The Muslim Voice - Volume 21 Issue 1

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Hirra Sheikh Bushra Siddiqui Saleh Firwana Aaminah Amin Nimo Abdulahi Ahmed Mezil Elham Ali Amina Mohamed Adel Keshavarz Sania Khan Halla Ahmed Sanie Naqvi Wajiha Naqvi Yusra Qazi Omar Saeed Halla Ahmed Elham Ali Busra Yildirim Manal Chowdhury Reem Draz Ammar ElAmir Meriem Benlamri Elham Ali Ammara Wasim Adel Keshavarz Mariam Khan Seema Shafei Zaeem Siddiqui (TMV Online Manager) Ilham Islow (TMV Liason) Amina Mohamed

CONTENTS Hirra Sheikh

MSA President’s Address Saleh Firwana

The Year of... Aaminah Amin

But You’re Not White Nimo Abdulahi

Chasing the Light Ahmed Mezil

Interview with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan Elham Ali

The Parliament of Man Amina Mohamed


Adel Keshavarz

Discussing Sex and Sexuality in Islam Sania Khan

For Those Who Reflect Halla Ahmed

From Nigeria to Toronto as a Visually Impaired Student Sanie Naqvi

From Nigeria to Toronto as a Visually Impaired Student Wajiha Naqvi


4 5 6 8 11 13 18 20 22 24 26 27

Editor’s Address


Editor’s Address


ssalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatu,

Very recently, I came upon the story of Hajjar and the prophet Ibrahim: the story of when prophet Ibrahim left his only and very beloved child Ismail with his mother Hajjar in the middle of the desert. Alone in the desert, Hajjar and her son grew thirsty, and unable to bear the thirst, Hajjar ran between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah in search of water. Hajjar did not run between these hills once, but seven times, before Allah caused a spring of water to burst from where the heel of Ismael lay. That fountain of water subsequently came to be known as the Well of Zamzam and flows in Mecca even today, from which thousands of pilgrims drink from each year. But why am I reiterating this story? What I find most beautiful about this story is that even though the result of a spring of water bursting from the middle of a dessert is an absolute miracle that only God is capable of performing, the struggle of searching for water has been given so much significance that every year, when thousands of pilgrims go to make hajj, they emulate that struggle and search by running between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah seven times, just like Hajjar did. The process of the search and struggle is given great significance. In this issue, our team divulged into the topic of Expanding Our Horizons. Searching. Being proactive. Even if it means that you struggle through times when it may seem as though there is absolutely no hope. Just like the struggle of Hajjar was unique, in what follows we hope to be able to portray that the struggles that each individual faces at large is unique to their own times and circumstances, and the journey to expanding horizons is unique and different for everyone. Through this issue we hope to be able to raise Muslim voices that foster positive change in our perceptions and practice of being a Muslim. We hope to be able to challenge negative stereotypes and increase the love of Islam in our hearts. We hope to encourage the discussion of up and coming issues that are important to Muslims as well as give voice to topics of discussion that are of vital importance for the growth and betterment of the Muslim community but are traditionally pushed under the rug. Our intention is to hearten the facilitation of open minds and inclusive spaces, and cater to Muslims that come from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, uphold distinctive personalities, and carry a variety of skills, talents, and interests. In this issue we hope to achieve all of this and more. I hope you thoroughly enjoy what follows here and send us emails or letters to the editor letting us know your thoughts on the various topics discussed. Hirra Sheikh, Editor-in-Chief


President’s Address


ssalamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatu Allah Wa Barakatuh,

Thank you very much for choosing to pick up The Muslim Voice Magazine. Since its inception, The Muslim Voice has aimed to discuss issues relating to students on campus, the experiences that we live and the struggles that many of us share. We spend a lot of time on campus grounds busy with school work, all while trying to change ourselves to be better to ourselves and to the people around us, and to define goals and purpose that we want to commit ourselves to. Throughout our university years, we aspire to find answers in different ways and formats. But, how can we define ourselves and what we care about during our years at UofT? I think the answer lies in one main factor: having the mentality of selflessness. It is through striving to serve others for their own sake, and for Allah’s, that we follow the prophetic example of looking out for our community, learn about ourselves and what matters to us, and help others discover the virtue of purpose and the blessing of a community. The Muslim Students’ Association is a community of people who try to help themselves, and others, in their quests of purpose, scholarship, knowledge and social life. Being a part of a community, being of service to people around you, and having the patience to work selflessly, has been a way for me, and others who have joined the MSA, to get a perspective on what matters more. The MSA also provides a support system for Muslims on campus with different thoughts and ideas to learn from each other and grow, mentally and spiritually. There is an anecdote that says: Roads to the Creator are as many as the number of breaths of His creation. We are always reminded to actively seek helping others and always be ready to do so, as our faith is heavily reliant on that. Allah says: “O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good - that you may succeed.” [The Pilgrimage, 22:77] Eid Mubarak to you and your family. I pray that Allah blesses us, eases our struggles, and aids us in our journey to finding ourselves and in our individual and communal journey towards Him. Saleh Firwana, UofTMSA President






s is itizen dian c e of. t cana antag s adul ke adv vote a ave to ta h I ght to ou and our ri hing y somet






ust a few months ago it was announced that the 42nd Canadian general election at the federal level will take place on October 19th, 2015. As federal party leaders travel throughout the nation on first-class seats and reside in only the finest hotels, they have taken the time to visit multiple faithbased groups within provinces, the middle-class population, and more importantly - the elderly population. This federal election could not have come at a better time in Canadian history, our economy has never looked more prosperous under the Conservative government, as business investment is flourishing and the rate at which Canadians are saving is steadily rising.

information is being shared between departments of the government, and that they have no right to privacy whatsoever. One of the most effective parts of the anti-terrorism bill, which is now legally binding, is the crackdown on propaganda that threatens the security of Canadians. Bill C-51 essentially violates one of Canadian’s basic rights, which is freedom of expression, however that is the price we must pay to counter terrorism.

Our government has created an inclusive environment in Canada and has been dedicated to helping Canadian citizens fight for their rights and live the life they deserve. Stephen Harper has been gracious enough to advocate for justice for Canadians who have been involved in conflicts around the world like BY FIRSTNAME LASTNAME Omar Khadr. The Conservative government has fought tirelessly to get Khadr released, and they have been fully cooperative in trying to get Khadr repatriated and back home with his loved ones. The conservative government have been willing to look past what their decision may mean to international relations as a whole, and the effect it will have in their relationship with the United States government. The government has understood that Khadr has spent the majority of his life paying for a crime that whether he committed or not, was at a time of war and youth.


What will you be doing on Monday October 19th? Will you be going about your mundane routine, going from lecture to lecture (which you refuse to miss because you have spent thousands of dollars on tuition) and then take the public transit home and go straight to bed? Will you be working a part-time job where you earn minimum wage and then go home and try to relax by surfing the web without realizing that everything you are doing is being monitored and most likely recorded? For a large group of the population, October 19th is just another dreaded Monday, and it may turn out to be; but that is within our control. It is human nature to not want to blame ourselves for what has manifested around us and we can continue to do so…at the cost of our own life. “2015 - the year of change!” “2015 the year of equality”, these are phrases that have been tossed around in mainstream media on a daily basis - a positive reminder for many of the steps that have been taken by not only the government, but also of the average citizen to move forward as a society and become more accepting. Another phrase that has been popular especially within the last six months is “2015 the year of Islamophobia”. Of course none of us want to talk about this popular trending topic or everyday headline because we feel that alone we cannot enact change, and that together although we may be stronger, we do not stand a chance against the heavyweights that reside in Parliament hill. On Monday October 19th we hold a unique type of power, not the type of power that will guarantee success, but the type of power that will enable us to have an optimistic future. For the past few years as the politics segment of the evening news begins or as we receive a breaking news tweet from our phones, one of either two things have occurred. We have either skipped the update altogether, or thought about how unjust something is and then gone about our day. For those of you who have been terribly busy and who could not keep up with unjust court rulings or discriminatory treatment from our own government, that we elected, here is a little refresher. In my best effort to respect your lack of civil obligation, I will start with the most recent bill to become a law. Bill C-51, informally referred to as the anti-terrorism legislation has such an incredible impact on Canada and the country’s national security with no direct threats from the international community or from fellow Canadians occurring since the bill was proposed. Canadians are grateful that more of their personal

Our right to vote as adult Canadian citizens is something that you and I have to take advantage of. Entrenched in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to vote may look simple on a piece of paper, but the weight that it holds is unmatched. As Muslim youth, or simply youth in general, it is our responsibility to cast our ballot on October 19th because our voice is meant to be heard, and the only way that our ideas and views can manifest is by electing the right person; whoever that may be. This satirical article is a reminder to you and I that if we choose to let decisions be made without our input, then the world and Canada in particular will continue to change and evolve into a society that none of us will be proud of. On October 19th change must occur, and no I do not mean that we actually dress up and be punctual on a Monday morning, but that we make the intention to vote. As a youth, we must vote for the candidate who represents inclusiveness and equality, we must elect someone who is dedicated to helping the international community, someone who is willing to create a future of prosperity for us and hopefully the “up and coming” generation of youth. On October 19th, vote for the candidate who will ensure that 2016 is “the year of authentic change”. PHOTO // JOHN SMITH



What will you be doing on Monday october 19th?


