Pamella Geller and her fellow Islamophobes made headlines a few weeks ago with their vitriolic anti-Muslim advertisements in NYC subway stations and else where. Their message equated  Muslims to “savages” and “jihad” to terrorism. To respond to this bigotry , a remarkable group of Christians and Jews have started a counter campaign which encourages tolerance and love for Muslims.

Exemplifying the motto of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’, campaign organizers have leased out advertising space in subway stations to put up posters which counter the message of the anti-Muslim ads. One of them reads: “In the choice between love and hate, CHOOSE LOVE. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”  Another one says: “Hate Speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed”. The last one states quite simply,  “Love your Muslim neighbors”.

This outstanding initiative was headed by Rabbi’s For Human RightsSojourners – a Christian social justice group and United Methodist Women. Each of the three groups ran separate advertisements urging tolerance and denouncing the bigoted message of Gellar’s ads. The groups said their campaigns were coincidental. At some locations, their ads were placed immediately adjacent to the anti-Muslim posters. This juxtaposition is reflective the unique experiment that is America; the very good of its people and the very ugly, existing side by side.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs explained the purpose of his campaign, “I want to spread the message that 1800 rabbis– along with the majority of the American Jewish community–believes in partnership with our Muslim neighbors. We, of course, oppose all acts of terrorism. We will not, however, allow the actions of a small minority to be an excuse for dehumanizing an entire people.” Following the spirit of the of the Golden Rule, he further explained, “We know what it’s like to be a minority and we know what it’s like to be the target of discrimination, and that’s why, as Jews, because of that history, we have more of a responsibility to speak out when anyone is being discriminated against.”

The past several weeks have been challenging for American Muslims. The anti-American riots across the Muslim world and the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya  has lead to a great degree of apprehension in the community. From suspicious glances to clandestine conversations; Muslims were the talk of the town. Being inundated with stories like that of the Joplin Mosque which was burned down, one naturally begins to feel alienated and questions their standing in the public’s eye.

This campaign is enough reason to throw away those apprehensive feelings. Its a testament to the good of the American people, the vast majority of whom stand by their Muslim neighbors and will speak up to defend them. Stories like these need to be broadcast across to the Muslim world; this is what America is made of- not the pervert who produced the shameful movie debasing the Prophet.

Lastly, this campaign demonstrates the importance of exercising the power that rests in the moderate silent majority. These people could have very well decided to shrug their shoulders apathetically or perhaps just nod with disappointment like most of us. Why bother explaining that extremists like Geller don’t represent Jews? They could have complained about finances associated with leasing ad space and a million other things.

But No! They decided to speak up, to make their voices heard. They realized that the cost of remaining silent was not worth it. For them, making fellow citizens feel welcome in their own land was something important enough to invest time and money in  – and it should be for the remainder of us. This campaign is an important lesson for the Muslim community on the impact raising our voices can have. Faced too frequently with the negative externalities of religion, this episode reaffirms the generosity, goodness and goodwill that rests at the root of religious teaching and is urgently in need of revival.

 Actions Items: Call/Write to the campaign organizers thanking them for their efforts 

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
212-845-5201
Email: office@rhr-na.org

United Methodist Women
Harriett Jane Olson – Deputy General Secretary
212-870-3752
Email” HOlson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Sojourners
Phone: 202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474
E-mail: sojourners@sojo.net

 


Four American diplomats in Libya are killed; including the Ambassador, Chris Stevens. Fourteen Libyans are dead. American fast food chains are set on fire. US, British and German consulates are attacked in Sudan. Fierce protesting continues in Libya and Egypt. Protesters in Chennai are pelting the US consulate. Yemen, along with numerous other Muslim countries, is engulfed in similar outrage.

All this is over an amateur movie no one has ever seen, and probably doesn’t exist. Whose creator is an unknown fraud.  The only evidence of this movie is a YouTube trailer – whose existence most protesters are probably unaware of and have never watched. The actors of the movie have come out and have declared themselves innocent; they were duped by the creator. Their scenes were manipulated and voices dubbed over during post-production.

