Sunday, 31 May 2015

The invitation

It comes in many forms. Through the mail (though far less often that way in this day and age). Through a text (for the least formal occasions). Through a Facebook message or event invite (becoming more common). Or a phone call (provided that I answer the phone).

The invitation. An invite. An e-vite. A request for my presence at some sort of event.

It always seems like a good idea at first glance. A time to get together with friends, maybe eat some good food (though I humbly request those of you who culturally have spicy food consider having some non-spicy dishes for those of us who can't handle it!), and just hang out for a few hours.

And then "it" starts.

For most people, invitations to go to a party, to go to an iftar (a breaking of the fast meal during the holy month of Ramadan), to go out to dinner, or as one of my friends can tell you, go on a long planned camping trip, is something to look forward to. It's something that you want to do that breaks up the monotony of day to day life and is something out of the ordinary.

But then there's people like me, who anywhere from seconds to days after accepting the invitations start with the anxiety attacks. The deep pit in the stomach, the self doubt, the what ifs that don't usually happen (but sometimes do). That leads to the "fight or flight" argument in your head. "I want to go because I don't want people to be upset with me because I don't go, but I don't want to go, don't even want to leave my home, don't want to have anything to do with it, please don't make me go."

Usually, I end up going. Especially if I've told my kids that we're going because then they expect to go. With one exception (the aforementioned camping trip), I do not agree to big events because those are even worse in my head. I still feel guilty, years later, about backing out of that one. I don't agree to big things because the anxiety is so bad that it makes me physically ill. Which is what was happening right before I cancelled the camping trip.

These days, though, it's more community events. I've stopped accepting invitations to certain events because I know I will become so anxious that my only thoughts throughout the whole thing will be "when can I leave." Usually those events involve being stuck with a bunch of people who can speak English, but because they are the majority choose not to speak English knowing full well I (and usually one or two other people) cannot understand the language they are speaking. As the email invitations to these are "reply if you're coming, we need a head count", I just don't reply, which takes the anxiety out of the whole thing.

Recently, I have attended two different aqiqahs (a party within the Muslim community to welcome a new baby).  The first, I kept busy because I was asked to do photographs, so I didn't have time to pay attention to the little voice in my head.  The second, from the time I got there, I wanted to leave.  I was grateful to one friend for sticking by me the entire party.  If it hadn't been for her, I'm not sure what I'd have done.

But the worst thing for someone with social anxiety is when you go because you know certain people will be there and they give you a calming feeling and they end up having to back out. I have had this happen a couple of times, and I always understand - things happen. Usually I end up being fine, or the thing ends up being cancelled. However, one recent example of why I don't socialize still stands out. A "community fun night" ended up being cancelled on by half the people (and since there was a grand total of 4 families going, that left me and the boys, and one other family). I was ignored, questioned as to my work schedule, talked about in Urdu right in front of me, and had my children intentionally left out of the games. Fortunately, the boys didn't notice as they were having too much fun throwing a giant ball at each other (seriously - the ball was the same size as Declan). But for me, with my anxiety, it was too much. As this person has done this to me before, going to any activity that is small group with this person involved sends my anxiety to an even high level than it does before. So yes, your anxiety can be sent through the roof not just by the event itself, but by having to interact with rude people.

So why is this coming up now? Why, after not having blogged since 2013, is this suddenly something that would send me back to blogging? Well, not blogging is not something that I wanted to do, but because every time I had something I wanted to blog about, my first thought was "I don't want to offend anyone, so I probably shouldn't discuss my feelings on (this)." And why now?  Well, because Ramadan is fast approaching.

For many in the west or who are Christians, you'd understand this as the weeks around Christmas or the days around Easter where your family (be it your family-family or your faith-family) get together and have large meals and enjoy each other's company. For Muslims, that's Ramadan. And Ramadan lasts for 30 days, please three days of Eid afterwards. Imagine 30 nights and 3 days of socializing with social anxiety. The thought, to me, is terrifying.

My one saving grace is this - I live in a small town. And our community is small. And many people leave town to go to the city for Ramadan. So my socializing is cut down considerably more than it would be if I were part of a Muslim family, or living in a bigger community. I also work evenings, and don't get off until 1:15am Monday to Friday, so that cuts it back even further.

I'm of two minds about that. My brain is thankful that I don't have to do it (or rather, can't). But I'm also sad about that. I'm sad that my kids don't have that experience. That I can't take them to taraweeh prayers (the special prayers held each night of Ramadan). That they don't have those special iftars. So when I do receive the invitations when I'm able to attend, I do. Especially if I have the boys. But not being able to go makes me feel somewhat guilty because of this:

As Muslims, one of the hadiths (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salaam) is that we are to accept invitations -

It was narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhaari (1164) and Saheeh Muslim (4022) that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: ‘The rights of a Muslim over his fellow Muslim are five: returning greetings, visiting the sick, attending funerals, accepting invitations, and saying Yarhamuk Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on you) when he sneezes.’”

Now, scholars differ as to what this means, but basically, it comes down to "unless you have a good reason, etiquette dictates you accept the invitation."  And honestly, it is in my own mental health's best interest to accept the invitation (if it's at a time I'm not working).  What I have learned is that when I don't accept the invitations, when I burrow myself into my house (as I did last summer) my mental health suffers dramatically.  Things get bad.  They can get really bad, as I have a decades long history of depression.  Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand.

So why did I write this?  Because I run up against people that just don't get it.  They either don't understand because they've never been there and just can't seem to wrap their head around people that would rather have someone say "hey, want to meet me for coffee?" and have that be fine, but yet can't handle "hey, I'm having a party with a bunch of people and want you to come" and then don't understand the difference; or people that think that I should just "get over it and pray about it."  (What I want to say to that one is - don't you think I've been trying that method for years?)  I have a few friends that, while I haven't explained that this is the problem, do know that I'd much prefer small than anything group.

I have very, very few friends.  I have many "people I know and will stop and have a conversation with" but for friends I can count on, I count about two.  I know part of it is the anxiety about having to actually go out and socialize.  So what it comes down to is this - if I'm at an event and I don't seem like I do when you're with me one on one, this is why.  My body is there, the two sides of my brain may be arguing with each other on whether it is time to go (even if I've just gotten there).  I love my friends, I love seeing people I haven't seen in awhile.  And if I decline an invitation, please be patient with me.  (And if it's a Monday to Friday, please understand I have to work.  Unfortunately, I also run up against people that don't understand that it's up to me, myself and I to pay the bills and if I don't work, they don't get paid.)

For most, an invitation is a happy thing to get.  But please remember - some of us receive those invitations and have very different reactions.  It's not because we don't want to help you celebrate, it's not because we don't love you, and it's not always something we can express.  So please, don't automatically jump to the conclusion that we just don't want to be there.  Sometimes, the being there is painful.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The inaccessible education

Education is for the rich. I do not care how many times the government says that education is for everyone, or that education is accessible for everyone, the bare facts are that post secondary education in Ontario is for only two groups of people – those willing to put themselves into debt (sometimes in the tens of thousands) or for those that are upper middle to upper class in terms of finances.

Then there are the thousands of people in the middle like me. Those of us who aren't willing or able to go even further into debt than we are, those that are making barely enough to get by (or not get by) and are told all the time if we want to better ourselves, if we want to get a better job, to go back to school and get a better education. And how are we supposed to do that? By quitting the job that is feeding us and our children? Paying our mortgage? Paying all those other necessary bills? By reducing the hours that we desperately need in order to work and go to school? Well then who will make up those missing hours in terms of the money missing in our pay cheque that we need in order to survive at the moment?

Someone told me recently that I should just get OSAP (the government student loan program) in order to do the program I'd like to do. But OSAP is only available if you're going to go back to school full time. Oh, and if you're willing to go into more debt than you already are. I'm not. Between the car payment, the mortgage payment and the regular day to day bills, my meager pay cheque doesn't have any extras in it to pay back more loans. Yet I want to go back to school. I want to get a better education to get a better job to have a better life. Yet the cost of one, just one, course is over $600 just four the course. That doesn't include text books or any other costs. What's incredibly silly is the fact that in that course fee are things that I and others who pay only for the course and are doing it by distance education are also paying fees for things that we have nothing to do with. Student activity fees, for instance. Why am I paying “student activity fees” when I'm not even on campus, let alone participating in a student activity? I also don't understand why each course has to cost between $600 and $700 when while, yes, the professor (I'm guessing one of the professor's assistants) is marking my work but I'm not taking up a seat in a classroom and all the professor is doing is posting online his notes for the week – not the day, the week. Why does it cost so much?