But You’re Not White... B BY NIMO ABDULAHI

ut You’re Not White…: An Interview with “New” Muslims What does a Muslim look like? Bearded, veiled, brownish maybe. In February, the TMV sat down with Liam Dalquen – MSA Students’ For World Justice Director- and Nora Fathalipour –TMV staff writer- to talk about their experiences converting to Islam. Nora and Liam are both from the Middle East, Nora from Iran and Liam from Palestine. They relate their experiences as invisible converts, unwelcoming MSAs, building communities and the importance of finding your place amongst the madness. What lead you to convert to Islam? What religion did you convert from and what resources did you use to facilitate your conversion?

less about the religion and more about the people. So I was never anti Islam but I wasn’t very fond of Islam either. I also didn’t know anything about Islam I just had a general and generic idea of [what it was]. I’d never met any Muslims, which is weird because I had family members that were Muslim but they lived very far away so I saw them very infrequently L: So you were very neutral about it.

N: More or less, yes I was. I didn’t do anything, in fact I was quite ignorant. And then I moved to London, UK [from Norway] to do my undergrad and I remember we had this new lunch thing with all the new undergrads and the first person who sat down next to me was a Muslim girl and she was the first Muslim person I’ve ever really had a lot of contact with. This was the first time a Muslim had ever really spoken to me. She was a really great person and she ended up becoming one of my really good friends and that was my first real contact with Islam, through people.

Liam: This was a long drawn out process and I originally wanted to convert since I was about 13. I’m from a half British – half Palestinian background and I decided I wanted to find more about my background. My family speaks Arabic and I always wondered what they were saying so I started to look into it and realized that L: Do you mind if I ask what religion you converted from? the majority of Palestinian people are Muslim. So I started to read about Islam around the end of grade 8 and began to like it and beN: Well I was an atheist. came interested in it. My mom’s family is from an Orthodox Christian background, but I never really believed in Christianity, I just L: And you said your family is from Iran? did it because everybody around me believed in it. From then on I decided I wanted to become a Muslim. I converted because I beN: Yes. And then I remember at the end of my first year and lieved in the religion, that’s it. beginning of my second year, it was Ramadan right before university started and I decided to stay with my friend during that time. I And how old were you? thought I wanted to try Ramadan because, how hard could it be? So I started trying it and I thought, “this is actually really great”. I startL: The first time I said that I wanted to be Muslim I was 13. But ed it as a joke but then I figured that this is a really great practice so then it was a long process of wanting to convert but never actually from that I was going to take some courses on Islamic law while I getting around to it. I think this was mainly because on my dad’s was at university, and learn a bit more. So I took up an Islamic law side of the family there is no one really there; it’s just my dad and his course and that really set the foundation for me because in Europe, mom. However my mom’s side of the family is huge and they’d kill there’s a big deal about Islamic law and “sharia”. A lot of my friends me if they knew, like I’d never speak to them again. I spent a lot of at that time were Muslim and they were always asking when I was time thinking about it. [I] finally converted when I was 18 years old going to convert and I was always laughing, like ‘I respect this re-in February- and it kind of just happened and it wasn’t a big thing. ligion, but I don’t believe in it’. And then I remember I was going on a holiday to Canada and the airline I was flying with, they had So you had Muslim friends? a documentary about hajj that my mom was watching. I couldn’t listen to it I could only see it, but it was about Spanish Muslims goL: Yeah, I had Muslim friends. To be honest, what facilitated it ing to hajj. And I was crying and I was like, I want to be Muslim. In was reading and not really me communicating or talking to other that airplane I was like, I want to be Muslim right now, and then I people. It was almost entirely just reading. was thinking, no wait I can’t. I was going to Canada, my cousin, my family, I can’t deal with it, I can’t become Muslim. So I left it. And Did you visit any masjids? then, a year later, I continued reading and everything. And then a year later I went to visit my grandmother in Iran and it was during L: One. Ramadan so I thought I want to try fasting the whole month this time because I thought it was a really great practice. And I bought Did you talk to any imams, stuff like that? a Quran before I went because I thought, I was going to be bored waiting for fajr so I’ll have something to read. So I took it with me L: No, I didn’t talk to anybody, not my mom, not my dad, not but I didn’t read it, I didn’t open it at all until the last 10days of Raanybody, and not any of my friends either. No one. madan. Then I was like, I’m really bored and I need something to do. I opened it and I read the first chapter and I was like wow, okay. And Nora? And then I continued reading and I was like, that’s it, I’m Muslim. And that’s basically how I converted. Nora: Ok, so when I was growing up as a teenager I think the environment I was brought up in was very important in shaping What’s interesting about the both of you is that you’re not me. Like all of us we were teenagers in the aftermath of 9/11 and so visibly converts. Liam, you look Arab, Nora you’re Persian. Not because of that I had a pretty negative view of religion in general, only that, but you also come from countries that are part of the but not really of Islam in particular. I thought that people who were Muslim world. Granted, Palestine and Iran contain more reli very critical of Islam tended to be very racist and I thought it was gions than Islam, but there is the idea that, upon first glance, 8 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | OCTOBER 2015

you’ve been Muslim your whole life. So what I want to know is whether your experience has been affected by this lack of conspicuous conversion. Was it harder? N: Well, in some ways yes. My friend is part Jewish and part Mexican, and looks very “white”. Wherever we went she would get a lot of attention and people would be all excited that she was a convert and it was very funny. I would just stand there laughing, but she found it really uncomfortable. But at the same time she got access to a lot of knowledge and material through that extra attention that I didn’t. No one would turn to me and know I was also a convert. And often, she would know more than me because she’d been studying Islam for longer than I have, but people would turn to her more and kind of fawn over her N: Well, in some ways yes. My friend is part Jewish and part Mexican, and looks very “white”. Wherever we went she would get a Noha in Iran lot of attention and people would be all excited that she was a convert and it was very funny. I would just stand there laughing, but she found it really uncomfortable. But at the same time she got access to a lot of knowledge and material through that extra attention that I didn’t. No one would turn to me and know I was also a convert. And often, she would know more than me because she’d been studying Islam for longer than I have, but people would turn to her more and Noha in Iran kind of fawn over her. practicing. Because I don’t wear a headscarf, people often assume I’m a part of that camp. And sometimes I can have these awkward Yeah, I’ve noticed people really baby converts. They assume moments where I’ll be there and they’ll whip out alcohol and I’m you know absolutely zero about Islam before you make this very not okay with it. But then they look at me and go “oh, but you don’t huge life choice. look like you’re practicing”. It just isn’t okay. N: Yeah, and for that reason I am kind of happy for that camouflaging. But then I assume people are also used to the idea of the ‘born again Muslim’. The one who was born into a Muslim community and strayed form the religion and then found their way back. So I think people think I’m that.

L: I get both experiences. Without my beard, I look pretty white. And at the very beginning, when I didn’t have a beard –I was around 18- and I would just get looked at. They wouldn’t try to help me or anything, they would just look at me. But now, with my beard I never get any extra attention. It’s more my name that causes confusion, like it clashes with my beard. A Muslim Liam with a beard that Being Persian, would you say you came from a sort of Mus- prays. It confuses people at every masjid I go to. lim culture that wasn’t rooted in religion? They make a spectacle out of it. N: Well, Iran went through a sort of intense secularization process, so I knew nothing about Islam. But there are things that I know L: I always get weird looks when they hear my name. They’re now, when I see it in my home that I’ll recognize and think ‘that’s like “Leeyaam?” No. Just Liam. But I guess they can call me whattotally a Muslim thing’. Like, my parents have this obsession with ever they want. -Laughswashing their hands before and after they eat and I just look and think ‘sunnah!’ So it’s not completely divorced from that larger culN: Haha, it’s like they’re asking, “are you mispronouncing your ture. But then again, I had to learn so much about Muslim culture to own name?” not stick out. Because otherwise you feel like a bit like a traffic light, you’re just totally new. L: Yeah! Would you say there were any benefits to this anonymity? N: Yeah! I mean, my friend experienced a lot of watchful eyes on her all the time. Like, whenever she made wudhu she had to make sure to get everything right because there were all these people there watching, ready to correct her immediately. I didn’t really have to go through that. But then again, sometimes when you say you’re a convert, and this is not related to the visibility, but sometimes there are things that I don’t know. And sometimes when people hear you don’t know one thing, they think you don’t know anything. And I just wanted one answer, nice and quick.

