Khan: It’s critical to ask why, even today, some Canadian Muslim organizations have no female leaders

Another good column and series of questions by Sheema Khan:

Since its inception in 1966, the BC Muslim Association, which calls itself “the largest Muslim organization in the province representing Sunni Muslims,” has never had a woman on its executive council. The women are relegated to a “Women’s Council,” which is subordinate to the executive. The original BCMA constitution explicitly banned women from serving on the executive council. While that wording has since been removed, in practise little has changed, and female voices haven’t been given a chance to shape the governance and future of the organization.

There is no theological basis for this arrangement at the organization, which was founded by immigrants from South Asia and Fiji and holds $41-million in assets. Apparently, the (male) powers-that-be see no contradiction with this discriminatory practice and the BCMA’s stated aim of “building a healthy congregation.”

Unhappiness with this approach came to a head last summer, when the BCMA excluded women from all prayer spaces throughout the province, as it partly reopened mosques in the wake of COVID-19. Priority had been given to men.

And then came the bombshell in December, when the CBC broke the story of BCMA imam Abdur Rehman Khan, who was convicted for a 2016 sexual assault against a woman he knew through his role in the community. He was sentenced to three years in prison and placed on the registered sex offender list for 20 years. The imam was released on bail after being charged in 2017. He was later convicted at trial in January, 2020, released pending sentencing, and imprisoned in August, 2020. During this four-year period, he continued to serve as an imam of the BCMA’s Masjid-Ur-Rahmah mosque in Surrey – leading prayers, working with youth, engaging interfaith communities and officiating marriages. Last August, he resigned for “personal matters” – he was going to prison – which the BCMA said it accepted, without any inquiry or follow-up.

The BCMA says Mr. Khan passed a police background check when hired, and that the organization had not been made aware of the allegations and conviction, although some community members say they knew of the situation. If you look at BCMA’s online platforms, you would never know that one of its imams had been imprisoned for sexual assault just a few months ago. No statement whatsoever – no pledge to do better, no commitment to protect female congregants, no calls for other victims to come forward. It’s as if the crime never happened.

Congregants, on the other hand, were furious, demanding answers that never came. Activist and student Sumaiya Tufail organized a community drive-by protest in solidarity with the survivor, demanding transparency from the BCMA, protection of vulnerable congregants and an end to the all-male executive council. A special vote held in February to do away with the archaic setup that keeps the women’s role subordinate to the men’s failed by a substantial margin. The BCMA says that the current executive board anticipates that with increased awareness and engagement, the motion will pass successfully in the near future.

There should be consequences for keeping such draconian policies in place. Sunni Muslims in B.C. should make it clear that the BCMA does not represent them. Congregants should cease donating to the BCMA and instead support institutions that are more inclusive of women and more transparent. In 2019, the BCMA received $3.6-million in donations, accounting for almost half its revenue. Taking a cue from Lieutenant-Colonel Eleanor Taylor, who quit the Canadian Armed Forces in disgust after reports of alleged sexual misconduct, the BCMA’s Women’s Council should resign en masse in protest.

Schools, community associations, NGOs and interfaith groups can engage with Muslim organizations other than the BCMA. Pose tough questions – it’s not Islamophobic to ask why a Canadian Muslim charity doesn’t have any women serving on its executive council. While it may be common elsewhere, this should have no place in Canada.

Roughly 66 per cent of all Muslim charitable organizations registered with Canada Revenue Agency have an all-male board, with Quebec as the worst at 82 per cent. The BCMA, the Islamic Foundation of TorontoMasjid al-Hidayah(Port Coquitlam) and Baitul Mukarram Islamic Society (Toronto) have each had an employee charged or convicted of sexual assault; all have been governed exclusively by men between 2014 and 2018.

All of these incidents would remain hidden if it were not for courageous survivors, who not only endure the trauma of the original abuse, but face shame, blame and accusations of “making the community look bad.” They need compassion and our full support to heal. For too long, the reputation of abusive “leaders” has trumped justice for victims, leaving a trail of human wreckage. Activists working with survivors are all too aware of the tragic outcomes of Muslims abused by imams, preachers and teachers over recent decades. With their pain never addressed, many have struggled with mental-health issues, addictions, dysfunction in relationships and in some cases have even committed suicide.

This has to stop. We need real leaders – both women and men – who will address this serious issue head-on. Leaders who will make paramount the welfare of the vulnerable; who will educate communities about the trauma induced by abuse; and collaborate with agencies to help survivors with sensitivity and due care. Leaders who will hold abusers to account and live by the Islamic principle of standing up for justice – no matter who the perpetrator.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-its-critical-to-ask-why-even-today-some-canadian-muslim-organizations/

Khan: How one organization has broken the silence on abuse within Muslim institutions

Of note:

Recently, more than 95,000 claims of sexual assault were filed against the Boy Scouts of America, while a Vatican report found that Pope John Paul II facilitated the ascent of now-disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick by rejecting explicit warnings of widespread sexual abuse. Tragically, the scourge of sexual abuse cuts across many communities.

Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) was formed in 2017 to address abuse by religious leadership within North American Muslim institutions. It has created a rigorous framework to investigate allegations against Muslim religious leaders and hold them to account.

The organization broke new ground by publishing a series of in-depth investigations into allegations of misconduct by imams. In one case, the plaintiff (“Jane Doe”) was awarded a US$2.5-million judgment against Imam Zia ul-Haq Sheikh for sexual exploitation.

These investigations serve to notify the public about individuals with problematic records of behaviour before hiring them. In the past, an offending individual would be terminated quietly by his Muslim employer, only to reoffend again within a new, unsuspecting community. Mosque boards looking for an imam or parents seeking a private religious studies teacher would conduct minimal due diligence – if any at all.

The work of FACE has added teeth to the accountability process for religious leaders. It has also enabled the discussion of taboo topics, such as sexual abuse. This is revolutionary, for predators take full advantage of the culture of silence, knowing that many of their victims feel like they have nowhere to turn to. Most importantly, FACE has empowered victims to speak up and seek justice.

Muslims have a deferential and respectful attitude toward their religious leaders. Not surprisingly, accusations of impropriety are often disbelieved. Accusers become the object of shame, blame and ostracization. Protection of the vulnerable from harm is sacrificed for the protection of the institution. It takes tremendous courage for a victim to come forth.

Until recently, there had been few avenues to seek redress or accountability, since victims feared they would not be believed.

FACE recently announced the publication of a centralized “Historic Transgression List” of North American community leaders charged with abusive behaviour, based on court documents and media coverage of legal proceedings. These men may be living in a community, awaiting trial, incarcerated or have fled. The public can help FACE update this list by submitting documented proof, which is vetted by the organization’s lawyers before being published.

Six of the 16 men listed have ties to Canada. All six have been charged with sexual assault, including three charged with sexual offences against a minor. Two are in prison, one is awaiting trial, one is working as an imam, while the whereabouts of two are unknown.

There is the egregious case of Saadeldin Bahr, charged with sexual assault while counselling a woman at a mosque in Port Coquitlam, B.C. He was sentenced for 3<AF>1/2 years, forbidden from owning a firearm for 10 years and is on the National Sex Offender Registry for 20 years. Financial audits also show he misappropriated $127,000 in donations. He is scheduled for release by 2021.

There is also the troubling case of Abdi Hersy, who was charged with sexual assault involving two female patients in Minnesota in 2006 while working as a respiratory therapist, leading to the revocation of his licence by the Minnesota Board of Medical PracticeMr. Hersy fled to Canada before a U.S. warrant for his arrest was issued, obtaining refugee status in 2008, which was reversed after discovery of the warrant. The reversal was successfully challenged in Federal Court. Upon learning of the warrant, the Muslim Council of Calgary fired Mr. Hersy. However, Calgary’s Abu Bakr Musallah hired him in a position of trust and authority as its imam. Congregants should be demanding his dismissal.

The award-winning film Spotlight illustrated how the culture of secrecy and lack of accountability led to the destruction of so many lives by abusive clergy. As the Muslim community begins to confront this problem within its own institutions, it must remember its duty to protect the well-being of its most vulnerable members, while holding offenders to account. The spotlight of shame belongs on offenders and their enablers, not the victims.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-one-organization-has-broken-the-silence-on-abuse-within-muslim/

Nobel laureate’s discovery revealed the patterns behind breathtaking works of Islamic art

Interesting commentary by Sheema Khan:

This year’s Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Roger Penrose, Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel for their research on black holes. Dr. Penrose, a mathematician, proved the existence of black holes from Einstein’s theory of relativity; Dr. Ghez and Dr. Genzel spent decades gathering evidence of a black hole in our own galaxy.

Dr. Penrose also discovered “non-periodic tiling” in 1974, known as Penrose tiling. Think of your kitchen floor: It is completely covered by a repeating pattern of tiles. One simple arrangement is a set of identical square tiles, placed side by side. You can do the same with a set of triangles or a set of hexagons. However, if you try it with a set of identical pentagons, a problem arises. The pentagons will not fit snugly next to each other – in contrast to squares, triangles or hexagons. Dr. Penrose was able to formulate a tiling formation, in which a number of basic tile shapes are used to fully cover a flat surface, such that the resulting tiling pattern does not actually repeat. However, if you were to take a floor covered with Penrose tiling, you could rotate it in multiples of 72 degrees, clockwise or counterclockwise, and obtain the same pattern – an example of five-fold symmetry. The foyer of Texas A&M University’s Mitchell Institute is covered with Penrose tiling.

The tiling stood as a unique mathematical breakthrough – until 2005, when Harvard graduate student Peter Lu discovered variations of the same non-periodic tiling patterns on a 17th-century madrassah in Uzbekistan. With his keen mathematical eye, Dr. Lu was able to distinguish between this unique non-periodic tiling, and the equally breathtaking periodic tiling patterns found in Islamic architecture and artwork throughout history. In the latter, simple circles and squares were transformed into stars and overlapping lattices to form intricate symmetric patterns. The 13th century Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, provides many beautiful examples of these geometric lattices.

