October 2010



Last summer I had the opportunity to visit New York City. I was excited for this trip as I have always wanted to visit the Big Apple. It has a rich history, a vibrant culture and in my opinion it is decorated with the world’s best collection of sky scrapers. In addition to checking out all the regular touristy sites I wanted to visit a not so touristy part of New York; Harlem.

For those that don’t know, Harlem is the cultural capital of the African American community in New York. I wanted to visit Harlem for several reasons. One reason was to explore African American culture. Being black in Canada means something very different than what it means to be black in America. I wanted to get a chance to observe African American culture and there is no better place to do that than Harlem. More importantly, the reason I wanted to visit Harlem was because Malcolm X was primarily based out of this place. It was in this neighborhood where he was once a hustler and it was from this place that he eventually led his movement. More specifically he transformed this area into the heart of the black Muslim community in the 60’s.

Initially, I just wanted to walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure if there were any historic landmarks that I could visit. I looked at the map I had purchased and my eye caught the attention of a land mark that read ‘Malcom Shabazz Mosque’. I was excited. I wasn’t sure if the mosque would be related to Malcom X in anyway or if it was just named after him. I decided to visit the mosque and find out my self. I got lost on the subway but luckily ran into a stranger (a gigantic Cuban guy who could barely speak English) that agreed to drive me to Harlem! It was big risk getting into a car with a stranger but it certainty paid off.

I was dropped a few blocks away from my destination which meant I had to walk a little. I started to notice the cultural differences right away. Not only were the inhabitants predominantly black but there was a sizable muslim population too as I saw men in kufis, women wearing hijabs and abayas. I asked for directions to Malcolm X’s mosque and was soon guided in the right direction. I was walking down Malcolm X Avenue; it was evident that Malcolm X held an esteemed status in this neighborhood.

I soon sighted a building with a gigantic green dome; I had arrived at my destination. I entered and saw a front desk attendant at the mosque. It’s not normal for a mosque to have such a thing so I just tried to bypass the desk but was stopped. I was a little scared; I know the Nation of Islam was dissolved at one point and all ‘temples’ were converted to orthodox mosques but I wasn’t sure about this particular one. The attendant asked me why I was there and I explained I was there for prayers. I looked around saw a chart with the five daily prayer times and some other symbols that convinced me this was an orthodox mosque. I then asked the attendant if this was the mosque where Malcolm X was based out of. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Malcolm’s name; ‘Yes! This is it. This is where it all happened’. I knew I was in for a treat.

Also posted on The Mirror


Chilean miners,
you’ve inspired us all.
In homes, shops and diners
we turned to your tragic fall.

In the 70 days you were trapped below,
you inspired care and sympathy,
in troubled times with the economy slow,
all we saw was apathy.

You brought us together,
and you gave us hope.
Imam, Rabbi and Father,
for you turned to God and spoke

Without TV and without internet,
maybe you chatted, maybe read,
the letters to you that were sent,
perhaps you turned, to God instead.

The sunlight I took for granted,
I now appreciate.
A blessing to which I squinted,
I never realized was so great


In an unexpected turn of events on The View this week, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set after a heated argument with Bill O’Reilly. This happened right after Bill O’Reilly assertively commented, ‘Muslims killed us on 9/11!’. As the video shows, Whoopi was genuinely infuriated and offended. Earlier she tried to speak for the 70 Muslim families that lost loved ones when the twin towers collapsed; with hopes of showing that 9/11 was a tragedy for the Muslims too.

I truly admire and appreciate Whoopi and Joy’s strong indignation. Its one thing to stand and defend yourself but to stand up and speak for someone else takes a different sort of courage. The fact that Bill O’Reilly had the audacity to openly make such harsh comments on national television represents a scary reality. How can such discriminatory rhetoric become acceptable in our politically correct society where people are sensitive to wishing others ‘Merry Christmas’? The power of the media in swaying public opinion never fails to amaze me.


Toronto

The spirit of Islam emanated throughout the GTA during the Eid weekend. The largest Eid gathering, the GTA Eid Festival, celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Thousands of cheerful faces filled up Exhibition Place to mark the joyous occasion. After the Eid prayers, people busied themselves with shopping in the diverse marketplace, children enjoyed themselves at the carnival and everyone topped it off with a delicious meal at the ethnic food court.

Muslim taking days off for Eid seemed to have a significant economic effect, at least for the transportation industry. Gail Beck Souter, General Manager of Beck Taxi, said about 75 percent of her workers practice Islam, and about half of them took the day off. This resulted in wait times of up to 45 minutes during rush hours.

When asked about thoughts on the controversies happening south of the border, most Muslims simply didn’t want to dwell over it. It was their favourite time of the year, a time of celebration, and a small group of trouble makers in Florida wasn’t going to get in their way.

Pakistan

Eid celebrations were quite modest and relatively low-key in flood stricken Pakistan. With millions of people homeless and hungry across the nation, it wasn’t as easy to celebrate the holiday with the usual splendor. Thousands of people spent their Eid in the open air, with no home to return to, no new clothes to wear and no traditional delicacies to enjoy the festive occasion.

President Asif Ali Zardar demonstrated the sober sentiment in his speech; “We cannot celebrate the day with traditional fanfare and festivities when millions of our countrymen have been rendered shelter-less as villages, towns and cities have been destroyed by the floods”.

Special prayers were said at mosques around the country for the flood victims. People were encouraged to share the joyous occasion with those affected. Politicians made special visits to the temporary shelters and handed out presents. The government declared a four day holiday in order to allow people time to travel back to their villages.

Most of Ramadan was spent in considerable difficulty for the victims, many of whom chose to fast regardless of their circumstance. The calamity wasn’t only a test for those affected but also for those who were called on to help; it was a test of how charitable they could be during the month of Ramadan. Muslim did respond with considerable generosity; The Organization of The Islamic Conference announced the Muslims from around the world had pledged nearly $1 billion to the relief effort.

New York City

Eid fell around a tense period for American Muslims. Not only did it coincide with the 9/11 anniversary, a tragedy whose blame is often delegated to the average Muslim, but Islamophobic rhetoric was at an all time high since the attacks as well. With nation wide opposition to the proposed mosque near ground-zero and threats of Quran burnings taking place, Eid celebrations in New York were met with ambivalence.

Nonetheless, New Yorkers went on with their Eid celebrations and made the most out of their day. About 2000 men and women crammed themselves into the two carpeted rooms of the Harlem mosque. The mosque overflowed and over a hundred people were praying outside on the grass as busy New Yorkers rushed past them. Imams at mosques urged Muslims to be patient and called for forgiveness in a time of hatred and animosity between people. “So they want to burn the Qur’an? Well, let them. We don’t have to respond with bombs and mischief making. Allah will take care of them. He always does,” remarked an Imam in Queens.

Despite the anti-Islamic sentiment at this time, New York demonstrated its historic spirit of tolerance and tradition of inclusivity. Keeping with tradition, the Empire State Building was lit up in bright green to commemorate Eid-ul-Fitr.

Originally written for The Mirror