N: I get that too, I get people calling me Noora. And I’m just like, okay… Liam, when you came to U of T, I guess your Muslim network expanded. How did the growth of your community affect your Islam?

L: Oh definitely, completely different. It’s nice having Muslim friends. It’s nice going to jumma. It’s nice being the jumma guy. It’s nice having a community. Without U of T, I would have, like, three Muslim friends from back home. And my non-Muslim friends, who are amazing and understanding, sometimes want to do things I can’t And they explain the entire religion in one sitting. exactly participate in. It’s not as fulfilling. It’s awesome because we can pray together and that’s actually a big deal. It’s nice kknowing N: Yeah! I just had one question, not an existential dilemma. people that have the same beliefs as you. But my greatest struggle is with Muslims who, maybe, aren’t so Nora, how did you go about finding Muslim friends? OCTOBER 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 9

Did you meet any new people there?

N: Yes! I met a lot of people outside of my university friends. And when I moved to New Brunswick and I was completely alone, that was my lifeline. That was what connected me to Islam. I didn’t have any family or friends, I didn’t have anything. It was just me and my frozen pizza. I would skype my friends, listen to lectures online. And through those lectures, I figured ‘if I’m listening to this lecture happening in London from New Brunswick, there has to be more out there’. And that’s how I found out about the ICNYU [the Islamic Centre at NYU] and I started listening to that, and through them I heard about the Muslim Chaplaincy at U of T. And I decided I wanted to move to Toronto. The Chaplaincy made you move? N: Yeah, it was one of the main reasons I moved. I mean, I wanted to move to Toronto anyways, but it was the reason I moved a year earlier than I’d planned to. I wanted to be where I had access to the Chaplaincy. I tried to get involved with the MSA in New Brunswick but it was only the brothers and it was only for Arabs so I couldn’t join. I mean, I would email them about their events and ask if I could come to them and they’d be like “do you speak Arabic?” And I didn’t so I couldn’t go. And then they would [read and Liam, MSA SWJ Director 2014-2015 talk about the] Quran, and I’d ask to come along too, and they’d tell N: Well, six months after I converted, miraculously my friend me it was just for brothers. called me up; she said we should go make cupcakes or something. This was in third year. So {I agreed and went] and she looks at me If it was me I’d grab my Quran and just sit there. and she says, “I have to tell you something…” N: I wish, but they would be speaking Arabic the whole time. Did she know you were Muslim at this point? N: No. And so she says, “I think I’m Muslim”. And I was like But they are university students…I assume they speak Eng“What! Me too!” And instantly we had this sort of [little] commu- lish. nity of us. N: Well, yeah. A community of two! Honestly, sometimes that’s all you really need. But the Arabs. N: Yeah! We didn’t really keep in touch during second year and N: Exactly. So I couldn’t have a community there. had different interests and separate friends. I never thought we’d be able to stay connected as close friends. And then suddenly this You know, sometimes I think we’re a little spoiled here with happened. our MSA. Everything is so open and friendly. It brought you guys together.

N: Yeah, in fact this MSA and the fact that it’s tied to the Chaplaincy was one of the reasons I moved. Because, as I was deciding N: Yeah! I can’t imagine not being friends now. We support to leave London, knowing there was something like this here made each other, and we both changed a lot from that experience. We me feel like it was okay to move to Canada. Everything was going went to prayers together. I mean, everyone else went to prayer, did to be fine. their thing and left and we were standing there so clueless all the time. We didn’t always want to ask people, we didn’t know how to But is everything fine? The Muslim community is meant to ask and we were also weary of people wanting to push their own consist of every race and tribe, incorporating every shade of white, opinions on us. So we just did stuff together, and her friend’s sister brown, black and everything in between. In order to create the kind of worked at a Muslim charity. It was kind of this Muslim third space community that is welcoming to newcomers, we must try our best to for young Muslims where they worked on building community. exhibit kindness and generosity amongst ourselves. Smile at everyone They had access to a Sheikh in London, they would have jummas you meet at the mosque, take some time out to talk to people you there and we would go every single week. And I have to say, get- don’t know. The point isn’t to find converts, but to create the kind of ting to know that third space, getting to know that Sheikh –more environment that is comfortable for everyone. The next time you see indirectly, attending his classes and listening to his talks- helped someone who looks like they might need a helping hand, don’t be shy tremendously. He had so much knowledge, and so much experi- to extend it. ence with converts and [how to understand the situation] we were in, and that was just great. My greatest regret is that I won’t be able Interview Conducted by Nimo Abdulahi to go there again. It was the hardest thing to leave in London. Every TMV Content Editor time I think about returning, that’s the place I think of. I still get Title Illustration by Seema Shafei their [weekly newsletter in my] email! I still want to know what’s Interview shortened for length happening. [That place] completely changed my entire perspective on what it meant to be in a Muslim community! I almost think it PHOTO // SHIASHIAO JENNY CHEN was too good to be true. 10 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | OCTOBER 2015


“I have absolutely no idea where I’m going.” My First Big Risk: The Start-up


t was April 2014 when I had just graduated from University of Waterloo, one of Canada’s most prestigious engineering schools. I had accumulated over 2 years of professional work experience from its co-op program, earned my engineering ring, and received my bachelor’s degree (which my mother decided to hide from me, anyways). Four months before graduating, an old “friend” approached me and offered me a position at his start-up; a position that I’d take on after graduating. After having anxiously convincing my Arab parents, that their son, a UW engineering graduate, would like to take on a start-up position that pays less than a fast-food worker’s salary, I finally gave my friend an answer: “YES!” I’ve always dreamt of designing and launching the next BIG THING, and to be a part of something that was BIGGER than me, especially when that something has the potential to change the World. And just when I thought I made the best decision in my life… Mind you, I hadn’t touched a single job application in the past 4 months, because I knew I was already SET for the job of my dreams. Why did I feel this confident? Because my friend gave me his word!! …Right? I arrived at the facility on my first day, May 1st 2014. I was so PUMPED… although, something wasn’t right. My friend’s face looked uneasy. “Is everything alright man?” I asked. “Ahmed, let’s go talk in the meeting room.” Long story short, he decided I wasn’t “fit” for the position, and that they can’t afford to have me.

Just when I thought I was about to begin a successful career in entrepreneurship, all the fire and passion in my heart had extinguished into smoke and ashes… I had never felt so betrayed in my life. So I took my bags and walked out of that place as fast as I could. I still remember being outside on those streets, with only ONE thing on my mind: “I have absolutely no idea where I’m going.” Hopeless Situation I felt like my whole world was falling apart that day. I had not applied to any other engineering jobs those past 4 months because I thought I’d be going somewhere much better. I placed all my hopes and dreams on this one opportunity, only to find that my beautiful tower of dreams had been reduced to ruins within seconds. At this point, most of my classmates had already been hired by some top notch engineering companies. And here I was, sitting in my bedroom pondering on what to do next, and praying to God for His guidance… Saying “NO” to Normalcy Side note: As I mentioned before, I had accumulated over 2 years of work experience through UW’s co-op term. I completed 6 coop terms (4 months each) at different companies. I was blessed to have gained this experience across many fields in engineering, such as software, automation, mechanical design, automotive, and manufacturing. While I enjoyed the many of these INVALUABLE experiences and skill-sets that I’ve learnt, getting a corporate job wasn’t something I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to. I didn’t want to take on the 9-5 lifestyle, and work on standard machines or commercial products that have little to no direct impact on society. And so I declined these types of offers upon my graduation. Of course it wasn’t easy to do so due to the temptation of having financial security. But, I realized that BIG dreams require BIG risks…and LOTS of patience. Saying “YES” to your Passion Amidst the foggy and hopeless situation I was in, there was a kin-


dling fire that brought me hope. A sparkling light that always brought warmth to my heart and a BIG smile to my face. During my 4th year of engineering, 3 of my classmates and I had designed and built a paraplegic exercise machine for individuals with spinal cord injuries, aka. The Movement Therapy System (MTS). Our MTS was so successful that it was awarded the 2014 Canadian Posture and Seating Award. We also had the opportunity to test our device on a paraplegic patient, and the results were INCREDIBLE! After completing this project, I realized there were TWO things I was most passionate about in Life: 1) Designing and building stuff 2) Helping people in need After the vision of my start-up career dissolved, and realizing that I wasn’t interested in the corporate world, I knew that I was left with only ONE other avenue that I hadn’t yet explored. One last door that can potentially breed an innovative and aspiring career for me: …Graduate school. My Second Big Risk: Grad School I had never pondered about grad school previously, mostly because I felt I was never “cut out for it”. My grades weren’t the best, they were okay. But, right before I decided to leave my depressing situation in Waterloo and move back to St.Catharines (my hometown), I decided that I should try ONE last thing before I leave, just so I can say to myself “I gave it a shot, and it didn’t work”. What was that one thing? I needed to email my professor: John B. Medley. Professor Medley was my awesome project supervisor. He was a great asset to our project because of his research in biomechanics and dynamics. He also brought many great points to our key meetings (although we usually caught him sleeping during most of them…). Still love that guy though! I love you John! So I decided to give grad school a shot with John, starting with a simple “ONELINER” email. Although I didn’t end up doing grad school with him, what started as just a simple email has opened doors for me that I never knew existed! It can basically be condensed into these 4 miraculous stages:

