkaoui’s cross-Canada speaking tour, this time from Vancouver:

“The purpose of this Canadian tour is simple,” said Charkaoui at a news conference this morning. “I want to talk directly to Canadians, to show them that I was treated unfairly by their government, by our government.”

Charkaoui arrived in Canada from Morocco as a permanent resident with his mother, father and sister in 1995. On May 21, 2003, he was arrested after the federal government signed a security certificate against him, and later accused him of being a threat to national security. Charkaoui was jailed for 21 months and released under the strict conditions of a security certificate in 2005. Today, he wears a GPS tracking device and must alert the Canadian Border Services Agency 48 hours before leaving the island of Montreal. As well, he is not allowed to associate with anyone with a criminal record or use the Internet outside of his home.

“Never has the federal government been able to prove the so called ‘reasonable character’ of the security certificate issued against him,” said Fernand Dechamps, who travelled to Vancouver with Charkaoui. (Read more)

The Ottawa Citizen reflects on a Canadian magazine’s portrayal of Jordan’s Queen Rania:

As it happens, Queen Rania does have very strong ideas about Jordan and its place in the world, although you’d never know it from that Hello Canada article. On her dedicated YouTube channel, you can hear her speak in a intelligent way about the education of girls, for example.

She’s at her most inspiring when she’s talking about the need to eliminate the suspicion and mistrust between the West and the Arab world.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, her personality is her most powerful tool in that project. She’s a high-profile Muslim woman who wears jeans and lets her long hair hang loose and uncovered because that’s her choice. She talks about her relationship with her husband as an equal partnership. She is Queen, and she calls that a “mandate” and takes it seriously, especially given the state of the Middle East. “We live in a tough neighbourhood,” she told Hello Canada. (Read more)

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Lookout Links: June 22

Adil Charkaoui, one of five men arrested on a security certificate in 2003, is on a speaking tour across Canada, and has spoken in several cities already.  For those of you in Vancouver and Victoria, see here for the dates that he’ll be in your city this week.  Check out this article too, about his talk in Fredericton:

[O]n June 3, 2009, my students came face to face with the consequences of Canada’s counter-terrorism measures and the realities they create.

Adil Charkaoui hesitantly entered the class with a book-bag slung over one shoulder. We made our introductions and he seemed very collegial. He began his talk by apologizing for his English, noting it was his third language, and how he was nervous to misspeak due to prior experiences. He was then interrupted by a phone call which he reluctantly answered. Explaining in French, he told the caller he was in the middle of a presentation and asked if he could call back shortly.

“Sorry, it was the government”. Indeed, the effects of one policy were becoming increasingly clear for my class.

As I’m sure many readers are aware, Mr. Charkaoui is one of five gentlemen who have been detained in Canada under the provisions of Federal Immigration Security Certificates. In fact, Mr. Charkaoui was the lead plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which resulted in the certificate legislation being declared unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. […]

Mr. Charkaoui painted a vivid picture of the personal consequences resulting from this imbalance – described through his indefinite detention; threats of deportation to a 3rd party where it was assumed on reasonable grounds (established by the government) he would be subjected to torture, cruel or inhumane treatment; infringements on privacy and impediments to maintaining employment as a teacher.

Although his bail restrictions have been relaxed due to a court ruling, Mr. Charkaoui lamented about the stigmatism of being labeled a terrorist and the difficulties in trying to counter such a label and establish some normalcy in his life. For this reason, he has launched a cross-Canada speaking tour aimed at sharing his experiences and the consequences of such repressive legislation as the certificate policy. The effects of which are still omnipresent. (Read more)

The Edmonton Journal writes about the Africa Centre, a multicultural and multifaith community space for people of various African backgrounds:

A girl in a hijab as bright as her smile plays a game with friends, volunteers quizzing them on math questions as they move pieces around a board. Around her, children who have made the journey from Africa to Edmonton focus on puzzles, and computers, and games, their chatter infusing the old Wellington Junior High School with new life.

Look down this hallway. Young boys in stockinged feet kneel to face Mecca, touching their foreheads to a red prayer rug.

Turn around. Basketballs thump on a hard gym floor. Impossibly long bodies leap into the air.

Open this door. Beans, peppers, and tomatoes grow in a makeshift greenhouse, tended to by immigrants who come from countries where they never knew sub-zero temperatures.

