ICYMI – Khan: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

Good column and reminnder:

Forty years ago, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell rose in Parliament to address the issue of domestic violence during question period, based on her experience hearing from battered women as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs. But her opening remarks, in which she recounted that one in 10 husbands regularly beat their wives, were met with derisive laughter and heckling from a number of fellow MPs. “I don’t think this is very much of a laughing matter,” she was forced to respond.

Around the same time, in the early 1980s, budding journalist Anna Maria Tremonti was experiencing the very trauma recounted in the committee hearings. Like so many women, she carefully hid all signs of intimate partner violence (IPV) from the outside world, and she went on to become a high-profile reporter, hosting The Current on CBC for many years. However, the emotional scars never really healed. Now – in a tremendous act of public service – she has courageously shared details of the pain and shame that she has carried privately for decades, in the podcast Welcome to Paradise.

Canada has come a long way in recognizing the issue of IPV, but it remains damaging on many levels. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days, and children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes. Domestic violence also threatens a woman’s path to economic independence: roughly 40 per cent of victims found it difficult to return to work, while about 8.5 per cent said that they lost their jobs because of it.

As Nova Scotia’s inquiry into the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history examines the role of intimate partner violence, a recent U.S. studyfound that more than two-thirds of mass shootings from 2014 to 2019 stemmed from violence toward partners or family members, or are perpetrated by shooters with a history of domestic violence toward their intimates.

While Canada may not have the prevalence of mass shootings as the United States, we are certainly not immune to the type of incidents described in that study. In 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by a mutual ex-partner in Ontario. After hearing testimony into the triple femicide last month, an inquest jury made 86 recommendations in response to the murders, including a recognition of femicide as a distinct crime and manner of death. It also called on Ontario to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

Indeed, researchers have described the potential rise of IPV incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic as a “shadow pandemic”. Lockdowns increased the risk factors for IPV, owing to enhanced financial stressors, lack of space for women to leave the home, isolation from support systems and lack of privacy to call for help.

IPV occurs across faiths, cultures, and income groups. However, immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence owing to economic dependence on male partners, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about resources.

Within Muslim communities, there are a number of issues that exacerbate the potential for domestic violence. In some circles, there is tacit religious approval of beating one’s wife as a means of control and discipline. I still remember wandering into a bookshop on Toronto’s Gerrard Street while shopping for a wedding dress some 25 years ago, and reading a tract by an imam who counselled men to beat their wife on the wedding night. There needs to be unequivocal, repeated condemnation of all forms of domestic violence by imams when addressing their congregants.

Another issue is the concept of “sitr,” or concealment. Muslims are advised not to publicize the faults and mistakes of others. However, when the fault results in harm to another individual, there is a duty to report such behaviour to stop the harm. Unfortunately, some take “sitr” to an extreme, deeming spousal abuse as a “private matter,” without any consideration given to the harm inflicted. The limits of “sitr,” seen through the lens of harm prevention, need to be reconsidered.

In recent years, however, denial has given way to acknowledgement and efforts to remedy the problem. Sakeenah Homes, founded in 2018, has provided culturally appropriate services to women, children and families facing homelessness, violence and poverty. And since 2015, Nisa Homes has opened nine shelters across Canada, providing refuge and care to more than 1,000 women and children. These spaces can empower and give hope to the vulnerable, allowing the broken to be rebuilt.

The scourge of IPV will not disappear anytime soon. We must address it with resolve to protect the most vulnerable – and never lose sight of the inherent dignity, resilience and strength of each and every woman forced to traverse this most difficult path.

Source: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

Khan: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

Like you, there have been many times I have felt proud to be Canadian. For example, our government’s principled refusal to join the immoral invasion of Iraq. Attending citizenship ceremonies, where new Canadians remind us of the deeper meaning of citizenship. Being told by one of my Harvard professors that Canadian students were the best prepared – a testament to our excellent public education system. And of course, the 1995 Unity Rally in Montreal, on the eve of the Quebec referendum, where Canadians joined hands peacefully to express our heartfelt love for Canada and Quebec.

