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Features Editor’s Address
Am I Islam-ing?: A Worldview in Verbal Action
An Open Letter: MSAs are Not Safe Spaces for Black Muslims
A Case for Art
Who are you?
Lessons of MSA Leadership
Dear Muslim Men A Thought on Science
Ride Natty Ride Beneath the Surface
Lessons Learned & Reminders: Study Advice for Students
Staff Muhsanah Arefin
Editor in Chief
Head Content Editor
Halla Ahmed Copy Editor
Hina Najam Copy Editor
Hebah Masood Aaminah Amin Writer
Abokor AbdulKarim Writer (Contributing)
Khadija Bounekhla Writer (Contributing)
Khalood Kibria Writer
Mohamed Ibrahim Writer
Safwan Hossain Writer
Head Graphic Designer
VP Communications Head Graphic Designer
Disclaimer: The ideas and opinions expressed in this issue do not necessarily reflect those of the TMV staff and Muslim Students’ Association.
ssalamualaikum, The TMV greets you at the end of this academic year in self-reflection, at both the individual and communal level. When I first began my vision for TMV this year, I was intent on providing a critique of the MSA in the way that it functions and the way it carries itself. A controversial topic admittedly, but it was something I dreamt of creating because I have found it increasingly necessary to address issues within the MSA that we are often too afraid to confront honestly and openly. Some of the articles address the MSA directly while others address the Muslim community at large. Halla Ahmed writes a raw, open letter to MSAs about how and why these institutions’ exclusions of Black Muslims are deeper than we realize. Khalood and Hebah confront the greater Muslim community and ask, are we doing enough for humanity when it comes social justice? I write an article on realizations one undergoes in positions of leadership within the MSA. Abokor Abdulkarim presents Bob Marley’s Ride Natty Ride as a lesson in perspectives. The TMV wanted to highlight that there is diversity in this discourse, and we sought to demonstrate that in the opinions posed in this issue. The secondary theme of this issue deals with Muslim identity, and the way we undertake our faith. For the practising Muslim, Islam permeates our actions and our very existence. The articles written surrounding this theme contemplate the various facets of our identities. Aaminah Amin reflects on her experience as a Hijabi and what it has meant for her personal journey in life. Sarah Kamaluddin deconstructs the arabic root word of Islam to present a wholesome understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. Safwan Hossain writes on the therapeutic nature of art, and the impact it could have if we were more appreciative. Hirra Sheikh takes apart the aspects of her identity that make her whole through the lense of a simple question, “who are you?” Haseeb Chowdhury, in “Dear Muslim Men,” writes a letter appealing to the male Muslim community to reevaluate notions of patriarchy and sexism. Khadija Bounekhla articulates in her article the debates she has faced a science student and how she fits her faith into an often secularized conversation. Finally, we close the issue with Amen Hammad’s specially curated set of advice for students to carry with them into their next semester. Finally, I would like to thank you for choosing to read The Muslim Voice Magazine. As we complete volume XXII, and I complete my final month as TMV Editor in Chief, it is my hope that the TMV will move on to greater things while never losing its original vision. Muhsanah Arefin, Editor-in-Chief
APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 5
M S A s
f o r
B l a c k
Muslims HALLA AHMED
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genuinely do not get what there is to not understand about anti-Black racism or the struggles of being a Black Muslim.
I say this in all my frustration with being asked time and again what all the anger is about, why Black Lives Matter is even a thing, and where all this “hostility” is coming from. I do not understand what is confusing about it, because from what I understand, you already know all about anti-Blackness. Think about all of the things that your community believes about Black people. Think of all the slurs and the derogatory terms and negative stereotypes and beliefs about our looks, our capabilities, our morality and our religiosity. Now understand this: we know exactly what you are thinking too. We know because many of your mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents have said these things to our very faces, or to the faces of our parents, or have whispered these things loudly within our vicinities. We know because you yourself have said these things to us either with a smile on your face, or as a “joke,” or made a comment that you didn’t even realize had a negative anti-Black connotation to it. Perhaps you have even said it outright to our faces –some of you are pretty explicit with your anti-blackness too. Prejudice, after all, is not a generational problem. The thing about microaggressions, about anti-Blackness as expressed through everyday, barely there, subtle comments, is that they are always made in context. Consider any time that you or one of your friends were privy to a comment/status/ tweet that was condemned as racist, only to wonder, “Well what is the big deal? That didn’t seem so bad.” Well, also consider this: for every stray comment suggestive of anti-Blackness, there is a Black person who has had years of exposure to discrimination and bias. A sensitivity develops. In such a person’s context, this comment is one more blow from the hammer that is anti-Black racism. As follows are some examples of this context that I have heard during my time in university, whether in the Muslim Students’ Association, or from those who are associated with various MSAs in Toronto, or in Muslim spaces in general:
Black is not beautiful. Dark skin is not as attractive as light skin. Black hair is strange –“How do you even comb that?” “Alhamdulillah our hair is not like that.” Black communities in Toronto are unsafe and dangerous. “My parents would never, ever, ever, ever, ever in a million y ears let me marry someone who is Black.” “Don’t hang out with/ Watch out for Black people, they are troublemakers.” “Don’t collaborate with the Black Students’ Association [at U of T].” The “N” word, all the time, everywhere, by Muslims who are not Black, in front of Black Muslims –”What up ma n****!”. Comments suggesting that Black Muslims do not know the religion as well as Arabs or Desis. Comments suggesting that “Black” and “Muslim” are mutually exclusive. Salaams not being returned at the mosque. Comments suggesting that Black issues are not that important because of “Black on Black crime.” Comments about Bilal (radi Allahu ‘anhu) and other “Islamic” justifications when the topic of antiBlackness in the Muslim community is mentioned. APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 7
involved in university MSAs. For many people, joining these clubs and entering these spaces is to voluntarily deal with even more anti-Blackness at the hands of non-Black Muslims, whether conscious or not on the part of those saying these things. It is to risk being routinely confronted with the negative assumptions and stereotypes others hold about my identity, my faith, and my being. For many Black Muslims I know, the personal trauma just isn’t worth the potential to get involved.