Upon further investigation, Dr. Lu and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University discovered further examples of non-periodic tiling dating from the 10th to the 15th century, in varied locations such as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Uzbekistan. They were astounded to find a near-perfect example of Penrose tiling on the façade of the 15th century Darb-I Imam shrine in Iran, created five centuries before Dr. Penrose’s discovery. They also found that a set of five basic tile shapes, called “girih” tiles, were used by craftsmen to create these exquisite patterns. While it is not known exactly how artisans created these patterns on site, the 15th-century Topkapi scroll (housed in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul) provides a template of 114 different patterns of girih tiles. The patterns crafted by the artisans are not the actual tiles, but outlines thereof, thus giving the impression of an intricate latticework (or “girih,” which means “knot”). These Islamic non-periodic tiling patterns also have five-fold symmetry.

What is unknown is how these Muslim artisans and mathematicians discovered girih tiles and their alignment. These unique patterns are also found in naturally occurring quasicrystals, a form of matter with atom patterns that don’t repeat, like normal crystals.

What is known is that the “Golden Age” of Islam flourished from about the 8th century to the 14th, during which time Muslim scientists made advancements in the fields of algebra, geometry, calculus, chemistry, biology, medicine and astronomy. It began with the Abbasid caliphate, which built Baghdad from scratch as its capital, located strategically along many trade routes. The caliphs put a premium on the pursuit of knowledge. They established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad where scholars of different faiths collaborated. They also undertook a massive effort to translate Greek scholarship into Arabic, which was disseminated widely. Scholars built on this information to forge new advances. The Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam provides a comprehensive look of that era.

What stands out is an era where faith, science and reason worked in harmony. Unlike the Western approach, where science and faith are deemed irreconcilable, the history of Islam is replete with the opposite.

The first verses revealed in the Koran included the command “Read,” reflections of our humble origins (“created from a clot”) and a reminder that God teaches individuals “what they knew not.” Islam’s holy book contains exhortations to study the natural world as a means to know God and a means of worship. Scientists of other faiths, such as Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel and Thomas Bayes, have charted a similar path.

Whether it is the intricate pattern on a leaf, the sonar system of bats, or the fabric of the universe – all reflect the signs of a Creator within the Islamic paradigm. The key is that knowledge should lead to humility.

Which brings us back to the girih tiles. However they were discovered, it is no surprise that art and mathematics combined to adorn Islamic houses of worship, given that in Islam, the pursuit of knowledge is in harmony with spirituality.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-nobel-laureates-discovery-revealed-the-patterns-behind-breathtaking/

Sheema Khan: What Muslim Canadians can teach Asian communities about the discrimination that sadly lies ahead

I suspect the teaching can go both ways, given the historical experience of Asian Canadians with racism (e.g., Chinese head tax and immigration restrictions, Komagatu Maru being sent back to India etc):

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I remember making a frantic call to Dudley Herschbach, a former chemistry professor at Harvard, to make sure no one was on the Boston-based flight that crashed into the World Trade Center. The next day, he called me back to reassure me that everyone was safe. The relief of his words, however, was punctuated by his worry: that hate was about to be unleashed against Muslims, Arabs and people who looked Middle Eastern. I didn’t quite appreciate the gravity of his words – that is, until they were borne out.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic is unfortunately reminiscent of 9/11 – except that it is now Asian-Canadians (and in particular, Chinese-Canadians) who have become prime targets of xenophobia. There has already been an uptick in the number of hate crimes. Many in the Asian-Canadian community feel the spectre of racism while out in public.

I have spent almost two decades fighting xenophobia directed against Muslim communities in Canada, from hate crimes to discriminatory employment practices to state-sanctioned rendition policies. I was the chair of a grassroots advocacy group that worked with civil institutions – such as the media, human-rights commissions, school boards and the courts – to advocate that Canadian Muslims be treated fairly in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What I’ve learned might be useful for Asian-Canadian advocacy organizations needing to push back on current and future discrimination.

Such organizations should document incidents, no matter how small, because such data is vital for public policy initiatives. As such, there should be ample publicity in community publications about what constitutes an incident, and where individuals can report this information. Currently, the Chinese Canadian National Council has an online reporting form, and there should be open lines of communication with police forces to ensure that any incidents are promptly investigated.

These advocacy organizations should also educate community members about their basic rights as provided by the Charter. For example, no one should face discrimination in housing, education or employment simply due to their cultural heritage or ethnicity. Individuals have the right to be treated fairly at border crossings. Our organization developed a popular pocket “Know Your Rights” guide that is still highly useful today.

With the possibility of a “Cold War” with China, Canadian security agencies might begin interviewing Chinese-Canadians. These interviews can be traumatic, inducing fear. Community members should be educated about their rights prior to such interviews, along with their duty to speak truthfully. Recourse to legal assistance will be necessary. In addition, there should be lines of communication open between advocacy organizations and CSIS.