So education is for the rich. It's for those that can afford to quit their jobs or only work part time and don't have to worry about things like keep a roof over their heads or feeding their children because they are not single-income households. Education, the key to living better because you make more money, the key to not having to worry so much on whether or not the mortgage payment is going to bounce or you can make the insurance payment this month, this education which we are told is accessible to everyone is, in fact, not. It's especially not if you're not able to go into more debt. And it's most especially not if you're living in the middle of no where and unable to just pick up and move.

I want more education, but what are supposed to be helpful bits of advice on how to do it – take out OSAP, get a bank loan, oh and the one I love – move, are less than helpful when I'm the only one paying the bills and moving is detrimental to my family, and unless I have a money tree in the backyard I don't exactly have an extra $800 (course fees + books) kicking around.

Honestly, it is not just me and furthering my education I worry about.  I look at what it cost when I first started (the entire tuition for the first semester as less than $900), and that one course cost nearly that amount now and I look at my kids and I wonder if there is any hope of them getting a good post secondary education unless they start their adult lives in debt or we win the lottery that we never play.

Education ends the cycle of poverty in the developing world. We all know that. But education in the developed world is just as unaccessible to lower-middle class families in Canada without the financial means to access it. I'm all for changing the world and bringing education to developing countries, but Canada needs to become more like some of those so-called “developing” countries like Egypt where post secondary education is accessible and free to all. Maybe for once we can take a page from their book so that all Canadians who wish to further themselves and better the lives of themselves and their children can do just that.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

My Conversion Story

Okay, so I've had a few people both IRL and through e-mail asking me what "my story" is.  I often wonder if my kids, being white, will get the same question - "so how'd you become Muslim?"  I'm hoping that, inshaAllah, as they get older, it'll become more "normal" to be white and Muslim.  But obviously not at the moment.

So.  I was raised Christian.  Presbyterian, to be specific.  I don't remember a time when church was anything more than a social thing.  Sunday school was to see my friends, not to learn anything.  Even though we learned things.  It was a social thing because I don't ever really remember believing in the doctrine that was being taught.  I never undersood how 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.  I never understood how suicide could be wrong, but if God was Jesus and Jesus was God, then wasn't that suicide by default if God could stop anything?  But I did believe that God sent Jesus with a message.

As I got older I started doing my own research.  I never didn't believe in God.  I never didn't believe that Jesus wasn't a prophet.  I never didn't believe that Jesus wasn't born of the Virgin Mary.  But beyond that, in Christianity, I couldn't believe.

The first time I heard about Islam I was 11.  I got a penpal from Guyana with whom I'm still in touch with.  She would tell me about Ramadan and Eid, and about grade 9 I would look up things in the school library.  And then I learned more. And more. By the time I was 16, I knew that I believed in Islam.  But I also know that the worst thing I could do at that point in time was to tell anyone.  I was the minister's daughter.  I already created enough issues with some of the little old ladies in the fact that I was not the stereotypical minister's daughter that they wanted - I dressed the way I wanted (even to church), I spoke up if I didn't agree with something.  I wasn't docile and compliant, sitting in the front pew with my hands in my lap wearing my Sunday best every week.  I did my utmost to actually skip church.  I'm pretty sure that didn't go unnoticed either.

As I got older, I continued to fake it for the sake of everyone else.  At 27, I got married in the church because that was what was expected of me.  At 28 and again at 29 I had my boys baptised in the church.  Because that was what was expected of me as well.  And every time I did something in the church because it was expected of me, made promises to God even though both He and I knew that I wasn't going to do anything of the sort, I hated myself.  How do you look yourself in the mirror and not hate yourself when you're getting up in front of a few hundred people and pledging to raise your children in the church?

So finally I said to my husband, I don't believe in this.  I don't want to go to church.  I didn't mean it when I baptised the boys.  But I do believe in Islam, and I'm a closeted Muslim.  He and I agreed that he was okay with my taking shahadah and raising the boys with Islam, but that he wasn't interested.  I had already  been in an online Muslim women's community.  I became good friends with a couple of sisters on that group.  One, Tahira, was instrumental in my conversion.  She answered so many questions for me, and those that she couldn't answer her husband answered.

I took my shahadah, got connected online with the Muslim community in London, Ontario.  He said I relaxed so much after that.  Well yeah - I wasn't lying to everyone.  I still didn't tell my family, beyond my youngest brother and sister in law.  And then my mom found my Islamic books.  We won't get into how that went, but suffice it to say, it didn't go well.

It also does not go well trying to raise your children with two different faiths.  Not so much the faith but the practices of such.  I was cutting pork and alcohol completely out of my diet and wanted to do the same with the boys.  He refused.  I didn't want to do Christmas or Easter with them anymore.  Easter he agreed with, Christmas for him was non-negotiable.  I think that religion was part of the reasons for the original separation.

After the boys and I moved to a village 15 minutes away (a village of 800 people), I made the concious decision to start wearing hijab.  I knew I wouldn't get much support, but did from my then estranged husband.  We did discuss it long before i started wearing it.  I did modified at first.  Wore it more like Orthodox Jewish or Christian women wear it.  And then I didn't wear it at work.  I wasn't sure how it would work there.  And then, in April of 2008 I did decide to wear it to work.  I talked to one of the upper security guys to see how it would work when I'd go into the station as there are signs saying all headwear must be removed.  What I found out was that you don't have to remove religious headwear.  So I've been wearing hijab full time since April 2008.  I didn't get around to changing my security badge until December of 2011 though.  Oops.

And then the husband was arrested.

He was arrested and ended up coming to live with me.  He had to follow what was going on because he was the one moving into the home I was living in that he'd chosen not to move with us.  And now he was.  By that point, he was no longer practicing Christianity either, something he'd picked up from me when we'd gotten together.  By the time he went to prison, he wasn't practicing anything, but still wasn't helpful in the whole alcohol and pork aspect.

After he left, it became easier.  I was the only parent in the boys' lives.  All the decisions were mine to make. When I'd converted, our town had a very small number of Muslims - all Pakistani immigrants who many in town, myself included, actually thought were Indian Hindus, as we knew there were some of them.  But there were more and more Muslims being hired at work all the time.  When I went into the administration building most of the time, wearing hijab, I was noticeable.  It created some small controversy at first.  There were some bizarre questions.  Someone wondered if "I'd become Mormon."  A friend of mine laughed hysterically at that.  A Mormon friend replied to me that she'd been Mormon her whole life and only wore scarves when she was cold.  Someone else asked me if I was cold all the time.  But most people wouldn't ask me.  They'd ask my co-workers.  One of them finally snapped at me that I should tell people myself - dude, I would except for the fact they're not asking me!  I actually, just last year, had an interesting conversation while serving in which they asked me which dish was better.  I told them that I'd have to pick one over the other because the other I didn't eat pork.  He asked why.  I looked at him funny and said "Because I'm Muslim?"  He replied with "Oh, I didn't know."  And before i could think I said "why'd you think I wore the scarf?"  His answer? "I thought you had some sort of weird skin condition."  Oooookay then.

By now, of course, everyone knows I'm Muslim. I'm sure that it wasn't more than a few hours after I took shahadah that most people knew.  And if they didn't, those that read the letters to the editor in the paper found out because I wrote a letter correcting the editor's column when he used the word "iman" for "imam" and said I knew this as I was Muslim.  As I became more comfortable I became more vocal.  I met more people at work and eventually became involved with our small growing community.

I have gone from someone who was in hiding for many years to now I am part of the tiny committee that does organizing for our community.  I helped two brothers approach a local church and drafted a letter to them, as well as attending the meeting in which we are now able to meet two nights a week in their church.  I send my kids to our local one a week madrassa where they are learning Arabic, Quran and Islamic studies.  I work as a liaison between the Muslim community and other organizations, including the local schools.

I am a Muslim woman who wears hijab but rarely wears abaya. I work out of the home.  I was the first Muslim many people around here met.  I know that I'm the first person almost all of them know who they knew both before and after conversion.  There are people that won't talk to me now, but those people I don't have time for.  I was saddened by a local church book group that decided to do their book club one month on Islam and instead of actually using books that actually taught about Islam, they chose books that skew it so horribly that it would have left nothing but a bitter, anti-western, anti-woman, Muslims are backward and violent, taste in their mouths ("Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a book which is nothing more than a self-hatred testiment which doesn't actually talk about Islam but about Somali culture.  She, however, says that it is all Islam and refuses to see that what she lived was 99.9% culture; "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini, which is 100% fiction, and takes place involving Afghani culture.  There was another one, another book that also was not Islamic but cultural.)  What saddened me the most is that the person running the group is a retired high school history teacher and someone that I thought was well-educated.  In choosing those books, what I learned was that she wasn't as educated as I thought, and not someone who I would want teaching my children in the future.