It might be comforting if I could tell you that, at the very least, such comments are not frequent, but that would be a bold lie. The reality is, Black Muslims face such comments and worse, every day, from every angle, all the time. So trust me when I tell you that the list goes on and on. Beginning from childhood we hear this nonsense over and over. We begin to piece together an image of Blackness that incorporates the stereotypes that society holds of us. This is what is known as internalized racism. We hear negative messages about Blackness from Canadian society at large, from the media, and then we go into our mosques, our Sunday schools, our MSAs, and we hear it from our Muslim brothers and sisters too. It is actually remarkable how often we hear this.
Anti-Blackness is so normalized in the Muslim community that people are not even ashamed of saying this stuff out loud or to your face.
” Contrary to what many people would hope to be true, we have a racism problem in the Muslim community. Yet, no one wants to believe that Muslims “can” be racist. Racism exists, but apparently nobody is a racist, or contributes to anti-Black racism. Okay let’s pause for a second. So all of this is a reality, right. Everything above may not be your reality, but it is someone’s reality. It is part and parcel of many experiences that are real and valid and weighty. It is exactly the act of not understanding this reality that has MSA executives all over North America wonder why more Black Muslims do not come out to MSA events, or get involved with MSAs in universities. MSA executives wonder why there are numerous Black Muslims on campus, and yet the same few faces get involved year after year. Perhaps your MSA is not a safe space for Black Muslims. It is extraordinary that given years of prejudice and discrimination from non-Black Muslims, that any Black Muslims would have the resilience to actually get 8 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2017
Now, it is important to note that these anti-Black words are always accompanied by actions that serve as evidence that our community really does have an anti-Black problem. Anti-Blackness is demonstrated every time MSA executive decide to attend yet another BDS protest, yet debate –and ultimately decide to forgo- attending a Black Lives Matter or indigenous protest. It is demonstrated when MSA executives debate whether or not to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter at all, because such issues are “too controversial.” It is worthwhile to note that the double standard regarding where the line of “controversial” is drawn is very bitterly noted. Every. Single. Time. We notice when Palestine and Syria and BDS are not too controversial to rally for, but issues regarding the Black community are. We also notice when non-Black Muslims, with all of their privilege, finally decide to get involved with Black Lives Matter or Idle No More when the movements become in vogue. Are you starting to wonder how on earth people justify their anti-Blackness? How it is that within the Muslim community, a community of faith, the maltreatment of those of us with Black skin has been allowed to continue for so long? You may think there is no way that one could even attempt to justify such egregious behaviour. You would be wrong. Understand that most people want to believe that they are generally good people, and when presented with evidence that good people can, in fact, partake in unjust behaviour, their egos flare up, they get defensive, and they often refuse to see or acknowledge their actions and its consequences. Some justifications I have heard from non-Black Muslims include:
Nobody wants to restructure their spaces to fit real human beings. Rather, hurting human beings are simply expected to accept the status quo. This very fact is why some MSAs and “Muslim” spaces are not safe spaces for Black Muslims; because we are expected not only to put up with the abuse, but also to work with it, organize around it, serve others through it and live amongst it. Every. Single. Day. Somehow, those doing the abusing are not expected to do the hard work of stopping themselves. Work such as:
Islam does not have a “race problem.” If you are a Muslim, you are only judged on your piety. Bilal (radi Allah ‘anhu) … his name gets thrown around a lot. Somehow his very existence means that Muslims aren’t racist. He is the original token Black Muslim.
Finding the stereotypes and assumptions they hold personally within themselves and trying to eradicate it.
Muslims can’t be racist because Islam forbids racism. “Don’t be divisive. In today’s climate, the Muslim community needs to be united.” This one is a creative form of victim-blaming. Those of us who experience prejudice and maltreatment are essentially told to keep quiet because we are either (a) making the Muslim community “look bad,” or (b) “dividing the community,” as if racism has not already done a great job of doing just that.
Talking to their family members about why their stereotypes are wrong, and why it is harming and holding back the Muslim community at large. Holding themselves, their family members and their friends to a higher standard, a standard where anti-Black racism is not accepted and is actively worked against. Reaching out to Black friends and colleagues and listening to their stories with empathy, love, compassion, non-judgment and non-defensiveness.
Those who seek to justify their anti-Blackness often use Islam as a smokescreen. Islam is the ultimate “I could never be racist,” get-out-of-jail-free card. If racism amongst Muslims is not acknowledged, where does it end? How does it end? As Ta-Nehisi Coates notes in his profoundly insightful novel, Between the World and Me, “We cannot stop them because they have to stop themselves.” Black Muslims cannot do the job of reversing histories of anti-Black hatred and injustice; non-Black Muslims need to step up and demand better from their own communities.
Working and rallying with Black communities on the issues we face alone. We are too often ignored and abandoned by our Muslim brothers and sisters when we need them most. Ultimately, being the upstanding, righteous, justice-seeking, Godfearing Muslims that Allah and the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) command and encourage us all to be.