An important component is the education system. Efforts should be under way to contact school boards to ensure that once students return to the classroom, there will be heightened vigilance of anti-Asian discrimination. In the long-term, Asian Heritage Month in May can be used to educate students about the rich contribution of Asian-Canadians to Canadian society.

All of the above requires human resources and money. As such, members of the business and legal communities need to step up and offer funds and their time. Members of the law profession can provide assistance pro bono, to help community members navigate through the legal system. Many disputes involving discrimination are resolved through human-rights commissions, rather than through the courts. Community members will require assistance to proceed with their complaints.

Chinese-Canadian advocacy organizations should network with anti-discrimination organizations that have a wealth of expertise. Examples of national organizations include the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. A common goal should be the declaration of Jan. 29, the day of the Quebec City mosque massacre, as a National Day of Action against Hate.

However, not all of the burden should be placed on the Asian-Canadian community. Every one of us has a role to play to ensure that ours is a safe, inclusive society. Civic leaders have an added responsibility to speak forcefully in favour of inclusion, and any politicians who scapegoat Asian-Canadians for political gain must be denounced unequivocally.

Finally, the coming period will be another crucible for the continuing project of forging our Canadian identity. Post-9/11, Canadian Muslims asked themselves what it meant to be Muslim and Canadian. Without hesitation, we denounced terrorism repeatedly, along with the ghastly practice of “honour killing.” We became more involved in the fabric of Canadian society. We shared our personal stories with the wider public. We developed resilience along the way and gained strength from the loving support of wider society. Our journey is not over, but we extend a hand to our fellow Canadians who are of Asian heritage: we are with you, on yours.

Source: What Muslim Canadians can teach Asian communities about the discrimination that sadly lies ahead: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan: We must listen to women’s warnings about the Middle East

More good commentary:

In 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously recognized that the key to peace and security lies in the equal participation of women in civil society. UN Resolution 1325 reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Canada is one of 79 member states with a national action plan to achieve these goals. Last June, the government went one step further by appointing Jacqueline O’Neill as its first ambassador for women, peace and security.

And yet, the full participation of women in civil society is fraught with danger in countries where women’s rights are lacking – especially when demanding basic human rights and speaking truth to power. For their efforts, many have been beaten, sexually abused, imprisoned or killed in an attempt to silence their call for human dignity. Now, the pandemic has multiplied the challenges faced by these courageous activists.

In late April, the Nobel Women’s Initiative launched an ambitious online campaign to highlight the work of seven extraordinary women striving for human rights in the Middle East. This took place in lieu of a one-day conference originally planned for April in Ottawa, during which Nobel peace laureates Tawakkol Karman, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi were to address delegates.

A number of common themes emerge from this campaign.

Foremost is the worry that with countries focused on domestic initiatives regarding the pandemic, less attention will be paid to human-rights abuses elsewhere. Omaima Al Najjar, an exiled Saudi human-rights activist, believes the Saudi government will further violate rights “because the world is busy with COVID-19.”

Many of these activists are pleading with us to remember the vulnerable – especially in conflict zones where many of the NGOs that had been working on peacebuilding are now also helping with the COVID-19 response with very limited resources. Muna Luqman, a Yemeni peacebuilder, points out that despite the recent ceasefire, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are now “more isolated to face the threats of warring parties on their own,” given the decreased oversight of ceasefire violations. She also reminds us that the basic act of hand-washing is a challenge for many Yemenis lacking access to clean water. She fears the spread of COVID-19 through her war-ravaged country.

There is also deep concern that prisons in the Middle East will become COVID-19 hot spots – perhaps by design.

Fahima Hashim of Sudan has devoted her life to women’s equality and rights. Years ago, she led a successful campaign to reform rape laws. She warns that female prisoners in Sudan “are at great risk for the spread of COVID-19” due to poor living conditions, overcrowding and lack of access to health care.

Mozn Hassan, a prominent Egyptian feminist human-rights defender, has been under a travel ban and asset freeze because of her work. She reminds the world that “when priorities shift, we need not to forget WHRDs who have been jailed because of their legitimate activism. We need to call for their release.”

While a number of countries have released prisoners to ease overcrowding, COVID-19 is being used to endanger the lives of political prisoners who remain incarcerated. Reem Al-Ksiri, a Syrian women’s human-rights lawyer and expert on torture, leads research at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research. She has raised the alarm: “Women in prison, especially those imprisoned with children and those imprisoned for political reasons, are at present in a catastrophically dangerous situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” She is calling for the release of all political and pre-trial detention prisoners.

Similarly, Maryam Shafipour is an Iranian human-rights activist who spent time in Evin Prison for her political views. She advocates for the release of female Iranian political prisoners, observing that “COVID-19 has become a tool in the hands of the Iranian authorities to do more harm to political prisoners” and accusing authorities of using COVID-19 to “kill political prisoners.”

