TV show Roseanne tackles xenophobia with good old-fashioned humanity: Sheema Khan

Humanity and understanding are good approaches:

It seems that everyone has an opinion about the reboot of the TV show Roseanne. This stems from the support by Roseanne Barr (and her TV character Roseanne Conner) of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, the show has tackled contemporary issues with nuance, comedy and good old-fashioned humanity.

Take the most recent episode, in which a Muslim refugee family (the al-Harazis) from Yemen moves next door to the Conners. Roseanne is immediately suspicious about the “large amounts” of fertilizer stacked near their garage. They could be a sleeper cell planning a terrorist attack, she surmises to her sister, Jackie, and a friend, who push back against the naked bigotry.

Later in the evening, Roseanne’s visiting granddaughter, Mary, is scheduled to Skype her mother who is stationed in Afghanistan. There’s a glitch in the internet connection − so Roseanne does what she’s always done – hack her neighbour’s WiFi. However, the WiFi password next door has changed. Roseanne’s guess? “deathtoamerica.” When that doesn’t work, she tries “deathtoamerica123.” Her feisty daughter Darlene responds derisively to a thought process steeped in stereotypes.

Finally, Roseanne and Jackie decide to visit their Muslim neighbours at 2 a.m. to ask for their password, with Mary yearning to connect with her mother. While Jackie brings a houseplant as an offering, Roseanne arms herself with a baseball bat. They are greeted by Salim al-Harazi who opens the door, also armed with a baseball bat. Fear meets fear in the heart of America. After initial mutual awkwardness, Roseanne explains the reason for their visit. Salim’s wife, Fatima, joins the conversation and we begin to witness the humanization of the “other.” The stacked bags of fertilizer? Too many inadvertent hits on the Amazon cart. There is a poignant moment when the couple’s young son awakens and worries about the commotion. Fatima reassures him with soothing words and a kiss, sending him back to bed. What’s striking is the bulletproof vest worn by the child. Fatima explains that the family has been subject to harassment that has frightened their son; he sleeps with the vest to feel safe.

This scene is transformational, as fear is vanquished with the discovery of common decency. While the Conners and al-Harazis may come from different sides of the globe, they arrive at a common point of compassion, where families strive to provide the universal goals of safety and security.

The next day, Roseanne meets Fatima at the local grocery checkout. When Fatima’s food stamps and debit card are not enough to pay for her groceries, the cashier makes snide remarks to Fatima about fleecing American taxpayers and her “camel” waiting outside. In spite of her own dire finances, Roseanne steps in to pay for Fatima and then berates the cashier, while emphasizing the need to understand the everyday struggles of a new family fleeing war.

I must confess that this was the first time I have watched Roseanne. My TV staple includes The Good Fight, Black-ish and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Nonetheless, I was moved by this episode – for the simple truths it portrayed.

It also made me reflect upon my own anxieties – some absurd, some well-founded.

For example, there is the annual spring debate: Should I stack the fertilizer bags outside the garage (since I have nothing to hide), or inside the garage (to avoid prying eyes)?

Or, the time I was walking through Trudeau airport with my husband, lagging behind him since I was tired. I then realized that people would see a Muslim woman walking three steps behind her husband, thus confirming stereotypes. I rushed to join his side.

The anxieties heighten when children are involved. Once, my son returned with excitement after his bantam hockey team meeting: The players had chosen “Bombers” as the team name. I was horrified, emphatically advising my son to make it clear that he was talking about hockey when mentioning the “Bombers” in every phone and internet conversation. Prior to our trip to a Vermont hockey tournament, I worried that a U.S. border guard would ask my Muslim son the name of his team.

I can laugh at these incidents now. But the anxieties remain – especially in light of the Quebec City massacre.

And let’s not forget the damaging effect of xenophobia on children, who only crave safety in a complex world.

When Fatima shares her password (“goCubs”) with Roseanne, so that the girl can connect with her mother, she shares a message we should all take to heart: “children should never suffer from the ignorance of adults.”

via TV show Roseanne tackles xenophobia with good old-fashioned humanity – The Globe and Mail

Multiculturalism and related posts of interest

Last of my ‘catch-up’ series.

Starting with the Environics Institute’ Canada’s World Survey, which highlights the degree to which Canada has a more open and inclusive approach than most other countries, as highlighted in the Executive Summary:

Canadians’ views on global issues and Canada’s role in the world have remained notably stable over the past decade.

In the decade following the first Canada’s World Survey (conducted early in 2008), the world experienced significant events that changed the complexity and direction of international affairs: beginning with the financial meltdown and ensuing great recession in much of the world, followed by the continued rise of Asia as an emerging economic and political centre of power, the expansion of global terrorism, increasing tensions with North Korea and risks of nuclear conflagration; and a growing anti-government populism in Western democracies. Despite such developments, Canadians’ orientation to many world issues and the role they see their country playing on the international stage have remained remarkably stable over the past decade. Whether it is their perception of top issues facing the world, concerns about global issues, or their views on the direction the world is heading, Canadians’ perspectives on what’s going on in the world have held largely steady.

As in 2008, Canadians have maintained a consistent level of connection to the world through their engagement in international events and issues, their personal ties to people and cultures in other countries, frequency and nature of their travel abroad, and financial contributions to international organizations and friends and family members abroad. And Canadians continue to view their country as a positive and influential force in the world, one that can serve as a role model for other countries.

This consistency notwithstanding, Canadians have been sensitive to the ebb and flow of intenational events and global trends.

While Canadians’ perspectives on many issues have held steady over the past decade, there have also been some shifts in how they see what’s going on in the world and how they perceive Canada’s role on the global stage, in response to key global events and issues. This suggests Canadians are paying attention to what happens beyond their own borders, and that Canadian public opinion is responsive to media coverage of the global stage.