My husband is now out of prison, and while we're not living together, we are in a better place than we were, working towards possible reconciliation.  What the best thing was that prison did is that it gave him lots of time to read.  I asked him to do one thing for me - learn about what I believe.  In learning, he eventually took shahadah as well.

Our children our proud Muslims.  They love learning about Islam and "being a Muslim."  And I am more comfortable in my own skin, in my religious beliefs, things I actually believe in now, than I ever have been in my life.  

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Beautiful Love

I attended a funeral not long ago. I have to say, it was the most difficult of the few funerals that I've been to. The person's life who we were jointly mourning and celebrating wasn't that old – just two years older than me – and was healthy. His death was shocking and unexpected. It left many people, including a bus full for children (two of which are my own, as he was their bus driver), in a state of not understanding.

Jeff was my friend Tim's husband. I attended their wedding in July. When you attend a wedding in July, the last thing you expect to be doing is burying one of them in November, but that is exactly what we did. Many of us who had celebrated the joy of Tim and Jeff's wedding gathered once again to help Tim with his monumental loss.

I admit I did not know Jeff well, and after listening to stories about him that is something I will regret. The times I did talk to him, it was obvious how shy he was around those he did not know. But I've known Tim for quite some time, though I think he's known me longer than I've known him. For me, here, it seems that way with a lot of people. I was honoured when they invited me to their wedding. I was also so proud of them – we live in a community where difference is not always celebrated, and often not even accepted. While as our community becomes more diverse, and while slowly but surely differences are accepted and celebrated, I was still so proud of Tim and Jeff for getting married here, no matter what others might have said.

I remember watching Tim and Jeff at their wedding and thinking that they were so, so lucky. The way they looked at each other, as if there was no one else in the world, was the way in which I wish someone would look at me. This look of pure, true, love. It isn't often that you see that look. Sometimes you see shreds of it between people, but it's that rare look that you know when you see it, but is so hard to describe. The love between them was almost tangible. They and their doggy children were and are so loved by so many. I admit, at the time, there was a tiny part of me that was jealous of their happiness when sometimes it seems so far out of reach in my life, though a very tiny part.

And then, four and a half months later, we sat in a church, so close yet so far from that park where they got married, heart-broken as we listened to a friend, a sister, a brother, and then finally Tim speak of the man they loved and would forever miss. There were so many tears – for our joint loss, for Jeff's family, for Tim's family, but most of all for Tim. Our hearts' broke over and over again as we watched Tim during the funeral, and then finally when Tim placed Jeff ashes in their final resting place.

I spend a part of every day now, thinking about Tim and praying for him to make it through to the other side of this tragedy, as, there is, with everything, another side – the side where you do not get over it and never will, but learn to live with it. He is surrounded by family and friends who truly love him, and loved Jeff just as much. While I barely knew Jeff, I loved him because I love Tim, and I wanted (and want) for Tim the same thing I want for all my friends – for them to be happy. Jeff made Tim happy, and for that I loved him. I am thankful that Tim shared Jeff with us. That they shared their wedding with us. And that they let each and every one of us know what it was like to see that true, unadultered love that we all wish for.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A short editorial on Free Speech

Freedom of speech is an integral part of Canadian society.  It has been for many, many years, and it should remain that way.  Freedom of speech allows us the right to criticize our government and our leaders without the fear of being imprisoned.  There are a multitude of countries around the globe in which if you were to do the same thing you would quickly find yourself in prison, or worse, dead.  With freedom of speech, for better or worse, also comes the freedom to practice hate speech.

Now, do I think this is right?  Legally, yes.  Morally, not so much.  And in some situation, I don't even think it's smart.  I don't think that we should censor ourselves based on how some fringe group of people might react.  With freedom of speech comes the freedom to disagree.  I can disagree publically and as loud as I like when someone insults (or worse than insults) the Prophet Muhammad.  I do not have the legal right to harm someone for doing so, nor should I.  Nor should I have the right to call for the person to be imprisoned for using their freedom of speech.  They have the right to their beliefs, as I have the right to mine.  To refuse others the rights of freedom of speech would, in the end, mean that I would just be taking away my own right to free speech.  My right to say that I do not agree with certain other religious beliefs and possibly insult them, even if that were not my direct intention.  Even if the person insulting my Prophet was intending to insult my faith and our beliefs, they have the right to do so.  Legally, their right to free speech ends only where the line has been crossed that incites violence from whomever they are talking to.  Inciting violence from the group they are insulting is not crossing that line.

The only people responsible for the actions that are taken by those that are "insulted" are the people taking those actions, therefore, the only people that should be punished are the people that are breaking the law.  Making a movie, standing on a stage, insulting any prophet (and any Muslim worth their salt will say that it is not just the Prophet Muhammad that we find insulting to slander but any prophet, including Jesus) is well within the realm of free speech.  So find it distasteful, find it insulting, state your beliefs on this, but calling for imprisonment or issuing a "fatwah" calling for someone's death is what is illegal, not the words that have been previously spoken by someone who is trying to make us look like a violent and uncivilized people.  So please, before you act, think. If it's the supposed movie maker, if it's the Quran burning so-called pastor (one of the least Christian like men I've ever heard speak) or it's some uneducated person trying to make  himself look big, think, because they have the right to free speech, but no one has the right to cause harm to people or property.  

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Abuse is NOT okay.

Our community is in trouble. It's not an outside threat that has our community in trouble, but from within. So maybe it's not our entire community, but members of our community, and if one of our community is in trouble, then the entire community is in trouble.

We are told that to save one person is as if you've saved the entire world, and to kill one person is as if you've killed the entire world. What if speaking up, what if acknowledgement, what if dispelling myth, meant that you saved just one person? How about if you saved more than one.

You see, we have a problem. Our problem is that we seem to forget that we are human, and that while we are Muslim and are supposed to strive for better, to be above the issues of the world, we are not. Because we are human.

I have heard time and time again that abuse doesn't happen in the Muslim community. Spousal abuse. Child abuse. When it hits the media, we seem to immediately go into denial mode. People write letters, make phone calls, write editorials saying that those speaking out are liars, that they are making it up, when in reality, they are choosing to wear blinders because they do not want to acknowledge the fact that our community faces the same issues as every other community in the world. We are not innocent, we are not necessarily above. We are, therefore, human.

To say that a woman is lying because she says that her husband (or ex-husband) beat her, then gave her lavish gifts, is to ignore the proven cycle. You see, there are cycles to the abuse. The woman gets beaten. The husband feels remorse – or something like it – and buys her gifts. Sometimes lavish, other times maybe not so much. It's his way of buying forgiveness, or at least the attempt. It's called the honeymoon period. Then they cycle through to the stage where everything is calm and peaceful. Maybe she thinks it won't happen again. Maybe, that first time, she thinks it's a one time thing. Often she blames herself. What did I do? How can I make sure that I don't do it again? I must have done something to make him angry – instead of pinning the blame where it is rightly deserved. On him. On the person who laid his hands on her in anger instead of love. Because hitting, slapping, pushing, beating, are not acts of love, no matter how someone may justify them as such. And then it starts again. Maybe it comes out of the blue. Maybe there's a lead up. Signs that it is coming. And then he hits her. Beats her. Pushes her to the ground. Or maybe it's verbal. Calling her names, belittling her, making her feel like she is worthless.

Maybe he does this in front of the children. Maybe she manages to get the kids to be somewhere else because she knows it's coming. But no matter how you look at it, no matter the maybes, it is abuse. To claim she is lying, to claim that maybe words said weren't meant as they are, to claim that because in public he seems genuine, nice, loving, “he'd never do that!” is to push the woman into a situation where she is in more danger.

Women who feel the need to hide because they've tried to talk to someone – a friend, a family member, some trusted, their imam – and they've been rebuffed, told to go back and try again, are at a higher likelihood of being seriously hurt. Abuse doesn't just “go away.” To send someone back to the abuser, giving them no resources for help in how to deal with the abuse is sending them potentially to their death. We have seen Muslim women killed at the hands of their husband, sometimes in gruesome ways. It is not something that is relegated to the non-Muslim community. It is not something cultural. It is something that exists only in the realm of “other.”

Abuse in our community is not just relegated to husband to wife. It can and has also been wife to husband, yet that is an issue that is barely spoken of in the society of large, not just within the Muslim community. That is an issue that needs to be discussed on a much higher level than just within our community. It needs to be discussed within society.

