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

Indeed:

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/

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