This is the Africa Centre, part community organization, part cultural hub, part leap of faith for a group of community leaders who want to unite a diverse immigrant population that is growing each year. The children who attend the homework club, like the adults who promote it, come from across a continent that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. (Read more)

Abousfian Abdelrazik will, apparently, be finally allowed to return to Canada from Sudan, after having been repeatedly refused travel documents by the Canadian government, although his story is likely far from over:

Even before the flight arrangements are made to bring Abousfian Abdelrazik home from Sudan, there’s a rising clamour for a full-blown inquiry, an apology – perhaps even a settlement – over the Canadian government’s role in his six-year exile.

“Abdelrazik’s case is far more grave than [Maher] Arar’s in terms of Canada’s involvement,” said the NDP’s Paul Dewar, the Ottawa MP who has championed his case in the Commons. “This has been a form of Canadian rendition, exiling a citizen when there was no evidence against him.”

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s terse announcement in Parliament Thursday provided no details about how the government will make good on the court-ordered obligation to repatriate Mr. Abdelrazik.

“The government will comply with the court order,” Mr. Nicholson said, referring to an order by Mr. Justice Russell Zinn of the Federal Court that Mr. Abdelrazik be brought home with a diplomatic escort within 30 days. (Read more)

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Lookout Links: June 15

We missed linking to it last week, but go read this article about Mustafa Ahmed, a young Toronto boy who does some pretty awesome spoken word.  More importantly, watch a video of him performing one of his pieces:

In other news about young Toronto Muslims, the Globe and Mail reports on a prom night for Muslim girls:

Salma Hindy had caramel highlights added to her long, dark hair for the first time yesterday – though because she wears the hijab, they will stay mostly a secret vanity, hidden from public view.

Last night, the 17-year-old honours student, yearbook editor and future engineer, arrived at her prom, concealed by a shapeless tunic, her stylish upswept hair forming a bump under her head scarf. Until, that is, she passed through the closed doors of the banquet hall in Mississauga, Ont., and, under a ceiling of blue and gold balloons, revealed an elegant teenager in a sparkling, black evening gown – the beginning of a night she had imagined since Grade 8.

There was dancing, but no boys – in mixed company, young Muslim women cannot dance or wear revealing clothing. No one was sneaking in alcohol – drinking is strictly forbidden by Islam. And there was no prom Queen: Instead, every graduate wore a tiara. (Read more)

I’m all about the happy stories today.  Here’s one about a community of Muslims working to support an indigenous community in Manitoba:

Last night, the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, created in 2007, flew 450 loaves of bread from City Bread and 240 pounds of chicken bought at a discount from the Clearview Colony to Garden Hill.

Once there, the bread and chicken were to be distributed by the band council to reserve members who most needed it.

Hussain Guisti, the foundation’s general manager and chief financial officer, said it has sent two smaller donations of food and clothing to Garden Hill in recent weeks, but this is the first large shipment.

“A charity is finally working up in Garden Hill to help them,” Guisti said on Tuesday.

“We have charities working overseas and there is poverty here. Maybe this will raise the eyebrows of other charities and they will also help.”

Garden Hill Chief David Harper said he is grateful for the help from Zubaidah Tallab.

“So far they’re the only ones that have helped us,” Harper said.

“We are very pleased.” (Read more)

And the Aga Khan is given an honorary degree by the University of Alberta, as well as honorary Canadian citizenship by the Canadian government:

Improving the quality of life for people around the world is a tall order for a 20-year-old.

But more than 50 years ago when the Aga Khan was named spiritual leader of the Shia Nizari Ismaili Muslims, he was up to the task.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Shah Kari al-Hussayni – the 49th Aga Khan – will receive the rare award of honorary Canadian citizenship to recognize his efforts in working toward that goal.

He founded the Aga Khan Development Network, an organization that has brought better health care, education and urban and rural development to impoverished communities in Asia and Africa. (Read more)

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Lookout Links: May 25

A youth convicted of being part of a terrorism plot has been sentenced, and then released:

The first person convicted under Canada’s terrorism laws was sentenced Friday to 2½ years in prison for his involvement in the group dubbed the Toronto 18, which authorities accuse of plotting to blow up targets in the city’s downtown.

