November 25, 2015

L'onzieme anniversaire

Is it worth celebrating a blog anniversary when the anniversary posts make up 50% of the new content every year?

January 14, 2015


Some irrelevant opinions on recent events:

1. While I abhor the violence that is rampant in the world in the name of Islam, I don't feel any need to repeatedly "condemn" it to prove I don't support it. Those accused or suspected of violence against innocent civilians do not represent me in any way, I never elected them to represent my voice in the world, nor have I ever met them.

2. What most bothers me and most of the Muslims I know is the blatant hypocrisy. It is absolutely ridiculous for many of the world leaders to stand in rallies condemning the violence in Paris while they have way more blood on their own hands. And these are mostly elected leaders; they are pursuing wars and occupations that are killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, imprisoning and torturing thousands of people without any trials, and stand quiet when atrocities are being committed on their own soil if it doesn't align with their anti-Islam narrative. The Norway attacks were just a few years ago and were much worse than Paris, but we didn't see any world leaders marching against the anti-Muslim ideologies that fueled those terrible attacks. And then there are all the other atrocities that gets almost no media attention at all because we can't blame Middle Eastern bad guys.

3. If we truly believe in democracy, then we should be holding ourselves accountable for the atrocities our elected leaders are committing. In this case, we actually do share in that blame, because we've been given a voice that we're not using. If we resign ourselves into believing that there's nothing we can do, then this is a much bigger attack on democracy than anything the Al-Qaedas or ISIS's of the world have done.

4. In the last several years, France has seen significant unrest from the immigrant and second-generation youth primarily due to unemployment and implicitly racist policies that prevented their advancement in society. Take anyone in these circumstances and then repeatedly insult the things they hold most dear, and you will definitely provoke a negative reaction. Of course, that was exactly what they wanted. To claim "Je suis Charlie" is to claim that you support hateful speech that targets the most disenfranchised people of society.

5. Our Muslim leaders and Islamic institutions in Canada are not the problem. They condemn the violence and they promote good character and good citizenship. It is when people isolate themselves from traditional Islamic scholarship and reliable institutions that they drift into radical territory. I would advise anyone who questions what really goes on in the mosques to just go and visit one. Attend the Friday sermon or participate in a community lecture. Sit in the children's classes to see what they're actually being taught. There's nothing to hide.

6. It seems it doesn't even matter if we condemn things, because people don't believe it anyway. Every internet forum will have someone who will say "Of course they'll lie about it...taqiyyah and kitman - look it up", referring to an obscure provision in Shia Islam that allows someone to conceal their belief for fear of persecution. I think I speak for the majority of Muslims in saying that I'd never heard of these terms ever until these internet forums. In all my life, having travelled to hundreds of mosques around the world, having read tonnes of books, and having listened to hundreds of different scholars, I've never heard of taqiyyah or kitman or any of the other words these commenters like to use as some sort of Internet Forum trump card. It's not some sort of dark principle that we all secretly follow.

Of course, many of you who read this will probably disbelieve this whole statement because taqiyyah. Suit yourself.

7. When I was growing up, I never heard about Islam in the news and was perfectly happy to go about doing my own thing without anyone worrying about it. Now, the word Islam is everywhere and usually for all the wrong reasons. This has made it difficult for a lot of young Muslims to find their place in society, trying to balance their own beliefs against the prejudices held against them.

But for me, being Muslim has never been about adhering to popular opinion. Ultimately, it comes down to the basics: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad, peace be upon him, is His messenger.

I believe in One Creator, who created and controls the entire universe. I support this belief by doing what Allah asks us, to observe the universe and witness the marvel of His creation. I am amazed by the order of the universe, the ordered revolution of planets around the sun, the perfect balance given to the Earth which provides us night and day, summer and winter, air and water, plants and animals, and life itself. I am amazed by each and every single living thing, and wonder how anyone can deny the magnificence of our own design when they witness the birth of a child or study the life sciences. All of life is a miracle, and we should never underestimate the magnificence and improbability of all of it.