The contentment has been punctuated by instances of profound doubt, when I wonder what we really stand for. For example, the longstanding Canadian project to inflict cultural genocide on Indigenous communities. Just read the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report to get a shocking glimpse into the depravity of our country’s official policy: Last year’s gut-wrenching announcements about the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of former residential schools. And let’s not forget the complicity on the part of government agencies in the rendition of Maher Arar to torture in Syria.

Post 9/11, our courts served as a check on government overreach on basic civil liberties. I grew to love our Constitution, which replaced hockey as a central feature of my Canadian identity.

I am not a historian. Nor am I a lawyer. I am, simply, a Canadian citizen who cherishes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a safeguard for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Imagine, then, the gut-punch upon discovering that the highest law of the land – to which new citizens pledge allegiance – makes no such guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms whatsoever. All owing to the notwithstanding clause, which is enshrined in the Charter.

For years, I saw the “notwithstanding clause” as a polysyllabic legal term, bandied about by constitutional experts. I didn’t know what it meant. Mainstream media clarified it as a right, given to provincial and federal governments, to suspend Sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Charter. All of this still seemed abstract. Until it wasn’t, after reading those sections.

In a nutshell, the Charter grants governments the right to suspend basic individual freedoms that we all take for granted. Namely, freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as well as freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. We aren’t talking about emergency measures, nor reasonable limits that are justified in a democracy. No, we are talking about a constitution that makes it perfectly legal to suspend basic human rights, as a matter of governance.

It does not stop there.

A number of basic legal rights can be suspended. These include the right to life, liberty and security (barring some exceptions, such as the prison system); requirement of warrants for search and seizure; the right to be informed why one is being detained; the right to a lawyer upon arrest; the right against unlawful imprisonment; presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The clause allows suspension of the right of every individual to be equal before, and under the law; and suspends the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, age or disability.

This needs to be spelled out: our Charter makes it perfectly legal to gut basic rights. There is no need for a coup, no need to politicize selection of judges, no need to gerrymander, no need to use a loophole. The potential for abuse is encoded into law. There is no other constitutional democracy that allows for the gutting of basic rights as a matter of governance.

Much has been written about the history of how the notwithstanding clause came to be: a compromise between federal and provincial powers; a balance between elected representatives and unelected judges. Yet, this does not explain how basic human rights were used as a bargaining chip, rendering our Charter of Rights and Freedoms hollow.

When it was introduced, the thought was that it would be rarely used. Some termed it the “nuclear button.” For decades, that was the case. However, within the past three years, it has been used twice by Quebec and once by Ontario. Quebec Bills 21 and 96 unequivocally suspend individual and legal rights of minorities. Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown have promised to strike down the recent Supreme Court decision on sentencing, using the clause.

It’s time for each Canadian to engage in a conversation about who we are as a country, given that our Charter allows for cancellation of basic civil liberties.

Source: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Khan: Muslims can improve our communities on our own. We just have to be willing to speak out

Indeed. And good initiative to address equality and equity issues:

Some years ago, I learned that our local mosque refused to allow women to serve on the board. This sexist practice was also entrenched in the bylaws of the British Columbia Muslim Association for nearly four decades. Only Muslim men, it turned out, could be elected to the board, and only by Muslim men. When I asked the mosque and the BCMA if they would change their policies, they unequivocally refused.

But when I began to prepare a column about the issue, a lawyer reached out, asking me to refrain from speaking out. Why? There was concern that then-prime minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government would use this information to go after mosques. “Not now – give us time,” came the plea.

“So, once the Liberals are elected, mosques will open their boards to women?” I asked. We both knew the answer.