The judge in Brampton, Ont., who sentenced the 21-year-old declared that, with credit for his time already spent in custody, the man had served his time. He walked free hours later and was back home Friday. (Read more)

The mosque in Dorval, Quebec, has been vandalised – for the third time in less than a year:

The Dorval Mosque is now tarnished with graffiti that reads: “Koran 8, 12”.

“This thing should not happen in a country called Canada,” said Karim Chadal, a member of the Muslim community with strong ties to the mosque. […]

The graffiti sprayed on the wall of the mosque refers to verses in the Koran that include the following excerpt:

“I will instill terror into the hearts of Unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks. And smite all their finger-tips off them.” […]

The president of the mosque, Mehmet Deger, said the vandals are simply attempting to spread stereotypes about Islam.

“They are trying to give a violent message of Islam to the public,” said Deger.

He added that the words were written nearly 1,500 years ago, and can be easily taken out of their historical context. (Read more)

Muneeb Nasir writes for The American Muslim about the “imam problem” in Canadian mosques:

The Canadian Muslim community continues to agonize over their religious leaders.

In a recent study done by Karim H. Karim for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, he found that Muslims in Canada and other Western countries “seek religious leadership that can guide them as they navigate spiritual and worldly matters in a knowledgeable and insightful manner. They expect their imam to have not only an intellectually sophisticated understanding of Islamic sources but also a keen appreciation of the Western contexts in which they are living.”

Very recently, the congregation of the main mosque in Ottawa, the Ottawa Muslim Association, has been caught up in a debate around such issues as a result of the choice of a new Imam.

The Imam, who was brought in from Al Azhar University in Egypt, is being criticized by segments of the community for his communication skills, his lack of experience and familiarity with Canadian social conditions.

The debate has become very public with the articles being written in the local press and even eliciting an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen. (Read more)

Zaynab Khadr’s marriage to the son of an Ottawa judge draws public attention:

They are among the most unusual of couples. Joshua Boyle, 25, is the son of a tax judge whose empty home was shot up. Zaynab Khadr, 29, is the sister of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr — and Osama bin Laden attended her wedding in Afghanistan a decade ago.

The divorced, single mom and the research fanatic met over the Internet – their mutual interests in Wikipedia and the War on Terror helping them stake out common ground. They married – quietly – but their romance was soon propelled into the public’s eye, after thieves fired several .22-calibre bullets into the groom’s family home.

Today, for the first time, they talk about their marriage, the break-in, and overcoming prejudice – including a suspicion that Mr. Boyle was a spy. A rally outside an abortion clinic, they said, also helped bring them together. (Read more)

The Toronto Star profiles a young comedy duo of Pakistani and Christian Lebanese background, and the work they do in mocking stereotypes of Muslims and of people from the Middle East and South Asia:

They may aspire to be comic terrors. But terrorists, no, definitely not.

In fact, Dave Merheje and Ali Rizvi are born-and-raised Canadian lads with a similar issue: they don’t look like your archetypical Canadians so their family backgrounds – one from the Middle East, the other from South Asia – mean people often don’t know what to expect when they take the stage.

But that rush to judgment brings with it a whole range of comic possibilities and that’s part of the fun behind We Ain’t Terrorists, playing tomorrow night at Second City.

Merheje came up with the show’s title three years ago to be deliberately provocative and to point out the obvious: that appearances can be deceiving. (Read more)

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Lookout Links: May 18

An imam in Calgary issues a statement against the Taliban:

A Calgary imam who once made headlines for filing a human rights complaint over the publication of the infamous Muhammad cartoons is now calling on all Muslims to support the war against the Taliban in Pakistan.Syed Soharwardy and three other Calgary imams on Friday issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against the Taliban’s actions in Pakistan.

“A fatwa has been issued by the Calgary Imans about the aggression of the Taliban and their ideology, which is not Islam, it is against Islam and the beliefs of Muslims,” said Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

“It is the ideology of hate.” (Read more)

The BC-based South Asian Post reports on reactions to new security measures being proposed at airports:

Describing British Columbia’s 60,000-strong Muslim community as “frustrated” and “outraged,” Mohammed Jafar Bhamji says Canada’s plan to install peek-a-boo body scanners at national airports is taking the war on terror too far. […]

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has already sounded the alarm over the body scanners, which have been widely dubbed “virtual strip search machines” because they effectively take naked photographs of airline passengers via low-frequency radio waves.