Canadians today are more concerned than a decade ago about such world issues as terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, and global migration/refugees. And the public has adjusted its perceptions of specific countries as having a positive (e.g., Germany) or negative (e.g., North Korea, Russia) impact in the world today. Canadians are also shifting their opinions about their country’s influence in world affairs, placing stronger emphasis on multiculturalism and accepting refugees, our country’s global political influence and diplomacy, and the popularity of our Prime Minister.

Canadians increasingly define their country’s place in the world as one that welcomes people from elsewhere.

Multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen by Canadians as their country’s most notable contribution to the world. It is now less about peacekeeping and foreign aid, and more about who we are now becoming as a people and how we get along with each other. Multiculturalism and the acceptance of immigrants and refugees now stand out as the best way Canadians feel their country can be a role model for others, and as a way to exert influence on the global stage.

Moreover, Canadians are paying greater attention to issues related to immigration and refugees than they did a decade ago, their top interest in traveling abroad remains learning about another culture and language; and they increasingly believe that having Canadians living abroad is a good thing, because it helps spread Canadian culture and values (which include diversity) beyond our shores. Significantly, one in three Canadians report a connection to the Syrian refugee sponsorship program over the past two years, either through their own personal involvement in sponsoring a refugee family (7%) or knowing someone who has (25%).

Young Canadians’ views and perspectives on many aspects of world affairs have converged with those of older cohorts, but their opinions on Canada’s role on the world stage have become more distinct when it comes to promoting diversity.

It is young Canadians (ages 18 to 24) whose level of engagement with world issues and events has evolved most noticeably over the past decade, converging with their older counterparts whose level of engagement has either not changed nor kept pace with Canadian youth. Young people are increasingly following international issues and events to the same degree, they are as optimistic about the direction of the world as older Canadians, and they are close to being as active as travelers. At the same time, Canadian youth now hold more distinct opinions on their country’s role in the world as it relates specifically to diversity. They continue to be the most likely of all age groups to believe Canada’s role in the world has grown over the past 20 years, and are now more likely to single out multiculturalism and accepting immigrants/refugees as their country’s most positive contribution to the world.

Foreign-born Canadians have grown more engaged and connected to world affairs than native-born Canadians, and are more likely to see Canada playing an influential role on the global stage.

Foreign-born Canadians have become more involved in what’s going on outside our borders over the past decade, opening a noticeable gap with their native-born counterparts. They continue to follow international news and events more closely than people born in Canada, but have developed a much greater concern for a range of issues since 2008, while native-born Canadians’ views have not kept pace. Canadians born elsewhere have grown more optimistic about the direction in which the world is heading, while those born in the country have turned more pessimistic. And Canadians born in other countries have also become more positive about the degree of influence Canada has on world affairs, and the impact the country can have on addressing a number of key global issues.

Source: Canada’s World Survey 2018 – Executive Summary, Canadians believe multiculturalism is country’s key global contribution: study 

Some other stories that I found of interest:

The very different pictures of how well integration is working for visible minority and immigrant women between Status of Women Canada (overly negative) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (not enough granularity between different visible minority groups, captured by Douglas Todd: Secret immigration report exposes ‘distortions’ about women  .

Todd continues with some of his interesting exploration immigration issues, including regarding different communities (Douglas Todd: Canadian Hindus struggling with Sikh activism) and highlighting the work of Eric Kaufmann (Douglas Todd: Reducing immigration to protect culture not seen as racist by most) who, in my view, overstates “white flight” and related ethno-cultural tensions and has an overly static view of society.

Timothy Caulfield asks the questionIs direct-to-consumer genetic testing reifying race?:

From a genetic point of view, all humans are remarkably similar. Indeed, when the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, it was confirmed that the “3 billion base pairs of genetic letters in humans [are] 99.9 percent identical in every person.” There are, of course, genetic differences that occur more frequently in certain populations — lactose intolerance, for example, is more common in people from East Asia. But there is simply no reason to think that your genes tell you something significant about your cultural heritage. There isn’t a lederhosen gene.

More important, we shouldn’t forget that the concept of “race” is a biological fiction. The crude racial categories that we use today — black, white, Asian, etc. — were first formulated in 1735 by the Swedish scientist and master classifier, Carl Linnaeus. While his categories have remained remarkable resilient to scientific debunking, there is almost universal agreement within the science community that they are biologically meaningless. They are, as is often stated, social constructs.

To be fair, DTC ancestry companies do not use racial terminology, though phrases like “DNA tribe” feel close. But as research I did with Christen Rachul and Colin Ouellette demonstrates, whenever biology is attached to a rough human classification system (ancestry, ethnicity, etc.), the public, researchers and the media almost always gravitate back to the concept of race. In other words, the more we suggest that biological differences between groups matter — and that is exactly what these companies are suggesting — the more the archaic concept of race is perceived, at least by some, as being legitimate. A 2014 study supports this concern. The researchers found that the messaging surrounding DTC ancestry testing reifies race as a biological reality and may, for example, “increase beliefs that whites and blacks are essentially different.” The authors go on to conclude that: “The results suggest that an unintended consequence of the genomic revolution may be to reinvigorate age-old beliefs in essential racial differences.”

Other research has found that an emphasis on genetic difference has the potential to (no surprise here) increase the likelihood of racist perspectives and decrease the perceived acceptability of policies aimed at addressing prejudice.

Some less-than-progressively-minded groups have already turned to ancestry testing as a way to prove their racial purity. White supremacists in the United States, for example, have embraced these services — often with ironic and pretty hilarious results (surprise, you’re not of pure “Aryan stock”!).

But I am sure most of the people who use ancestry companies are not thinking about racial purity, the reification of race or antiracism policies when they order their tests. And I understand that these tests are, for the vast majority of customers, providing what is essentially a bit of recreational science. In fact, I’ve had my ancestry mapped by 23andMe (I am, if you believe the results, almost 100 percent Irish — hence my love of Guinness). It was a fun process. Still, as the research suggests, the messaging surrounding this industry has the potential to facilitate the spread and perpetuation of scientifically inaccurate and socially harmful ideas about difference. In this era of heightened nationalism and populist exceptionalism, this seems the last thing we need right now.

