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Islamic Ideology ( 24 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why 'who is a Muslim?' has no easy answer

The Muslim community, argues a new book, is far from the unified group the media make it out to be

By Sarah Barmak, Nov 22, 2008


Debate about Muslim integration in Canada has been back in the headlines, bolstered by stories hinging on perceived conflicts between Muslim communities and Canadian society, especially when it comes to the status of women.

But according to law professor Natasha Bakht, such discussions grossly simplify the issues. The editor of Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada, a new collection of essays by commentators such as Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui and sociology professor Carmela Murdocca, Bakht argues the problems are more complex, partly because the Muslim community is far from the unified group the media makes it out to be.

The Star's coverage of eight Muslim women who alleged their employer discriminated against them by requiring they hike their skirts above the knee over their pants for safety reasons is just one story that has provoked heated discussion recently. So have others about the so-called "honour killing" of Toronto teen Aqsa Parvez; the debate over girls wearing the hijab during sports; and "veiled voting" legislation.

The Star spoke with Bakht about the status of women in Islam, integration in Canada, and whether there is a single Muslim identity.

The topics in your book seem particularly urgent now.

I wanted this book to portray a diversity of views. The things (contributors) have chosen to write about appear to be things that have been thrust on Muslims, like the war on terror, but other things are things you don't hear about, like what it's like to raise Muslim children or to be a scientist and Muslim.

The piece I wrote in the book looks at Muslim women and their attire. Look at young girls who have been forbidden from wearing hijab at sporting events. Usually this (debate) is about the imperilled Muslim woman being saved from the Muslim man, and usually the saving is being done by a civilized European. In this case, it's about saving them from the danger of the scarf itself. What's amazing is that it's made despite any evidence showing that any woman has been strangled by the hijab ever. The second issue is the woman who wears the niqab. (Look at) the failed voting legislation that was proposed by the Conservative government a few months ago (banning voting with veils, alleging it would lead to voter fraud). In fact, there is no voter fraud problem in Canada, or at least not a significant one. Of course the people this affects are Muslim women ... The stereotype is not that women are victims, but the aggressor; that Canadians need to be protected from this woman who is going to defraud the voting system.

(Syed Mohamed Mehdi) wrote a really lovely piece that's full of humour. We get so bound up in outward symbols in discussions of what a Muslim is. For him, he sees Islam as a social justice movement, and the outward symbols (are not as important).

That sounds much like debates within Judaism over the years about whether you must wear certain garb to be Jewish.

You can make those kinds of parallels with what people are doing in other religions. Not every Muslim might agree with everything Mohammed says. It makes the question of "who is a Muslim?" such a difficult question to answer. Whenever a white man speaks, it's never assumed they're speaking for all white men.

Many reading about these stories ask if the policy of multiculturalism in Canada has gone too far. Is this fair?

Posing the question that way is highly problematic. It evokes the idea that it's because these immigrants come from where they come from, and they brought their sexism with them.

I'm not denying the sexism in certain Muslim communities, but by emphasizing the Aqsa Parvez incident in the way the media and other Muslims have ... this ignores the significant problem with sexism in Canada beyond immigrant communities. It suggests Canada has never had sexism beyond immigrant communities. Some of the most horrible crimes against women are committed by white men. We don't see it as indicative of white culture when a white man says, "She was just nagging me."

What this does is make Muslims feel vulnerable, feel they need to isolate themselves from the community.

This has side effects that the media doesn't understand.

Some have raised the idea that issues with Muslims should prompt us to rewrite the Charter of Rights.

I'm afraid it's a very shallow argument. The charter has mechanisms – what it entrenches is never absolute. There is the reasonable limits clause. Your right to practise may be limited by someone else's rights. The limits are going to depend on the particular situation that arises before us.

I really think we should accommodate people where possible. We want to make our society as viable for as many people to live in it as possible.




The beauty of Islam, tarnished             

By J. D. Lovrenciear

November 23, 2008


The respected Menteri Besar of Kelantan and Spiritual Leader of PAS visited Semenyih recently (Saturday, November 22, 2008) and delivered an hour long message that was intently listened to by the thousands who congregated, huddled under the open night sky.

In clear, simple terms YAB Tuan Guru unfurled the beauty of God's gift to humanity. He brought forth the conviction and fervent gratitude that he held for Islam. His speech was matched by his total being-ness as the crowd held their breath every second.

This is no exaggeration. And the many examples that this spiritual leader drew in the course of his humble and earnest sharing, made the politics of Malaysia a shame.

Yes. Islam is not a copyright of any single race. Islam is not the absolute right of any political party. Islam was never intended to be an instrument of any personal and private agenda of politicians.

Unfortunately, despite all the years that Islam has been around in this nation, and especially since these past fifty years when we took absolute control over over the destiny of nation and people, more damage has been done to Islam than good.

Today, Islam is politicized. It has become the absolute right of the ruling political party.

One single race is made out to be the sole inheritors of Islam while denying the greater glory of Islam. In China, billions are professing this faith. Likewise in India. And there are Muslims all over the world including Africa, Europe and the Americas.

But in Malaysia, Islam is made out as a faith that is not to be shared. It is a sole copyright. Anyone who is not 'Muslim' is frowned upon and deemed not qualified to express his or her little knowledge and curiosity about Islam.

Through the practices and in the social environment in which we co-exist, the followers of Islam are carved out to be an exclusive community that stand detached from others. This is very clear even in the way a Muslim extends his or her salutation before a mixed crowd - be it at a political rally, a school assembly or social gathering.

And thereby alienating the creatures of God even further. Thereby dimisnishing the magnitude and glory of Islam further.

Unfortunately, despite fifty years of independence, we have failed to even correct the perception that non-Muslims have about Islam here in Malaysia. Instead the thoughts, words and deeds of those in power have earned Islam a tarnished image. And for these the failing men and women have to be held answerable before God.

Why did the ruling party not propagate God's latest gift to mankind like how the early traders spread the Word across the face of this planet without copyright, pride, or prejudice?

Why do the politicians continuously carve out an un-palatable and tarnished perspective of the faith that scares the non-believers?

Indeed, YAB Tuan Guru, May the Peace of The Most Merciful be your blessings. You would have certainly, opened thousands of eyes and hearts from a multi-racial and multi-religious crowd that night in Semenyih.

The very fact that Hindus and Christians steped forward on-stage to acknowledge your revered presence speaks volumes of how you have enabled these 'non-believers' to respect and honor Islam.

If only all politicians who claim that they are Muslims could have done the same, this nation would have blossomed a long time ago. We do not even need that number called 2020.