Light upon Light 1) Prof. Medley: “Sorry Ahmed, your marks are not as high as I’d like them to be for a grad student…” [Yeah, John can be a bit blunt too] “…however, there’s this new prof that just joined the department. You should meet him!” 2) [1 week later] Prof. Tung: “Wow Ahmed! Your exercise device (MTS) looks amazing! I’d love to have you as a grad student, but unfortunately I don’t have enough funding for students as I just started my position here at UW... “ “…however, I know this doctor at the Toronto Rehab Institute in Toronto. He is Canada’s Research Chair in Spinal Cord Injury research, let me acquaint you with him”

centres, which include: Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and finally, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Two Dreams, One Email My research at TRI is aimed at improving mobility and preventing fall-related injuries for the elderly. My thesis is focused on improving sit-to-stand activities through the design of an adjustable armrest (which I am currently building). I am designing and building stuff, and I am helping people in need, both of which I LOVE doing the most in life! And it was all because of that one email I had sent to John as a last resort a couple of months earlier. - Alhamdulillah Man shall have nothing but what he strives for.” (53:39) “Man shall have nothing but what he strivesfor.” (53:39)

3) [2 weeks later] - Toronto Dr. Popovic: “Ahmed your work is very interesting and I definitely see it applicable in our facility. But I, myself, don’t have any direct opportunities for you…” “…however, I know a doctor on the 13th floor who could use someone like you! Come with me!” 4) [Literally 3 minutes later] Dr. Dutta: “Ahmed. Welcome to the team.” - Alhamdulillah Wait what? How did all of this happen? I could’ve NEVER have visualized this opportunity in my head! One thing’s for sure though: Allah won’t let his servant’s determination go in vain! Humble Beginnings I am currently pursuing a MASc degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto, while conducting research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI). Located on 550 University Ave., TRI is one of the leading rehabilitation institutes in the world, and is a part of the University Health Network (UHN). UHN is a clinical healthcare and medical research organization in Toronto that owns and operates four major hospitals and scientific research

When things don’t work out the way you want them to, know that Allah is testing you, and that Allah has something better for you, but ONLY IF you are patient (and persistent). Not only has Allah granted me my two dreams, but he has given me an abundance of opportunities for growth and self-development. I am pursuing a great degree at Canada’s #1 university, I’m teaching first year engineering students, I’m a social support volunteer at TRI, and I am a camp leader at UofT’s DaVinci Engineering Enrichment Program. And I have had many other doors of opportunity that, -TO THIS DAY-, overwhelm me with gratitude to Allah! TAKE the RISK, and you will FIND your RIZQ, TRUST ME. Be determined. Never stick to normalcy. Never give up on your dreams. Chase your light, and your light WILL find you. When you’ve cornered yourself at the edge of a cliff, and you feel like there’s no way out, JUMP! Allah will do one of two things: He will either catch you in your fall, or teach you how to fly. Need academic or professional advice? Email me at <> Connect with me on LinkedIn! PHOTO // SHIASHIAO JENNY CHEN OCTOBER 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 12

Faith In University An Exclusive Interview with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan By Elham M. ALi

Let’s start with an introduction My name is Nouman Ali Khan, I am head of a program called Bayyinah. I started this thing about 10 years ago and I’m still at it. I teach Arabic and mostly Qur’anic studies and I am, because of my line of work and because of the institute, I am now involved in a lot of media work and a lot of Quran based research, especially in the areas that haven’t received much attention classically. Q. What are some of these areas that you specialize in, that don’t get attention? What I mean by that is, you know, in Islamic discourse a lot of time, a lot of people’s attention is paid on certain, what would be considered fundamental subject matter, so things like theology, jurisprudence, fiqh, sharia’, these types of things. And there’s another part of religious studies which should be geared towards appreciating the text rather than understanding the text, and that definitely doesn’t get much attention because it doesn’t have legal ramifications or sharia’ ramifications, or theological ramifications. The whole point of that is just to appreciate the Quran better or the hadith better. So I felt that that’s actually a really important area of exploration because, especially now days, you know, because people are suffering from a loss of faith and a loss of confidence in their faith and they’re not really appreciating what makes Islam beautiful, what makes the Quran beautiful, it’s important to highlight this area of study, what makes a surah beautiful, what makes an ayah of the Quran beautiful. So really in a sense it’s like the search for beauty in Islam that I’m interested in, and to my surprise many things have been done in the past, but they never received the kind of attention that they should because we take Islam for granted. I feel like we’re living in times where we can’t do that anymore. Nobody can take Islam for granted, you know? Q. What was your own university like? Where did you go to university and what did you study? I went to the University of New York, I did computer information systems and I did a little bit of studies in Queens College as well. Basically a New York City college experience.


And that was actually a pretty defining experience for me because I, looking back, could argue that I found my faith at the university and through the MSA, through some friends, and it’s basically also where I started not only finding my faith but also beginning my journey towards learning, and figuring out what Islam means at least to me. That entire process began for me in a serious way, in a conscious way, at the university. And I mean, by the time high school was over I had practically lost my religion. Q. You talked about university being a defining place for you. Finding your faith in university is something a lot of students go through. Were there any major challenges that you went through as a Muslim student in particular? I realize that the student experience in a place like New York City is already different because it is already such a diverse place, and of course I’m talking about a pre- 9/11 culture too so there isn’t any particular attention brought upon Muslims, so in a place that is that diverse, you don’t really feel out of place. But I certainly can’t say the same thing for students in, I don’t know, Georgia or somewhere in Texas or something like that, you know? It’s not the same experience. But, on the one hand, just being a Muslim I didn’t feel discriminated against or didn’t feel left out from college life in any way, but I will say that once I did start considering a religious identity more seriously, there are so many things you can do in college and so many kinds of friends you can have and so many types of activities you can be a part of, that you no longer want to be a part of and no longer feel comfortable in because of your faith. You’re around people who speak a certain language and now that language makes you uncomfortable because of your faith. So, you know, that was a challenge and just navigating that. And in my experience another challenge was that I don’t come from a wealthy family, my parents didn’t pay my college tuition or anything, so I had to work to earn my tuition, I had to work full time, work 40 hours a week, as a freshman in college, and at the maximum I could take 12 credits, usually night school because I would work all day and then go to [school] at night, so my struggle was basically surviving the semester (laughs). Between doing homework on the subway and just making sure I get to work on time in the morning I didn’t really have time to do much else.