And here is the thing that nobody says but is ultimately the truth: we Black folks, whether Muslim or not, are always expected to conform to spaces, to accept microaggressions and aggressions on our intelligence, our identities, and our very beings.
Understand that as a non-Black Muslim, you can do so much in standing up for your Muslim brothers and sisters who stand at the intersection of Black and Muslim identities. In the world today, this intersection is one which makes us targets of both racism from society as a whole, and rampant Islamophobia. Working on racism within the Muslim community only removes one layer of this oppression, and your privilege can help. Ultimately, our salvation is only with Allah, but I believe that we exist in order to do our best to make tomorrow a better world for our children. It starts with you. APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 9
FRONT LINES By Khalood Kibria & Hebah Masood
e are always taken aback by how much is packed up in this small greeting, which also happens to be a prayer. The value of Asalamu Alaikum is in its prescription of peace upon everyone, the reaffirmation that everyone has the right to peace. The power of Asalamu Alaikum is in the link it creates between the people involved in the interaction; once you wish peace upon someone, you naturally become responsible for playing a part in creating and maintaining that peace. Take a few steps back though, and you will find yourself asking the question â&#x20AC;&#x153;What is peace and how can it be created?â&#x20AC;? Allah created all His creation in Divine Dignity. He elevated humankind by enabling us to think, to create, to love, to question, to show mercy and also, to pursue justice. The human experience is defined by the struggle to create justice - for oneself and for others - in order to retain Divine Dignity and to ultimately attain peace. Social and economic justice are, therefore, a central focus in the Islamic faith. It is important to clarify that while Islam aspires for peace, it is not a pacifist religion. In other words, Islam does not advocate for passivity and silence in the presence of systematic oppression. Rather, it demands active resistance in the face of injustice.
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One of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s goals was toward اإلصالح or righteous change. Some scholars relate this word to activism which, in the modern sense of the word, implies fighting for political or social change. That said, while the Prophet (PBUH) occupied various significant roles during his life, he can also be fairly classified as an activist who led a social revolution in one of the most unjust societies of the time. Islam at its core rejects racism and white supremacy, embraces feminism (This is undoubtedly a packed term. In this context, it suggests equality between men and women) and staunchly opposes the exploitation and oppression that plagues our materialistic, hyper-capitalist world today. It demands its adherents to pay attention to these issues and actively engage with them. However, a majority of our community not only fails to do so, we are also, in fact, complicit in many of these problems and rarely address or try to overcome some of these critical issues within our own communities. As a community we so often complain about Islamophobia when most Muslims face oppression at other intersections of their identity as well. This oppression stems from patriarchal cultural values, rampant anti-blackness, sectarian hatred and violence - these, among others, are all very real issues within the Muslim community that manifest themselves in complex ways in the lives of people within and outside our community. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and it if he is not able to do so, then with his heart - and that is the weakest of faith” [Muslim]. There are so many amazing Muslims who have been doing just that. They’re not afraid to confront injustice head on and they know that silence is complicitness. In California last year, students from Zaytuna College protested at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Black Lives Matter movement across North America is spearheaded by Black Muslims in many cities. Muslims in Chicago were arrested last year for protesting hyper-
militarized police forces in the States, Palestine and other countries. And this is just in North America; there are of course Muslims all over the globe engaged in this form of work. So the issue is not that none of us care. The issue is that not enough of us care. A root cause for this lack of collective involvement is a trend within the Muslim community of dividing our events into three distinct categories: spiritual, social and social justice. Classification of this kind results in little overlap in the people that attend all three types of events and therefore it is very easy for a large number of people to ignore critical issues that affect all of us. It is crucial for us to bridge gaps between these events, those who exclusively attend one category of the events, and those who generally speak at these events (think: activists versus scholars). Sincere reflection on the type of “social justice” events we organize as Muslims is also necessary. Although being charitable is very important, Muslims, as a community, need to move beyond philanthropy. Donating to our favourite charities will not magically save people from confronting structural issues, rather it only provides temporary solutions. Focusing solely on charitable work further distracts from the crucial work of activists and grassroots organizations on the ground whom we must recognize and offer our support to.
Not only do we need to engage in critical and productive conversations about difficult topics, but we also need to be present in spaces that actively resist systems of oppression. This means listening to our women and creating dialogues about the physical, sexual and emotional violence that females — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — have to endure. For non-black Muslims, this means standing behind our black Muslim and non-Muslim brothers and sisters at protests as they demand justice from oppressive states.
This means marching in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters against construction projects with capitalist agendas. This means stepping back and evaluating who is being handed the mic and who is being excluded from leadership roles in our community, whether that be at the MSA level or in the broader Muslim community. This means using our agency as students to petition the university as they invest in companies that support brutal Israeli military forces. The list goes on. But ultimately, this means creating lasting relationships between our communities to facilitate solidarity in the face of injustice and resisting together even when the issue is not Islamophobia. As humans, and particularly as Muslims, it is incumbent upon us to protect, not exploit, the sacred life that exists on this Earth. We are custodians of the land, we are instructed to be kind to animals, and we must strive to preserve human life. Our Prophet (PBUH) exemplified this way of life 1400 years ago.
So involvement in matters of social, economic and environmental justice is not a hobby that we can adopt and abandon as we please, especially when we are privileged enough to do so. We must think about where we stand in society and accordingly use our agency, to whatever capacity possible, in the pursuit of justice. This work may seem inconvenient or uncomfortable at first, but setting a meaningful intention for why you are doing it and why it is important to you will make it feel natural with time. And if nothing else is motivating you, know that God’s reward is always promised. We must not disassociate ourselves from the political and social realities of our world. Rather, we must constantly remind ourselves that engaging in acts that seek justice for all of God’s creation is a part of God’s divine design for us. It is a religious obligation that the Quran teaches and one that we cannot, and must not, ignore.
APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 11
September 2015. The day of the Eid Dinner. My mind was in utter chaos. The stress had affected my immune system the past week causing my weak lungs to waver. By D-day I had suffered a panic attack, both stress and asthma medication induced. But my anxiety and tightened airways remained my secret as I set out to execute with my fellow codirector and VP Student Life Exec, the most sought after MSA event of the year. It was the culmination of planning for three months. The irony is that I also worked with two people who were doing just as much work if not more than me. It was a stressful time for us all. But there was still so much to do. Yet there I was in June 2016 applying to do it all again, only this time as the TMV Editor-InChief. I think what drives people, including myself, to come back to the MSA for leadership positions is that in each generation of leaders there are some incredibly hard workers. When you start out university, you are simply in awe at the love these leaders have not just for the people in the MSA, but also for the institution as a whole including its legacy. You meet incredible people and you seek out these positions hoping you can be even half of what these other leaders are. As someone who pursued these leadership positions, I believe I am someone who is hardworking and dedicated. And yet...sometimes I still fail. As a leader, I deserved every criticism. It was and is my duty to contemplate and strive to be better. This is not an easy conclusion to come to terms with, when you go through the kinds of mental and physical health issues that running events or a team sometimes induce. I am here now being honest about what I did, and what I went through, to say that to be a leader is to do the hardest jobs and take full responsibility. At my events, I should be the first one to arrive, the last to leave, and with the dirtiest hands. My volunteers should be rewarded and they should always eat before me. The moment I reach any level of complacency, that is the moment the burden of the task can fall on someone who should not suffer from it. We are not leaders because we are privileged, we are leaders because we were allowed the responsibility to execute. Any amount of excessive pride should be thrown out the door from day one. On an individual level, I learned being a leader takes an incredible amount of humility. No matter how well my events went, my visions cannot be executed if not for the hard work of my fellow directors, council members, and volunteers.
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Ta ke o n
On a macro level, what I would like to claim here is that despite all the wonderful I found with the MSA: We are not that great. Hold on, sit down, wait a minute, hear me out. The UofT MSA as an institution, I believe, has lost its ability to self-reflect. Some might cry, “blasphemy! we talk about lessons learned all the time, every time we have an event!” This is true. When we look at our past lessons learned for events, we definitely look at ways we can accommodate better or make tweaks here and there. But what are we doing to make institutional change?
L e s s o n s o f M SA
How are we affecting change for Muslim students who still suffer from microaggressions at the hands of their Muslim peers? How are we carrying ourselves when we volunteer in certain communities? Do we allow certain ethnicities to dominate the leadership space? Do we perpetuate classist attitudes when doing community service in vulnerable areas? How seriously do we consider accessibility, in all completeness of the term? What attitudes do we perpetuate in our mannerisms as leaders? Have we reconciled the needs of international versus domestic students? And if you are wondering, yes, every single one of these questions is based on a real situation I have encountered in the MSA or heard from fellow members. These issues are real and present. I believe that we lose our ability to self-reflect as an institution the moment we reached the pinnacle of achievement. In a sense, I feel an ominous feeling that once we have become complacent with the achievements of our predecessors, so much so that we constantly take credit for it, then we might plateau in our successes. Some might say, it’s just a club. But when I think about it, it’s really something more. For students who are too busy to attend their local masjid events or are too busy to maintain old friendships, the MSA is there to provide young kids a connection with their faith into adulthood. Yes, we have a great legacy. But at some point we just started taking ownership of the legacy without cultivating it or building on it. It is for this reason, that I think we need to do some more self-reflection. A self-reflection a lot deeper than “lesson learned” or intention renewal. The UofT MSA generally receives significantly more positive feedback from people who have actually attended events than it does negative feedback. But we should not allow this to limit ourselves in the way we progress as an institution. Including myself, we should always strive to be a better version of ourselves.
APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 13
By Aaminah Amin
14 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2017
s a Muslim woman who has worn hijab for most of her life, the experiences that I have had in terms of discovering who I am and still figuring out where I fit beyond wearing hijab, is a constant journey. I like many other women who wear hijab, have experienced the extra glance or inquisitive question about the way I dress in various environments. I have been asked these curious questions countless times from intrigued peers at school or curious commuters on my long subway ride home. When I was younger, these questions used to bother me, people asking me about my hijab often made me defensive or angry. However, as I have gotten older I have taken a different approach to these questions. I have learned that engaging with people who want to know more about the hijab and female Muslim identity gives me a great platform. I recognize that many women have different reasons why they wear hijab, and those may not necessarily align with my own. However when asked, I have an opportunity to provide a perspective that others may never have heard of. Be that because of stereotypical imaging of Muslim women in the media or my personal way of dressing. In all honestly, there are still times when I get a bit annoyed when I am asked about my choice to wear hijab, but I try to remember that my personal accounts can offer others valuable insight. If we as Muslims are able to put aside the occasional ignorant comment or misinterpretation, then we have the ability to improve initial reactions of Muslim identity and focus on improving our relationships.
and intelligent ideas we have to offer. One thing that I have had to learn is the importance of being candid when discussing my identity, which can be especially challenging when this entails question existing dominant ideas. I have learned that being candid is one of the only ways we are able to express ourselves honestly and truthfully. In being candid we have to be able to trust ourselves to work out complicated and often intricate ideas with others. Through being outspoken about our identity we are able to further work through false assumptions or general attitudes towards who we are. Although expressing ourselves candidly, without reservation can be difficult, it is essential to the growth of the Muslim community. If we are able to push aside reservations we have about preexisting ideas about who we are, and be socially active in sharing our identity, we can further expand the platform we have to express ourselves on a global level. Lastly, as Muslims we are often reminded about the importance of being modest in every aspect of life despite the amount of knowledge we may have or our position in a certain situation. In being modest we can look to further expand on our Muslim identity through putting ourselves in uncomfortable situation and and challenging environments that Muslims have not been able to break through or gain recognition in. It is easy to get caught up with having to set out a grand image of who Muslims are but if we are able to modestly approach misconceptions of our identity individually we can improve on initial reactions to who we are.