I also acknowledge the Quran itself as a miracle, a book that has such beauty in its reading that nothing else compares. A book that can be memorized, letter for letter, by small children who don't even speak the language. A book that withstands the test of time as a guide for humanity.

And I believe that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was the best humanity has ever seen, and the history books will attest to that in spite of what some people write (or draw) today. Through his teachings, I am a better person, a better employee, a better husband, and a better father than I would have been otherwise. And society as a whole, including every single one of you reading this, has benefited tremendously from his legacy whether you believe it or not.

November 25, 2014

10 years!

A decade of Irrelevant Opinions! Okay, more like 4 years of content and then 6 years of rehashing old stuff, but it's still a fun milestone.

A few weeks ago, I decided I would start writing again, but still haven't posted anything meaningful.  I started this blog just as I was finishing up my studies at the University of Ottawa, which was followed shortly after by most recent India trip.  I am finally going back to India in a couple of weeks again, almost a full decade later, and things may go completely full circle depending on how the next few days go.  We'll see.

November 10, 2014

Is there anybody out there?

Hello.  Is there anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me.

Is there anyone home?

November 25, 2013

Nine years?

Isn't it sad that on the 9th anniversary of this blog, I'm content posting content I wrote years ago?

I had some good material prepared for the third part of the I.LEAD review.  I wish I finished that while it was still fresh.  Sigh.

High Hopes

I wrote this editorial back in August 2005.  I'm reposting it because I like the helium metaphor here.

There was a time, not too long ago, when many of us were indifferent to current events and had little interest in world politics and policy. One dreadful Tuesday morning, all of this changed. All the days to come preceding that Tuesday would bear changed that no one could ignore. Battle lines were being drawn, and many of us reluctantly took sides. This month, the lines became more pronounced when the London transit system was attacked twice.
The Muslim response was as it has always been: several organizations issued statements condemning the bombing. In theory, the unity of the Muslim ummah in condemning the attacks should be a sign of hope. In reality, the condemnations have become predictable and mundane. Unfortunately, whatever hope and optimism that emerges from the Muslim response tends to fizzle and become irrelevant the next time the Muslim community comes under attack.
The difficulty is that today we are inflating our hopes with helium; they rise only until the surrounding environment changes, at which point they burst and crash to the ground. As the pressure increases, our optimism wanes and ignorance and prejudice prevail. Outwardly, we have not done enough to make generalizations about the Muslim community seem irrational and baseless.
That will only change when we take it upon ourselves to become true ambassadors of the deen. Today, we are “that Muslim guy in the corner office”, or “that group of Muslims that usually sits at the back.” In truth, we are supposed to be the representatives of the Quran and Sunnah, and Allah has put us where we are for a reason. If we uphold the sunnah truthfully, then any attacks against Islam can never hold water.
All this, of course, is easier said than done. It comes in a hadith that “the believer who mixes with people and endures any harm that they cause him has a greater reward than that believer who does not mix with people, and does not endure the harm they cause him.” Hence, when faced with these difficulties, we should take solace in the fact that they are not going unrewarded.  Ultimately, hope for our community and our future will be born on the backs of those who will always push on in the face of adversity.
"Inflating our hopes with helium".  That was a good line.

March 20, 2013

I.LEAD Part Two: Play to your Strengths

This is why I'm writing again.

Every person has been made different, with different skills and talents.  Not everyone is going to be a scholar, and not everyone is going to be a doctor.  It is a blessing of humanity that we're not all wired the same way, otherwise the world would struggle with imbalance even moreso than it already is.

At the I.LEAD conference, not every speaker was a scholar.  Some speakers were not even all that eloquent.  But eloquence isn't necessary for delivering a message, really; it is more a function of passion and conviction.  And in my case, it was the ineloquence of a full-on rant that woke me up.