Having said that, and that part of it has always been true and it’s still true, having said that, the common idea is that the youth today in the university cannot be separated from the larger society, and in the media and in the social sphere and in world journalism and politics, Islam is a big part of the conversation and not necessarily in a good way. Extremism is a big part of the conversation, and a lot of extremism in the world is now being blamed on religious fanaticism, and as a result, it’s not just religious fanaticism but religion itself that is under scrutiny, and of course at the forefront of all of that is Islam being under scrutiny. And for some intellectuals, they don’t actually blame extremism they blame the origin itself because religion eventually will lead to extremism so we have to get rid of, we have to scrutinize religion itself. Islam has been under the microscope for well over a decade now, you know this, the post 9/11 era is well over a decade and it’s just been constant and consistent criticism of Islam in one way or the other or the other. I mean, the Charlie Hebdo thing is just the latest in a series of tragedies that hit the world and bring Islam to the spotlight again. Now, college and university students that are just getting their education, regardless of what they’re getting their education in, they’re not immune from these questions, and as a matter of fact the university is the place for asking open questions anyway. I think that they are challenged in their faith more now than they ever were in the past. You know the philosophy club used to always be there, the atheists were always there, the agnostics were always there in college, and they would always ask you questions about your faith, but it’s never been like this, not in my recollection, so you have a much greater intellectual challenge. The other thing I would argue is that the Muslim community, we Muslims have spread far and wide, and yes even though there are educational resources that are more accessible now because of social media, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, you name it, there is access to more knowledge and more understanding of Islam, the problem is that you don’t necessarily have mentorship or people that can help say, “you know what, we need to begin from here, and if you want these particular questions answered here’s what you want to study first,” or whatever, so there’s no real mentorship available. It’s harder to come across, and a lot of people, they aren’t able to find answers to their questions and so they start assuming there are no answers

“...It’s important to highlight this area of study, what makes a surah beautiful, what makes an ayah of the Quran beautiful. So really in a sense it’s like the search for beauty in Islam that I’m interested in” Q: You were talking about scepticism and the challenge of the university, and one of the challenges of being in university is a sort of ultra-secular environment, a very severe separation between the intellectual sphere and the faith sphere. Sometimes this can lead to religious students feeling like they are looked down upon by faculty and other students, that this is an area of rational thinking that religion is outside of. So what would you say to students who worry about being “taken seriously” in this environment? Not just science students but even arts students as well? You know what, I think this boils down to a much more fundamental problem. And that fundamental, problem is that we in the Muslim community, not just in the college environment ‘cause we’ve been in the Muslim community before we ever made it into college, in the Muslim community we did not approach Islamic education in a reasonable way. And let me qualify that statement. You can learn Islam even as a child in a way that it teaches you how to pray, or here’s what you believe and here’s what the Quran says and here’s what the prophet’s life is like, etc. etc. right, so you could have these concepts taught to you. But actually we’re living in an age where you have to emphasize not what you believe but why you believe and what is the rational foundation for your faith. Why is your faith a source of guidance and strength for you, an advantage that you have, that you wish every human being enjoyed? Why is your faith and this truth supreme to all other interpretations of truth? There is this intellectual foundation of Islam that is not offered to us, like we’re just taught a ritualistic version of Islam. So when you get to college and you feel a sense of, I mean let’s just come out and say it, you feel a sense of inferiority that people are easily able to make you feel because they come from an academic or “open minded” background and you’re limited in your thought process, and you’re close minded because you’re religious, so you believe in things that can’t be explained, etc., etc., it is actually a OCTOBER 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 14

Joshua Earle

Yeah, I see a lot of differences. I’ll start with what I see in common, I think the fact that the university is the marketplace of ideas and you’re exposed to people that you would never otherwise share a room with or have conversations with, you have an opportunity to really go beyond your comfort zone in college, and in that sense every person experiences exposure to things that can impact them for the rest of their life, and Muslims are no exception.

to these questions or that Islam fails to answer these questions. So I think that these youth, the Muslim youth, are more prone to skepticism, or a distant attitude in the best case scenario, towards religion in their college years now than ever before.


Q: Yeah, it’s very common, still something a lot of students go through. You work with a lot of students now, do you see any changes in the university experience? Since you are very popular with the youth and you work with them a lot, when you see the challenges that they go through do they seem different?

pretty good indication that somebody didn’t get a fundamental education in Islam, or Islamic thought at least. You know, Islamic philosophy, the Quran’s philosophy, they didn’t get that education, and so I don’t blame students for feeling that pressure but I would also challenge students to learn their faith in a way that makes them stand with confidence. And this is a tradition that transformed the world over, this is not something that’s small and insignificant in the course of world history, our faith. So it’s not something that we should feel inferior about at all. At all! And so, you know actually I’ll tell you, I felt like that! I felt stupid the first time that I went to a philosophy class and they started questioning the existence of God or the role of religion and this and that, I felt really dumb. And I felt so angry at myself that actually one of the first motivations for studying Islam for me was, “how can all of my people be dumb?” They have to have answers. So I started looking into the religion for that reason, that was one of my first motivations. So I think feeling inferior like that, let me tell you the other side of that position. You know, there’s high school bullying which is of a different nature, and then there’s university bullying which is a different nature all together and it lasts throughout university to the PhD level. Where you have this intellectual form of bullying you make someone feel inferior and it’s the only way you can feel substantiated in your position. And this is the psychological game that’s played at the university level all the time. By faculty sometimes, you have some great teachers in school, but you have some not so nice people who feed off of that. That’s how they feed their ego, that’s how they bully, they can’t beat you physically, they beat you up mentally, you know? And you have to identify those kinds of tactics and not be taken in by them. Here’s where support groups, being around people that can help answer your questions, maybe even touching base with scholars and resources that can give you that boost and that confidence in your faith becomes so, so fundamental. Because once you’ve accepted that inferiority complex and you internalize it, it’s not just gonna plague you in your faith it will plague you in everything in life, you’re always gonna be thinking of yourself as someone who has to impress somebody else and live by somebody else’s measure of what is acceptable and you’re never gonna be able to be yourself. Q: Talking about the way that we approach Islam, what you mean is that we should approach Islamic education in a more critical stance? I think the premise for “critical Islam” I think that there’s a premise that we have to understand. The religion has a spiritual and a rational foundation and we have to understand that foundation. Why do we believe the Quran is the word of God? Why do we believe in God Himself? Why do we believe that Muhammad ‫ﷺ‬ is the last messenger? These are fundamental questions and these are questions that the Quran invited. Because the Quran, it asked people to be critical about those questions itself. It didn’t shun that


criticism, it embraced that criticism. And that’s the kind of critical thinking that is at the heart of learning the foundations of our faith. What is the rational basis, or what’s the thought process that details much of the faith. Beyond that, what is masked as critical Islam is, “oh let’s mainly question whether or not we have to pray five times,” or “lets really figure out the rationale behind zakat,” or some rule of Islam. And to me the problem with that is the Quran says question the root, if you are convinced of the root then the tree that stems from it and the branches and the fruits that come out of it are all acceptable to you because you accepted the root. The problem is we don’t have the discussion about the root, the foundation, we want to critically evaluate the fruit, you know? And this is the problem with that, because you’re going to go from one issue to another issue to another issue and the thing that’s making you criticise and say “well we have to re-evaluate it or we have to rethink it all together,” the idea of submitting to Allah’s will, you actually removed from the equation, which is what Islam’s defined by. Because now you’re submitting to cultural or social forces. Now let me qualify that on the other side. On the other side I do believe we are living in a time where people that represent the religion, talk about sharia and talk about Islamic law and how it applies a lot of those people don’t actually represent the richness of our intellectual tradition. Like a lot of those people, they talk about Islam or they talk about halal and haraam in absolute terms when our own tradition has a lot more breadth and a lot more room, you know? So they take something that’s wide and they make it seem like something very narrow, and that’s a result of their own narrow-mindedness and not the narrow-mindedness of Islamic tradition. We have people coming out now saying that traditional Islam is too restrictive, it’s too constrained we have to think about it critically and re-evaluate it. The problem with that statement is that you haven’t actually explored the breadth and the width of the tradition itself, you’ll shockingly find it a lot more open and a lot more accepting than what you’re giving it credit for, you look at a few bad examples and you decide to brush away 1400 years of multiple ethnicities exhausting the best of their intellectual minds studying Islam. It’s an unfair approach, I think. It’s intellectually dishonest.

“...This is a tradition that transformed the world over, this is not something that’s small and insignificant in the course of world history, our faith.”

Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed Allah, over all things, is competent.” (29:20) OCTOBER 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 16

Q: What do you think is the relationship between a religious education and the secular education that a lot of students come to university to get? Do you believe that there is a relationship between the two or that they inform one another in some way? Absolutely! Absolutely, they certainly did for me. First of all the distinction between religious and secular education is actually a mindset that already presupposes this distinction, secular education vs religious education. And even people that are proponents of religious education and say, “oh study deen, but don’t study dunya,” have already accepted the premise of secularism. The Quran in its philosophy uses the term “ayah” which is a profound term. The word ayah is used to describe every bit, the smallest unit of revelation. But the word ayah is also used to define physical realities; the sky is an ayah, the earth is an ayah, my hands are an ayah, the eye is an ayah etc. etc. Now, by doing that Allah is saying that creation, and just like we’re supposed to ponder and reflect and explore the meanings of revelation, “The word ayah is we’re supposed to used to describe ponder and reflect and explore the meanings of every bit, the creation. And all of it is smallest unit of a spiritual experience, revelation... at the end of the day all of it will lead you to the same truth because all of them are ayat and the purpose of an ayah is to lead you back to the Creator. In other words Islamic philosophy actually encourages studying the outside world, studying what is otherwise called “secular”. People say, “well how religion can be compiled with, for example, evolution?” People don’t even know! Allah says, “Didn’t they go around in the land, and didn’t they take a look how creation began?”* (29:20). Allah is actually critically asking us to explore the origins of creation, literally the origin of the species. It’s in the Quran!