Finally, the spectre of increased domestic violence is on the mind of Yanar Mohammed, a prominent Iraqi feminist who heads an organization that runs underground shelters for women fleeing honour killings, sex trafficking and domestic violence. COVID-19 is a ”double jeopardy,” she believes, since authorities are ”threatening us and trying to shut us down” while ”at the same time COVID-19 has locked us in our homes.” Please spare a thought for these brave women who, at great personal risk, are demanding basic rights that we often take for granted.

Source: We must listen to women’s warnings about the Middle East: Sheema Khan

Khan: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end

Another interesting piece by Khan to change narratives:

On Feb. 24, Katherine Johnson – the esteemed mathematician who was part of an exclusive group of scientists at NASA’s Flight Research Division, where she used her mind, a slide rule and pencil to calculate flight paths for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969 – passed away at the age of 101. And if you know her story – as well as that of her NASA cohort of brilliant African-American female mathematicians – it may be because of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

That film was a revelation to much of the American public. It shattered many stereotypes and showcased the intellectual talents and resilience of women who wouldn’t let institutionalized racism and segregation get in the way of achieving excellence.

Those themes are universal, though. Groundbreaking accomplishments by women have always occurred. We just need to dig deep enough in history to find these gems. And Muslim women are just starting to get their similar due.

Thanks to the painstaking research of Islamic scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the dean of Cambridge Islamic College, the stories of accomplished Muslim female scholars, jurists and judges have been unearthed. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Nadwi’s research of biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters has led to a listing of about 10,000 Muslim women who have contributed toward various fields of Islamic knowledge over a period of 10 centuries.

Not only is the sheer number impressive, but so is the manner in which these women operated: Many were encouraged by their fathers at an early age to acquire knowledge, and many travelled to seek deeper understanding of Islamic sciences. They sat in study circles – with men – at the renowned centres of learning, debating and questioning alongside their male counterparts. And they taught their own study circles to men and women alike. Some were so revered that students came from near and far to absorb their wisdom. They approved certifications of learning and provided fatwas (non-binding religious opinions); as judges, they delivered important rulings.

A few notable examples include Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Mohammed, who was known for her expertise in the Koran, Arabic literature, history, general medicine and juridical matters in Islam. She was a primary source of authentic hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, which form part of the foundation of Sunni Islam. Umm al-Darda was a 7th-century scholar who taught students in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem, including the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. She was considered among the best traditionalists of her time. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around debating with other scholars.” And one of the greatest was the 8th-century scholar Fatima al-Batayahiyyah, who taught in Damascus. During the Hajj, leading male scholars flocked to her lectures. She later moved to Medina, where she taught students in the revered mosque of the Prophet. When she tired, she rested her head on the grave of Mohammed. Fatimah bint Mohammed al Samarqandi, a 12th-century jurist, advised her more famous husband, ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Kasani, on how to issue his fatwas; she was also a mentor to Salahuddin.

These are but a few of the thousand luminaries found by Mr. Nadwi, a classically trained Islamic scholar. Initially, he thought he would find 20 or 30 women; his compilation now fills 40 volumes. While a 400-page preface (Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam) has been published, the remainder sits on a hard drive, waiting for a publisher. Given the far-reaching importance of Mr. Nadwi’s work, surely a Muslim country or UNESCO can help disseminate it.

This research provides a stark contrast to contemporary practice in parts of the Muslim world. Some mosques, including ones here in Canada, forbid women. Rarely do Muslim women give lectures to their own communities. And the idea of women being intellectually on par with (or superior to) men is laughable in many quarters. Muslim women have a long way to go to reclaim their rightful place. Even his groundbreaking research will not change much, laments Mr. Nadwi, until Muslim men have respect for women – respect that starts in the home. He’s seen too much family violence in Britain, India and Pakistan. He’s highly critical of those who discourage or deny women from pursuing education, comparing it to the pre-Islamic practice of burying baby girls alive.

Muslims have just begun to discover our own “hidden figures” and there are many more yet to find. If we fail to deal with the present-day sexism that has eroded the egalitarian nature of our own historical communities, this excavation becomes all the more difficult.

Source: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan: Misbehaving imams must be held to account

Another strong commentary by Khan. In addition, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) issued the fallowing call: We ask Imams to speak out against gender-based violence (GBV):

The Arabic word “imam” literally means “leader,” or the one who precedes. In North America, the role of an imam is best summed up by Ottawa’s Imam Sikander Hashmi: “Imams, who are usually hired by mosque boards, are often overworked and underpaid. They are expected to preach, lead daily prayers, teach children, conduct outreach, do interfaith work, handle media requests, engage youth and offer religious guidance. In short, it’s a tough job.”

There are local, regional and national councils of imams – designed to bridge cultural, linguistic and juridical divides among imams of diverse Muslim communities. The vast majority of imams fulfill their roles with integrity, humility and a sincere commitment to serve their communities. They fully deserve the respect accorded to them.

However, there have been disturbing exceptions. Given the lack of accountability mechanisms in place and the reverential attitude toward religious authority by congregants, it is not surprising that abuses can occur.