While details of this bizarre story continue to unfold, some things are starting to become clear. One is that the attack on the US Consulate in Libya was led by heavily armed militants, not protesters; all this happening on the 9/11 anniversary isn’t mere coincidence it seems. The militants used the protesters as cover for their attacks. As for the attack on the Germany embassy in Sudan, its speculated that it was tied to the recent controversy about banning circumcision. In addition, the rumours about the film being ‘funded by Jews’ and being made by an Israeli-American have proven to be false. The creator of the film is an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian.

It is believed that it was the airing of the movie’s clip on the Egyptian channel, Al-Nas, that sparked this episode. U.S. officials believe that the Saturday broadcast of a talk show hosted by Sheikh Khalid Abdallah was the flashpoint for the unrest. Al-Nas is known to promote religious and sectarian hatred due to which its license has been periodically suspended.

While there is more than one force at play here; the similarity between these violent protests and those about the Danish cartoons are strikingly similar. It is clear that a group of opportunists have yet again managed to mobilize masses to meet their political ends. As Robert Fisk points out, religion and politics don’t just mix in the Middle East – they are the same. Clerics  have promoted the movie as if it was being televised across America and had full backing of West. Zealots have perfected ways of using people’s attachment to their faith as a means of lashing out at the Western countries.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to exonerate the protesters of their odious crime. They’ve proven yet again that the Muslim world has no shortage of lunatics who are willing to lash out at the drop of a hat. The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Whoever kills a person who is granted protection by the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise even though its fragrance can be smelt from a distance of forty years of travelling.” Why then storm diplomatic missions of Western nations over a trailer of an independently produced movie -which you’ve never seen ? Why defame our Prophet in the name of honouring him? Why give ammo to the bigots whose sole purpose is depicting Muslims as a bunch of violent barbarians? Illiteracy and foolishness are at the root of such behaviour.

This entire episode tells yet another tale of what a small group of extremists are capable of doing. A few Isalmophobes  managed to make a disgusting amateur movie to debase Islam, then a group of Muslim use the movie to incite people to attack Western diplomatic missions across the globe. Both extremists meet their objectives; the moderate majority is left to deal with the consequences of the disaster left behind.

 


“What? She’s white, and Muslim?” exclaimed my friend as he watched Sarah Hamoudi pray during the series première of Little Mosque on the Prairie. Having grown up in a city made up largely of immigrant Muslims, I guess he had assumed that Islam was a religion reserved for people of colour. We chuckled through the terrorist jokes, Babar’s sermon about ‘Smashing the American Idol’ and the clashes between liberals and conservatives at Mercy Mosque. The first sitcom about Western Muslims had just aired and it was making a difference already.

I was in my final year of high school at that time and I clearly remember the buzz surrounding the show. Some expressed opposition to the name, which for them violated the sanctity of the classic, Little House on the Prairie. Most were excited to see a fresh, new and unique comedy about Canadian Muslims. An audience of 2.1 million people tuned in for the first episode; a record breaking and unheard of rating in Canada. The ratings declined over the years, but they were good enough to sustain it for six seasons.

It was a proud moment for me to see a show about Muslims air on national television. Along with the regular post-episode discussions on House and The O.C., I could now joke with my friends about Ammar’s latest debacle or Babar’s classic rants. At a time when Muslim youth were increasingly insecure about their identities, a show like Little Mosque helped boost self-esteem and self-worth for many.

But Little Mosque never set out to accomplish any of the things I’ve mentioned. It wasn’t a show that was aimed at educating people about Islam or solving problems faced by Muslim youth. It was a sitcom that was meant to be funny; it just happened to be about a small Muslim community. It was Islam’s Cosby Show. In the post 9/11 times where any normative depiction of Muslims in media was deemed to be too controversial, the CBC made the bold move of creating a whole show about Muslims. Not only were the central characters Muslim, the show revolved around the mosque which played a key role in the community’s life. The CBC and Zarqa Nawaz, the show’s creator should be recognized by the Muslim community for this historic feat.