How do you understand ayat that talk about mountains and winds and oceans, the Prophet ‫ ﷺ‬is in the dessert, he doesn’t experience these things, these phenomena, these words and things of different kinds, why is the Quran talking about that? You’re not going to understand those ayat sitting in a library, you’re going to have to experience the world outside.

...But the word ayah is also used to define physical realities; the sky is an ayah, the earth is an ayah, my hands are an ayah, the eye is an ayah” The Quran keeps calling us and compelling us to study history, me personally I was a student of psychology after I was doing computer information systems and my studies in psychology were entirely a spiritual experience, let me tell you. Every time I was sitting in my psych class, whether we were studying personality psychology or abnormal psychology or behavioural psychology, social psychology, man I felt like I was studying Quran! Honestly I did! Because every time we described a particular psychological phenomenon I could see how it correlates to revelation. So your secular education can become a spiritual experience, it really can, especially the humanities can. But that depends on whether or not you have a decent grounding, ‘cause if you did you’re gonna find so much meaning in it. There’s so much of what I talk about in my lectures and so much of the explanation of the Quran that I offer is a composition of the background that I have and much of that is a non-religious education. Much of that is my corporate experience, much of that is my business experience and much of that is my psych study.

To Be Continued... 17 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | OCTOBER 2015

The Parliament of Man BY AMINA MOHAMED


Except by piety and good action.

ll mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

-Excerpt from the Prophet’s (saw) last sermon


For a long time I hated Arabs. The community that presided over the most masjids in Toronto, they created an atmosphere of colourism and cultural pride in a land that wasn’t their own. They spoke highly of their ties to Arab lands, or the great beauty of pale skin and continued these discussions within the confines of the mosque, the place I knew as the House of Allah. I learned of the Saudi economy and how their vast wealth was a gift from Allah to those He loved, and that those who didn’t have it were somehow lesser. I associated the mosque with old aunties who would criticize the way I prayed or the way I walked or the way my skin tanned in the summer sun, or old uncles who would accuse my little brother of things only “people like us” were capable of. I couldn’t figure out why they felt the need to enforce their presumed supremacy on everyone else with such gusto. Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that the actions of those who created, enforced and perpetuated that culture were of an older generation. They created an atmosphere similar to that of their youth, or their homeland, or whatever felt most comfortable to them, and however I feel about it, I recognize that it is not my place to criticize them. I do not know the difficulty of arriving in a place with a new tongue and new customs, and I cannot blame those who came before us and who bore the brunt of the difficulty of immigration for the choices that they made. That said, first generation Canadians, the children of those who brought that culture here and those in charge of shaping this community in the long run, are pivotal in the effort to rid us of those cultural remnants. A key element to this cultural shift is in our religious education. Any Muslim can tell you the story of Bilal (ra.). A freed slave and the first person to give the adhaan in Islam, he was a beloved companion of the Prophet (saw). He was also black. This last characteristic, important but not always relevant, was repeated to me again and again by my Arab classmates. “Darker skin is so…dark. Have you seen the Sudanese? I would never marry one in a million years. But,

The equalizing characteristic of Islam –that every man is equal in the eyes of Allah and cannot be elevated except by piety and good action¬- disappears when you encounter the kind of culture Muslims have created. Piety and good action fly out the window and a cultural hierarchy is created with Arabs at the top, South Asians in the middle and blacks and Africans at the bottom; a racist hierarchy based on shadism. This warped view of the ummah is subpar and entirely subjective. It devalues the lives, the people, the nations that have submitted to Allah and joined this supposed brotherhood of Islam. It actively promotes a sense of arrogance within some cultures, allowing them to overlook the sunnah of the Prophet and to cast aside their adab (manners) while addressing those they think are below them. Racism within the fold of Islam is inexcusable by all accounts, and to those outside of the Arab community it makes no sense. When asked how they feel about the distaste Arabs seem to have around them, darker skinned Muslims tend to prefer their position. A Somali woman responded that she “would always prefer to the victim in these situations. Allah won’t ask me why people are mean to me, He will ask them why they refused me as a sister in Islam”. That woman raised an interesting point: to propagate a negative, racist view of Islam, you place yourself in a vulnerable position. You take away someone else’s right to fair and just treatment, and you refuse the brotherhood imposed upon you by your faith. What does it mean to be a racist? It means to believe you are better than someone else by virtue of your culture or race. It is to actively belittle others for having skin that isn’t to your liking. It is to refuse your daughter’s hand in marriage to another because he is “too dark”. It is to call someone a slave because they are black. It is to grab someone’s nose because they are from Sudan. How does one get over that negative mentality? One way is to initiate a change in the way we think about our history. Instead of focusing on the “only” black figure in the seerah (the story of the Prophet Muhammad), isn’t it more beneficial to uncover what characteristics made Bilal so important? He was resilient, stead fast in his faith, and honourable. The people who populated Makkah and Medina at the time of the Prophet came from many tribes and many lands. When the Muslims migrated to Ethiopia and were under the care of King Najashi, the benevolent Christian leader, it would be a great disservice to gloss over the event as “that time the Muslims visited the black people”. Instead we talk about it as the prime example of inter-cultural and inter-faith cooperation. And that cooperation was only possible because both sides came with a clean heart. Despite the existence of many strong nations and empires at that time, the Prophet chose the Ethiopian leader for the quality of his character and the openness of his people. Even at this juncture, when wealth and power could have helped them conquer Makkah,

a pious character won out over all else. This moral rectitude is a symbol of great strength, and it is what our community is lacking, but with some work, we can institute it again. The Muslim community in Toronto is hardly a single brotherhood. There are Somalis and Pakistanis, Indians and Indonesians, Nigerians and Albanians; all separate entities that share a religion. Without promoting any sense of open hostility, we have created an atmosphere of isolation. Every culture has its own mosque, some deliver sermons in their own tongue, actively turning away those outside their circle. Outside the religious sphere we frequent different areas of town, occupying enough space to grow a community filled with halal shops and restaurants, though rarely crossing paths. We are a fragmented body, disassembled into a group of separate parts; lacking a political voice or the economic weight strong enough to make any real change by virtue of our chosen state of isolation. In order to overcome this crippling sense of separateness, it is incumbent upon us to adapt to the reality of our present situation. Though we in Canada are a political minority, we belong to a people that adhere to the same faith and value the same quality of character as the companions of the Prophet did. Even as a joint collective, we will have to work very, very hard to create space for a Muslim identity in Canada, and we have to be willing to let go of our cultural baggage to do it effectively. In order to ensure that we are able to do so, we should take it upon ourselves to embody the kind of character befitting a Muslim. Be kind to those who look different than you, invest your time in community building with a focus on Muslim youth instead of “Pakistani” or “Egyptian” or “Somali” youth. Remind yourself that, at the end of the day, the way you treat people will reflect on your own character. Do not be of those who insult others for things outside of their control, because though you may forget, they won’t. There will be someone out there who, in their heart of hearts, will remember what you said. And there is nothing worse than a missed apology. Don’t be the kind of person people make duaa against. It is really easy to fall into a blame game, and since my days as a youngster in the mosque I have long outgrown my distaste for Arab culture. I recognize that the vices that made them such upsetting cultures to walk into were not exclusive to them alone. Anyone is capable of injustice, of racism, or bigotry, of arrogance and perhaps the greatest hurdle in overcoming those issues is to know that no one is above them. Granted, I know the Arab cultures still have a lot of problems, I put my hope in this generation to change. We should make a concerted effort, together, to ensure that on the individual level, we take it upon ourselves to fix our characters. Speak to your siblings, your parents, your friends; these small changes, these intimate avenues are the ones that lead to real, lasting change. “Remember, one day you will appear before God (The Creator) and you will answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.” OCTOBER 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 19


it’s not because I’m racist or anything. I mean, I love the story of Bilal!” There is no appropriate answer to that statement. I am glad you love Bilal’s story, but if you were facing him now, would he like you too? With that attitude?


BY adel keshavarz “Dear reader,


’m writing you a letter. That’s right, a good old-fashioned letter – it’s a lost art, really. You don’t know me very well but if you get me started, I have a tendency to go on and on about how tough writing is for me, particularly due to the fact that it forces me to convert my everything into words, which brings out the most fragile version of my heart outside my chest beating, exposed to the elements. But it’s mostly because writing is simply not my forte, I have other means of expression, and emotions can at times become ineffable. Anyways. I’m here to reiterate, that almost all of us have an artist within. The ones who choose to let it out and follow that path are usually the ones who love to create and to see the creation before their eyes, to ponder on the least significant matters and pull out the most significant out of it all – the creative class…” Stay on the rise. Adel K.



discussing sex

& sexuality BY SANIA KHAN

in islam

What are we so afraid of?