Often the stigmatization that can be associated with the hijab overshadows the presence of Muslim women.Through breaking down these social obstacles we can better express who we are, not just as Muslims, but also as people. I think that we can move beyond the Muslim identity by being communicative, candid, and most importantly, modest. Through communication we are able to clarify misconceptions or stereotypically held views on Islam and its teachings. With communication we are also able to express ourselves on public forums to discuss issues we are passionate about, moving the focus from how we look physically to the interesting
I by no means have my identity figured out, and like many of us, will continue to discover who I am through more reflection, learning and challenging experiences. I think that it is very important for us to look beyond our identity of wearing hijab and discovering the different layers we have within us beyond being Muslim. I believe that the Muslim identity that we all share collectively and individually is incredible, but I also recognize that Islam is one of the many aspects that makes us who we are.Through exploring ourselves beyond our Muslim identity, I think we will also be able to better connect with people and work better within different environments.
APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 15
i d e N at t y R i d e
Ride N a t t y R i d e
I love Bob Marley. My Dad LOVES Bob Marley. The first album I heard of his was Legend (1984), a posthumous album that remains to be a gold standard of reggae music and a permanent fixture in my dad’s (and my) collection. There is never a time where you will see a dry eye on my face when I’m listening to Redemption Song (1980), a sign of apathy when Get Up Stand Up (1973) is bumping or left with nothing but hope when I’m digesting the lyrics of Top Rankin’ and Zimbabwe (1979). His discipline in practising Rastafarianism, his zeal for community development and his ability to connect with humanity of all ages, backgrounds and abilities showcase the many parallels he had with the Sunnah of Muhammad (PBUH). Because of this, I wholeheartedly believe that Bob Marley was a gift to this Earth that was taken too soon. However, there are those in our community that are ready to disregard all that he did and simply label him as another “pot-head musician.” You see, Bob Marley symbolizes a point of contention and it is not the only one we face as a community. What role do Muslims play in popular Media? Should we channel our efforts to show why Muslims are just like any other faith group living in the western world? Should we disregard the calls for everyday Junaid’s and Jamila’s to condone the actions of another Muslim across the country and world? Note that I do not use the conjunction or in the sentences above.
“It is very easy to pick two opposing statements,
attempt to juxtapose them and then force neutral bystanders to pick a side or risk being ostracized for their so-called apathy. This powerful and damaging division between the community takes many forms.” Conservative vs Liberal Muslims, Salafi’s vs Sufi’s, international students vs domestic, My Islam vs Your Islam, etc. These battle lines are nothing new yet we still experience their effects in almost every interaction we have: at the mosque, at home and in the MSA. Take any contentious issue, like having a Bob Marley benefit concert and you will immediately see two major voices speaking. The first vocalizing their disdain or hesitation with the event because of what they believe Bob Marley represents and how their decision will be perceived by the outside community. While this is not a bad thing, the main critique of this line of thinking presents the issue, when left unchecked, of the individual’s willingness to compromise in the diverse beliefs systems that they currently find themselves in. Likewise, the second will vocalize their absolute admiration with the event because of what they believe Bob Marley represents and how their decision will be perceived by the outside community. While this is not a bad thing, the main critique for this group is often how the pursuit of assimilation as a means of compromise, when left unchecked, enables the individuals to pursue arguably questionable paths. 18 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2017
Ride atty Ride
I do not like these labels. At All. They do not accurately represent the many and overlapping opinions that are shared when discussing a topic that merits discourse. Moreover, it showcases the evil practices of labelling the other and further enables a physical division between verbal disagreements. It sheds light on an issue that has come into popularity because of the earlier US elections---that is the problem of identity politics. “It is very easy for your ego to show when you are arguing over positions” (Getting to Yes, 2011) and so, when you are presented with compelling information against your position, rather than digesting the information, you become defensive. Often, these instances transcend conversation and become competitions. In the pursuit of winning, however defined, resentment and toxicity permeate the relationship and inhibit further communication and –worse- the pursuit of working towards the shared goal of doing good. The key is to dig deeper. Behind every person’s perspective lie their own underlying interests and each side needs to realize two things before entering the discourse. They first must understand that they are entering a negotiation where each side has specific interests that they want addressed. After accepting this, they should work towards finding shared interests and those that are in conflict. By doing so, you get to visualize the real motives driving the other person’s thought process and reasoning behind the position they occupy. Moreover, in the pursuit of remedying conflicting interests, we have the potential to find compromises that will satisfy both parties. Compromise is not always a bad thing. We think of compromising as one party gaining something while the other loses something. However, the question that should be posed is not why there must be a winner and a loser but rather how can we both win. “We both win when we agree on our shared interests and look for mutual gains.” (Getting to Yes, 2011) I’ll start you off. The most important shared interest that comes with MSA leadership and leadership in general is the desire to make a positive and meaningful change. That desire should be your foundation when engaging in any type of community driven work. When you fail, and trust me you undoubtedly will, you need to remember why you started the journey in the first place: the desire to make a positive and meaningful change is the fuel that keeps you going. You need to Ride Natty…Ride.