The criticism and the lack of support at times from the Muslim community were disheartening for me. Sure, if you don’t like the show, don’t watch it. I agree that it wasn’t a laugh-out loud comedy, and the writing was hokey and uncreative at times. But dismissing the show on grounds that the characters weren’t observant enough, or that Zarqa Nawaz had some secret liberal agenda, was disappointing. Are you seriously hoping for a sitcom where the women dare not speak to a non-Mahram? Where the community isolates itself from the kuffar? Where the Imam goes around warning people of the evils of Western civilization?

Little Mosque had its shortcomings when it came to accurately depicting the orthodox Muslim community. Yes, the Imam didn’t have a beard, had an awfully nonchalant attitude towards apostasy and might have shaken hands with the opposite sex in a few episodes. Zarqa Nawaz once explained that some slips happen because almost everyone on staff, from the director to cameraman, is non-Muslim. She alone couldn’t possibly monitor every minutiae of the filming. Some aspects of the story, such as the Ammar’s liberalism, are obviously intentional. You might not like it, but it’s just a sitcom at the end of the day.

These shortcomings are miniscule compared to the number of things Little Mosque got right. The sitcom was the most accurate depiction of Muslims to date and succeeded in bringing the mainstream Muslim community to the television screen, especially at a time when secular and ‘progressive’ Muslims get preferential treatment. It represented all the characters we find in our mosques; the uncles, the converts, the feminists and the rebellious teenagers. It captured the conflicts between the young and the old, the tension between the liberals and conservatives.

It showcased, with great sensitivity, the first Muslim courtship on television; a social phenomenon which is still under development amongst Western Muslims. Peer-pressure faced by Muslim youth at high schools was also brought to light, as was their conflicts with immigrant parents. I would argue it even addressed issues which the Muslim community faces; I think organizing an ‘Islamapalooza’ is a great idea and partial hockey boards offer a reasonable solution to the prayer barrier controversy. Because of Little Mosque, people now know that Muslim women take the hijab off at home or that it is possible to be Muslim without having to wear one.

Little Mosque on the Prairie’s idealistic worldview represents hope for our community in many ways— excluding its fiqhi failures of course. Our mosques today have closed doors and an unwelcoming atmosphere; not only to people of other faiths but to segments of the Muslim community as well. Women continue to be marginalized, and converts still grapple to find acceptance. I don’t see our Imam playing checkers with the Reverend down the street, nor do I see bona fide bonds of friendship like the one between Babar and Thorne.

Mercy Mosque’s setting was similar to the mosques of Muslim Spain, where the Christians and Muslims at times shared a common building for their place of worship. The series ended with the Muslims welcoming the Christians into their newly built mosque after their church was burned down. The new mosque was constructed in the image of Al-Rashid Mosque. This was Canada’s first mosque and was built by donations from Jews and Christians, as the Muslim population in 1938 was minuscule.

Like Al-Rashid Mosque, Little Mosque reminds us that the vision of a pluralistic community co-existing is neither new nor impossible. Its message was simple: Set aside your prejudice, give up your spiritual pride and be a good neighbor.

First written for MuslimMatters , published May 1st 2012 


Updated piece, original post at  MuslimMatters

Well, they’ve done it once more. Niqab (face veil) wearing women have created national frenzy yet again. This time it was Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenny, who sparked the controversy.

Effective immediately, he announced in early December, all niqabs are banned from the oath taking citizenship ceremony. Any niqab wearing Muslim woman wishing to become a Canadian citizen must remove the veil during the ceremony he stated. Kenny said that the niqab ‘reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept inCanada’.