That rant would be the speech delivered by an author of childrens' books, who bluntly expressed her opinions on parenting, societal and peer pressure, and mosque administration (more on that later) without holding anything back.  She was animated, at times crass, but above all, convincing in her delivery.  She clearly expressed her opinions, and spoke audaciously about issues that we would normally keep silent about.  And she found her place in the world as a storyteller, her writings as genuine as her speech.

For a few years, I was misplaced as an alternate khateeb at my then-local musallah.  This also happened to be during a period in which I was writing fairly regularly here on this blog as well as the local Muslim newspaper.  While I tried preparing every time for my khutbah, more often than not my speech ended up being more related to something I had blogged about earlier that week.  Whatever research and preparation I did, whatever great speech I listened to and wanted to repeat, I was never able to express very well.  But whatever I had written came out naturally in speech as I stood before the small congregation.

Writing, then, was the better fit for me; I accept now that I wasn't very good at the research or the attempted emulation of speakers I've enjoyed listening to.  And even after years of inactivity, writing remains as the most productive creative outlet at my disposal.  Hence, the best way for me to get personal benefit out of the I.LEAD conference would be to put it down on paper, so to speak.

This was the second major theme I gleaned from the days' events.  Too often, we miscast members of our communities into roles that are not suited for them.  We scoff at the non-traditional ideas that come from our youth, and relegate them instead to mundane tasks.  We raise our children to be doctors and engineers when their real talents have not even been discovered yet.  And we are disappointed when our expectations are unmet, without even considering whether those expectations were at all reasonable.  We fail to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and our communities, and then wonder why things aren't moving  forward.  No matter how much we smash away, the square peg won't fit into the round hole.

Everyone has their talent, their skill, their one thing they can do better than anyone else.  And as a society, each individual has a role to play.  But our narrow views on family status and community responsibility blind us from those hidden talents.  We lose sight of what we can become, and assign ourselves to roles we don't fit.  And once anyone starts down that road, struggling down a path that they're not suited for, confidence breaks down and we fall into dejection and depression.  So much potential wasted, and so many hearts broken.

As a parent, this is my lesson: encourage my daughter in whatever productive pursuits she finds herself in.  Find ways to channel her talents into positive contributions to society.  This can't be forced, she has to discover herself what those talents are.  The responsibility of the parent is to provide some guidance, but let the child show what she can really do on her own.

Parenting was a common theme throughout the conference, as youth engagement begins first at the home.  The four A's, as articulated by Dr. Yassir Fazaga: affection, attention, acceptance, and appreciation.  Love and play with your children, and give them the right attention; too often, we let cartoons and internet raise our children, and then wonder why we don't recognize them later.  Accept who they are; it may not be what we anticipated, but it is what Allah chose for them, and in that there is surely some wisdom.  Appreciate what they do; if we learned to look past our own biases, we would be amazed at the talents Allah has placed in our children and youth.

As an individual, I need to do more with what Allah has given me.  We all do, with whatever gifts we have been given.  I think I know now what works for me, but this is really a journey of constant discovery, and my role today may be different than what is planned for me tomorrow.

Once we know our own strengths, it becomes that much easier to individually contribute.  But bringing that recognition from the personal level to the community level is extraordinarily difficult.  The mosque should be the hub for that community growth, but rarely is nowadays.  What I learned from I.LEAD about the rise and ruin of the mosque will be the topic of the next post.

March 18, 2013

I.LEAD Part One: Identity

I'm not generally a "conference" guy as I've written before, but I acknowledge that they have a place and a purpose, and that they do have the ability to change lives.  This isn't even an exaggeration; I'm sure most readers know at least one person whose life was deeply changed by the various Islamic conferences that take place around North America.  While I rarely found them personally beneficial, they can certainly be a means of promoting the greater good.