Rather than address the discrimination within, some organizations have found it easier to simply ignore internal criticism, while silencing whistle-blowers with emotional blackmail: You’ll hurt the community by airing dirty laundry. The problem is that the laundry is piling up and the stench is getting unbearable, while those who can access the washing machine continue to refuse to do their chores.

The situation is especially acute for victims of violence and abuse. They are often pressed to keep matters quiet, and not file charges, so that the community won’t look bad in the eyes of the public. Meanwhile, there is little accountability of perpetrators. Those who do speak out are shamed as traitors, enablers of Islamophobia, or worse, as self-hating Muslims. Often, it is the voices of women that are silenced by these heavy-handed tactics. Consequently, justice is thrown under the bus of community self-censorship.

It’s why well-meaning institutions overreach in their attempts to stamp out a quantum of Islamophobia. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), for instance, has yet to decide whether it will allow teenaged girls to participate in a book club event featuring Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was enslaved, tortured and raped by members of the Islamic State. This courageous young woman refused to remain silent, and has even won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to seek justice for her people. That she was assaulted by sadistic individuals acting under the cover of an inhumane interpretation of Islam is part of her truth, as is the fact that Muslims worldwide repudiate the Islamic State. The TDSB apparently fears that impressionable teens may not be able to distinguish between an extremist group and ordinary Muslims who are their friends and neighbours.

But here’s a thought: The Muslim community can simultaneously fight Islamophobia and address the ills within it. It is not, and should not be, a zero-sum game. Just as Muslims desire from others safety, freedom from discrimination, access to justice and the opportunity to thrive, they should work hard to ensure the same principles apply to those who are themselves Muslims. One cannot make demands and then plead indifference when asked to fulfill those same demands. As the Quran states in the chapter titled “Women”: “Oh you who believe. Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even though it is against yourselves, your family, the rich or the poor.”

Here’s another thought: Muslim women have the agency to improve their own lives. Their own history is replete with illustrious paradigms, including that of Khawlah bint Tha’labah, who challenged a cruel marital custom in 7th-century Arabia when no one else dared; her courageous stand led to its abolition. She is known as “al-Mujaadilah,” or “the woman who pleaded,” in the 58th chapter of the Quran. For 14 centuries, Khawlah has been a model for unwavering commitment to justice within.

In the coming weeks, the Mujaadilah Centre – founded on the noble example of Khawlah – will be launching. Its goal is to unapologetically address harms faced by Canadian Muslim women within their communities. This will include an in-depth analysis of the gender make-up of mosque boards across the country. And in 2022, the centre will address the controversial practice of polygamy here in Canada, by providing new legal research of the Criminal Code along with documentation of harm suffered by women and children.

There is hope on the horizon. A new generation of Muslims is demanding greater accountability of leadership. They will not turn a blind eye to discrimination and abuse within, since they understand that wrongdoings left unaddressed will only lead to worse outcomes. Too many lives have been destroyed for this to continue. This cohort is taking the lead on addressing taboos head-on. They will make a difference for the better.

In the meantime, let’s all strive for a better society – standing up for what is right, and forbidding what is wrong, across all communities.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-muslims-can-improve-our-communities-on-our-own-we-just-have-to-be/

Khan: Why would we ever believe that the Taliban will now be kinder to women?


The Taliban have promised a “kinder, gentler” approach after the fall of Kabul – vowing to be more inclusive and humane following the defeat of the internationally-backed Afghan government.

The world must not fall for this charm offensive.

Thus far, the interim government has no women, nor any representation from the ethnic Hazara minority; the cabinet is formed entirely by Taliban members; on Sunday, Kabul’s Taliban-appointed mayor told the city government’s female employees to stay home. The ministry of women’s affairs has been eliminated, cutting off vital services for women. In addition, peaceful protests have been met with arbitrary detention, live ammunition, batons and whips, according to the United Nations. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the country’s constitutionally enshrined watchdog, has been unable to fulfill its duties after the Taliban’s forces occupied its buildings.