So, don’t believe the marketing. Your genes are only part of the infinitely complex puzzle that makes “you uniquely you.” If you feel a special connection to lederhosen, rock the lederhosen. No genes required.

Lack of diversity in highlighted is sectors as varied as entertainment (The Billion-Dollar Romance Fiction Industry Has A Diversity Problem) and education (Lack of diversity persists among teaching staff at Canadian universities, colleges, report finds). Chris Selley: Granting Sikh bikers ‘right’ to ride without helmets only adds to religious freedom confusion provides a good critical take on whether religious freedom extends to riding motorcycles (Ontario does not allow, British Columbia and Alberta do).

Kim Thúy on how ‘refugee literature’ differs from immigrant literature provides an interesting perspective:

“Refugee and immigrant are very different,” she says in an interview. “A refugee is someone ejected from his or her past, who has no future, whose present is totally empty of meaning. In a refugee camp, you live outside of time—you don’t know when you’re going to eat, let alone when you’re going to get out of there. And you’re also outside of space because the camp is no man’s land. To be a human being you have to be part of something. The first time that we got an official piece of paper from Canada, my whole family stared at it—until then, we were stateless, part of nothing.”

Letters from Japanese-Canadian teenagers recount life after being exiled from B.C. coast enriches our understanding of the impact of their uprooting and exile under Japanese wartime internment (similar to Obasan):

“I don’t know of any other archival collections that are like this,” she said. “They might exist, but I don’t know of any. The combination of young people’s letters and letters to a non-Japanese Canadian person is just incredible to me. This is really special.

“One of the things I love about them is that they’re so clearly ordinary people. I think sometimes when the story gets told, that gets missed — that these are teenagers who are bored, and curious. It’s just really touching.”

And a variety of interesting articles on Islam and Muslims: Why so many Turks are losing faith in IslamCan Muslim Feminism Find a Third Way?  Ursula Lindsey and Gender parity in Muslim-majority countries: all is not bleak: Sheema Khan.

One of the most interesting is The Conversion/Deconversion Wars: Islam and Christianity using Pew Research data to assess respective trends:

It turns out that (American) Islam is losing Muslims at a pretty high rate. About a quarter of adults raised Muslim deconvert.

The problem is, from a secularist’s point of view, is that just as many convert to the religion. It has a high conversion rate, especially when compared to Christianity. Islam is growing by about 100,000 per year.

Per Research recently released a report that said:

“Like Americans in many other religious groups, a substantial share of adults who were raised Muslim no longer identify as members of the faith. But, unlike some other faiths, Islam gains about as many converts as it loses.

About a quarter of adults who were raised Muslim (23%) no longer identify as members of the faith, roughly on par with the share of Americans who were raised Christian and no longer identify with Christianity (22%), according to a new analysis of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study. But while the share of American Muslim adults who are converts to Islam also is about one-quarter (23%), a much smaller share of current Christians (6%) are converts. In other words, Christianity as a whole loses more people than it gains from religious switching (conversions in both directions) in the U.S., while the net effect on Islam in America is a wash.

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Muslims, using slightly different questions than the 2014 survey, found a similar estimate (24%) of the share of those who were raised Muslim but have left Islam. Among this group, 55% no longer identify with any religion, according to the 2017 survey. Fewer identify as Christian (22%), and an additional one-in-five (21%) identify with a wide variety of smaller groups, including faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, or as generally “spiritual.”

The same 2017 survey asked converts fromIslam to explain, in their own words, their reasons for leaving the faith. A quarter cited issues with religion and faith in general, saying that they dislike organized religion (12%), that they do not believe in God (8%), or that they are just not religious (5%). And roughly one-in-five cited a reason specific to their experience with Islam, such as being raised Muslim but never connecting with the faith (9%) or disagreeing with the teachings (7%) of Islam. Similar shares listed reasons related to a preference for other religions or philosophies (16%) and personal growth experiences (14%), such as becoming more educated or maturing.”

There is perhaps an interesting explanation for some of this deconversion data:

“One striking difference between former Muslims and those who have always been Muslim is in the share who hail from Iran. Those who have left Islam are more likely to be immigrants from Iran (22%) than those who have not switched faiths (8%). The large number of Iranian American former Muslims is the result of a spike in immigration from Iran following the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and 1979 – which included many secular Iranians seeking political refuge from the new theocratic regime.”

How does this compare to people who converted to Islam?

“Among those who have converted to Islam, a majority come from a Christian background. In fact, about half of all converts to Islam (53%) identified as Protestant before converting; another 20% were Catholic. And roughly one-in-five (19%) volunteered that they had no religion before converting to Islam, while smaller shares switched from Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism or some other religion.

When asked to specify why they became Muslim, converts give a variety of reasons. About a quarter say they preferred the beliefs or teachings of Islam to those of their prior religion, while 21% say they read religious texts or studied Islam before making the decision to switch. Still others said they wanted to belong to a community (10%), that marriage or a relationship was the prime motivator (9%), that they were introduced to the faith by a friend, or that they were following a public leader (9%).”

 

In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence: Sheema Khan

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

As the #MeToo move­ment rico­chets through many parts of the world, it has yet to achieve high visi­bil­ity in Muslim cul­tures.

None­the­less, there have been a few laud­able ef­forts to bring sex­ual abuse to the fore­front.