Abuse is also parent to child. We need to make sure our children are safe. We need to make sure that if we think a child is being hit, a child is being abused, if we haven't seen a child we know exists, that we ask questions. There are times in which looking the other way, minding your own business, isn't appropriate. These are those times. There are, in Canadian society, mandated reporters. If teachers, including teachers in Islamic schools, coaches, Guide and Scout leaders – they are required to report if they believe a child is being abused. We need to protect our children – not from those that are required to report (and if they do, they should not be the ones that we aim our anger at, but the parents who have put themselves and their children in this position). We need to protect our children from those that hurt them. Just as we need to protect our women from those that hurt then, and our men from those that hurt them. And abuse can be child to parent as the parents, and the children, age. We need to protect our older brothers and sisters from abuse from their children as they age.

We need to open our eyes and realize that abuse does exist in our community. We need to open our minds and realize that women, children, who cry out for help are not lying, but need help. We need to open our arms and embrace them and help them get the help they so desperately need. And we need to open our hearts and help these families heal. Get the help for the abusers who are willing to get help and learn how to properly deal with their anger. And we need to find our voice and speak up, condemn violence and advocate for those that no longer have their voice.  

Friday, 10 August 2012

You are what you wear?

So there are two things that I need to continually remind myself. The first is that I can't control everything around me. It's not that in certain circumstances I don't continually try, but the majority of the time, I cannot control what is going on around me. No one can. The only thing I can control is me.

The second is that I need to remember that not everything is a battle. Not everything is a battle that I need to fight, that I need to win. Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting battle after battle. Today, I let one go. I didn't even begin the battle. It's not that I didn't want to, it's not that I didn't want to say anything, But I thought to myself, is it worth it? Is me saying something worth what potentially could be the fall out?

On one hand, yes. On the other, not so much.

You see, I went to my boys' day camp talent show and when I walked in, a person I knew was there. The father of one of the boys in Camden's group. Camden's former soccer coach. One of the parents that sometimes helps out with the boys' rugby team. He's also a teacher at the local Catholic school. So somehow, being a leader in our community, I didn't think he was as....well, stupid I guess would be a good word. Bigoted may be another. Spreading misrepresentation and hatred is another way of putting it.

So I walked in and didn't take much notice of him at first. And then I walked past him to go and speak to Declan. That's when I saw his shirt. On the front, it said “Infidel” in great big letters. Beneath it, I realized that I've come to know more Arabic than I've given myself credit for. In Arabic, underneath, was written “Kafir.” When he walked past me later on, I saw the back – Kafir was written in Arabic again, with a skull missing an eye socket and a sword. The fact that, while wearing that shirt, he said hello to me had me truly wondering – does he realize that a) kafir and infidel do not mean the same thing and b) that shirt spreads hatred and misrepresentation towards a group of people?

Now, if this was my child's teacher? Or a teacher at my child's school? Personally, I do not care if it is summer vacation and he's not wearing it at school. I would be making his school board aware of the fact that this person that represents them, that they are putting in front of innocent children, I would be making them well aware of the hatred they are spreading in the community. I have to wonder still again – when his children asked him what that word meant (because I'm willing to bet quite a bit that he actually thinks that the Arabic writing says “infidel”) he told them? Did he tell them that he's mocking an entire religion? Did he tell them that he's spreading hatred towards a group with a word whose historical beginnings was actually a word that his particular religion used towards Muslims? Or is he teaching his children to hate as well?

Now, it's not that I don't believe in freedom of expression, freedom of speech.  He's more than free to wear that shirt or shirts that degrade or show his beliefs for all the world to see.  Just like it's my right to believe him to be a bigot, or at least incredibly uneducated in the truth about a) the word infidel, b) the Arabic language and c) a major world religion.  

Honestly, it wasn't a battle worth fighting. What it did, though, was allow me to see someone's true colours. A person who while he may be a teacher and in a position with many children who is in a position where he should be held to a higher standard, he literally wears his bigotry on his shirt. I thank God that my children do not go to the Catholic elementary school in my community. At least that way I know there is one less person who will hate my children for their religion in a position of authority over them. I just feel sorry for my friends whose children do go to that school, who may end up with him as a teacher. I pray he keeps his bigotry to himself in his classroom and doesn't spread hate to kids that shouldn't learn it at school – shouldn't learn it ever.

Monday, 23 July 2012

A letter to my Muslim Brothers

Dear Brothers,

I know in our community it isn't the norm to speak up on social issues that pertain to women.  I know that it isn't the norm to speak up on social issues at all.  But now is the time you might want to do that.

You see, the media has decided to print the views of a brother (and in this reference, I use the term loosely) which make all Muslim men, heck, all men in general, look bad.  And maybe if he wasn't being termed an imam in the article's headline or the headline on the radio and instead they used the terminology in the article ("a Muslim street preacher") it wouldn't be so bad.  But the fact is, the media has termed him an imam in the Toronto Muslim community and therefore left the public thinking that this is one of our leaders, and for many who know nothing of Islam, the way that Muslim men think about women.

As we all know, there is a good portion of this world that think that all Muslim men want to do is dominate their women.  Now, those of us that are Muslim women or know Muslim women know how wrong this idea is, for more than one reason.  I've yet to meet a non-opinionated Muslim woman, and we are taught both through the Holy Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wa salaam) that women are to be treated with care and respect and that we have rights.  Unfortunately, there are certain groups that have totally eroded this in parts of the world and have left the non-Muslim world thinking that women having no rights is the norm.

Now this brother is preaching on the street and to the media of Toronto (which is printing it and reporting it on the radio) that it's a woman's fault if she is gropped in the subway, or raped.  Now, whether you (or we together, as an entire community) believe that a woman should dress conservatively in public, we all choose to live in Canada.  Where Muslims have the freedom to dress as conservatively as they want - from hijab and abaya to niqaab to hijab and conservative "regular" clothing.  But non-Muslims also have the freedom to dress as they wish - whether it is appropriate to some of us or not.  However, to turn around and blame a woman for the lack of a man to a) control himself or b) respect a woman, her body and her space and keep his hands to himself.  This brother is also making it look like Muslim men need to have women to be covered up in order to not become violent towards a woman - because rape is about power, control and violence.  It is not necessarily about the sex.  It's about dominating a woman and her body, including a woman he may not know.

So my request to you, my dear brothers, is to stand up and speak out and say that rational, kind, Muslim men do not believe that it's okay to go around raping and assaulting women purely based on how they're dressed.  Or at all.


So I began writing the above a week ago, before my computer crashed.  I got it up and running again, but then didn't finish it until now.  But in the meantime, I had a rather disturbing conversation with a brother last week that I just couldn't wrap my head around.

Now, I know that there are sometimes women that intentionally put themselves into situations that could end in them being assaulted.  I've met women like this and I won't pretend to understand what they're thinking or why they behave as they do.  What I do not understand, however, is how some cultures raise their men to believe that it's a woman's fault no matter what.

I do not understand men who say "well, she deserved it because of what she was wearing."  What she was wearing?  You know, I do agree there are some that go to far.  I don't understand those that prance around in their barely-there bikinis but then would be screaming and trying to cover themselves if someone saw them in underwear that probably covers more.  But at the same time, I'm not going to implement laws that say "you have to wear (this much) clothing" because I don't want it illegal to wear the clothes that I choose to wear.  I do not, however, understand the need to have a law stating that it is legal to go topless in this province. But I digress...

So I want to end my letter to my brothers by saying this: please do not automatically put the blame on women.  We should not be teaching our daughters how to avoid being raped, but our sons in how to treat women properly.  Please help raise your sons to believe that women should be valued, that a woman does not necessarily bring violence to herself, and that just become of the way a woman is dressed does not give a man the right to touch, grope, rape or otherwise harm a woman.  And please, stand up for your sisters in Islam should this happen to them.  In fact, help teach those brothers whose culture tells them that women are to blame for anything that happens to them how they should actually be treating women.


a sister who cares how her brothers are being portrayed.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Mixed Feelings (or, my wish for Egypt)

So after days of supposed leaks, weeks of elections, months of uncertainty and a year after the Arab Spring hit Egypt and ousted Mubarak, elections are, for all intents and purposes, over in Egypt.  Today Mohamed Morsi won the presidential election in Egypt.  However, over the last week, as it was put on one news broadcast, the military has rendered the office of president impotent and disolved the parliament, leaving one with little power and the other with none at all.