And no matter what game they play, Eh, we got something they could never take away; We got something they could never take away: Jah say this judgement - it could never be with water, No water could put out this fire (fire): This fire (fire), this fire (fire), This fire (fire), a yaga y’all! Ride, Natty, ride! Ride Natty Ride (1979) APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 19
Am I Islam-ing?:
A Worldview in Verbal Action SARAH M. KAMALUDDIN
slam. Is-laam. Rooted in the Arabic letters s-l-m (م-ل- )سrelated to the words safety, security, submission, and peace.
Any student of Arabic has come across and at one point has had to engage with the verbal system of the language. Every word in Arabic has root letters, and these root letters are related to basic concepts in our worldly experiences. When a word is taken from its most basic form, it can be formulated within a verbal pattern that will alter the meaning of the word, based on the purpose of the chosen verbal form in which it is formed. For the above-mentioned root letters of م-ل-س, there are several related verbs. A few examples include:
• Form 1: sa-li-ma, to be safe; to be free
• Form 2 (intensive version of Form 1): salla-ma, to preserve
• Form 4 (causative version of Form 1): as-la-ma, to resign oneself; to surrender
• Form 3 (associative meaning to Form 1): saa-la-ma, to make peace
• Form 5 (reflexive version of Form 3): ta-salla-ma; to make peace with each othe
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The word islam is the infinitive form of Form 4 in the s-l-m root family. Islam, then, is to resign, to surrender, and to do so in alignment with peace, freedom, and security. A muslim, by definition, is one who resigns peacefully and surrenders in security. This linguistic analysis of the words that Muslims choose to identify themselves with (islam, muslim) poses a rather pressing question: in lieu of asking the timeworn, “Is that Islamic/Islam?” or “Is my Islam correct?” we may consider asking, “Is x Islam-ing?” and more importantly, “Am I Islam-ing?” That is, to ask, am I surrendering in security and freedom? Am I resigning from all that which harms me, my soul, and my existence, in absolute peace? Are my thoughts, my intentions, my actions, my behaviours, and all that I am and choose to be in accordance with the peaceful submission that we all strive for? Only you get to answer this question. No one, but God, gets to decide it for you, as only you truly know whether or not your continual and conscious existence is in line with the worldview that you choose to identify yourself with. And you get to perpetually decide it. If we are conscious, healthy, and mindful beings that encounter thousands of choices in the duration of our lives, then we get to decide who we are. From the moment we arise from our nightly slumber, we get to decide the attitude with which we will proceed throughout the day with. We are able to decide whether or not we will share even the subtlest smile or a miserly frown with our fellow human beings. We get to select the sustenance with which we either nourish or harm
our minds and bodies. We choose our goals, whether imminent or decades away, and we work towards them. We strive, we aspire, and we continue to do so, all through the will of God. Islam, as the religious tradition that we know, could not sustain itself without human beings to perform it; without people to islam, and Muslims are the ones who get to islam. Possibly, then, an epistemological transformation in our perceptions is necessary. Perhaps, Islam is not a fragile artifact- a noun, whose delicacy and inalterable nature must be clung on to, and instead, is an evolving, growing verb that is meaningful and embraced by each and every human being who desires it. A muslim, then, is defined by far more than the five mandated pillars of their religious tradition which they adhere to. They are unique; they have a story that is distinct from anyone else’s. They are an individual with unparalleled talents and inimitable qualities. They belong to communities of people that are interdependent and valued. And in all the many facets of their life with which they interact, they have the choice to feel whether their religious identity and philosophical worldview is bound to certain areas of their existence, or if encompasses who they essentially are and decide to persistently be. The choice is yours. You can choose to be entrenched in cynicism and hate, in greed and in idleness, in isolation and misery, and in your ego and selfishness. Or, you can choose to embrace liveliness and joy, hope and perseverance, vitality, growth, and love, and peace, faith, and submission to the Good, the Just, the Loving. You can choose to islam.
“So where are you going?” (Qur’an, Surah At-Takwir, 81:26).