Re­cent­ly, Mona Eltahawy lent her in­flu­en­tial voice to the dis­turbing oc­cur­rence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Kaa­ba, (in Mecca), Islam’s hol­i­est site, through the hashtag #MosqueMeToo. One of the rit­uals of pil­grim­age (both the hajj and umrah) re­quires circ­ling the Kaa­ba sev­en times, while in sol­emn re­mem­brance of God. At times, it can get very crowded. Many women have ex­peri­enced hu­mili­a­tion by men who use the situ­a­tion to grope, poke and fon­dle. Ms. Eltahawy shared her awful ex­peri­ence, when at the age of 15, a guard at the Kaa­ba grabbed her breast. She wrote in sup­port of Sabica Khan, who dis­closed her re­cent hu­mili­a­tion at the Kaa­ba — and en­dured back­lash on so­cial media. Since then, many women have shared their own har­rowing en­coun­ters – for­cing the issue out into the open.

In Pak­istan, fol­lowing the grue­some rape and mur­der of 7-year-old Zainab An­sari, many women came for­ward to tell of their own stor­ies of sex­ual abuse as chil­dren. 73-year-old fash­ion de­sign­er Maheen Khan – a Pak­istani icon – tweeted about sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety by her Koran teach­er her when she was six. A nas­cent #MeToo move­ment is be­gin­ning to make in­roads in con­serv­a­tive Pak­istan, as cour­age­ous women break the chains of shame and si­lence.

There are a num­ber of chal­len­ges fa­cing Muslim women who seek to speak out. These in­clude cul­tur­al and in­sti­tu­tion­al bar­riers (with­in com­mun­ities), and anti-Muslim senti­ment.

Cul­tur­al­ly, pub­lic dis­cus­sion of sex is ta­boo. Yet this is at odds with scrip­tur­al foun­da­tions of the faith. For ex­ample, the Proph­et Mohammed em­pha­sized the right of women to ex­peri­ence sex­ual pleas­ure. In these sources, one finds dis­cus­sion about wet dreams, cli­max and for­bid­dance of inter­course dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and anal sex (at all times). The dis­course is not sal­acious, but in­stead pro­vides guid­ance to the faith­ful. It also builds a frame­work in which sex­ual re­la­tions are seen as nat­ural and a means to cul­ti­vate mercy, love and tranquility be­tween spouses.

Family and clergy are two power­ful in­sti­tu­tions that si­lence women. Rath­er than put­ting shame and re­spon­sibil­ity on sex­ual abus­ers, the onus is placed on the vic­tims to keep quiet, so that the fam­ily’s honour re­mains in­tact. In com­mun­ities in which inter­action be­tween gen­ders is pri­mar­i­ly with­in ex­tended fam­ilies, there are ample op­por­tun­ities for abuse by male rela­tives. When I used to give lec­tures about “women in Islam,” it was de­press­ing­ly com­mon to have a young woman ap­proach me after­ward to con­fide her pain­ful abuse by a cous­in or an uncle dur­ing child­hood. I stopped giv­ing these lec­tures after one young woman broke down about her own fath­er’s in­ces­tu­ous behaviour.

Muslim clergy, schol­ars and Koran teachers gar­ner rev­er­ence for their com­mit­ment to the faith. There­fore, im­pugning sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety against this group is met with stiff re­sist­ance, de­nial and back­lash. Yet, with­out mean­ing­ful ac­count­abil­ity, abuse does hap­pen. Now, women are speak­ing out. In 2016, a prom­in­ent Chicago-based schol­ar, Moham­med Sa­leem, pleaded guilty to sex­ual­ly abus­ing a for­mer stu­dent and an em­ploy­ee at the school he founded. More civil suits are pend­ing. Last year, re­nowned Ko­ran­ic schol­ar Nouman Ali Khan was found to have com­mit­ted spirit­ual abuse and un­ethical behaviour to­ward a num­ber of young women. Last month, Ox­ford University Pro­fes­sor Ta­riq Rama­dan was placed under ar­rest in France, and is awaiting trial against rape char­ges by two women. He de­nies any wrong­doing.

In addi­tion to fa­cing com­mun­ity back­lash for speak­ing out, Muslim women must also con­tend with haters who use their pain to ma­lign an en­tire com­mun­ity.

These hur­dles are not in­sur­mount­able. The time has come to ad­dress sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety head-on.

In Canada, se­cond “se­cret” mar­riages are oc­cur­ring, in which a man takes on a se­cond wife, often un­be­knownst to either wife. This is noth­ing but san­i­ti­za­tion of an extra­mari­tal af­fair. It is a sham, and needs to be called out by the Can­ad­ian Council of Imams.

Last fall, the group Fa­cing Abuse in Community En­viron­ments was launched to hold ac­count­able imams, schol­ars and lead­ers for un­ethical and/or crim­in­al behaviour. A num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions are under way, with ser­ious cases re­ferred to law en­force­ment for pros­ecu­tion.

In the end, we need to em­pow­er women to come forth with­out shame, and put the spot­light on men to take re­spon­sibil­ity for their behaviour.

via In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence – The Globe and Mail

Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – Sheema Khan

Another good column by Khan, presenting the positive side of Canadian Muslims:

Jan. 29 will mark one year from the evening that six Muslim worshippers were massacred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Nineteen were injured, children were left fatherless and wives widowed.

The atrocity resulted in an outpouring of support for traumatized Muslims across the country. That did not last long, however. Human-rights activist Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University, have chronicled hateful incidents directed at Muslims during the rest of 2017. As they wrote in an opinion piece: “It was as though the Jan. 29 killings had never happened.” In one example, students at a Mississauga elementary school were subject to religious epithets from demonstrators denouncing Islam and prayer rooms. The year concluded with Muslim worshippers in Quebec worried once again about their safety. Quebec-based TVA falsely reported that a Montreal mosque barred female construction workers near its premises on Fridays during prayer sessions, leading to alleged hate-filled invective and death threats directed at the mosque. The network later apologized for the baseless report.

Surely these isolated incidents do not reflect the majority view. Or do they?