On Aug. 25, the government issued a “temporary” policy requiring all Afghan women to stay at home until its fighters could be trained to respect women. Imagine having 20 years to build an army, but failing to instill basic respect for women during that time, and having no shame in admitting so. As a result, Muslim women in Afghanistan are effectively being told to fear for their safety from Muslim men, their so-called “brothers” in faith. This should be condemned throughout the Muslim world.

Many don’t believe this is a temporary order. Humaira Rasuli – a human-rights lawyer who is the founder and executive director of the Kabul-based Women for Justice Organization (WJO) – remembers that in 1996, the Taliban declared that they weren’t against education or work for women, but that they needed more time to ensure their safety. But while the prohibition of women from the workplace never did lift before the government fell in 2001, women who were the sole providers for their families were relegated to poverty during that time; some were forced to beg on the streets. Little wonder Ms. Rasuli is convinced that the Taliban intends to suppress the advances made by women over the past two decades.

Ms. Rasuli herself serves a case in point. Her organization is crucial for the functioning of civil society: providing robust legal representation, raising the next generation of lawyer leaders and strengthening government institutions. The WJO spearheaded forums for leaders to contribute to law and policy reform proposals on criminal procedures, sexual harassment laws and policies and edicts demanding virginity testing. But their office was raided by Taliban fighters during their first morning of rule. The staff has since been forced into hiding, destroying documents overnight. Three staff members, including Ms. Rasuli, had to flee Afghanistan; others are in hiding in Kabul.

But over the past two weeks, despite the chaos and challenging personal circumstances, the WJO has managed to re-group with a new strategy. Having overcome corruption, conflict and endless challenges in Afghanistan in recent years, it is determined not to give up.

Taliban militants, says Ms. Rasuli, have usurped and are monopolizing interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law, co-opting it for their political ideology around female erasure. IS and al-Qaeda factions, which are rooted in similar ideologies but have veered in even more extreme directions, have rapidly proliferated too, making the threat all the more urgent. So the WJO has worked to form a coalition of Afghan law and sharia experts to push back on such interpretations, while equipping young leaders and civil-society activists with the language and concepts they need to contest them.

They are not hopeful that the Taliban will be receptive to a more gender-equal interpretation of sharia, but they will try – and at least, as a matter of principle, they have vowed not to allow extremist ideas to harden into unquestioned consensus. Even amidst the enormous challenges, they remain committed to the long-term goal of an inclusive government elected through free and fair voting, and to the preservation of key legal structures that safeguard the fundamental human rights of all Afghans, especially women and minority groups.

If only the world showed the same resolve.

“I am calling on the international community and the world to eliminate terrorism in Afghanistan,” said Ms. Rasuli, speaking to me from a military camp in the U.S. following her evacuation from Afghanistan. “So many people have died in this war, so many left injured, so many people displaced internally, so much grief and suffering and now, Afghanistan has been entirely abandoned. Please, for the sake of innocent civilians, support us. We have sacrificed our work, home, families and basic rights to bring peace to Afghanistan. We have built Afghanistan with our own hands. It is enraging and disappointing to see it used as a battleground for warring nations. Neither peace has come to Afghanistan, nor our rights have been protected. I am really disappointed by the silence of the international community.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-why-would-we-ever-believe-that-the-taliban-will-now-be-kinder-to-women/

Khan: We all have a role to play in rooting out Islamophobia

While I am not a fan of one-time summits to effect change, Khan’s more positive commentary worth noting. Noteworthy that the silence of the PM and other leaders on Quebec’s discriminatory bill 21 is highlighted. Money quote:

“With a federal election on the horizon, here are a few recommendations to party leaders whose words and actions carry great responsibility: Disqualify any candidate who has expressed xenophobia or has been affiliated with extremist groups; reject dog whistles to rile up your base; and finally, sign a memorandum of understanding among all party leaders to speak in unison against Bill 21 as an affront to fundamental human rights. Stop jockeying for Quebec votes on the backs of religious minorities.”

