Monday, April 23, 2007

Must read article on Hijab in Hamilton Spectator

Kudos to Professor Rama Singh for his article, The hijab is more than a head cover, in today's Spectator.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Freedom of Religion is based on personal choice

For all those self-proclaimed experts in Islam who insist that the Quran doesn't require women to wear the niqab (or the hijab) and that it's simply a personal choice and/or sign of oppression and thus shouldn't be allowed, such as Calgary crimonologist/sociology professor and board member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Dr. Mahfooz Kanwar (who argued this narrow-minded position in the Calgary Sun) and Montreal Gazette and Globe and Mail letter writer Bill Parker of Val des Lac, Quebec:

To summarize up to this point, our Court’s past decisions and the basic principles underlying freedom of religion support the view that freedom of religion consists of the freedom to undertake practices and harbour beliefs, having a nexus with religion, in which an individual demonstrates he or she sincerely believes or is sincerely undertaking in order to connect with the divine or as a function of his or her spiritual faith, irrespective of whether a particular practice or belief is required by official religious dogma or is in conformity with the position of religious officials. (Emphasis added)

- The Supreme Court of Canada in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, [2004], which was quoted by the Court in the Kirpan case, Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite‑Bourgeoys, [2006]

Thus, if a woman chooses to wear the niqab or hijab, sincerely believing that she is required to do so by her faith, it is her right to do so and it falls under the protection of the Charter, regardless of whatever argument Kanwar, Parker, or any other "expert" or scholar presents to the contrary.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Canadian Conversation: Muslims & Gender Equality

Michael Adams, the president of the polling firm Environics, wrote an interesting piece titled The Canadian Conversation in Tuesday's Globe and Mail. Here's an excerpt:

What Canadians are saying is two things. Bienvenue au Canada and read the Charter. In it, you will see we have two core values: freedom and equality. Freedom to be yourself (within the confines of the law) and equality, our way of achieving freedom. First and foremost, women are equal to men. The vast majority of Canadians have rejected patriarchy, which is part of the reason many of us have questioned and often rejected traditional religious belief and practice. We do not require you to reject your religion (religious freedom is protected in our beloved Charter, too), but we do expect you to embrace our value of gender equality. That, in a nutshell, is our concern with sharia law. It also lies at the root of our sometimes irrational-seeming reaction to head scarves. We worry hijabs are signs of patriarchy rather than expressions of Muslim women's lib. But we may be wrong; let's talk.

Let's talk indeed. The values of gender equality can vary depending on perspective. The common view may be to allow for women whatever is allowed for men, and vice versa. And when there appears to be something that isn't the same for both (for example, distribution of wealth in inheritance or type of dress), it seems to be out of line with the concept of gender equality.

Many Muslims look at it from a different perspective. They hold that while both men are women are equal in the eyes of God (i.e. they are held equally accountable/are rewarded for their actions, bad and good), both are inherently different. Men's bodies are different from women's, women's bodies can do what men's can't, and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Even their minds work differently.

These differences don't make any one better than the other. They're just different.

And because of these differences, many Muslims believe God has given different functions to each, to optimize their productivity in the areas each is more proficient in.

So, since women in general are more sensitive and caring, God has given them the privilege of bearing children (and thus mothers have three times the reward from God and three times higher status compared to men when it comes to parenting), while men, due to their relatively higher levels of physical strength and stamina (in general) have been charged with duties that often have to do with labour and hard work, such as being the main breadwinner of the household.

And that's where the perceived inequality in inheritance comes in. Being the one responsible for the care of the entire family (not to mention seniors such as parents and grandparents too), men are given a greater share of inheritance, while women generally enjoy a smaller share -- by themselves.

As for dress, many Muslims, especially women, will tell you how disappointed they are with the rampant objectification of women in our society, including Canadian society. Despite the "official" image that women aren't treated differently than men, we all know of how females are viewed and treated by males (in the workplace, at school, on the streets, in bars, etc.) and how society at large treats (i.e. uses) women (in the media, women's roles in films, advertising, even the evening newscast!).