In November, the Angus Reid Institute released a poll indicating that nearly half of Canadians believe that “the presence of Islam in their country’s public life is damaging.” No other religion faces such widespread contempt. Let it sink in. If you do not hold a negative view of Islam, then someone in your immediate circle does.

Yet the perception of Islam is so different from the lived reality of Canadian Muslims. Some have a cultural affiliation to the faith. For others, the attachment is deeper. Across the diverse spectrum of belief, it can be argued that basic Islamic teachings contribute richly to our collective social fabric.

Sadaqah (charity) is ingrained in Islam. Muslims perennially organize drives to clothe, shelter and feed fellow Canadians. Mohamad Fakih answered a call from fellow business person Jennifer Evans to provide hotel rooms and meals for 18 homeless people in Toronto during the recent deep freeze. Islamic Relief Canada, a national charity, has launched a similar campaign.

Muslims have responded to natural disasters (e.g., flooding in Quebec and Ontario and fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.) with their time, money and emotional support. They have raised funds for hospitals and joined neighbours to clean parks. Last year, Ottawa’s Muslim community quickly collected $23,000 to fund extracurricular activities and resources for public schools lacking a school council.

The Islamic pillar of fasting, observed during the month of Ramadan, inculcates discipline, empathy, gratefulness and generosity. This year, take the opportunity to join in the sunset meal (which ends the daily fast) and experience the beauty of human fellowship.

The Koran states that saving one life is akin to saving all of humanity. In 2017, two Canadian Muslims personified this noble teaching.

Aymen Derbali directly faced the gunman at the Quebec City mosque to divert him from killing others. He was shot multiple times and lay in a coma for two months. The father of three is now paralyzed, yet grateful for the generosity of Canadians in helping him find a home that accommodates his disability.

Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old student at Brock University, was shot to death outside an Islamic centre as he tried to help a stranger who was being attacked by two men. The good Samaritan had just left the centre after participating in a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Another important Islamic tenet is forgiveness. Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., was vandalized in 2016 by three men, including Abraham Davis, who later wrote a letter of apology to the mosque from jail. The mosque board advocated forgiveness and opposed the charges against him. Nonetheless, Mr. Davis was fined and ordered to stay away from the mosque and its members. He posted a gracious note of thanks on Facebook. One member replied: “Bro move on with life we forgave you from the first time you apologized don’t let that mistake bring you down. I speak for the whole Muslim community of fort smith we love you and want you to be the best example in life we don’t hold grudges against anybody!” The story didn’t end there. Unable to pay his fine, Mr. Davis was set to enter jail for six years. The mosque intervened and paid the full amount. The members want him to succeed.

In the coming weeks, mosques across the country will hold open houses. Take an opportunity to peek in. Get to know Muslims who are your neighbours, co-workers and fellow Canadians.

And then ask yourself if Islam is damaging to Canadian society.

via Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – The Globe and Mail

Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan challenges the patriarchy (and the Friedman puff piece on MBS):

In a wide-ranging interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. “MBS”) discussed, among other topics, the recent anti-corruption drive and liberalization of Saudi society. Call it a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism – with a progressive touch. Notably, MBS refused to address his country’s interference in Lebanese politics or its unconscionable scorched-earth policy in Yemen.

Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman was effusive of MBS’s plans to veer Saudi Islam to a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.” The Prince calls it a “restoration” of the faith to its origins – namely the Prophetic period in the early 7th century. This has the potential to reverse the puritanical strain (Wahhabism) currently at the heart of Saudi society, where, for example, a woman is under male guardianship from cradle to grave.

The late Sunni scholar Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa chronicled in his comprehensive study of the Koran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women were far more engaged in society during the Prophetic era. They had more rights and opportunities to build a vibrant society, in partnership with men, than many contemporary Muslim cultures (including Saudi Arabia).

Mr. Friedman believes this “restoration” project “would drive moderation across the Muslim world.” In fact, most of the Muslim world has soundly rejected Wahhabism. Yet, the deeply entrenched patriarchy of Saudi society finds parallels in many Muslim countries.

While MBS has promised to grant Saudi women more liberty, his top-down approach towards “restoration” of Islam raises a number of questions.

Will the man who allowed women to drive, allow them a place to drive the “restoration” as well? Or will it be a vehicle steered exclusively by men, with women seated as passengers, while men alone navigate women’s role in society?

Women’s voices and perspectives will be essential if there is to be any meaningful reform of contemporary Muslim cultural practices.

In her groundbreaking book “Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition,” UBC Professor Ayesha Chaudhry makes it abundantly clear that the “Islamic tradition” – beginning a few centuries after the Prophetic era to the precolonial era – reflected worldwide patriarchy of the times. The hierarchical paradigm was unambiguous: God (or Allah) at the top, followed by men below, then by women subordinate to men and finally slaves below women. This view shaped pretty much all religious discourse – from Koranic exegesis to Islamic jurisprudence.

Ismail ibn Kathir, a 14th-century Sunni scholar whose works still carry great influence, was unequivocal. “The man is better than the woman,” he wrote in his authoritative commentary of the Quran. By no means was he alone. Prof. Chaudry’s meticulous research shows how devastating this paradigm was in relation to domestic violence. All Sunni scholars and jurists advocated beating a “recalcitrant” wife – specifying when, how often, where on her body, with either one’s fists or a sturdy object, and so on. The Hanafi school of jurisprudence was the harshest, allowing a husband the leeway to beat his wife as he saw fit, so long as he didn’t kill her. The book is a painful read, but should be read by those interested in reform.

The problem is that much of this patriarchal Islamic tradition – developed by male medieval scholars – is still taught uncritically in many Muslim seminaries and reflected in a number of Muslim cultures, where male privilege reigns.

Muslims must take a critical look at this tradition in light of contemporary norms. Like Abo Shaqqa, Prof. Chaudhry points out the obvious: Domestic violence advocates were/are unable to reconcile the fact that the model for all Muslims, Prophet Muhammad, never once raised his hand. He rebuked those who did.