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A Case For Art SAFWAN HOSSAIN
Art can have a practical impact upon us and should be integrated in our routine to help us navigate and make sense of the myriad aspects of life
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e are often weary of art. The greatest books and the finest paintings are often confusing, obscure and make little sense at first glance. However, we also know we should not be ignorant of art, as it is a necessary part of a well-rounded individual. So on an odd occasion, we may pick up a rather musty book, or listen to something deeper and thoughtful. In doing so we may come across a work that, for a fleeting moment, evokes in us a sense of grandeur and majesty and raises us above the petty concerns of life. On the whole, we view art as something detached from our everyday reality, and should be indulged in occasionally to distract ourselves. However, this need not be the case as art can have a practical impact upon us and should be integrated in our routine to help us navigate and make sense of the myriad aspects of life. One does not crack open a history textbook or a go through a mathematical proof without expecting to put in effort to learn and study. These ideas were a culmination of centuries of effort and development; we appreciate this and so we allow ourselves time and patience. Due to this effort we arrive at a far greater appreciation and understanding of the topic. We should take a similar approach to art. A painting we may see at a gallery, or book we pick up is a culmination of a lifetime of effort, learning and observation. Leo Tolstoy spent six years studying history, philosophy, politics and writing hundreds of pages of unpublished dialogue, as he worked on War and Peace. What seems at first like an incoherent book jumping between family drama, war narrative, and philosophical discussion, is in fact a work devoted to exploring the innumerable intricacies of the human experience. Moreover, while a textbook or theorem can address its content bluntly and methodically, art cannot do that. It must appeal to aesthetics and conform to the folds of its medium, whether it’s a canvas, a pen, or a stage, while also trying to discuss its idea. This is a difficult act to master and causes art to be dense, with layered meanings and interpretations. At first glance, Monet’s Waterlilies shows us a very pleasing landscape painting of a garden. We can be content with that but the painting will have little lasting effect. However, when we study Monet’s life and viewpoints, and observe the progression of his work, we realize that his style and technique embody his lifelong fascination with light and movement. Meanwhile, the
subject matter is related to his study of eastern thought and speaks to constant change and impermanence of nature. The paintings now take on a new meaning and every brushstroke or dollop of colour becomes alive. We may be inclined to ask: is it worth the time and effort to understand and appreciate art? Other pursuits have a very well defined purpose: we may study harder to achieve better grades, get certifications to move up in our career, or go to a gym to get in better physical shape. The end justifies any and all effort we expend in our endeavors; however, we often find no discernable benefit or purpose of art. Nonetheless, there is something truly unique about art. While a mathematician may delight in Euler’s relation and a philosopher in Descartes’ argument, a good book or a delightful piece of music can be enjoyed and admired by all. Art is universal in its appeal and therein lies its true power. It speaks to and comments on the most human of topics and tackles questions that have eclipsed all minds through pure aesthetic power, without burdening its audience with technical jargon or theory. In a sense, art is a mirror through which we can see ourselves as individuals and as a society. In our moments of joy or happiness, we can look to art to complement and better explore that euphoria, and in moments of sorrow and dejection we find in it, solace and hope. Art can also make us aware of the many minute details of life and nature that pass us by, and make us more grateful for the world God has granted us. It can also be a powerful tool that gives voice to the oppressed and explores the concerns and grievances of society as a whole. Above all, it speaks to the universality of the human experience regardless of the differences we have, breaking down barriers, to foster mutual understanding. Yes, art may sometimes be dense or boring, and learning about it may serve no obvious benefit or purpose. Nonetheless, we should still appreciate art and spend time on it as it will give us a better perspective of ourselves and of society. So the next time you have a chance to go to a gallery, pick up a classic book, listen to a composition, or just learn about an artist, make the most of it. The experience may turn out to be far more enjoyable and rewarding than you expected. April 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 23
YOU Hirra Ahmed
ow much does that tell you about who I really am?
Each of the labels that I mentioned, I have taken upon myself while growing up. In a world with people of all different genders, faiths, colours and interests, I am told to pick a label to describe who I am. With these labels I become defined as a part of a group that has socially imposed appearances, family structures, ways of dressing, social norms, likes, dislikes, interests, and beliefs. In a world that is too occupied and busy to understand an individual, we look for
I am a Muslim.
labels and put others into a box. It sort of works like cataloguing, I suppose. We’re being efficient. We’re saving time to move on to other important parts of our lives. To be honest I’ve done the same to others, until I began to realize how inaccurate and insufficient these boxes are. The complexity, depth, and meaningfulness of someone’s experiences can never be understood by learning about someone’s faith, occupation, age, country of birth or origin. Yet these are often some the first questions we’re asked in many social settings.
I am a student at the University of Toronto.
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I am also a Canadian with Pakistani heritage.
Our labels lead to assumptions and an almost satisfied curiosity, which inhibits the ability to see the person in front of us as a complete and unique human. These imposed identities inhibit us from viewing others as individuals we can potentially learn a lot from. As a woman I have been made aware of the damage an imposed identity can cause. Being imposed with fragility and weakness does injustice to my drive to learn, thrive and succeed in academic, work or social settings. As an identifiable Muslim woman, I am made aware of the stereotypical image presented of me through the media. I am made aware of the imposition of these images through those prolonged glances, curious stares, and altered ways of interaction in multiple different settings. I am made aware of my own inhibitions when I hear a story, point of view, or lesson from someone I may have decided to give little consideration to. In those moments when I learn deeply personal lessons from those that take on the most opposing labels, I consciously decide to look at each person without imposing identities based on socially constructed labels. Instead I make a conscious effort to listen. I make an effort to remind myself that I have a lot to learn; that the world is bigger than me or my understanding of it. I have to know that my experience as a woman, or a Muslim, or anything else for that matter does not extend beyond myself. I will not impose, or assume. I will listen and I will learn and give each person their due consideration. I will break down labels, shatter glass ceilings and refuse to fit myself into boxes that others have created for me. I will embrace my uniqueness, my likes, dislikes, and
I am a woman.
interests and not let others inhibit my growth, understanding or potential.