Take, for example, the solemnization of marriage. An Islamic marriage, sanctioned by an imam, must also be registered with civil authorities, thereby providing both spouses with basic legal rights. Yet, a number of imams knowingly decline civil registration – to the detriment of women.

In May, 2018, a Quebec imam signed off on an Islamic marriage contract of a 15-year-old girl. His actions were sharply criticized by Justice Bruno Langelier, who granted the teen’s request to be removed from her home.

In January, 2019, The Fifth Estate investigated the prevalence of polygamy in Toronto’s Muslim community. Imam Aly Hindy, of Salaheddin Islamic Centre, was caught on a hidden camera, offering to solemnize a second marriage of an undercover reporter – without the knowledge of the first wife. When confronted, he brazenly declared: “sue me” – confident that his actions were legal. However, the performance of any type of second marriage clearly contravenes the Criminal Code. Why is he still registered, by the Ontario government, as a religious official authorized to perform marriages? In fact, common knowledge is that every major Canadian city has a “go-to” imam who will solemnize a second, third or fourth marriage – no questions asked.

The same Fifth Estate investigation unearthed court records that revealed a prominent Toronto imam who physically assaulted his wife, sending her to hospital, after she confronted him on his secret, second marriage.

Within the past five years, there have been three Canadian imams charged with sexual assault. In British Columbia, Imam Saadeldin Bahr was sentencedto 3½ years for sexually assaulting a female congregant who sought spiritual advice. He was also placed on the Sex Offender Registry for 20 years. In Ontario, Imam Mohammad Masroor was charged with multiple sexual offences that occurred between 2008 and 2011. He was acquitted on all counts after standing trial in 2013. A day after his acquittal, he was extradited to the United States where he was sentenced between 35 to 50 years for sexually abusing his nieces between 2000 and 2003. In June, Toronto Imam Syed Zaidi was charged with sexually assaulting two female congregants. He is awaiting trial.

Muslim communities face an unenviable challenge of holding their religious leadership to account, without having guidance on how to proceed. However, a number of efforts are under way to address spiritual abuse.

Two Muslim lawyers have devised a “Code Of Conduct For Islamic Leadership” for individuals and Muslim organizations, based on nine years of working with victims of spiritual abuse, consultation with lawyers, cult experts, religious scholars and mental-health professionals.

Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) has created a framework to address the leadership accountability gap. They provide tools and resources to report abusive leaders and help protect the community from their continued abuse.

Finally, the Hurma Project – a Canadian initiative – seeks to examine the personal and communal effects of abusive practices, along with practical solutions.

Muslims are painfully realizing that among their leaders, clergy, teachers and religious scholars are individuals who abuse their positions of power and violate their ethical responsibilities.

Too often, justice for victims is sacrificed in the name of keeping the reputation of an institution or an individual intact. Too often, imams have been quietly dismissed, without any meaningful accountability or reporting to authorities. Why is the onus placed on victims? They are either blamed or told to be patient, to pray, to forgive. Let us accord them a modicum of dignity by standing up for justice on their behalf.

Source: Misbehaving imams must be held to account: Sheema Khan

Quebec’s values test: Why not focus on everyday gender equality?

Another good and thoughtful column by Sheema Khan.

One point of interest is her call for the long-promised revision of the citizenship study guide to include everyday examples of what gender equality means, not the criminal ones cited in the current guide.

As the government did not manage to get its revision published during its first mandate, it should consider this suggestion if not already included in the revision:

Galloping from one controversial social policy to another, the government of Quebec recently unveiled its “Values Test” for prospective immigrants. Derided by some, the test requires newcomers to the province to be aware of a few “key” values. French is the official language of la belle province. Polygamy is illegal, whereas marriage between two individuals is not. Men and women are equal before the law. There’s nothing wrong in letting immigrants know what to expect about their future society. However, in view of Bill 21, one can’t help but be cynical about the Coalition Avenir Québec’s attempt to narrowly define who is – and who isn’t – vrai Québécois.

Quebec’s stance on gender equality is laughable in view of Bill 21 – hijab-clad Muslim women are barred from teaching in public schools, whereas Muslim men are not. Jewish men who sport a kippa or yarmulke cannot serve as prosecutors or clerks in a provincial court, while Jewish women face no such restrictions. The courts will decide if the notwithstanding clause overrides the violation of gender equality (as enshrined in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

Nevertheless, we should emphasize gender equality to those arriving from countries where women are accorded fewer resources and rights than men. According to the 2016 census, three of the top 10 countries of birth of recent immigrants were Pakistan, Iran and Syria – all of which finished in the bottom five (of 145 countries) of the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index.

The culture shock can be great. I still remember my cousin’s surprise when he could not access his mother’s bank account as a matter of right, as he used to do in Saudi Arabia. Or one Middle Eastern relative who was dismayed that his wife was automatically a co-owner of the marital home. Or one husband’s disbelief that he would have to split marital assets 50-50 in the case of divorce. These are hard-won rights for women that should never be compromised. Immigrant men have complied and adapted to the new reality. And that’s a good thing.