Nothing of this magnitude had been attempted in Ottawa before, at least to my knowledge.  This was not for lack of interest or enthusiasm; the local community has grown considerably and is blessed with a number of Islamic programs and organizations.  It was not for lack of unity either; recent years have seen the various Islamic organizations in the city come together in ways that seemed impossible a decade ago.  In fact, it may have only been for lack of physical space - it was only within the last couple of years that Ottawa had the facilities to host something of this scale.

In short, this was the right time for the city to take this on, and that must have become apparent to the early organizers.  Thus began fourteen months of effort to make the vision a reality, through the coordination of hundreds of selfless volunteers.  I hadn't even heard about the event until a few months ago, but the hype grew considerably in the final weeks to the tune of nearly 3,000 in attendance this past Saturday.

The title "I.LEAD" stood for "Islam: Learn, Engage, Achieve, Develop", with the official theme as "YES: Youth Engagement and Support".  I don't intend on repeating exactly what was said during the various lectures, but rather to comment on what I personally learned and understood.  So in the Irrelevant Opinions version of the days events, I extracted three separate themes, the first of which is "Identity".  I'll address this here, and insha-Allah the next two in separate posts.

The concept of Muslim Identity in the West is something that has always interested me.  One of the lectures was entitled "Can I be both Muslim & Canadian?", which I thought could have been an eight second speech: "Assalamu'alaykum.  Yes, you can.  Thank you."

But of course, it is not that simple, and this question is considerably more difficult for others than it has been for me.  Many people feel they have to choose between conformity or cultural isolation, resigning themselves to the belief that one can't have the best of both worlds.  Dr. Jamal Badawi addressed some of the obvious challenges, speaking of terrorism and how the media portrays Muslims.  It is an unfortunate reality that many are turned away from religion because of the negative media portrayals, but Dr. Badawi encouraged others to build the confidence to transcend those portrayals and challenge the stereotypes.  Many of the speakers and volunteers were the product of Dr. Badawi's da'wah efforts, a testament to the resonance of his message.

Others such as Dr. Yacoub Mahi spoke more about the personal choices one has to make to identify oneself, through social, intellectual, and spiritual frames.  Leaving aside how others may view a Muslim Canadian, how should one view oneself? For each frame of reference, he provided a structure for building closeness to Allah, and how one can bring value and honour into ones identity through this nearness.  On the other hand, he argued, one devalues himself - socially, intellectually and spiritually - when they seek recognition from the ghairullah.  This personal approach spoke more directly to me, as I've never been one to care for the media  portrayals anyway.

Perhaps nothing is more central to ones identity than the leanings of ones' heart, and this is what Shaykh Riad Saloojee focused on.  The heart is not bound by the geographic constraints of national citizenship, and thus can be in any state in any place.  A heart that yearns for nearness to Allah is a pure heart, whether it be residing in Canada or Madinah, and one that yearns for the world will be eternally unsatisfied wherever it exists.  Thus, it should never be a matter of deciding between being Canadian or being Muslim; it is only a matter of deciding between a heart that seeks purity or one that succumbs to corruption.  Spiritual purity and corruption are not products of the country we live in, but are rather products of our aspirations.

My appreciation of this conference was driven largely by the diversity of viewpoints on topics such as this.  It was not a conference that promoted a specific way of thinking, the audience was free to interpret it however they liked as I am doing now.  Some may argue that this was a very "soft" approach, avoiding the controversial topics that keep Muslim hearts racing.  No matter; controversy is overrated, and an inclusive approach is a better way to capture the hearts and minds of large gatherings like this.

Ultimately, discussions of identity are very personal, and thus the debates and arguments are largely internal.  This is perhaps why this topic is often neglected; introspection doesn't get people excited.  But ultimately, if one wants to change a society, one needs to change oneself.  And to change oneself, one must know oneself.

Once we get past the internal struggle, the external struggles follow.  The next two themes fall in the latter category.  Stay tuned.