Minister Kenny also clarified that this isn’t just about the judge being able to see and validate the recital of the oath, “This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality”. The niqab obviously violates all that we hold sacred inCanadaaccording to Kenny.

So, what was the last time you heard of a woman refusing to take off the niqab before swearing the citizenship oath? Never. How many women even take the oath wearing a niqab? Probably an insignificant number. Neither Mr. Kenny nor his office could provide any statistics to back up the ban they so forcefully implemented. No one knew about this complaint up till the announcement of the ban. Clearly, this wasn’t a problem to begin with.

It is obvious that this ban is yet another sleazy bigoted move by the Conservatives to score political points and gain some short term popularity. By making inflammatory remarks about a minority group, they are appealing to our irrational fears and dividing us along the lines of race and religion. At a time when their government is under heavy criticism due to the withdrawal from Kyoto and the mess they created in Attawapiskat, playing the Muslim card is the best way out. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used similar tactics in September when he warned us all that the greatest threat to Canada was ‘Islamicism’ – whatever that is.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, the ban carries many implications. Firstly, it violates the democratic right to citizenship which is entitled to all that satisfy its prerequisites. Changing your dress code, which you adhere to religiously, is not a reasonable requirement in the least; even if it is just for the oath taking ceremony. No one should be barred from citizenship simply because of the way they dress up.

Disallowing the veil at a symbolic event like the citizenship ceremony sends a strong message that niqab wearing women are not welcome in Canada. For a country which fought hard to ensure that women have the freedom to dress as they please, this is a step backwards.

The ban further marginalizes a small minority of Muslim women and creates an ‘us verses them’ dichotomy. You can either be Canadian or a Niqabee – this is what the ban represents. It certainly flies flat in the face of the tolerant and welcoming society we aim to foster. As the Toronto Star aptly put it, the ban coerces Muslim women to fit into the mainstream – ‘behave and look just like us, or pay the price’. So much for the individualism we value.

This legislation is also extremely hypocritical for a country like Canada, which invadedAfghanistanwith the aim of liberating their women from the Taliban. The face veil is commonly worn amongst Afghan women, so one has to question why Canada feels the need to liberate these women inAfghanistanbut can’t accept them here at home. We can set up hospitals, schools, courts and voting booths for veiled women abroad and pat ourselves on the back; but at home can’t bear the sight of them?

Jason Kenny, like most, believes that he is liberating the niqabee’s from the oppression imposed on them by their husbands and fathers. Not only is this entirely false, the reality is that he is restricting their freedom and engagement with society by disallowing them to become citizens. Perhaps – this is just a wild idea – by allowing them to become citizens, we might have a greater chance of integrating these new comers into our social fabric?

Yes, the niqab makes many of us uncomfortable as we are not accustomed to it. It means different things to different people; oppression to some and devotion to others. But banning things because we don’t like them is completely antithetical to what democracy stands for. Kenney said the ban was a matter of “deep principle.” What Canadian principle was sacrificed if someone did choose to wear a veil to the ceremony? Individualism, freedom of expression, religious accommodation? Visit a ski resort in the winter and you’ll see veiled people all around.

This unnecessary ban impacts a few and is largely political and symbolic. What is disturbing is the justification behind it. Jason Kenny banned the veil because it represented to him something that was against Canadian values. Using the same arguments, he could ban a number of other things. Would he ban the Muslim headscarf, the hijab, next because it’s not inline with his myopic view of what makes Canada? Perhaps he will then follow it by a ban on Mennonite bonnets and Sikh turbans. These measures immunize the public to the marginalization of a minority group and create precedent for further bans and cuts in religious freedoms.

Veiled women frequently reveal their faces for identification and other pragmatic purposes. If verifying the oath recital was so important, a polite request by the judge to those concerned would have done the job quite well. This however, would not have gotten Jason Kenny the popularity and political support he wanted. Implementing unilateral immediate bans doest not represent a democracy, rather, it is a shade of fascism.