I have mixed feelings about this.  I've already been asked why, and I'll try to explain.  Morsi is from the Muslim Brotherhood, and they've made a promise that they will represent all Egyptians, but from some of the ones that were in parliament before it was disolved, I have to wonder how true that will be.  They did not condemn (or at least did not condemn loudly) the burning of Coptic churches by Muslims after the original revolution.  People need to remember that these Christians are Egyptians too.  They deserve to have their rights remain in place.  The deserve not to live under Islamic shari'a law.  They are not Muslims.  And the Muslim Brotherhood need to remember that.  

The Muslim Brotherhood also needs to realize that they need to separate themselves from some of the people that have arrived in all of this from Saudi Arabia and have tried to force Saudi/Wahhabi/Salafi ways down Egyptians throats. Maybe some Egyptians want that, but there are also those that do not.  Those that have chosen to live in Egypt because they can be Muslim, but they also want to live in a country that is not ultra-conservative.  Women have already been dragged out of their shops and beaten (as was reported months ago in various media) because they chose not to wear hijab.  Because they dared to work.  Egypt is not an ultra-conservative country, nor should it be forced to be.  In otherwords, Saudi Arabia, the Wahhab and Salafi sheikhs, need to stay out of affairs that are not theirs.  

However (and this is the other side of my mixed feelings), to have elected Ahmed Shafik would have meant that everything would have been for nothing.  There would have been no point in all of this.  To have elected Shafik may have been a "safe" choice, a choice in which you knew what you were getting, but would anything have changed?  Probably not.  How much of Mubarak's regime would he have brought back in?  Maybe many, maybe a few, maybe none.  But it would not have been a change, and things needed to change.

My concern is for the women, the Christians and the minorities.  Islamist political parties have a long standing traditions of trampling on the rights of those groups.  As I stated before, the Muslim Brotherhood has already stood by almost silently while churches burned and Christians were killed inside their churches.  And look at Iran - they brought in an Islamist political party and in many ways have gone backwards since then, and have in many ways cut themselves off from the rest of the world.  

The Western world, in hearing the words "Islamist president" is immediately going to think of Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia - countries that have a long history of removing the rights of women and minorities.  So my wish for Egypt, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is this: remember that there are people within your country, whose faith traditions have been there for centuries - for longer than Islam - and that respect is a two way street - if you want it from them, you must also give it to them.  Remember there are women who want to maintain their way of life.  Who don't want to loose their jobs, be forced to cover if they choose not to, who will loose the limited rights they already have to move them to the level of less than a second class citizen.  And remember that you are, for better or worse, the most powerful country in the Middle East because your country has a history of at least attempting a to create a shaky peace for the area -  maybe one you can extend.  Don't let the extremists and ultra-conservatives bully you into taking away the rights of others, into refusing to work towards peace, into being anything other than respectful of all Egyptians - Muslim or not.  

We need to talk

We need to talk.  Oh, more likely than not, not you and me.  Or maybe you and me.  But really, "we" being the local Muslim Community.  We need to talk and we need to speak up.  Why?  Well...

See, there is a group of people who may read this who probably will not like what I have to say. And as I say, some of my opinions may not be popular, but I'll stand by them.  I'm not attacking anyone, but I will say that I do not agree with their beliefs.  They are perfectly free to have their beliefs.  However, they are not perfectly free to (in one case) shove their version of Islam down my throat, and (in another) do what I believe is misrepresenting themselves as Muslims.  

Let's work backwards, shall we?

Now, anyone is free to call themselves a Muslim, and I get that.  However, when you're beliefs fall outside of Islamic beliefs on more than one level, it'll be up to God to believe whether or not you're a Muslim because man will probably not accept you as such.  I also believe that no one should be persecuted for their faith, but I have issues when you start preaching your faith as being Islam when it is clearly not.  If you add books to the Qur'an, you are no longer Muslim.  It's like claiming your Jewish when you are in reality Christian.  And that's the way that I explain the Ahmaddiya Muslim community to others who ask what the deal is - the Ahmaddiyas are to Islam what Christian are to Judaism.  And yet, in our area, the only ones that are talking openly and putting themselves out there are a) the Ahmaddiya community and b) not even from here!  So boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, it's our kids in the schools, it's us that they're seeing in the grocery store, and we're the ones having picnics at the beach.  We need to start putting ourselves out there.  Or at least coming up with ways to do so, because, quite frankly, the only people talking are also the ones that are saying that the Muslim world persecutes them (and I do admit that in certain countries that is true) because the messiah has already returned, when in fact, Muslims (with the exception of this one small sect) do not believe that to be the truth.  If we want people to understand who we are and what we believe, we need to somehow give people the opportunity to ask.  To give dawah ourselves.  But when this group comes into our community, tells a local Muslim woman she is not a real Muslim and generally insults the Muslim community in our small town, I'd really like to tell them to not come back, because if they can't respect the community that is already here they need not be here.

On to point number two.

There are certain groups of people that really should not be the first interaction that new Muslims - especially new, small town, never really exposed to Muslims outside of an online forum - should meet and interact with, without some sort of guidance of what (for lack of a better word) I call the moderate, western, mainstream, Muslim.  Locally, I can think of one particular group.  This group, had they been my first interaction, would have scared me far, far away from Islam.  Upon meeting them, the first thing that I was told was that I needed to change my  name and my children's names to "Muslim names."  Now, let me make one thing clear - there are no such thing as "Muslim names."  There are names that are not acceptable by Islamic standards (ie, naming your children names that are obviously another faith tradition, as are names that have a negative meaning and names in which the meaning would be tantamount to putting yourself/your child on the same plain as God) but any name, as long as it is not a "bad" name is a Muslim name, because it is the name of the person that is Muslim.  What some people think of as "Muslim names" are in reality just Arab names.  And that's fine.  Many people choose a name when they convert of one of the Prophet Muhammad's (salallahu alayhi wa salaam) wives, original followers or even himself, and that's fine as well.  But to tell people they have to choose a new name is just wrong.  It is insulting to the person they are saying it to, as well as potentially the family that they were named after specifically.  I found it insulting when they told me to change my children's names as if I hadn't actually put any thought into what we were naming them at birth.

I also have issues in the amount of weight they place on wearing the headscarf.  When you're a female convert, here's the thing - sometimes you feel the need to put it on right away.  Other times, it's a gradual step.  And sometimes she'll never wear it accept to pray.  We are told two things: 1) there is no compulsion in religion.  If you are forcing yourself or someone to do something and saying it is compulsary, it becomes tricky and has the potential to become outside of the religion.  Many of the laws you see passed in certain countries are actually outside of the religion (ie the burqa in Afghanistan).  and 2) "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the woman of the believers to draw their Jalalib all over their bodies. That will be better. That they should be known so not to be annoyed. And Allah is ever oft-forgiving, most merciful."  While it is technically required, while it is something we will get more blessings for wearing, it is also something that is purely between the woman and God.  It is not between the woman and the community, the woman and strangers, the woman and anyone else (though if she's married, it needs to be something she does discuss and agree on with her husband - before they ever get married).  

This particular group is also rabidly against pets.  Pun completely intended.  Now, I get that the dog in Islam is to not a house pet.  However, when they started in on me it became very evident very quickly that it was not a subject that was to be broached with me.  And there are a couple of us that really do not have a clue what their issue with cats is.  Cats are not verboten in Islam.  Maybe in Pakistan, but not in Islam.  

Ah.  That would be another issue.  Please, people, realize this - you are in Canada.  When you meet those of us that have converted or are wanting to convert, trying to change us into Pakistani Muslims is so not cool.  Realize that you are Pakistani.  We are Canadian.  We both have our traditions and our ways of doing things that are outside the scope of Islam.  That have nothing to do with religion.  We do not want to take on your cultural traits.  We like ours, thank you very much.  And also realize that the more you push, the more you are pushing converts away from the faith (as did temporarily happen to me, but with an online group way back shortly after I did my conversion when I had people telling me that I had to quit my job because I served pork to people *gasp!*)  Now, while in this area the issue is that it is Pakistani culture that isn't being separated from religion, in other areas, it is other culture.  It is hard enough for new Muslims to handle the religious part of the conversion - most especially when they feel they need to keep it secret, or when their family is outspoken in their non-support - that to add the fact the need to be able to separate "culture" from "religion" is too much to ask.  I have heard of too many people who have left the faith due to this issue.

Now, this is not to say that all Pakistani Muslims are like this.  Not by far.  What I'm saying is that there is a select group in this area that are.  And add to that the fact that some choose to follow the Wahabbi school just makes it all that much harder on those of us that they want to "lead" that don't want to be lead by them.  