"Is this the gender equality the Charter talks about?" wonder many Muslims.

When Canadian Muslim women "cover up" (practically all out of their free will), either with the hijab, niqab or the burqa, they are making a statement: leave me alone, I am not a sex object; value me for who I am, not what I look like.

The choice to dress in whichever manner one wishes to is part of the fundamental right to expression. If men and women have the right to uncover to the point where they are practically naked, why can't they do the opposite?

In the end, it's a matter of personal choice and individual freedoms. Canadian Muslims don't tell anyone what they should or shouldn't be doing, and they especially don't tell others how to practice their faith and what others should believe in. They'd appreciate the same in return.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Muslim organizations must be ready for considerably more resources in Quebec

The election results in Quebec are not final yet, but a Liberal minority government seems to be in the picture with the right-wing ADQ a close second. The only thing that could have been worse would have been an ADQ victory. With such a strong force in Quebec City (41 seats! vs. 46 for the Liberals), anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant stances will no doubt get a boost.

Quebec Muslims pushed to the sidelines in election

Election results from Quebec's provincial election are streaming in tonight, but many Muslims are watching from the sidelines, just as they did during the election campaign.

The problem is that all of the three main parties have shown varying shades of anti-Muslim colours.

The Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), formed in 1994, is led by Mario Dumont. The party is seen as a magnet for radical right-wingers, the Stephen Harper and former-Reform party types. The party has never held more than five seats in the provincial legislature, yet it enjoyed a wave of popularity in this election. Muslims have nothing to gain from the party and everything to lose. Dumont was front and centre in stoking the fire of the reasonable accommodation issue and we seen as the leading anti-Muslim (and anti-immigrant in general) politician. He missed no opportunity to speak against minorities. The ADQ is currently tied for first with the Liberals and an ADQ win will make Quebec a very difficult place to live for Muslims and all religious and cultural minorities. In discussions with the Muslim Council of Montreal, the ADQ indicated that it will take steps to ban the hijab in public buildings.

The Parti Quebecois (PQ) is Quebec's separatist party and is led by Andre Boisclair. Formed in 1968, it has governed Quebec for over 15 years since 1970 yet has never been able to achieve its dream of Quebec independence from Canada. The PQ has support from some Muslim circles, especially those with french-speaking Muslims. Boisclair is gay and took the softest stance (out of all three leaders) in the Asmahan Mansour soccer hijab controversy, when he slammed Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest for his comments in support of the referee's ruling against Asmahan. But Boisclair got himself into hot water during the campaign by referring to Asians with a "slanted-eyes" comment. The PQ too has indicated, in discussions with the Muslim Council of Montreal, that it would support some sort of action against hijabs.

The Liberal Party of Quebec is the federalist (i.e. against separation from Canada) governing party and is led by Jean Charest. Although normally the choice of immigrants and minorities, the Liberals have taken a conservative slant since Charest, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, took the helm. Charest came out in support of the referee's anti-hijab decision against Asmahan and the Liberals amended the Immigration Act to limit the number of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. The Liberal party was the only major party that didn't indicate that it would work against hijabs in the public places, but it doesn't have a good record of keeping promises.

Many Muslims also haven't forgotten the motion brought forward by Liberal member Fatima Houda-Pepin (who has just been re-elected) against Shariah-based family arbitration following a similar debate in neighbouring Ontario. It banned the use of Shariah-based family tribunals in Quebec and went on to advise other provinces in Canada to do the same. The motion passed unanimously in Quebec's National Assembly (legislature). Every single member, from the Liberals, the PQ and the ADQ, voted in support of the motion.

Thus, for the most part, Muslims were left on the sidelines (except in ridings where they banded together to get rid of an anti-Muslim candidate), registering protest votes by voting for smaller parties such as the Green party and Quebec Solidaire, neither of which had a chance of making a dent.