While current guidelines from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reiterate the equality of women and men before the law, they might want to add a line or two referring to everyday examples – such as financial independence and property rights of women. Instead, these guidelines leap to examples of criminal behaviour, stating: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”

Such dramatic pronouncements, however, don’t help immigrants learn about the positive aspects of gender equality. And they lull Canadians into a sense of complacency that women in Canada are doing just fine. Not so fast.

In her compelling memoirs, Truth Be Told, Beverley McLachlin chronicles her own efforts to combat sexism within the legal profession but points to the broader fight for women’s equality throughout Canadian society. A fight that is by no means close to over.

According to the 2018 Gender Gap Index, Canada ranks 16th in the world (out of 149 countries) for its equitable distribution of resources between men and women. While we are tied for first in the field of education, we are 21st in political empowerment, 27th in economic participation and 104th in health/survival. The relatively high placements in politics and economics, however, mask absolute inequities.

For example, in 2018, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian women earned 87 cents for every $1 earned by men. A 2018 Angus Reid study indicated that women are more likely than men to experience poverty. Women in Canada live at greater risk than men of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and sex trafficking. Even with the #MeToo movement, women still underreport sexual assault and harassment. Women and girls are often subject to online hate and sexualized abuse. While women make up roughly half the population, they are underrepresented in political and professional leadership positions. As MacLean’s Anne Kingston rightly observed, sexism permeated the 2019 election, culminating in a vicious, sexist slur painted on Catherine McKenna’s campaign office.

“Working toward gender equality is not only still relevant. It is urgent,” observes the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It’s a message we should all take to heart. The fight for gender equality begins here.

Sheema Khan: Quebec’s religious-symbols ban is stranger than fiction – but the pushback from society must be real

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

In a cold open for a 2017 episode of the ABC comedy Black-ish, protagonists Bow and Dre walk into a bakery to buy a gender-reveal cake. The bakery has every type of cake, the employee says – but not for gay weddings. Bow and Dre leave in disgust. At the next bakery, they cut to the chase: “You don’t discriminate against people based on race, gender or sexual orientation, do you?” To which the stern-looking baker replies: “Do not like French-Canadians.” Initially stunned by the random reply, Bow and Dre quickly indicate they can live with that, and proceed with the order.

What passed for laughs in America would never fly up here. But the mention of French-Canadians in juxtaposition with fundamental civil rights was downright prescient, if not ironic. In this fictitious TV show, everyone’s fundamental civil rights are worthy of protection – except if you’re French-Canadian.

The reverse is true in one major part of French Canada – and the Quebec government’s rhetoric and actions would be comedic, too, if they weren’t so tragic.

The Coalition Avenir Québec’s Bill C-21 seeks “religious neutrality” – that is, legalizing employment discrimination based on an individual’s religious expression. Civil servants, along with judges, police officers, prison guards and teachers, will be forbidden from exhibiting any religious affiliation while on the job. According to Premier François Legault, observant Sikhs, Jews and Muslims should look for another line of employment. Where else in the world has an elected leader told constituents to find another job because of their beliefs?

Recently, a councillor in the Montreal borough of Anjou, Lynne Shand, expressed her outrage at being treated by a doctor wearing a hijab, posting on Facebook: “If it hadn’t been an emergency, I would have refused to be treated by her. I’m angry because it’s really the Islamification of our country.”

While she later apologized, she clarified that she is against “visible” religious symbols, alluding to the proposed bill. It was irrelevant that the doctor’s service – according to Ms. Shand – was excellent.

This follows on the heels of similar outbursts by other Quebec politicians. CAQ Minister for the Status of Women Isabelle Charest unequivocally stated that the hijab is a sign of oppression, thereby proving that she is unfit to serve all women in her province. Gatineau deputy mayor Nathalie Lemieuxresigned after telling a French-language newspaper that Muslim immigrants don’t integrate, adding they “do bad things with their trucks … it’s normal to be afraid of them.”

First and foremost, the dangerous bill creates two tiers of citizens: those with full rights and opportunities, and those without. Since it uses the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’s notwithstanding clause to preclude any court action, the bill invites civil disobedience as the only means to fight against laws that deny fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, the bill gives licence to xenophobes to stigmatize and berate fellow Quebeckers. While Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault has backtracked on her warning that police would enforce C-21, it harked back all the same to the federal Conservatives’ proposed “snitch line” in the 2015 election.

And while it may be civil servants and employees in positions of authority today, who will it be tomorrow? Doctors providing service? Students at public schools, as was the case in France? Will the private sector follow the government’s lead? Finally, what other encroachments will there be on religious freedoms? Will Muslim students be barred from fasting during Ramadan, as was proposed by certain Quebec schools in 1995?

