Palestine, I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf our thick headed Harper government that opposed your bid to become an Observer State at the UN. I am sorry that Harper is oblivious to the suffering you’ve endured over the past 45 years. I am sorry, that our Foreign Minister, John Baird, is a dogmatic ideologue who defends Israel – your occupier- in the same way overzealous clerics preach from the pulpit.

I know, I know. Baird flew all the way to the UN to scold everyone about how silly it is for you to proceed unilaterally without Israel’s consent. It’s regrettable that he made a laughing stock of himself in front of the whole world. If only he, like the rest of us, could see the foolishness of his argument: Baird doesn’t want you to advance unilaterally for statehood. Yet, he doesn’t have a problem with Israel’s 45 year-old unilateral occupation and the continued unilateral colonization of your land. Shame on him.

See, the thing is, we weren’t always this idiotic. Our country has generally played an even hand in conflicts around the globe. You might find it hard to believe, but we were actually one of the founders of modern-day peacekeeping. Lester Pearson, our former PM, actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for tackling the Suez Crises. This episode is probably the second time he turned over in his grave. The first one was when they gave Obama the Peace Prize.

So, casting the ‘No’ vote now makes us a part of the Notorious Nine; the nine disgraceful governments who refused to acknowledge your Statehood – while they hypocritically carry the banner of the two-state solution. Well, at least, the rest of the world is smart enough to recognize that Israel has constantly jeopardized the two-state solution by continuing the settlement enterprise.

Everyone knows that negations have taken you nowhere over the past 20 years; you’ve only lost more land – its understandable you had to take such drastic measures. We applaud you for overcoming threats from bullies like our own government, and for being bold enough to march ahead.

Now, I want you to forget about the Notorious Nine for a while. I know they’ve threatened to cut your funding, but the money will come. It always does. Look at the bright side: you can now negotiate with Israel on higher diplomatic terms. You can take them to the International Criminal Court for perpetrating heinous crimes against you. You can actually hold your oppressor legally accountable. We all know that’s the main thing they were afraid of: you gaining more power and winning popular support of the public.

You might be wondering what has caused Canada, the peace loving nation of maple syrup and hockey, to delve into the realm of diplomatic absurdity. Well, it’s mainly the Harper government. They tricked us into voting for them – I know, it’s silly. We promise never to do it again. But we’ve also become complacent because of our glorious past as a bastion of human rights. For example, when the UN tried to warn us about our shortcomings in fulfilling food requirements for the needy, we told them to go ‘f*** off’ and lecture some third-world country. Know what I am sayin?

So, in conclusion, I want to apologize again for the lunacy and shortsightedness of our government. Canadians are a good people; we’ve always stood by the side of the oppressed. It is unfortunate that our country voted to be on the wrong side of history; we will regret that in the centuries to come. However, as history has also indicated, justice will triumph and you will eventually have your freedom. And when that happens, I hope our government will smarten up and issue you an official apology. Good luck in the fight ahead!


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

 


“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 


On the second day of his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year. Three years later and as his first term approaches an end, the notorious detention facility, illegal by international standards, remains open with no signs of a closure.

Guantanamo Bay violates every possible standard laid out for an imprisonment facility; hence the rationale for building it on a naval base in Cuba. It denies prisoners protections guaranteed by the Geneva conventions, holds them indefinitely without laying charges and effectively bars them from having any chances at a fair trial.

Injustice and lies are the foundational pillars that hold up Guntanamo Bay. Prisoners at the facility are subjected to unprecedented forms of torture. This includes solitary confinement, forced feedings, sexual abuse, waterboarding and beatings. Many inmates have tried to commit suicide; six have so far have succeeded. Lakhdar Boumedine, who went on a hunger strike and was held for seven years without explanation, recalled: “Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me”.

Murat Kurnaz of Germany was captured while in Pakstian studying the religious sciences and wrongly detained for five years. He explained: ‘There were more beatings, endless solitary confinement, freezing temperatures and extreme heat, days of forced sleeplessness”. An FBI agent once observed that, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more”. What is sickening is that abuse at other U.S. detention facilities, such as Abu Ghraib and Bagram, is far worse.

Many of the ‘war combatants’ at the facility have been innocent civilians with no evidence of terrorist activities. They were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and were caught while fleeing the invasion of Afghanistan. The Tipton Three and many others fall in this category. Some were simply handed over to the Americans based on shady evidence in return for thousands of dollars. Kurnaz was an example of this.

Since most of the inmates at the facility are Muslims, religious persecution has been a complaint as well. There have been horror stories of Qurans being defaced and flushed down toilets. Prisoners have been reprimanded for praying in congregation. Some even reported attempts by guards to get them to renounce their religion.

Civil liberty groups rejoiced as Obama came into office, but his efforts to actually shut down Gitmo are laughable. The President has since signed executive orders that formalize the indefinite detention of prisoners at the facility. To top up the Patriot Act, he also added new provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that codify the indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. The NDAA also forbids the government from using money to build a new prison or to bring detainees to the U.S., even to face trial. This virtually ends any possibility of shutting down the prison and effectively builds on the detention scheme laid out by the Bush administration.

This establishment creates a two tiered justice system; one for the bad and one for the worst. The irony is, many times the evidence against the latter is so poor that it is insufficient to lay charges or bring them to trial. Guantanamo Bay is an apparatus that gives Americans satisfaction that the perpetrators of terrorism are being punished and their country is secure. This comes at the high cost of sacrifices in human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,not to mention the millions of tax dollars spent on it.

Once the beacon of freedom, liberty and justice; America is slowly losing her status as the bastion of democracy. Illegal wars, extra judicial killings, arrests of innocent civilians, opportunist and hypocritical foreign policies all add to the abuses going on at Guantanamo Bay. Ten years past 9/11 and after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are no signs of an end to this disgraceful institution.