See my letter the Toronto Star and  Hamilton Spectator 


Originally written for MuslimMatters

It was supposed to be just another shopping trip when Inas Kadri ventured out to the mall with her two little children last August. As she was browsing through the shops and checking out the sales, a woman approached her and started cursing and yelling at her. This woman swore at Kadri, who wears a niqab, about her religion and told her to “Leave our country. Go back to your country”. In her anger and rage, this woman took her hate to the next level and pulled off Kadri’s niqab. All this was caught in the mall’s security camera.

Last week, Kadri’s attacker, 66- year old Rosemarie Creswell, was given a one-year suspended sentence for assault. The judge also ruled she must serve 100 hours of community service, and suggested she educate herself about Muslims by attending a mosque. Creswell wrote a letter of apology to Kadri and said that, ‘Since that day, I have researched Muslim customs. I now have a much greater appreciation for what I did to you’.

This level of hate is generally unheard of here in Canada. What shocks me even more is that the act was committed in my own city of Mississauga; one of the most densely populated Muslim cities in the nation. Sheridan Center is an area surrounded by a large immigrant population and women wearing hijab is a common sight.

While the niqab is certainly not popular in Canada, as is evident in Quebec’s Bill 94, assaults on women wearing it is a first. It’s hard to gauge at this point if this is a fringe incident or a part of broader rise in anti-Muslim bigotry. This past summer’s movement to ban Friday prayers from Toronto schools and the apathy shown after PM’s remarks on ‘Islamicism’ are certainly indicators of growing uneasiness many Canadians have towards Muslims.

Inas Kadri’s intelligent and brave handling of this assault is a testament to her courage and confidence. Reporting such crimes is extremely important and many victims unfortunately are unable to do that. Doing so not only meant the attacker was brought to justice but it also allowed the average person to see the type of racism many Muslims experience. It also helps humanize niqab wearing women who often times are looked upon as the epitome of backwardness and subjugation.

As an outspoken woman with a degree in computer engineering, Kadri certainly helps bust many myths people have about niqabis. When asked about her decision to wear the veil, during an interview on national television, she made it clear; “Not my father, not my husband, not no one at all” she said, “it’s me, and it’s my choice.”


Edited version of this piece also posted at Suhaib Webb

Micheal Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, was invited to speak at UC Irvine last February on Israeli-American relations to a packed university auditorium of over 500 people. He was in the midst of his speech when a student bravely stood up and defiantly shouted out to him, ‘Micheal Oren! Propagating murder is not an expression free speech!!’. The ambassador continued speaking after this short disruption only to be disrupted again; and again; and again, for a total of eleven times.

The protesting students were escorted out of the building and arrested for “disturbing a pubic event”, though not charged criminally. An investigation later alleged that the Muslim Students Union organized the protest and the club was subsequently suspended for the term and placed on probation for two years. The student’s protest was of course to Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

About three weeks ago, three days shy of a year after the incident, the Orange County District Attorney decided to lay criminal charges on the 11 students, now referred to as the Irvine 11, for heckling during Ambassador Oren’s speech. This is sparked outrage across the Muslim community and beyond. Debates on freedom of expression and civil disobedience were ignited across university campuses. How can a non-violent protest possibly be labeled a criminal activity in a free democratic society?

Whether or not the method employed during this protest was justified is arguable. No doubt that disrupting the speech of an ambassador is rude and inappropriate. However, there are times when people need to be dealt with harshly and perhaps the actions of Israel warrant such treatment. Perhaps the students could have employed less disruptive means such as holding banners, but then again, their voices would have not reached as far were other methods to be used. Either ways, I think we can all agree that disciplinary actions by the University were enough to reprimand these students and laying criminal charges is going too far.

Speaking of insulting foreign dignitaries, one must not forget that back in 2007 President Ahmedinejad was invited to speak at University of Columbia in New York. He was introduced on stage by the President of the University, Lee Bollinger. Bollinger’s introduction was essentially a verbal assault on the Ahmedinejad during which he said, among other insults, that, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated”. These are the words used by the president of a world-renowned university to introduce the leader of another nation! Who’s to blame students if teachers set out such an example.