Before the rest of Canada gets smug, it should reflect on its own attitudes. Georgetown University’s comprehensive study on Islam, Muslims and Islamophobia, compiling Canadian data between 2004 and 2018, paints a glum picture. While the majority of Canadians acknowledge that anti-Muslim sentiment is a growing problem, most hold unfavourable views about Islam and Muslims. For example, last year more Canadians were worried about “homegrown radical Islamic terrorism” than violence from white-supremacist groups. In 2017, roughly half of all Canadians believed that Islam is the most “damaging” religion in the public sphere – even after six people were killed in a Quebec City mosque.

Now that there’s been a legislative assault on religious freedoms, will Anglo-Canadians stand up, too?

In the days since C-21 was introduced, there has been active opposition to it within Quebec, giving the lie to Mr. Legault’s Orwellian promise that the bill would bring Quebeckers together. Quebec civil society’s actions are reminiscent of the inspiring acts of solidarity by New Zealanders in the wake of the attacks at two mosques in Christchurch.

The difference in political leadership between Quebec and New Zealand, however, is like night and day.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Looking at Quebec today, where reality is stranger – and far more dangerous – than fiction, and where a government works to effectively sanitize bigotry against its own people, his words ring too true.

Source: Quebec’s religious-symbols ban is stranger than fiction – but the pushback from society must be real Sheema Khan

The CAQ wants to create two tiers of Quebeckers: Sheema Khan

Khan looks at the individual impact. Will be interesting to see the actual legislation and whether some of the initial backtracking – existing employees would be grandfathered – continues or not:

Imagine having a job that you love. You believe you can make a positive difference to society through your chosen career. You have invested heavily in education to arrive at your current position. You can’t imagine yourself elsewhere. Then one day, you are threatened with dismissal.

Not due to a bad performance review – in fact, quite the contrary. Not because of downsizing. Not for lack of qualifications. No, the reason is your expression of faith – although you have never proselytized at work. In fact, you have contributed towards a respectful, inclusive workplace. Your co-workers are like family; you’re closer to some than others. Along the way, you’ve collectively shared life’s burdens and joys, as you try to build a stable life for you and your family.

But your new employer has decided that you are no longer welcome. Is it a foreign multinational, eager to impose its own vision at the expense of local workers?

No. It’s a new provincial government making good on its promise to impose an exclusionary brand of laïcité. And it is willing to fire individuals from certain professions whose attire falls outside its definition of state “neutrality.” Unfortunately, through no fault of your own, your chosen career is a central target. The government is even eager to trample on your individual Charter rights. And there is nothing that you – a law-abiding, tax-paying, individual – can do about it. What’s more vexing is that some of your co-workers and neighbours have voted for this government and its policies that are harmful for you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a recent immigrant or if you’ve lived here for generations. It doesn’t matter that you believe in the future of this province, having made the conscious decision to build roots here. It is either your faith or your job.

Welcome to Quebec, where the preceding scenario is a distinct reality. The recently elected Coalition Avenir Québec announced that it would invoke the notwithstanding clause to ban religious symbols for employees in “positions of authority” – including teachers, police officers and prison guards. Examples of offending attire include kippahs, turbans and hijabs.

Following a huge outcry against its plan to fire teachers who wear religious symbols, the CAQ backtracked, offering a kinder, gentler version of discrimination: It will only ban new hires from any expression of faith. Imagine putting yourself through teacher’s college or a police training program, preparing to dedicate yourself to a profession you hold in high esteem – only to be told to discard an integral part of your identity, or choose a different career path.

The CAQ is the third consecutive governing party to threaten a ban of religious attire in the public service. The PQ proposed its infamous Values Charter in 2013, while the Liberal Party’s restrictions on face-coverings were suspended by a provincial court in June.

These efforts reflect the wider debate of defining laïcité, which is distinct from secularism – partly due to the different philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. According to Rousseau, the individual gains freedom through the state, which has the right to regulate the public sphere of religion. Locke, on the other hand, placed freedom of conscience as the cornerstone of individual rights, which guarantees freedom from the state. These opposing views have permeated societies with French and British roots.

The CAQ’s approach will create two unequal classes of citizens. An overwhelming majority will be free to choose any field of employment, while a minority will have its choices restricted. There was a time not too long ago when women were barred or discouraged from certain professions. Why is the government repeating the folly of denying employment based on an individual’s identity, while ignoring a worker’s abilities and qualifications?

Furthermore, employment restriction is a slippery slope. What’s next? Use of the notwithstanding clause to override the suspension of Bill 62, thus denying niqab-wearing women access to library privileges, public transportation and health-care clinics?

However, the larger question is: Why create two tiers of Quebeckers in the first place? It sends a dangerous message of fundamental inequality enshrined as government policy. No wonder the CAQ has been lauded by European xenophobic parties.

The people of Quebec have an opportunity to forge a distinct version of laïcité, shaped by cultural heritage, linguistic identity and the contemporary reality of living in a fully anglicized North American milieu shaped by Lockean roots. The question is whether it will be inclusive or exclusionary.

Opinion The CAQ wants to create two tiers of Quebeckers: Sheema Khan