The postcolonial period had ushered in a more egalitarian view, in which men and women are on the same moral plane before God. However, this approach has had uneven acceptance. Very rarely will men give up their privileged position to be on equal footing with women.

Yet Muslim women still insist on gender justice. Contemporary female Muslim scholars, such as Prof. Chaudhry, Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Asma Lamrabet, have challenged patriarchal interpretations of the Koran, thereby providing women with exegetical tools to confront male privilege rooted in theology.

Elsewhere, Muslim women in India are challenging the patriarchy entrenched in Muslim institutions, through education and legal reform. There are now female judges to solemnize marriages and adjudicate divorces, thereby restoring balance to proceedings which were exclusively presided by men.

If MBS really wants to return to a “moderate, balanced” Islam, he must include the perspectives of women on equal footing.

Anything less will be a whitewash.

via Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam – The Globe and Mail

Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia: Farber and Sucharov

Very good column by Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov:

There are times when one community within the Canadian mosaic experiences particular trauma such that succor is in order. Today, that community is Canadian Muslims. MP Iqra Khalid knew this when she proposed M-103, a private member’s motion designed to fight Islamophobia. Now, the parliamentary hearings flowing from M-103’s recommendations provide all Canadians with an opportunity to stand up to Islamophobia.

No one understands this situation better than Canadian Jews. There was a time in this country where Jews were unwelcome, seen as swarthy crooks and objects of suspicion. Attitudes softened somewhat after it became clear that such bigotry — through shameful episodes like the banning of the M.S. St. Louis — had led Canada to be complicit in the Nazi genocide of six million Jewish men, women and children.

But discrimination against Jews in Canada continued. Until the Canadian Jewish Congress challenged it in court in the early 1950s, Jews were often barred from purchasing land. Employers discriminated against applicants with Jewish-sounding names. Some resorts and country clubs kept their doors closed to Jews, and Jewish doctors were banned from practicing in some hospitals. And into the 1960s, there were strict quotas placed on the number of Jews allowed into universities.

While anti-semitism remains a scourge worldwide, in Canada it now hovers along the edges of society. Not so Islamophobia which is, unfortunately, front and centre.

With the horrific mosque attack in Quebec City last January, Canadian Muslims now have the tragic distinction of being the only people in the country’s history to have been gunned down in their house of worship. Incredibly, in the weeks following, anti-Islam protests took place across downtown Toronto. And two months after the massacre, a protestor ripped up and stomped on a Koran at a Peel District school board meeting.

And then there are the quiet prejudicial attitudes. A 2017 poll revealed that only 4 per cent of Canadians would find it “unacceptable” for their son or daughter to marry a Christian. That number jumps to 32 per cent when the hypothetical betrothed is Muslim.

M-103 follows in the tradition of supporting particular targeted groups as needed. But that support has sometimes come decades too late. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that a parliamentary motion was passed unanimously decrying anti-semitism. What’s more, unlike the anti-semitism motion, the text of M-103 is fully inclusive. Not only does it condemn Islamophobia, it points to the need to oppose “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Yet critics of the motion continue to air doubts that opposing Islamophobia is worthy of Canada’s attention. In a briefing note to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the motion’s recommendations, retired Canadian Forces major Russ Cooper has expressed concern that the motion will trample free speech.

Similarly, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warns that if “M-103 is legislatively codified, the unconstitutional infringement of freedom of thought, belief, expression and religion is inevitable.”

And Father Raymond De Sousa told the hearing that “to focus on one religion alone, as M-103 suggests, would be unwise.”

All these arguments are red herrings. M-103 does nothing to change the Criminal Code. Canada’s strong speech protections remain in place. And neither does M-103 restrict anti-bigotry to one religion. Its language, as we’ve stressed above, is fully inclusive.

As Canadian Jews we understand the need for memory. With the legacy of Jewish suffering, it has become an article of faith to commemorate persecution. What we’re seeing here, sadly, is that when it comes to oppression of Canadian Muslims, there are too many attempts by too many Canadians to forget. M-103 is an attempt to resist this collective amnesia.

When it comes to Islamophobia, we fear that too many of the testimonies at the hearings to date, coupled with the many Canadians who said they would have voted against the motion, reveal the scope of the very problem the critics are claiming does not exist.

Source: Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia | Toronto Star

Sheema Khan’s on the limitations of the Runnymede Trust definition and the strengths of its framework:

For the past few weeks, the House of Commons Heritage Committee has been holding public consultations regarding Motion M-103.

Appearing before the Committee at the outset, M-103 sponsor Liberal MP Iqra Khalid emphasized the need for a comprehensive study of Canadians affected by racism and religious discrimination. She spoke eloquently about the painful experiences of individuals affected by prejudice and hatred, and the need for a systematic analysis of data (as required by M-103) to combat forces that are corroding our social fabric.

These are laudable goals that should be supported by all Canadians.

However, an uproar ensued when M-103 was initially tabled, because of the inclusion of the term “Islamophobia” in the motion. There were concerns about the imposition of Sharia Law, a chill on free speech, and special protection granted to Islam. Ms. Khalid received a torrent of hate mail, including death threats. Some argued that the reaction itself was proof of widespread Islamophobia.

And yet, as the Committee has heard, no one really has a handle on the term. Many definitions exist, with widely differing breadths and scopes. Ms. Khalid’s definition: “the irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims that leads to discrimination” is the most succinct. However, this needs to be balanced by the right to criticize and question.