William Wordsworth famously wrote “the child is father of the man,” implying that childhood experiences shape our development into adulthood. Trauma, if left unaddressed, often leads to devastating consequences. We see this today in the aftermath of the Canadian government’s 150-year-old policy of cultural genocide toward the Indigenous peoples of this land.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing the emergence of a traumatized generation of Canadian children due to Islamophobia, exacerbated by the targeted killings of Muslims in Quebec City, Etobicoke and London. This alarming state of affairs was described in depth by lawyer Nusaiba Al-Azem at the National Summit on Islamophobia recently, which brought together government officials and members of the Muslim community for a spirited dialogue on ways to confront the scourge of anti-Muslim sentiment.

The summit wasn’t merely a gabfest, but provided a platform for community groups and experts to submit concrete policy recommendations, such as a national support fund for survivors of hate-motivated crimes, a special envoy for Islamophobia, and amendments to municipal bylaws and the federal Criminal Code to better deal with hate crimes.

On the issue of children, many panelists emphasized the importance of raising awareness of different cultures and faiths in our schools, so as to broaden the outlook of Canada’s youth. One excellent resource is the comprehensive Islamic Heritage Month Resource Guidebook for Educators developed for the Toronto District School Board. Pleas were made to review school curriculums with an anti-Islamophobic lens.

The plethora of voices at the summit included a new generation of leaders within the Muslim community that is articulate, insightful and fully immersed in Canadian culture and politics. A number of common themes did emerge from the diversity of opinions at the event.

First and foremost, there is an expectation that there will be tangible government action on the recommendations. Further consultations without action are not acceptable.

There is a pressing need to address online hate through legislation, since social media companies have failed to rein it in – with devastating consequences. This was tied to demands that the federal government take more forceful action against white supremacist groups.

Another common theme included the need to investigate anti-Muslim bias in a number of federal agencies, such as the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Gendered Islamophobia also emerged as concern, given that it is Muslim women who are bearing the brunt of hate-motivated incidents. The spate of attacks against veiled Muslim women in EdmontonCalgary, and Hamiltonrequires immediate action. No woman should ever be assaulted – let alone for what she chooses to wear in public. On the flip side, many hate incidents go unreported because victims don’t believe the police will take any concrete action. We need to build trust between law enforcement, the justice system and communities subject to hate-motivated attacks.

And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cabinet ministers, elected MPs and other government officials all expressed support for many of these initiatives, their steely silence on one issue spoke volumes. Muslim panelists unanimously spoke of the harm fostered by Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids public employees from wearing religious-based symbols in the workplace. Judge Marc-André Blanchard, ruling on Bill 21 this spring, described how it ostracizes, excludes and dehumanizes those targeted, but said it was nonetheless legal because of the notwithstanding clause. All groups at the summit called for the attorney-general to be involved in legal challenges to this discriminatory law, which targets religious minorities.

Rarely discussed at the summit was the role of the political class in fostering anti-Muslim sentiment. Erica Ifill, writing in The Hill Times, lays out the evidence of “a direct line from the political and policy responses following 9/11 to the murder of the Afzaal-Salman family.” Muslims were vilified as a result of the “barbaric practices” snitch line and the banning of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Less than two months after the mass shooting of Muslims at a Quebec City mosque, Conservative and Bloc MPs voted against a non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia.

With a federal election on the horizon, here are a few recommendations to party leaders whose words and actions carry great responsibility: Disqualify any candidate who has expressed xenophobia or has been affiliated with extremist groups; reject dog whistles to rile up your base; and finally, sign a memorandum of understanding among all party leaders to speak in unison against Bill 21 as an affront to fundamental human rights. Stop jockeying for Quebec votes on the backs of religious minorities.

Let’s not forget that each of us has the responsibility to work toward the kind of society we wish to foster – a place where every member feels safe, where we value the humanity of every individual, and where we respect differences – remembering that it is our common values that unite us.