This is also not to say that all Muslims would force you to get rid of your pets, change your name or wear the headscarf.  This is just my experience with this community and in the past few hours I've begun to wonder if someone else has not also just recently had this experience with them.  

I just wish that if there were new Muslims in this area they could meet me and my friends first - especially the two of us that are western born and raised converts who've learned (sometimes the hard way) the difference between religion and culture.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

How Coffee Made Me Angry

Because it is Sunday, and because it is still the school year, I'm by myself until after dinner.  Because I am by myself, I went into town to McDonald's to get myself an iced coffee.  I'd go to Tim Horton's, but their ice coffee totally sucks, so I'm not loyal to them anymore.  And then I drove home.  It was the drive home that sent me over the edge and made me happy I didn't have my kids in the car.  Why?  I ended up using bad words at the radio.

Now, I'm perfectly well aware that the person inside the radio cannot hear me yelling and swearing at them, and I'm also aware of the fact that it doesn't really make me feel better.  I still felt very angry.  Who was it?  Tarek Fatah.  

Now, for those of you that don't know who Tarek Fatah is, all I can say is "lucky you."  For those of you that do, and like him, all I can say is "WHY?"  And for the rest of us, I'm sure you understand.  Tarek Fatah is, essentially, The Enemy Within to Canadian Muslims.  Maybe if radio stations like CFRB - 1010 in Toronto didn't give him free air time every Sunday afternoon from 3-4pm it wouldn't be so bad.  But they do, and the first 15 minutes of his show this week (all I heard, thank goodness) was condemn, demean and spread more hatred of Muslims - who he calls "his people."  Dude - we are not your people.  Please do not act as if you speak for us.  No one ever gave you permission to speak for Islam and Canadian Muslims as a whole.  You are anti-Islam.  You want us to ignore tenants of our faith in order to do what you think is right - which is making ourselves invisible.  You want us to abandon our faith to become secular.  And you seem to think that we can't be part of society unless we especially give up the outer signs of our faith - specifically hijab.  

Mr Fatah (and I use the term Mr loosely) has repeatedly spoken out against women who choose to wear hijab.  In fact, again today, he phrased it in such a way to make it look like those of us who choose to wear it are forced to wear it.  He was attacking first all Muslims for what the extremists in Nigeria have been doing.  He was attacking us for not rallying in the streets against the "Muslims" in Nigeria who have decided that blowing up churches is a good thing to do.  Okay, so here goes - 

I, as a Muslim, disagree and condemn every Muslim attack on non-Muslims or fellow Muslims.  Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace.  That is what our Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) taught us.  That we should not attack unless we ourselves are being attack.  We are also told that to kill someone is a grave sin.  So therefore, while it may not bring much comfort to the families of those that lost their lives today and on other days, the people responsible will be dealt with on their own judgement day.

But then Mr Fatah went on to say that he doesn't see "any of his people speaking out in Rexdale, where every woman you see can't leave their home without wearing a headscarf."  

Now, maybe if this was the first time I was hearing Mr Fatah speak, I would think that maybe it were just semantics - the way it sounds isn't quite the way it was meant, that it was just a simple switch of words that could mean the same thing.  However, I have heard Mr Fatah speak before and I do know it wasn't semantics - that it wasn't a simple, mistaken, use of the word "can't" instead of the words "choose to."  No - Mr Fatah doesn't make those type of errors.

You see, Mr Fatah does not believe that hijab is commanded of us in the Qur'an.  He doesn't believe that the Qur'an states this:

 And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only 
that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to 
their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers
 or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack
 vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to
 reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye 
may succeed. 

In Surah 24 Ayat 31.  To Mr Fatah, it appears, these verses do not exist, and if they do, they're not relevant in Canadian society.  While he publicly claims that he is not against a banning of hijab, just niqaab and burqa 

I've still yet to see a woman in Canada wearing a burqa.  Niqaab, yes but burqa?  So for those of you that are non-Muslim that are unsure of what the difference is, a little definition.  Niqaab is the face covering in which you can still see the eyes.  It is not commanded of us - the only people that it is ever spoken about that were to do it were the Prophet's (صلى الله عليه وسلم) wives.  But niqaab is something that even Muslim women continue to disagree upon to this day - whether it is fard or not, whether it brings you more blessings or not, whether it is acceptable in the west or not.  However, banning it (or attempting to ban it) only serves to get most women to agree on one thing - that we don't want it banned.  Now, burqa is entirely different.  Burqa is what you see in pictures out of Afghanistan, where they are covered literally from head to do, with a mesh screen that you can still barely see through, that can actually  be dangerous to women.  There is no place for that in the world, in my opinion.  It takes the concept of hijab, twists and warps it, makes it extreme, and then tries to be passed of as Islamic - of which it is not.  Now, if Mr Fatah was just trying to make the burqa (and not niqaab) illegal, I might agree with him on that.  However, his methods and his making himself appear as if he speaks for all Canadian Muslims makes it incredibly difficult for me to ever be in his camp on anything.

So in that brief, aggravating, angering, fifteen minutes that I heard Mr Fatah speak today, he derided Canadian Muslims for not speaking up on the Nigerian church attacks (of which quite honestly I didn't know about today's until after I got home and checked CNN International - doesn't even have an article on it, nor does The Toronto Star, though in just checking Al Jazeera - English, they do.  (And for those that wonder - Al Jazeera is actually not what the western media even make them out to be.  Check it out sometime - they're actually very moderate and don't take sides.  They're like the BBC of the Middle East!)  

Mr Fatah also made it appear, once again, that women don't have the choice about hijab and that when you see us out in public we are being forced to wear it (this could explain why a friend's 9 year old daughter - who chose to wear hijab - was accosted and belittled at the local Multicultural Festival last month, if the media that gives Mr Fatah free space is allowing him to perpetuate this stereotype).

And then...and then he started to go on about how "his people" are killing women all over, from honour killings to female infanticide to female selective abortion.  Now, I'm going to stand up and say that yes, it does happen, yes it is awful, and no it has no place in Islam.  In fact, Islam was the first religion to speak out against it.  Islam was the first religion to give women rights.  And yes, there are some who are attempting to take us back 1400 years, to attempt some sort of warped pre-Islamic culture with Islam as the religion.  But Mr Fatah went one step further today in stating that the female selective abortion is rampant in Brampton (Ontario) and British Columbia.  

So yet again, Mr Fatah is giving people like my inlaws, who are rabidly anti-Islamic, more ammunition in their fight on my raising my kids as Muslims.  He is giving the general population who haven't bothered to learn more about Islam more ammunition to come up to perfect strangers and make negative, and sometimes hateful, comments to those of us wearing hijab.  

But I don't entirely blame Mr Fatah for all of this so-called knowledge of his being spread.  I also blame CFRB, The Sun Media Networks, The National Post, The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail here in Canada for allowing his free reign to spread hatred of the Muslim community under the guise that he is a Muslim.  Maybe those people don't care about the fact that many Canadian Muslims do not support him, do not support his organization and are just fine with him spreading hatred and misinformation through their newspapers and radio stations.  Or maybe they're just uneducated on who Tarek Fatah really is and choose to remain that way.

Monday, 11 June 2012

I Took A Picture

I took a picture tonight and it took awhile for me to get the right words to go with it, but there is something powerful about the picture and what it means to me.

It's a simple picture, actually.  I'll include it at the end.  But it really is a simple picture.  It is of four men I know and respect - three the husbands of the sisters that I gather with every week, the fourth the brother in law of one of them (her husband's brother).  It's the simplicity of the picture, yet the action of the picture that says to me that we are lucky for where we live.  Lucky, may not be the word.  Honoured?  Privileged?  You see, the men are praying.  They are making salat, the traditional Muslim prayer that we pray five times per day.  They are at the point in the prayer where they are making sujood - the prostration.

To many, they may say "well, so what's the big deal?"  Well, to me, it says that unlike certain countries in this world (*cough* France *cough*) the men (and the women, if they are) can pray in a public park, breaking from the conversation, the meal, the fun (the rounding up of escaped children), and make salat in the park where no one bothers them, no one comments, and for what I witnessed, no one stared.

For a Muslim to make salat in public in the west is still sometimes a spectacle.  We try to make it not to be as we can, but if you're with your family at a park, and even though you may go off to the side to do it, some people will still stare as if you've just dropped down to Earth from the Mars.  Or Saturn.  So to do it in the middle of a public area, quietly, untouched by comments and stares, is something that I really, really, like to see.