The term gained currency following the 1997 report on British Muslims, entitled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” issued by the Runnymede Trust, a respected British think-tank. In it, Islamophobia was defined as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

The report, however, went further, by equating Islamophobia with “closed views” on Islam in eight different categories. These include Islam seen as monolithic; the “other” with no commonality with Western culture; inferior (i.e. barbaric, irrational and sexist); an enemy; and a deceitful ideology bent on political/military domination. Such closed views reject any criticism of the West by Islam, defend discrimination of Muslims, and see Islamophobia as natural. For good measure, “open views” include seeing Islam as diverse with internal debates; having shared values with other faiths; a faith worthy of respect; and a partner in the solution of shared problems.

Such a binary categorization of opinions of Islam is problematic, and was recently recognized as such by the editor of the report. However, since the term is here to stay, the Heritage Committee should devise a precise definition.

Questions and criticism about Islam are not Islamophobia. In fact, Muslims themselves engage in robust debates about modernity and Islamic practice. The cruel irony is that such debates are banned in countries that need it most.

The Heritage Committee must be careful to define Islamophobia, lest it chill the free exchange of opinions. For example, a recent online survey found that 88 per cent of Canadians believe Muslims should be treated no differently than their fellow Canadians, while 72 per cent are worried that hatred and fear of Canadian Muslims is on the rise.

Yet 56 per cent believe that “Islam suppresses women’s rights.” Are they Islamophobic? Of course not. They are entitled to their opinion. Such a critical view is understandable, given discriminatory gender practices in some Muslim cultures. Furthermore, subordination of women is often justified by theology. We need to be able to have frank discussions without the fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.”

A balance must be found between protection of free speech and protection from bigotry and hatred.

In spite of its clumsy definition of Islamophobia, The Runnymede report provides an excellent framework for identifying its deleterious effects in four areas: exclusion (from politics, employment, management); violence; discrimination (in employment and provision of services); and prejudice (in media and conversation).

In fact, this framework can be applied to comprehensive data collection and analysis for all types of racism and discrimination – which just happens to be the stated goal of the Committee.

Source: We must define Islamophobia by what it truly is – The Globe and Mail

How the Muslim community can tackle the scourge of extremism: Sheema Khan

Her latest op-ed and usual sensible suggestions and recommendations:

In the elusive search for clues on radicalization, there are meaningful steps that Muslim communities can take toward addressing this scourge.

There should be “safe” spaces available for Muslim youth to discuss their concerns and passion for justice, in the company of those with sound knowledge of Islamic teachings. Rather than the traditional one-way lecture, there should be round tables in which topics are discussed frankly in context with normative Islamic principles. Currently, most Muslim institutions shy away from such discussions, for fear of being accused of fomenting extremism. Local organizations can sponsor a screening of Tug of War, a short Canadian indie film that boldly tackles this topic.

Grassroots initiatives that teach resiliency to Muslim youth must be developed. Since Canada opened the doors of immigration, a plethora of ethno-religious groups have experienced racism. Yet, such groups have found the resiliency to survive and thrive.

Muslims have deep resources within their faith about dealing with hostility through patience, principled justice and forgiveness. They can also use valuable anti-racism tools developed by civil society. For example, the National Council of Canadian Muslims plays a key role by empowering Muslims to address xenophobia through engagement with civil institutions.

Mentorship will also play a key role in helping youth to integrate. There are many Muslim professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and activists who have faced challenges and succeeded. Their experiences are invaluable for the coming generation. We need forums where such knowledge can be shared and mentoring partnerships established.

Civic engagement is the key to non-violent activism. Whether the focus is local justice or foreign policy, there needs to be further education about the role of NGOs, government institutions and one’s responsibility in the democratic process. The 2015 federal election prompted many Muslims to initiate grassroots campaigns for political engagement. As an example, The Canadian-Muslim Vote provides regular updates about House deliberations, along with interviews of MPs.

Perhaps the most difficult, yet necessary, component is to ask some tough questions. Why is it that a small minority of Sunni Muslim youth is latching on to a death cult? How are the teachings of Islam being twisted to appeal to a hateful, morally bankrupt mindset? Why are appeals to basic morality (e.g., forbiddance of murder and suicide) failing?

Finally, those espousing violence must be reported to the authorities. Friends, family and mosque congregants had warned police about Mr. Abedi’s extremist views – without success. This means we must all try harder to prevent the next incident.

Source: How the Muslim community can tackle the scourge of extremism – The Globe and Mail

Cultural sensitivities must never override gender equality: Khan

Another good piece by Sheema Khan:

While these attitudes have been ingrained for centuries elsewhere, one would think that migrating to a land where gender equality is emphasized would lead to a change of heart. Apparently, more needs to be done to uproot customs that have been transplanted here. Efforts must come from both within and without affected communities.

We need honest public conversations about these difficult topics. Multicultural sensitivities should never override gender equality, nor should they censor the expression of strong opinions. Let it be said: Both sets of cultural practices are, well, barbaric. They have no place here (or in fact, anywhere). Not only are they “un-Canadian,” they are inhuman.

Government policy is also a necessary tool to combat discriminatory practices.

While Canada has legislation against the practice of FGM, there are no laws that prosecute parents who send their daughters abroad to have the procedure done. In contrast, France and the United States have outlawed “FGM tourism.” It is time for Canada to follow their lead.

And while Ottawa has moved to address FGM, our governments have failed to address female feticide. They ignored the call by Dr. Rajendra Kale, in 2012, to ban disclosure of the sex of a fetus until 30 weeks (after which point an abortion is difficult). South Korea banned such disclosures in 1988, helping to reverse gender imbalance.

Finally, there can be no change unless there is opposition within communities. There will be pressure to circle the wagons in wake of negative media coverage. I still remember an Ottawa community leader telling a local congregation, following the “honour killing” of Aqsa Parvez, that the media were trying to make the Muslim community look “bad.” Outrage was not directed at family violence, but at the media for covering that violence.

Today, many courageous Bohra women who underwent khatna (i.e. FGM) in their childhood, are speaking out against the practice, directing their personal pain toward addressing social justice. They risk ostracization from their own families and excommunication from their faith community.