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

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-we-all-have-a-role-to-play-in-rooting-out-islamophobia/

Khan: The London attack reaffirms why Muslims often feel unsafe in their own country

Good commentary:

Every few years, I feel very vulnerable and unsafe. This is one of those times.

On Sunday, five members – three generations – of a Muslim family went out for a walk on a summer’s evening in London, Ont., an opportunity relished by many Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this family, it was a regular activity before returning home to offer the sunset prayer, according to a neighbour.

Yet this simple act of enjoying nature with one’s family is no more because of an act of pure, unadulterated hatred.

While waiting at a stoplight, Madiha Salman, her husband Salman Afzaal, 15-year-old daughter Yumna, nine-year-old son Fayez, and 74-year-old mother-in-law were allegedly rammed by a 20-year-old driver who, according to police and witnesses, deliberately accelerated his pickup toward the family, targeting them because they were Muslim.

Initially, police said the extended family requested to keep the victims’ names private, but the family identified them in a statement Monday. Only Fayez survived. Now an orphan, he is recuperating in hospital.

What kind of world are we living in?

For Muslims, it is unfortunately one where the slow drumbeat of hate-filled violence has become louder. The 2017 Quebec City massacre, in which worshippers were gunned down at a mosque – a place of spiritual refuge – shook all of us to the core.

As a nation, we vowed to fight the scourge of Islamophobia. Muslims wondered if a visit to their local mosque might be their last. Such was, and is, the fear. Enhanced safety features – including screened entries and guards – became the uneasy norm.

Yet this was still not enough back in September, when 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was killed outside an Etobicoke, Ont., mosque by an apparent white supremacist. Mr. Zafis was a volunteer caretaker of the mosque he cherished. On that fateful evening, he sat outside, controlling entry to the mosque in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The accused perpetrator slipped behind Mr. Zafis, slashed his throat and fled.

Violence is happening all over the country. This year alone, there have been multiple reported assaults in Edmonton, where strangers have threatened Muslim women. In at least five cases, women were pushed, kicked and/or punched in public.

Calgary has similarly witnessed numerous cases of assault against Muslims; three involved women physically attacked in broad daylight because of their hijab. Understandably, the women have been emotionally and physically traumatized.

And now, a family has been killed in London. Is it any wonder why Muslims – especially women – don’t feel safe?

Yet this country is far greater than the hate-filled zealots who seek to intimidate, sow fear and spread the bigotry that fuels them. The outpouring of grief and support from Canadians has been a balm to the shock felt by Muslims across the land.

Since the news came out about the attack, I have received heartfelt messages of support, including the following from my friend and colleague Myriam Davidson: “It breaks my heart,” she wrote. “The best I have is we are here standing with you. There is no place for Islamophobia in our communities – it is despicable. Whenever a synagogue gets attacked – what brings me comfort is when non-Jews speak up, call it out and reaffirm that we are an inclusive society where this is not tolerated. So I’m modelling the best I know how.”

And that is the key: reaching out the best way each of us can. Our society will be stronger for it. While Muslims will rely on their faith for spiritual succour, we will need emotional support from others to overcome our fears and to know that we are valued members of the Canadian family.

There are many ways to help. Some Muslims are fearful to go for a simple walk, so offer to accompany them. Donate to a fund for nine-year-old Fayez. Attend a vigil. Perhaps the most powerful gesture is to simply say, “I am here for you.”

Last week, I was mesmerized by the haunting, powerful rendition of O Canada by Winnipeg folk singer-songwriter Don Amero, accompanied by Elders Wally and Karen Swain, prior to a Habs-Jets playoff game. While Mr. Amero sang, I asked myself: “How does he have the fortitude to sing an anthem of a country whose government, for 150 years, committed cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of this land?”

I know I could not. Yet Mr. Amero taught me something that resonates today, which is that the power of love, of resilience, of dignity always conquers bitterness.