Well, I posed these exact questions to a focus group of five Muslim women—each of whom belonged to the following ethnic backgrounds: Pakistan, Somalia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Throughout the discussion, I was crudely awakened to the realization that silence around sexual dialogue transcends across diverse Muslim societies. In fact, there was not a single woman in the focus group who could admit to having had an easy-going conversation with her family members around sex and sexuality. That brought me to the question of all questions around sexuality in Islam: why is it such a taboo topic? Is it the religion itself that has set limitations on this discourse, or has the ummah (ie. the followers of Islam) created these barriers on our own? The answer: we’re the problem, not the religion.

of inter-cultural stigmatism, the dynamic between immigrant parents and their children is unique. For instance, my mother’s version of open doesn’t exactly coincide with mine. To her, speaking about men in whatever context we please is acceptable; however, if I ever tried asking her a question around sex, I would expect one of the following reactions: “Didn’t you get taught this in school?” “Show some respect. Your father can probably hear you in the next room.” “I’m busy right now, we can talk later.”


The “Babies Come From Allah by UPS” Couch If there is one thing the Muslim ummah does best, it’s that we often conflate culture with religion. This is especially applicable to discussions around sex and sexuality. Oftentimes, what will stop children from asking their parents personal questions is the subsequent shame they are made to feel just for being curious. While growing up in Pakistan, my mother was never free to seek advice from her mother on topics around sex and sexuality. The first time the topic ever came up in her household was when— you guessed it— my mother’s age of marriage had approached. For this reason, my mother took it upon herself to create a much more open household for her own children. Though my mother’s situation was purely a matter 22 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | OCTOBER 2015

“Ask your older sister.”

...we’re the problem. Not the religion

In those moments of visible generational differences, I often have to stop myself from feeling frustrated by my parents’ inability to understand my mentality, having understood that they are doing the best they can given their own upbringing. As a child of immigrant parents, I don’t have a right to demand that they adapt to my own thinking— if my mother respected my grandmother regardless of their differing views, who am I to do otherwise? What I can do, however, is adopt a more open dialogue around sex and sexuality that is free from cultural stigma when I start my own family. After all, Allah reveals in Surat-Al-Bayyina how, “the Quranic revelation came to remove cultural shackles, so that you can have an easier life.”



ave you ever tried asking your parents or elders a question pertaining to sex, sexuality, or your sexual preference? If you are cringing just thinking about being in such a scenario, what do you think is stopping you from partaking in this discussion with your elders? If you are one of the brave ones who has managed to ask, did your parents willingly and openly respond to your questions?

I had personally experienced this teaching style in the summer of ’07 during Sunday school. During recess one day, a few of us girls were gossiping about a story a friend of mine had told us regarding her experience with a boy. Having been equal parts naive and curious, I decided to ask my teacher in private what the limitations around sexual encounters were in Islamic teachings. Without answering my question, my teacher instead asked me why I was wondering, to which I mistakenly summarized my friend’s story. At that very moment, my friend and I were asked by my teacher to step outside of the classroom. My teacher then spent the next few minutes lecturing my friend about how what she was doing was haram and for that she would be doomed to go to hell unless she repented and vowed to never sacrifice her purity again. For good measure, she also took my friend’s mother’s phone number. That was the first and last time I ever attended Sunday school. There’s hesitancy to open the discussion of sex and sexuality within Islamic cultures out of fear of opening a pandora box of possibilities and ideas. If and when the topic of sex and sexuality is approached, however, it’s merely to highlight the religious codes of haram vs. halal within Islamic teachings, while negatively sanctioning those who have “derailed” from a path of chastisement and purity. This begs the question: is this method working? Well, according to

a study published by the Express Tribune on January 18th, 2015, six of the top eight porn-searching countries in the world are Muslim countries. Pakistan topped the list. The country coming in at number two was Egypt, while Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey came in at numbers four, five, seven and eight, respectively. This is keeping in mind that the sale of pornographic material has been banned in nearly every Muslim country except Lebanon and Turkey. Clearly, the method of, “maybe if we don’t talk about it, it will go away” is counterproductive; it instead leads to sexual repression and hyper sexuality—both of which are evidently rampant within most Muslim cultures. The fact of the matter is that humans are as curious as they are sexually driven: if one’s hormones are not properly understood and regulated from a young age, they will be channeled in unhealthy ways. So, instead of pretending that younger generations aren’t progressing at a faster rate than what is preferred, we need to deal with this subject matter head on: with open and accepting communication. Otherwise, if older generations do not open all lines of communication with younger generations, the younger generations will become vulnerable to societal pressures. The “Let’s Have an Open Conversation” Couch All in all, I urge parents reading this article to dispose of their, “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” mantra around sex and sexuality and replace it with dialogue that is as awkward as it is necessary. Separate your desire to follow cultural scripts when dealing with such topics and instead try to have a more open mind. As for all you youngin’s: have patience with your parents if they don’t respond to you in the way you think to be ideal and take that energy you would otherwise use to correct their parenting styles by instead working on becoming a better child. Moreover, the whole point in seeking guidance is getting it from someone who knows more than you. Learn from others’ mistakes, seek answers and communication from as many learned avenues as possible, and surround yourself with people who don’t make you uncomfortable being who you are.


The “According To This Hadeeth Narrated By Your Father, Boys/ Girls Are Literally Haram Until You’ve Finished University” Couch Putting culture aside, are sex and sexuality comfortably discussed within the confines of Islamic institutions and spaces and beyond the teachings of Islamic jurisprudence on the matter? From my own experience, the answer to that is a stark no. Reason being that matters of sex and sexuality are often taught with a fear-instilling angle: instead of celebrating sex as the physical union between a married couple, the focus is put entirely on what will happen to you if you commit adultery.


Clearly, the method of, “maybe if we don’t talk about it, it will go away” is counterproductive



say this a lot, but one of my absolute favourite things about Islam as a way of life, the Qur’an as a guiding text and the Prophet SAW as an exemplary leader, is the fact that all three encourage us as human beings to be reflective and to challenge our common modes of thinking, our assumptions, our norms and the status quo, particularly when these things utilize faulty logic, or are inherently unjust. The emphasis placed on this kind of reflexive and critical thinking in the Islamic faith is pivotal and of the utmost value, displayed tangibly and clearly by the high regard associated with knowledge, reflection, and persisting on justice. A guiding principle that has been a recurring theme in my psychology classes over the past three years is the fact that as human beings, our behaviour and attitudes are influenced and guided by forces and mechanisms that we are not aware of. Although we may believe that we make decisions in a completely “rational” manner, or that our attitudes are the result of systematic thinking, a large part of our thinking and behaviour occurs instantaneously and without conscious effort. Which means that for the most part, we are not actually aware of why we have made an assumption, or hold a certain belief. The issue then, and what we should hope to avoid, is when our cognition, in trying to be efficient and quick, makes errors, and without checking ourselves or the assumptions and attitudes that we hold, we take these incorrect or problematic beliefs to be true, or the norm. Stereotypes are the perfect example of easy but potentially faulty thinking. Stereotypes are a type of heuristic, simple “rules of thumb” that allow us to solve problems or make decisions quickly and efficiently when we are faced with insufficient information to be able to tackle a problem systematically (i.e. go through all of the options and make an informed decision). Stereotypes are efficient, but are also prone to errors. For instance, assuming that a small, barking furry creature in front of you is a dog and not a meerkat is far more efficient than systematically going through all of the small furry creatures you have ever encountered in the past and ruling them out one by one. However, assuming that the female in your physics class is less competent because she is a woman, could be based on your own past experiences that have reinforced this stereotype, but does not necessarily mean that the stereotype is applicable in this new context, or is correct. It is pivotal to try and gain insights into our modes of thinking, our stereotypes and assumptions. It is pivotal to reflect on how we think and why we think, because when we do not, we become prone to error, and the consequences are dire. When we are


content to sit back and abide by the status quo, we allow injustices to occur, and we run the risk of failing to become better Muslims and human beings. Even worse, we fail to seize opportunities to positively benefit the societies and communities we live in, simply because we fail to challenge the established norms. Our Muslim communities are rife with assumptions and stereotypes that we hold to be true and attitudes and behaviours that have become the status quo; a status quo that we often fail to challenge. Think about the beliefs we uncritically hold to be true in our communities: certain genders cannot or should not do certain things, mental health issues are the result of a lack of faith, racial hierarchies are built and reinforced according to shade of skin, rape or sexual violence is tied up with honour systems and often leads to blaming the victim, practices or beliefs that are wholly cultural with little basis in Islam are perpetuated, the list goes on and on.