I know that most people will stare not out of disgust or hatred, but due to the fact that what we do, how we pray, is totally foreign to them.  If it were me, seeing something like that probably for the first time, I probably would take a second, maybe a third, look as well.  There are things around here that have caused me to do a double take and I grew up here - like Blinky showing up when he's not expected.  I mean, a seven foot tall lighthouse walking down the sidewalk?  On Saturday nights I expect him.  Walking down the sidewalk on a weekday afternoon?  Not so much.  So I understand the natural curiosity of things that aren't the norm in a community.

So I took a picture.  The picture is simple, yet complicated; easy, yet difficult; yet beautiful.  We live in a country that has become so completely secular that it is as if we are afraid of religion.  Or, if not afraid of religion, afraid of different religions.  I have made it clear in the past that I am not for religion in public schools unless it is the teaching of the basics of all  religions (or at least the major four or five).  Canada is a multicultural nation, but in being multicultural has become a nation in which you sometimes feel forced to hide your faith identity, part of who you are.  Canada is a multicultural country, but in being multicultural has sometimes become a country of smaller countries where one community doesn't associate with another.  And then there are scenes like this.

Before I took this picture, I almost didn't.  I wasn't sure whether or not it was respectful.  I wasn't sure whether or not the brothers would be annoyed with me (and seeing as I see them daily, I really don't want that).  I wasn't sure whether or not it was appropriate.  But something in my heart told me I needed to take this picture.  You see, I thought about it and realized that this picture is more than just a picture.  It is a picture that says it is okay to pray.  It is okay to show your faith in public.  It is okay for anyone to pray in public as long as it is done with two key factors in mind - it is quiet, and it is being done with the respect it and the others in the public area deserves.  That it is not being forced upon anyone who doesn't want to be part of it. It's okay to pray in public - that if you are part of a faith that prays at specific times, to do it where you are, in a quiet part of the park, or office, or mall, or wherever.  That it is okay to say "bismillah" before you eat or join hands around the picnic table and say grace.  That it's okay to practice your faith in public, in a personal way, in a way that doesn't disrespect the faith (as some are wont to do, of varying faiths), that it's okay to be who you are.  And your faith is part of who you are, no matter what faith you may practice.  This picture says that it's okay - be it in a big city or a small town like ours.

I took a picture today.  And a picture is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

My Favourite Day of the Week

I want to tell you about my favourite day of the week.  Now, most people would think it would be Friday - because it's the end of the work week.  But no.

Others would think Saturday because there's no work and one more day before Monday.  But again, no.

Maybe some would think it is Sunday - a quiet day to sleep in or go some where.  Nope.

My favourite day?  My favourite day is Thursday.

Thursday? you say.  Yes, Thursday.  Why?  Well, let me tell you.

Every Thursday for the last two months there has been a small halaqa taking place beginning in the early evening.  There are anywhere between four and seven (now six) of us awesome Muslim women in our area that get together, learn more about our faith, the rituals and the reasons, and enjoy each other's company.

To me, this is an entirely new experience I went to a couple of halaqas down in London, and while I loved them, by the time I made the two hour drive home, I was often angry and resentful for reasons I couldn't quite explain.  S hated when I'd go because he knew the mood I'd arrive home in.  This was most certainly not the mood I left the halaqas in - calm, spiritually refreshed.  Over time, I came to realize that the anger and resentfulness was actually jealousy - I was jealous of my sisters in Islam that lived in London that had that experience regularly, when due to gas prices, travel times, life in general, I could only get that experience maybe once ever six months - if not less.  I did stop going, but it had nothing to do with the jealousy or anything other than the price of gas and it not adding up with the funds in my bank account!

And then people started to move into the area.  And by people, I mean "brothers coming up from the city began bringing their wives and children with them."  That in and of itself was (and is) an entirely new phenomenon.  From the time I started working where I am now, I would see brothers there.  In the beginning I'd ask about their wives, or co-workers would ask for me (though at the time I didn't know it).  The answer was always some version of "my wife does not want to come up here because it is too far from the city and there is no community up here, so they stay in the city and I go back home on weekends."

My thought to this was always "if no one comes, how will we build a community?"  Well, eventually, the brothers did start bring their wives and now we have a tiny community in my town.  There's a larger (albeit still small) community just north of us, but we won't get into that...

Anyway, right now, we get together, pray Asr, and are reading "General Introduction to Islam" by Sheikh Ali Al-Tantawi.  We read one chapter a week and then one of us summarizes it and leads us through it and then we discuss it. Though usually we discuss it while summarizing it.  I mean - we're women.  Not talk?  Not likely!

You may be thinking "the others are already Muslim,  Why are you reading an introduction book?"  Well, here's the thing - even if you are born something, that doesn't mean that you necessarily have learned about it.  You do it because it's what you know.  You pray a certain way because it's the way your parents did it and the way that they taught you to do it, so you do it without questioning.  But sometimes, along the way, what you learn is cultural and not religious.  No matter where you live in the world, culture is going to be ingrained in whatever faith you practice.  Take Christianity as well - how I learned to practice in Canada is not going to be the same way that someone in South Africa is going to learn how to practice.  Heck, how I learned in rural Canada is not going to be the same way that someone in urban Los Angeles is going to have learned!  And so, together, we are learning more, or maybe relearning or reaffirming, about our faith.

Thursday evenings I come home feeling happy, calm, peaceful, and spiritually renewed in a way I've not felt before.  I look forward to Thursday nights and talking with my friends - new friends, who in a weird way don't feel like new friends, but just friends I haven't seen in awhile.

I love Thursdays!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Are we really in Canada?"

Those words were spoken by a friend of mine as we sat having lunch at the beginning of last week.  What he had hoped wasn't true really is - Canadians do have a racist side to them as well, they're just more polite about it. What brought this question up was that he had read the comments under an opinion piece that his sister in law had written regarding the apparent "anti-Jewish teachings" of an Islamic Sunday school in east Toronto.

Here is a link to the opinion piece printed in the National Post, written by Yasmin Patel - Anti-Semitism charge a shock to East End Madrassah

It wasn't actually the issue that had my friend wondering if we are in Canada - it was the hateful, vitriolic comments that were posted after Ms Patel's article.  If hateful, vitriolic posts are your thing, then go ahead and read them.  However, if they send up your blood pressure, make you angry and generally want to scream at someone, I suggest you not.

Here's the thing - only half the story is being told.  Not by this article, but by the mainstream media.  You know, the media that (once again) jumped on the "Muslims are horrible!  Muslims want the Jews dead!  Muslims are evil and violent!"  But then, when doesn't the mainstream media try and look for psoitives in the Muslim community?

My friend and his wife attended this mosque before moving up here.  His wife taught at that Sunday school.  And the original issue had already been dealt with when the group that decided the best course of action would be to go to the police, instead of, you know, talking to the person/people/group they had an issue with.  Before this mosque moved, it was actually known as the mosque that shared a parking lot with a synagogue.  In fact, even my dad said he'd heard of this mosque because of that.  Here's a link to that - Jaffari Islamic Centre/Temple Har Zion 

At what point did we become a society in which we took a paragraph out of a text, a paragraph which, when not with its' original source looses all context, and take it to the police?

At what point did we become a society in which we don't actually communicate with the people we have an issue with, but do it through the police and the media?

Why is the media our first call now, instead of someone who can actually do something about the situation?

At what point did we become a society in which it's seen as a good thing to attack a group (religious or otherwise) and show them to be hateful, rather than to show what actually happened?

So here is the story that I have been told, with the knowledge that I have.

The Toronto East End Madrassah (please people, remember that "madrassah" is the Arabic word for "school attached to a mosque") is not unlike a Christian Sunday school or Jewish Saturday school.  They teach Arabic, Qur'an and Islamic history.  Remember that last one, as it's important.  And yes, they import their books just like pretty much every other Islamic school would have to do for these lessons as they're not widely available by Canadian and/or American publishers.  Also, many are translated from Arabic, and sometimes unfortunately the translations aren't so good.

What respect I have had in the past for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre I have lost.  There was a local synagogue who had approached the mosque in regards to the books they were using.  Those in charge of the mosque were receptive to what they had to say.  They took those books out of the curriculum and off the internet.  These are the facts as has been related to me by someone who attends there when in Toronto, whose family goes there.  The issue was settled.  The books were gone.  And then the SWC got involved and instead of talking to the mosque, took their issue to the hate crimes division of the York Regional Police.

Here's the thing though - these books are history books.  And yes, the wording may have left much to be desired.  It may have been in everyone's best interest to get one copy, get a native English speaker to read them and then decide whether they were good or not.  But that didn't happen.  But it also would have been nice if the SWC had talked to the board of directors at the mosque (like what happened with the local synagogue), and that didn't happen either.