Who, on the other hand, will speak up for the 4,500 “missing” girls in the Indo-Canadian community, so that female feticide will cease? To the women who abort their daughters: you were not subject to sex-selective abortion – why, then, inflict it on Your daughter-to-be? There will need to be many painful conversations about the central moral issue: aborting a fetus simply because it is female.

Minority communities are in a difficult spot, especially with anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise. However, failing to address harmful cultural practices unequivocally, allows problems to fester and, ultimately, cause even more damage.

Source: Cultural sensitivities must never override gender equality – The Globe and Mail

To fight hate, we must become soldiers of inclusion: Khan

Another good piece by Sheema Khan:

As many have noted, the massacre took place in an atmosphere of increasing Islamophobia. While the individual who allegedly perpetrated these crimes is solely responsible for his actions, it is time to reflect on where we as a society stand in relation to public discourse about Muslims.

Currently, “Otherizing” Muslims has not only become the norm, but a political platform to win votes. We saw it in the previous federal election. The current Parti Québécois Leader, Jean-François Lisée, championed the toxic Quebec values charter and plays the Muslim identity card. In July, he criticized a colleague for wishing Quebec Muslims a happy Eid. What message does this send?

Enthusiastic supporters of Kelly Leitch embrace her defence of “Canadian values” – a phrase that resonates with their deep mistrust of Muslims in Canada. The actions of political leaders sets the tone. Xenophobic overtures, whether overt or covert, give licence to people to spew their prejudices in the open. Attitudes once considered shameful are normalized, to the detriment of social harmony.

We have a choice. Do we allow the “Otherizing” to continue unchallenged or stand up to bigotry? Do we allow politicians to play upon fears or do we hold them accountable?

This is a very difficult time for Muslims. The unthinkable has happened, resulting in intense feelings of vulnerability. A sanctuary of refuge has been violated. Their co-religionists have been murdered in cold blood for their simple profession of faith. Many have thought “that could have been me” and are wondering what to tell their children, and how to keep them safe.

Schools and community sports organizations can help to address anxiety with messages of inclusion. My daughter’s school tweeted the following reassuring words on Monday morning: “To Muslim members of our community, our deepest condolences. Please know our thoughts are with you and we love you. Staff are here for you.” This really helped to assuage many of our worries.

In addition, law-enforcement agencies across the country are providing enhanced protection to Islamic centres and mosques. These institutions should also apply for the federal government’s Communities At Risk program, which is aimed at helping institutions vulnerable to hate-motivated attacks improve their security.

What about questions of identity, going forward? Perhaps Muslims can take a cue from Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the recent Women’s March, and declare themselves “unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Canadian.” We should continue to worship in humility, relying on our faith for strength. Let’s continue to practise the universal virtues of community, generosity and charity. Now is not the time to disengage, nor turn inward with fear.

In fact, Canadians and Quebeckers have opened their hearts to Muslims across this country, letting them know that they are loved and supported. Our elected leaders have set the tone toward healing. These profound acts of kindness help repair the social fabric that extremists desperately seek to rupture. Their goal is to sow hatred, division and fear. We must not let them succeed. Instead, let us become soldiers of inclusion, armed with compassion, ready to confront xenophobia in all its forms. Apathy is not an option.

In his beautiful Quebec anthem Mon pays, Gilles Vigneault wrote “A tous les hommes de la terre, ma maison c’est votre maison.” This theme – that our vast country is home to those who arrive on its shores – is also found in aboriginal tradition. Our hearts, like the land, are wide enough to embrace all those who seek to call Canada “home.” How unapologetically Canadian.

Source: To fight hate, we must become soldiers of inclusion – The Globe and Mail

Address the radicalization of Muslim youth head-on: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan highlights some recent counter radicalization initiatives aimed at youth, arguing for more initiatives to help parents detect and act upon early signs of radicalization. No doubt she will be consulted by the new Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Co-ordinator:

Another recent creative venture is a comic book, Radicalishow, developed by youth who have received counselling from the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) in Montreal. Having taken ownership of their misguided choices, they have helped to produce a valuable teaching tool about the factors that lead some down an extreme path, the challenges and vulnerabilities associated with the search for identity, and the devastating impact that ensues. As in Tug of War, this platform should be disseminated widely, for it addresses complex issues by the youth in a thoughtful manner.

The CPRLV deserves much credit for its attempt to approach radicalization in a holistic, comprehensive manner, by engaging as many stakeholders as possible, such as youth, teachers, counsellors and Muslim community leaders. For example, the centre’s most recent report, Women and Violent Radicalization, provides a historical context of violent female radicalization across cultures and ideologies.

It also sheds light on the reasons why a number of Quebec women between the ages of 17 and 19 decided to leave for Syria. Many felt that it was difficult to live as a Muslim in a hostile environment that left them feeling stigmatized and/or marginalized. The Western feminist model of emancipation seemed to clash with their desire to stay home and raise a family. In contrast, calls to build and join a utopian state where one can live as a “true” Muslim without harassment, seemed like a panacea for some. The report concludes with the need for more research.

In spite of the laudable efforts by the CPRLV, one key group seems to have been ignored: parents.

Currently, there are scant resources for parents about radicalization. Just as there has been an explosion of parental resources on Internet safety for children, so too should there be development of parental workshops on prevention of radicalization, for parents are often the first to notice subtle changes in their children. What should parents be aware of? How do they speak to their children? What signs should they look for? And what resources are available in case one’s child seems to have fallen prey?

At the film screening in Ottawa, the majority of those in attendance were youth. They were eager to address radicalization head on – through dialogue, debate and activism. They have the energy, the passion and the will; what they lack, however, is a seat at the table with federal policy makers to help devise a comprehensive prevention strategy. This omission should be addressed by the new Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Co-ordinator.

Source: Address the radicalization of Muslim youth head-on – The Globe and Mail