Action Item:
Amnesty Internatinal Petition : End Detention at Gitmo

More information:

Guantanamo: By the Numbers
Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor


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 


First published in The Silhouette on December 1st, 2011

My soul cringes with disgust every time details of the Shafia murders are revealed. So much so that I have difficulty finishing the articles detailing accounts of what the Shafia sisters were going through. But unlike most people following the trial, my disgust and anger is twice that of anyone else – partly as a human, and partly as a Muslim.

Every now and then we hear of people committing unspeakable crimes. Here in Canada, the most recent one was that of Russell Williams. While public outrage and anger was directed at Williams alone during his trial, this certainly is not the case for the Shafia trial. Afghan Muslim immigrants have allegedly committed the Shafia murders. The blame in this case has been relegated to everything but the accused, it seems. Different groups are now using this unfortunate tragedy as an opportunity to advance their respective agendas.

Right-wing media outlets have already started using the incident to attack multiculturalism and its failure in Canada. They argue that it is political correctness and accommodation of immigrants that doomed the four women. Being overly sensitive towards Muslims is what caused the authorities to overlook the ‘honour killing’ that was about to take place. How these people mix-up religious accommodation with abuse towards women is beyond me. Even the most extreme interpretations of multiculturalism don’t call for accommodation of moral vices.

The Islamophobes are using it to warn us of the impinging threat that Muslims pose to this nation. The Shafia sisters, along with Aqsa Pervez, will now become the poster children of their movement. They will use this incident to further their case that Islam is, in fact, what inspired this crime. Statements from Quran establishing the sanctity of human life, the prohibition of such despicable acts and the commandment for the good treatment of women by the Prophet Muhammad are meaningless for this group.

The secularists are using it to prove the evils associated with religion, and the misogyny that they claim to be inherent in it. Their belief that Muslim women are forced to wear headscarves is further strengthened and their mission to liberate the ‘poor Muslim woman’ has gained more momentum. Their inability to differentiate patriarchal tribal customs from the normative practices of Islam is unfortunate, to say the least. These uninformed superficial attempts only end up inflicting more harm upon Muslim women, who, for the record, are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

Since the label of an ‘honour killing’ has sensationalized the murder and has sparked a series of unnecessary debates, I for one will attempt to set the record straight. Mohammed Shafia, if you are in fact guilty, then you are a sick man. Killing your own kin is one of the most despicable acts humanly possible; doing so in the name of preserving honour is even more perverted. The dysfunctional family you fostered was your own doing. Now you’ve punished your daughters for your poor parenting.

You’ve dishonoured not only yourself but your co-religionists too. Average Canadian Muslims like me will bear the brunt of your misdeeds. We will spend the coming ages explaining to people that our faith condemns, in the strongest terms, the heinous act you committed. We will have to go the extra mile to convince people that Muslim women observe their faith out of their own free will, and not under the Nazi-style hegemony you had imposed on your family. Freedom was all your family yearned for, but you deprived them of it. I hope you too are treated in a similar fashion, with your freedom restricted behind bars for good.


Originally published in The Silhouette on Sept 22nd 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently declared that the greatest threat to Canada was ‘Islamicism’- whatever that is. Sure, we might be familiar with ‘Islamism’, ‘Islamist’ and ‘Islamesque’. But even the word processor on my computer doesn’t recognize ‘Islamicism’.

The unfortunate reality is that our Prime Minister has coined a new term in the lexicon which is aimed at using Islamaphobic sentiment for political advantage.

The average Joe who has never met a Muslim, knows nothing about Islam or is out of touch with the political landscape of our world is now convinced that Muslims like me are the greatest threat to this nation. He hails PM Harper for speaking up, saying things like they really are and for not bowing down to political correctness. His next vote is going to Harper.

Harper and his supporters defend his statement by saying that he was referring to Muslim terrorists and their ideology. However, by using such loose and imprecise terminology with constant focus on the word ‘Islam’, he is appealing to a large uninformed part of our society. This crowd is increasingly skeptical of Muslims and is affected by xenophobic rhetoric from the US and Europe.

Harper’s sophistry allows him to gain political support and at the same time dismiss any criticism on grounds that he was referring to violent extremists. The Progressive Conservatives have employed similar divisive politics in the provincial campaign for the October elections by labeling new Ontarians as ‘foreign workers’.

The Norwegian PM responded to the recent terror attacks by vowing for more democracy and a more open society. Our Prime Minister, on the other hand, uses the pretext of ‘Islamicism’ to re-introduce two controversial pieces of anti-terror legislation which were thrown out in 2007. Both aim to sacrifice personal rights and freedoms to give us an illusion of security. It is interesting to note these laws were never employed by police when they existed, yet the PM feels the need to introduce them again ten years later.

The most notorious terrorist attacks in Canada include the Air India bombings, which were carried out by Sikh militants, the Montreal Massacre, executed by an anti-feminist and the Quebec October Crises, which was lead by militant separatists. History tells us that terrorism can happen on our soil from a multitude of extreme groups, so why all the fear mongering about Islam, considering Muslim militants have never attacked Canada? Why put 800,000 Canadian Muslims under the lens of suspicion out of fear of a hypothetical threat from an obscure minority ?

In conclusion, I would argue that it’s not ‘Islamicism’ that is a threat to Canada. Rather, it is Harper’s sleazy and divisive politics which threatens our multicultural tapestry. It’s his agenda to bring back expired, undemocratic legislation which threatens our freedoms and personal rights. And it is his unbending desire to autonomously run this country that threatens our democracy.