If you think that Islamic history is used to spread hate, then I'd stop reading here.  If you'd like to know what this paragraph was taken from, keep reading.

When the Prophet Muhammad (saallahu alayhi wa salaam) and the other original Muslims made hijra to Medina, the rights of Jews to maintain their religion and to take care of themselves and the rights of Muslims to maintain their religion and take care of themselves was written in to the Charter of Medina.  However, it wasn't the Muslims of Medina that broke the treaty but the Jews of the Tribe of Banu Qaynuqa.  And yes, since they were at war, and the treaty was breached, as with any other war, they then became the enemy.  And anyone (even my kids) can tell you what happens when you are the enemy at war.  And yes, the Muslims fought the Jews of the Tribe of Banu Nadir when it came to be known they were going to try and kill the Prophet Muhammad.  If the sandal was on the other foot, if it were a Jewish prophet and the Muslims had a plan to kill him, would they have just let it happen, or would they have fought back?  And yes, a third tribe (the Jewish Tribe of Banu Qurayza) was also at war with the Muslims and the Muslims won.  It was a period of warfare, and it could have gone the other way.  And it wasn't necessarily because they were Jews - it was more because they'd broken the treaty.  In fact, in the case of the Banu Qurayza, Prophet Muhammad actually deferred to another Jewish tribe (the Aws) and the Banu Qurayza were executed on order of the Aws - not the Prophet Muhammad.

But here's the thing.  It's not hate literature.  It's not hate speech.  It's not teaching hate.  It's teaching history.  It's teaching what happened.  Is it hate speech to teach how the Canadians fought the German and Italians?  Does that mean that German or Italian organizations can come in and call the police hate crimes unit and claim hate speech?  Can the Japanese come in and claim hate speech because we fought them in the Pacific theatre or put them in concentration camps in western Canada and the US?  Can Mongolians come in and claim hate speech if our high school text books teach that the Mongols under Genghis Khan loved to massacre people and did by the thousands?  Can Africans of various countries come and claim hate crimes if we teach about the inter-tribe warfare (which is essentially what happened on the Arabian Peninsula circa 630CE) and how the Tutsis and Hutus slaughtered each other in the 1990s?  Or how the Christians and Muslims killed each other in the Balkans?

There is not a single tribe, group or religion on this planet that is not guilty of, at some point or another, participating in warfare.  What I do see as a crime is when a group will take said history out of context, make it appear to be hate speech and just that, and report it to the police, without first bothering to talk to the people in which they got said statement.  Especially when a sub-group of that group already talked to and dealt with the situation.  So first, talk among yourselves.  Find out if maybe something hadn't been done locally, and if it hadn't, first talk to the group that has apparently offended you.  Running off to the police instead of talking does nothing more than, in the end, shooting yourself in the foot.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Of Compassion & Hurt

It's not easy for many people here right now.  On Tuesday afternoon, a teacher from our high school who had taught a generation of students (she was now teaching the teens of parents she had taught when they were teens) was killed in a head on collision.  Mrs. Taylor was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful person in general.  She was one of those teachers that you wanted.

There are three types of teachers in high school - the ones that, when you look at your schedule, you pray you don't see their name listed.  I had a couple of those.  There are the teachers that when you see their name on your schedule you shrug and know you can deal with it, that it won't be so bad.  And then there are the teachers like Mrs Taylor.  The teachers that when you get your schedule you hope her name is on your schedule because she's a genuinely nice person and a good teacher.  But she also made learning fun.  I was never lucky enough to have her as a teacher, but she was one of those teachers where she was everyone's teacher, whether you were in her class or not.  She always had a smile and if she knew you were having a rough time, she'd make sure to ask you how you were doing.  That part I know from experience.

On Tuesday afternoon, our high school, our community, lost that teacher.  A lot of people - past and current students, people who were never her students but her colleagues, her family, her friends - are taking the loss very, very hard.

However, with that being said....

The young man that was driving the other vehicle crossed the centre line and struck Mrs. Taylor's car.  That much we know.  Anything after that isn't official but rumour.  And small towns are great places for rumours to thrive.  This young man is also a student at the high school.  I know who he is, but I will not name him, because while I don't respect what happened, I do respect his right to safety.

Safety, you say?  Yes. Safety.

See, here's the thing - grown ups aren't stupid.  So if you're one of my many student friends on my Facebook page and you're reading this, I'd like you to think very, very carefully about what I have to say next.  I'm not saying it because I'm a grown up and I think you're just a kid, because if you're on my friends list, I don't think that.  I respect you, I respect you as someone who has cared for my children in the past and probably will again in the future.  I respect you as a person with ideas, thoughts and a basic knowledge of the way the world works.  Heck, there are many adults I don't give that much credit to after listening to them talk.  But you, my young friends, you all I respect.

Adults aren't stupid.  We know what goes on behind the scenes.  We were all in high school once.  And many of us understand how Facebook works.  Many of us are also aware of the threats against this young man - including one that stated that if he was to dare show up at prom he "wouldn't leave alive."

So here is what I'd like you to do - I'd like you to put yourself in this young man's shoes for just a moment.  Say you were the one driving the vehicle.  Say you were the one that made that one, singular, stupid mistake - yes, a mistake - that took the life of someone as popular and loved as Mrs. Taylor.  Say it was you.  How would you want to be treated?  Would you expect people to be angry with you?  (Yes, probably they would be.)  Would you expect to be threatened?  (I would hope not.)  Say it was not you, but your best friend that had been the driver.  Say they were the one being threatened, being called "teacher killer" (because yes, we adults know about that one too).  How would you want your friend to be treated?  How would you want you to be treated?  Think about that and then treat that young man the way that you would want to be treated.  In every faith tradition, there is an approximate saying of the popular Christian one - "Do unto others as you would want done unto you."  And remember - no one is without fault.  Remember the other saying - let ye who is without sin cast the first stone.

I am sure that, as any adult could probably attest, there are times in which we have all done something remarkably stupid in which we are lucky we didn't get ourselves killed or kill someone else.  I can name one right off the top of my head and I could probably name more if I tried.  If you haven't done something that remarkably stupid I am willing to guarantee you that one day you will.  And when that day comes, thank God or Buddha or whomever you like for the fact that you did not get hurt or hurt someone else.  Unfortunately, this young man cannot say the same thing, and that is something that he will have to live with forever.  He is going through his own personal hell and what he needs is the compassion of others to not pile on more.

And if you're the parent of a teenager, please make sure you actually know what they are doing on Facebook.  Make sure they're not one of the ones threatening this young man with serious bodily harm, and if they are, do something.  Don't just sit there, use this as a learning experience.  Maybe you say to me "what do you know, your kids are still little."  Well, what I do know is this - we talked about this yesterday because it was talked about at school.  Camden made a comment about his teacher telling him that the other person fell asleep and killed someone.  And so we talked.  We talked about the fact that we (the general public) may not ever know what happened, but that it's not up to us to judge, it's up to God (though I do know there are some reading this who don't believe in God, but it's still not up to us to judge).  We talked about how people make mistakes and that it's how we act towards them after that tells others our own character.  To threaten someone because they accidentally took the life of someone else tells the community that we are not of good character and do not know compassion.  But to show this person compassion shows others how we would want to be treated.

Here is one thing I do know - If you want to honour Michelle Taylor, do what she would have wanted done towards this young man.  Mrs. Taylor would not have wanted you to be threatening his life.  She would not have wanted "a life for a life."  She would not have wanted him to be treated cruelly.  Think about how Mrs Taylor treated her students and the people she came across in day to day life - with compassion, with respect, with a smile, and with a "how are you today?"  You, we, everyone has the right to be angry.  But take your anger and make it into a positive.  A friend has made it be known that Mrs Taylor was passionate about her work with Free The Children.  So instead of using the anger in a negative, instead of getting yourself into trouble (because remember, threatening is a criminal offense, as is assault, and should anyone actually act on these threats it will not be this young man sitting in a court room, but whomever is stupid enough to act negatively in anger), join with the students she lead in the KDSS branch of Free The Children. Do something positive in the community in Mrs Taylor's memory, even if you're the only one that knows about it.

We all have the right to be angry.  We all have the right to be hurting.  We all have the right to shed tears.  And someday, we'll all have the right to look back on Mrs Taylor's life and legacy and smile, and remember that she made a difference to many, many people over her lifetime, including myself.

From God we come, and to God we return.  But sometimes, like this time, it seems that return is too soon.