As it stands now (9:36 pm), all three parties are in a tight race (within three percentage points of each other). Yet, Muslims have nothing much to look forward to. The only thing they can pray for is a loss for the ADQ.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What's a Moderate Muslim?

There's one word that stuck out like a sore thumb from the CBC's coverage of the MCC death threat:

A moderate Muslim group that called for a separation of religion and state in a recent documentary has received a pointed death threat. (Emphasis added)

I wonder who at the CBC decided the MCC was a moderate Muslim group? Perhaps it was an inside job. MCC founder Tarek Fatah's daughter, Natasha, is a producer at the national broadcaster. Or maybe it wasn't.

And by labelling the MCC as a moderate Muslim group, where does that leave the rest -- the majority -- of Canadian Muslims who don't agree with the MCC? Of course, if the MCC's positions are moderate, then certainly any group or individual that holds an opinion that is opposite of their's is implicitly an extremist or radical.

Want proof?

Main Entry:
extreme, outrageous, unreasonable


Thank you very much, CBC. You've just alienated the majority of the country's (growing) Muslim population.

Also, if you think about it, the MCC isn't really a moderate Muslim group. Examine the spectrum of Muslim in Canada and the MCC is on the extreme left and the folks who might be inclined towards terrorism and take everything very very literally are on the extreme right. In the middle are the majority of the country's Muslims, represented by groups like CAIR, CIC, CMF, COMO, etc.

So who's the extremist now? Certainly the Muslim Canadian Congress is an extremist group -- on the left. A group of radical, extremist, leftist Muslims, wrestling for free publicity by smearing other Muslim groups and intimidating ordinary Muslims who don't agree with them and their tactics. And in the middle of the spectrum are Canada's moderate, everyday Muslims who go about their daily business, practicing their faith without hurting anyone, through actions or words. wrote about this earlier.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Elections Quebec in same boat as MCC

Elections Quebec has reportedly received threats, as a result of which its director general is now walking around with two bodyguards. All because he ruled that niqabis won't have to reveal their faces when they go to vote in Monday's provincial election campaign. The decision has since been reversed due to safety concerns at polling stations.

Going by Tarek Fatah's logic (who has turned a death threat left on the Muslim Canadian Congress's answering machine into headlines), the director general of elections should be asking Quebec's premier and politicians to condemn the threats by those extremists within Quebec society.

Death threats and the Muslim Canadian Congress

One of the top stories on CBC news last night was the death threat Muslim Canadian Congress president Farzana Hassan and founder Tarek Fatah received on the MCC's answering machine on Monday. The threat sounds scary, but hopefully, it will just be a case of an angry person leaving an angry message. Threats are nothing new to public figures and leaders of other Muslim organizations have also received death threats in the past.

In any case, these type of tactics cannot be condoned. Yet, Fatah's call to imams, that they condemn and speak out against death threats, suggests that all imams have been encouraging people to make threats and are therefore responsible for undoing their actions. Instead, Fatah should ask all community leaders to educate members on why such actions are unacceptable.

Who knows, this threat may just bring in a new ear of cooperation amongst Muslim organization in Canada. The Canadian Islamic Congress has already condemned the threat and has stated it is in touch with the MCC (whoever thought that would ever happen). More organizations are expected to follow.

Update (6:15 p.m.): Just heard CAIR-CAN's Karl Nickner on CBC radio. So the MCC's Hassan and Fatah aren't the only one receiving threats after all. Nickner says he too has received threats. CAIR and 19 other organziations have issued a joint statement condemning the threat.

What has the Muslim Canadian Congress done for Quebec Muslims lately?

The Muslim Canadian Congress was in the news again today. This time, founder Tarek Fatah was commenting on the niqab voting controversy in Quebec. Of course, he could never support such a blatantly Islamic concept, so he had to come out in full force to make it clear that this was ridiculous and a mockery of his religion (Islam, presumably). He also pointed out that women in Pakistan don't even get to vote with their niqabs on.