On one hand, there are many things that we take as a given in our Muslim communities and do not question. On the other, everything in our religion tells us to think critically, to evaluate our actions and to question our norms and the status quo if they are not just.

Being passive about justice and being passive about seeking to better ourselves is not a part of our tradition.

For those who reflect


Norms need not be virtuous or just; they simply require enough people engaging in the act.

The truth and the religion of Islam were revealed to the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) and he was told to spread and to act on that truth to reform society. As a historical figure, as a leader, the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) was absolutely revolutionary, both in his challenge of societal norms, his reforms, and his impact on the peninsula. Take the idea of the ummah. One of the most revolutionary things our Prophet accomplished was to establish the idea of the Muslim community, of tying people together in oneness based on an ideology rather than familial or tribal ties. This one concept completely destroyed the entire economic and social structure of the Arabian Peninsula. Just the idea of establishing a community grounded in faith. Think about the revolutionary reforms our Prophet brought to society, concepts such as women’s rights, racial equality, standing for justice even against one’s self. Now think about whether these reforms and the restructuring of Arabian society would have occurred had the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the early Muslims refrained

from challenging the norms of the community they lived in. Look back to the stories of the prophets, of Ibrahim and Nuh and Lut and Yusuf; look back to our tradition of challenging the status quo. The legacy of social justice in the Islamic tradition is a strong one. The beautiful thing about Islam however, is that this activism is grounded in knowledge and faith. The emphasis placed on critical thinking, reflecting on our actions, seeking beneficial knowledge to deepen our faith and constantly checking our intentions, attitudes and beliefs are pivotal prerequisites to engaging with and positively impacting the communities and the world around us.

Enlightenment then, is awareness of your mechanisms of thinkging and behaving, and working to rectify your inherent weaknesses.

It is knowing yourself, bettering yourself, and being better able to engage with the world around you on account of that knowledge. Any change begins at the individual level, and I love that the Islamic focus on reflection and ihsan, bettering the self and seeking excellence in all that we do, seems to corroborate this idea.


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The status quo and the norms of the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad ibn Abdullah (Peace and Blessings be upon him) became the final Prophet were abysmal. Female infanticide was the norm. The state of women as completely disempowered and having no rights was the norm. Slavery and racism was the norm. Severe tribal warfare was the norm.


From Nigeria to Toronto... BY SANIE NAQVI


pirituality in a secular environment such as University of Toronto, a place of many faiths, can be engaging, encouraging, and even sometimes conducive to a Muslim. Yet in my case, the environment wasn’t so encouraging, at least initially. Being an international student from Nigeria, I came to UofT with an immense feeling of hope and determination to study computer science peacefully and with ease. But my journey in the beginning wasn’t very pleasant, which I felt was mainly due to my visual impairment, as well as my faith. It wasn’t until I started to interact with the other students in my class that I felt as though I was ignored and isolated because of my disability. I also felt misguided, since as a disabled student I was not given the facilities which were given to others at UofT, such as guidance from accessibility services, and tutors. This led to many unnecessary complications which I had to go through, that made the environment very challenging and pressing for me. Before I had made any friends at UofT (particularly Muslim friends), it was troublesome for me to figure out things that are important to me, such as the exact times and places for prayer, and which types of halal foods we have on campus. It was also especially difficult in the first winter I witnessed in Canada, where we had quite a few ice storms. In general, I felt lost and spiritually weak since I wasn’t familiar with some things, I didn’t know very many people or places, and I had a lack of spiritual knowledge. At times, I would ponder to myself: “Why am I here? Where have I come from? Who am I really?” I would always think these types of thoughts whenever I had feelings of sorrow and hopelessness, especially in my studies at the time. Things can get really tough when you’re in a foreign country on your own, where you have to stay together in order to study and survive. It was even more challenging when it came to my studies, as I had difficulty adapting (given my disability) to the new pattern of study for computer science, such as having to practice on multiple new software, which weren’t agreeable with my screen reader. Both my sister, Wajiha (whom is also disabled), and I had to resort to sitting and explaining the information presented in the programming course to each other since we didn’t have anyone at all from our class or CS department to help explain it to us. Even during our professors’ office hours, it was difficult as the professors would have to attend to every student in their lim-

ited times that they had, and so we didn’t end up getting much support from our professors in our courses. This was one of the main reasons that I ended up switching out of computer science to International Relations. During my attempts to find solutions to my struggles, I met a few Muslim friends along the way. They’d ask me what I thought about my UofT experience so far, and I would reply to what I had attributed to be the truth at the time: that UofT was discriminatory against race, colour, and faith. Seeing that I was in an uncomfortable situation, I was eventually introduced to the Muslim Students’ Association. Over time, they provided me with so much help and guidance so that I was able to choose the best path for myself. I had also met many good people at the MSA, many of whom I’ve established good friendships with. If it were not for them, I would have never have started regaining my feelings of happiness and hope, or forgetting that I ever had problems with UofT in the first place! University life started to look like how I had imagined it in the beginning of my journey; a place of encouragement. My friends also helped me regain my spirituality by learning how to be successful and hardworking from them. Nothing about me has changed since I started my life here; I am the same international disabled Muslim student that I was in the beginning. The only difference now is the positive reinforcement that I had received from the good friends that I have met along the way. They have even become somewhat like family members in that I can share my feelings with them, and trust that they will support me, and guide me towards a prosperous path. I am extremely grateful to Allah for creating me in the best image, and allowing me to go through formidable tests in order to help strengthen my iman, and I hope to continue to do so in the future by persistently doing good. I am thankful and grateful to my parents for sending me to Canada to be more independent, and overall a better person that can overcome the difficulties of life. And thankfully, I was not alone, as I had the great moral support from my Muslim friends and the prayers from my parents, whom were with me every step of the way and made me more familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. In addition, my spiritual journey has not only brought me great happiness, but also great experiences and friends that allow me to be more successful and diligent, through the mercy of Allah.


26 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | OCTOBER 2015 a Visually Impaired Student BY WAJIHA NAQVI


came to the University of Toronto in the hope of studying computer science. When I came here, however, I felt isolated by the university. As a visually-impaired international student, there were limited resources and facilities available to accommodate my needs. For one full year, I struggled to adapt to the environment, city, atmosphere and education system. I have always told myself that, “In life, everything is not possible. You have to struggle a lot to make something possible for yourself.” The beginning of my journey at the university was filled with a lot of problems. Through the Muslim Students’ Association, I made many new friends who offered me guidance. They encouraged me to go on and keep my spirit up. I am thankful to God for blessing me with such friends. In my journey, I have met a lot of wonderful people and I have learned a lot from their experiences. I thank God for the parents who have encouraged me to become someone successful in life. I have learned that we should always be truthful, helpful and friendly in our dealings with others. We must be thankful for all that God has given us. I have faced many challenges in my journey, but I have never given up. I know that Allah sees me and that He will help me see the best outcomes in all situations. I have learned that despite the difficulty of the situation we are in, we should place our faith and trust in God. We must recognize that God is always with us and that surely, one day, everything will be well. My journey at the university began with difficulty. It was very difficult for me to become independent in a new country but if you are focused and use the resources available to you, then there can be ease in your situation. It is through hard work that one gains success in this life. As Muslims, we must become educated—through exoteric and esoteric knowledge—in order to become successful. Through hard work and dedication, I hope to make my parents proud of me. I hope they will one day tell the world that they have a successful daughter. I wish that when people see me, they can see a capable and successful person, not a visually-impaired person. Wherever I am today is through my mother’s hard work, wishes and prayers. As a mother, she wants me to be successful and to stand on my own feet and become an independent student.

During my personal journey, there have been many times when I have felt inadequate. But I have learned not to compare my life with other people my age. What Allah has willed for me will be given to me when He wills it. After all, He has already written down my destiny. When I first moved to Toronto, I did not like it. Now, I like this city because I know it has a lot of facilities in various fields for students with visual impairments. I like the way Muslim people live in Toronto and the steadfastness and confidence they have placed in their faith. To come from a faraway country like Nigeria to complete my education and receive my degree has been a great test in my life. When seeking knowledge and studying abroad, it is important to keep sight of our aim, intent and purpose for traveling. I wish to help others who are in situations similar to mine, who wish to advance in life but cannot do so because they do not have the right resources. I was a little nervous when I started my life as a student in Canada, but as time went on, things started getting better. My spirituality grew when I came to Canada. I have learned to be strong, confident and independent. My life is now filled with happiness, love, care and many prayers. One day, I hope to pass this life exam of mine.