Iran is not nearly as affluent in its injustices as is Israel. Sure, President Ahmedinejad makes outlandish and absurd statements denying the holocaust and expresses his wishes to destroy Israel; but when it comes to action, its Israel that is on the ground busy with the genocide of defenseless of Gazans. The Ambassador of Israel is certainly more worthy of such treatment than the President of Iran in my opinion. Also to note, as pointed out on Irving11.com, disrupting speeches has been used as a means to protest on campus in the past and no criminal charges or arrests were ever made. It makes one wonder if these charges were laid because of the importance of the speaker to America or because of the faith of the students protesting.

Regardless of the validity of the methods employed by these students, I must commend them for their courage and gallantry. Risking something as valuable as your entire university career to protest a cause you strongly believe in is the epitome of activism.

As morally conscientious people it becomes our responsibility to stand behind these brave individuals who have been wrongfully charged for defending the oppressed and saying that which is just. Please visit Iriving11.com to learn of ways you can support them.


Following the lead of German Chancellor, Angela Markel, Prime Minister David Cameron took a stab at the multiculturalism debate during a speech on extremism at the Munich Security Conference. Like the Chancellor, who was sharing the stage with him, he too concluded that multiculturalism had failed in Britain and identified it as a catalyst to extremism. While Markel only implied that Muslims were the culprits, Cameron stated this quite frankly.

Perhaps it was the 6-hour lunch with the Chancellor that led the PM to make such accusations, but it is quite clear that he feels Muslims in Britain aren’t British enough. In his simplistic attempt to point out the cause of extremism amongst British Muslim youth, he blamed state sponsored multiculturalism which encourages people to live separate lives instead of assimilating with the mainstream.

David Cameron’s conclusions are flawed on levels too many enumerate. To begin with, the accusation that British Muslims live isolated lives and aren’t a part of the mainstream is completely absurd. Muslims have been a part of Britain since Victorian times and have especially played an active role in society over the last half century. They are successful politicians, lawyers, doctors, social workers, artists and athletes. From cricketers like Naseer Hussain to musicians like Yusuf Islam, there isn’t a walk a life that Muslims have left untouched. Peter Sanders explored this very theme in his exhibit, ‘The Art of Integration’, something I would strongly recommend for David Cameron.

Another thing Mr. Cameron overlooks is our natural inclination as human beings to cling onto people with shared values, customs and beliefs. Just like goths hangout with goths and homosexuals thrive in certain parts of the city, similarly, Muslims too have a subculture that they find easier to relate too. Would the former groups be the next ones to be accused of not integrating into wider society? British Muslims have their own unique identity and to dismiss this as separatism is simply injustice. While preaching for liberal democratic values, the Prime Minister wants to eradicate individualism and wants to everyone to be a part of the mainstream? Am I the only one seeing the irony in this?

While I would agree that isolation from the mainstream community is the type of the environment that would fuel extremism, I disagree that this isolation exists because of a lack of shared national values. It exists because of the constant dehumanization of Muslims and uninterrupted bigotry that they are faced with. It is because of movements like the English Defense League and politicians like Geert Wilders whose sole aim is to spread fear mongering. As a result of this prejudice and constant stereotyping in the media, anti-Muslim sentiments have become increasingly acceptable in the UK. When society as a whole sees you as the ‘other’, it is only natural for you to isolate yourself from society.

It’s perplexing to see the Prime Minister of a country as old as Britain, with its rich history and timeless legacy, questioning national identity. This is a reflection of the insecurity felt not only in Britain but all across Europe. With David Cameron’s strong nationalistic tone and a call for assimilation into mainstream society, it seems like he won’t settle for anything less than Muslim women taking on the Union Jack for a headscarf.

Also published at Iqra