Fatah can't seem to get his priorities straight. Either that, or his map of Canada has Quebec carved out. The reasonable accommodation debate has been raging in Quebec for months and there have been a string of Muslim-related issues in the news lately (i.e. hijab & soccer, hijab & prison guard, Muslims & sugar shacks, etc.). Yet, Fatah and the MCC have been practically mute on the issues, except for this article. No action to defend the rights of Canadian Muslims who wish to practice Islam; only words that appease the intolerant and add fuel to the debate.

This does not come as a surprise though. Despite what they try to portray themselves as (progressive, open-minded, freedom-loving Muslims), the MCC has shown it isn't really open-minded at all by choosing to promote certain rights while campaigning against others. A prime example: the MCC is a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage but just as vocal (if not more) campaigner against the niqab (how about this appeal: "Reject the Niqab"?)

The Niqab, Sugar Shacks, and Quebec

Another day, another "reasonable accommodation" controversy in Quebec. On Monday, it was sugar shacks. On Thursday, it was niqabs (face veils) and the provincial election on March 26.

Sugar shacks are privately owned businesses. If an owner wants to accommodate Muslims, Jews, Hindus, vegans -- whoever -- then that's his/her business. Certainly, Quebecois culture and its sugar shack traditions can't be in such a precarious state that they'd be threatened by a group of Muslims out to enjoy some maple syrup. Is it really that difficult to stop playing music for 10 minutes, at the direction of the owner, to allow a large group of fellow citizens to offer prayers they regard as necessary? How does a pork-free meal at a sugar shack threaten the culture?

It's said that Muslims should integrate. What exactly is meant by integration? Here we have Muslims, trying to participate in Quebec culture, and they end up in the middle of a controversy simply because they wanted to follow their faith. Integration that requires one to leave his/her faith is simply conversion and cannot be tolerated.

The Montreal Gazette published a very well written editorial on the issue yesterday. But the Gazette's editorial isn't merely enough. Where are the voices of moderate Qubeckers and Canadians? Muslims are always asked to condemn the acts of radicals and to clarify their stance on controversial issues; how about the other way around now?

As for the niqabi voter controversy, it is definitely a surprising ruling, even for many Muslims. While talk show callers ranted about how bad Muslims were (in wanting to live by different rules -- voters are normally asked to produce two pieces of photo ID when voting), many Muslims too were undoubtedly wondering what the fuss was about. After all, niqabis do have to identify themselves, at the airport, when getting a health insurance card or passport and at banks. So why can't voting be similar? Either they can reveal their faces to election officials (many believe doing so for ID purposes is fine) or if they wish, a woman can deal with them.

The Director General of Elections must be credited for trying though, especially in today's tumultuous times.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The time has come to speak out

For too long now, a large number of Canadian Muslims -- the mainstream -- have watched from the sidelines as their community, their faith, and their beliefs have been taken hostage, spinned, and used for political, personal, and ideological motives. Many Canadian Muslims have been afraid to speak out; afraid of being targeted by special interest groups, the media, and government agencies; afraid of being mislabelled and consequently having their reputations potentially tarnished for a very long time.

This fear has given a free pass to many -- politicians, media outlets, self-appointed community spokespersons, self-declared champions of Canadian Muslims, among others -- to play with the lives and identities of ordinary Muslims. Every quote, every soundbite, every press release, every controversy, eventually has a direct effect on the lives and minds of ordinary Canadian Muslims, yet the majority of ordinary Canadian Muslims have been shunned, subjugated and simply ignored.

The silence must be broken. Beginning tonight, the muck will no longer be left untouched. It will be raked in, examined, and told like it is, open for discussion without any fear.

After all, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of association are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Let's excercise those freedoms for once.

Muslim Muckraker