We will come together – whether it is to address deep-rooted historical prejudices against Indigenous communities, or contemporary hatred against minority communities. Let us dig deep into the well of human compassion to continuously build a more just, inclusive society.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-london-attack-reaffirms-why-muslims-often-feel-unsafe-in-their-own/

Khan: In Quebec, an act of injustice receives no accountability

More good commentary:

Apr. 20 was a day marked by sharp contrasts in judicial verdicts relating to harm.

In Quebec Superior Court, Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard issued a ruling regarding Bill 21, Quebec’s “secularism” law, which bans the wearing of religious symbols for government employees deemed to be in a position of authority, such as judges, government lawyers, teachers and police officers. New hires must remove religious symbols, while those already employed with the government can keep their symbols and jobs; they cannot, however, get promoted or transferred.

And so systemic discrimination have been enshrined in law, in a province whose premier repeatedly denies the existence of systemic racism.

In contrast, we witnessed accountability for cruel behaviour in a Minnesota courtroom. There, a 12-member jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts in the death of George Floyd. The sheer inhumanity of Mr. Chauvin’s actions – namely, kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd while he was prone, handcuffed and pleading for his life – was broadcast for all to see. Mr. Chauvin was held accountable for his actions, and now awaits sentencing for the three charges of which he has been found guilty. Elation was tempered with the knowledge that the fight against police brutality and systemic racism is far from over. U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged as much, calling systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul.”

A life, to be sure, has not been snuffed out by Bill 21. But livelihoods are being waylaid all the same by systemic discrimination.

While Justice Blanchard affirmed the bulk of Quebec’s law, he struck down portions that applied to English school boards and the wearing of face coverings in the National Assembly. He also had harsh words for the bill: “There is no doubt that in this case the denial by Bill 21 of the rights guaranteed by the Charter has severe consequences for the persons concerned. Not only do these people feel ostracized and partially excluded from the Quebec public service, but in addition, some see their dreams become impossible while others find themselves stuck in their positions with no possibility of advancement or mobility. In addition, Bill 21 also sends the message to minority students wearing religious symbols that they must occupy a different place in society and that obviously the way of public education – at the level of preschool, primary and secondary – does not exist for them. On the other hand, the beneficial effects appear at least tenuous.”

Quebecers aspiring to one of these jobs now face a dilemma, Justice Blanchard added: “Either they act according to their soul and conscience – in this case their beliefs – or they work in the profession of their choice. It is easy to understand that this is a cruel consequence which dehumanizes those targeted.”

Nonetheless, such cruel dehumanization is legal because of the province’s deployment of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause.

Meanwhile, Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the law’s architect, will appeal the ruling, stating, “There are not two Quebecs – there is only one.” This is rich coming from a man who has himself created two Quebecs: One where opportunity is available for all, and another where opportunities are limited because of a person’s religious belief and expression.

Let’s not forget that the majority of Quebeckers approve of Bill 21 – cruelty, dehumanization and systemic discrimination be damned. Is it any wonder that Quebec has been facing a shortage of teachers? Lost is the irony that today everyone must cover their face in government institutions, including in the National Assembly.

Federal leaders, conscious of the significant number of seats in Quebec, have reacted along differing lines. Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have each unequivocally opposed the law, while the Conservatives have thrown Quebec’s religious minorities under the bus, stating they will not challenge the law but assuring Canadians that they would never introduce a federal version of Bill 21. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been non-committal about intervening.

We must now take inspiration from the U.S., where activists have pushed for justice for Black lives and are now opposing new laws in Georgia that will affect voters of colour. We must publicize the systemic discrimination, dehumanization and cruelty of Bill 21 far and wide, and confer with activists about the best way forward to address discrimination enshrined in law.

Let Quebec explain Bill 21 to the world. After all, those who aspire to a more just society should remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It does not bend on its own.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-quebec-an-act-of-injustice-receives-no-accountability/

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/