Now Muslims in Canada – with a population estimated to surpass one million by the end of next year – are joining the clarion call for measured reason in an age of increasing security paranoia. (Read more)

Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women writes about the violence committed by the Taliban and about anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada:

There are three recent issues that seem unrelated but they are not — the family laws passed in Afghanistan; the Taliban takeover of Swat Valley in Pakistan; and the recent poll regarding what Canadians think of each other.

It is difficult to abstain from political discussion when addressing issues affecting Muslims. It’s also difficult to separate issues in Canada as distinct from those in the rest of the world.

During our struggle against any religious family laws in Canada, we quickly found that the issue was of keen interest to women in other parts of the world.

Similarly, the recent misogynist family law passed in Afghanistan, which said it was OK for a man to rape his wife, had a rippling effect on other women around the world. (Read more)

Football player Obby Khan of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers takes part in a reading of a book about the stories of Canadians who have been detained and tortured because of terrorist allegations against them:

The 300-pound veteran was to join Pither on stage in Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall at the University of Winnipeg to read excerpts of the story about a Canadian national security investigation gone wrong. The book chronicles how four Canadian-born Muslim men were accused of terrorist links, detained overseas, interrogated and tortured — allegedly without evidence — before being released and returned to Canada.

Khan, who is Muslim, said when Pither first called him, he had never heard of Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki or Muayyed Nureddin, three of the four subjects. He did know the high-profile case of Mayer Arar,  the telecommunications engineer with dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship who was accused of being a terrorist and deported by the U.S. government to Syria in 2002, where he was tortured.

The Canadian government subsequently ordered an inquiry which publicly cleared Arar of any links to terrorism and gave him a $10.5 million settlement.

“It’s just God-awful what these men went through. People don’t know how this happened to four Canadian citizens. Their human rights went out the window. It’s shocking,” Khan said. “We need to understand what happened (to these men) so we can create a greater tolerance in the world we’re living in today and prevent it from happening again.” (Read more)

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Lookout Links: May 11

The Toronto Star reports on a book about the spread of American popular culture in Muslim countries:

In 2004, the Save the Children organization conducted a survey of Afghan children. They were asked to name their greatest fears. Considering the wars that had decimated the country for decades, and the fact that much of the country is a landlocked moonscape embedded with countless explosive devices, the researchers were understandably surprised to see how many kids put sharks at the top of their list.

Sharks?

“It’s safe to say,” writes Toronto-based journalist Richard Poplak in his fine book The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Muslim World, “that among the various and awful ways in which so many Afghans have died over the course of their brutal history, not one has met with the business end of a shark.” But they had confronted the mass-market end of the Great White, in the form of much-bootlegged DVD copies of the 30th-anniversary edition of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. (Read more)

Two “leading Iranian dissidents” were denied entry into Canada for a conference at York University.  The quote about a “true Muslim reformer” is intriguing.  The implied dichotomy between secularism and fundamentalism (as if you have to be one or the other), not so much.

Saeed Rahnema, the York professor of political science who was one of the organizers, said today that the 35 experts at the conference last weekend have written a letter of protest to Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, as has the university.

“This is ironic at a time when Canada is involved in Afghanistan fighting fundamentalism that the government denies people visas to discuss secularism versus fundamentalism in Islam,” said Rahnema.

The two are Reza Alijani, a journalist who has been jailed several times by the Iranian government for his work and in 2000 was named the Reporters Without Borders distinguished journalist of the year.

Rahnema described him as a “truly Muslim reformer.”

The other is Shadi Sadr, a women’s activist in Iran who is leading the campaign against stoning of women. Rahnema said she speaks around the world on behalf of the rights of Iranian women. She is also director of Raahi, a legal centre for women. (Read more)

A Canadian children’s author spends time with the military in Afghanistan as research for an upcoming book…  we’ll have to wait and see how that one turns out.

McKay is planning a novel that concerns Afghan girls who are forced to leave their country. She says she wants to consult with Muslim groups, to get the cultural side of the tale right. But the reason McKay applied to the program is because she foresees her characters crossing paths with the Canadian military.

“I have four girls [in the story] — each one in their lives will come to a dead end, where they have to make a choice,” she says. One of the girls will be offered military assistance to Britain, where she was born, but she’ll turn it down. “She will stay with her friends and the three of them will try to make it over the mountains to Pakistan on their own,” McKay says. (Read more)

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