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Dear Muslim Men, Haseeb Chowdhry
كل نفس بما كسبت رهينة
rowing up in a South Asian Muslim household in Canada, I was given a unique perspective on life. However, within this unique perspective, I have come across some problematic things. I have seen Muslim women in my friend groups and family that have been unfairly treated and scrutinized by the larger Muslim community. This scrutiny largely stems from other Muslim men, who attempt to control the lives of their wives, sisters and daughters. Now scrutiny can come in a multitude of ways, I’ve seen instances where intelligent Muslim girls are denied the opportunity to go to University away from their hometown or even from participating in after school activities. Meanwhile a son from the same family can do what he pleases. Women’s abilities are often reduced to bringing honour to the family through a husband and children. I’ve seen professional Muslim women with degrees denied leadership opportunities in Muslim organizations simply for their gender. These are only a few instances from what I have observed, I can only imagine the experience of being a Muslim woman who has to go through this on a daily basis. Issues concerning gender are taboo within the Muslim community and many do not see this as a problem. Although many of us may not see why, inequality comes with harsh consequences. Being a visible Muslim woman is already difficult enough with harassment and other external factors but it becomes members of our own community which make it even more difficult. If we do not allow for women to get the best and greatest education, or to have leadership roles then it only hurts us in the end. Women’s voices need to be elevated and heard. They offer a unique and insightful perspective that is lacking within the Muslim community today. Now with all this in mind, the question that should be posed is, how do we find a solution? We need to first recognize that there is a problem that needs fixing and make it an imperative for our Muslim mothers, daughters and sisters. This, in my opinion, is the most difficult of things to do. Islam does not force women to play second fiddle to men. These issues are not theologically based but stem from patriarchal cultural systems. In chapter 74 verse 38 Allah (SWT) states “Every soul will be (held) in pledges for its deeds” therefore regardless of gender, a person will be judged on the good and the bad that he has done in the duniya. Islam came to the Quraysh and immediately changed the role of women. Pre-Islamic Arabia was rife with the mistreatment of women, they were subjugated to infanticide, could not own any property and were treated like second class citizens. When the Prophet (PBUH) came with the message of Islam things substantially changed for women in
Arabia. They were provided freedoms they were never given before. Throughout Islamic history there have been a multitude of women who have made a significant impact such as the Prophet’s (PBUH) first wife Khadijah (RA) who was an experienced business woman and a trusted confidante of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) was not intimidated by a strong woman being by his side. Another one of his wives Hafsa Bint Umar (RA) was responsible for safeguarding the Quran under the caliphate of Abu Bakr (RA). In addition, she is credited with narrating around 60 hadith of the Prophet (SAW). Nusaybah bint Ka’ab (RA)’s story is incredible as both her sons died during the battle of Uhud she grabbed a shield and a sword and went into battle. University of Qarawiyyin, the world’s oldest university, was founded by a Muslim woman, Fathima Al Fihri. Sultan Razziya was the head of the Mughal empire and was noted for building up public institutions like libraries and public education. I can go on and on about the incredible things that Muslim women have contributed to Islamic History. What to keep in mind is that Muslim women were diverse in the things that they did, they were not forced to conform to rigid gender roles and took it upon themselves to help the greater Muslim ummah. The men of the Muslim community can do multiple things to help their female counterparts. First and foremost, we need to stand up for our Muslim sisters, wives and mothers. When we see something that is unfair and unjust then it is our duty to step up for them. Conversations on gender roles need to start happening across the Muslim world. We must stop denying the lived experience of Muslim women and see how we are complicit in their hardships. The best thing Muslim men can do is give our women the support as they need and desire it. Do not be afraid of a strong and confident Muslim woman, we need more of them. Muslims in general should be unabashedly proud to be Muslim in Canada. With the rise of right wing nationalism and the Trump administration in the United States we need to put up a fight so that our civil liberties are not stomped on. Women will play a significant part to this and as such Muslim leadership must diversify and give women positions of power, not just in a way that tokenizes them, but because they are an integral part of our community. We have more than enough women who can fulfill these roles. I realize that this is not something that can happen overnight and will take time. However, with troubling times ahead, it needs to happen. To be fair, as a man I can never truly understand how it is to be a Muslim woman but I can stand up for them and call out injustice when I see it. APRIL 2017 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 27
s a student of physiology and psychology, the sciences of the human body and the human mind, I have made it a personal goal of mine to draw parallels with my faith whenever I sit in a classroom lecture. The secularism that dominates the teachings at Western institutions attempts to have us believe that scientific advancements move in a direction that is opposite from spirituality and religious beliefs. If I ever come across religion in a reading, it is usually only mentioned as a characteristic or â&#x20AC;&#x153;a thing that exists,â&#x20AC;? as if it is simply an artifact or a by-product of the human mind. When I learn something in class, I train my mind to automatically try to make sense of it through the lens of God and of metaphysics. It feels almost as if the knowledge I gain would be missing its essence if I did not attempt to root it in something more meaningful, and it is incredible how much of what is taught about the science of human nature echoes the teachings of the Quran and the prophetic Sunnah.
I call it silent rebellion against the plague of secularism. I call it silent rebellion against the plague of secularism. Speaking up about these spiritual reflections would only earn them an automatic dismissal and a label of absolute absurdity: topics about the existence of God or religion are implicitly unwelcome in these conversations. As if God isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the One who allowed us to sit in this classroom in the first place, to discuss the science of what He has created and what He has allowed us to observe and discover.
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All these scientific theories seem so temporary, so fleeting, and without substance when they are not ingrained in the roots of existence. Humans are thirsty for knowledge and discovery but act as if everything of knowledge that can possibly exist has not already been predetermined. The scientists of our times try to make sense of the fragments and pieces that they come across, and through it they build a science. Yet this fragmented science is filled with gaps: the things that we do not fully understand and the things that we have not yet discovered. It is a delusion to think that our brains have an unlimited capacity to understand the world, without the need to depend on a Higher source of knowledge. Neuroscientists who study the brain know too well that the human brain itself has countless limitations, yet the way that we trust the conclusions it makes is quite the ambitious conviction. No matter how much we discover of the neurobiology of memory, the brain chemistry responsible for schizophrenia, and the underlying causes for depression, we will never be able to fully predict or understand the way the human mind functions. Almost every time a new discovery is made or a new theory is developed, there is an opposite reaction that sheds light on the limitations, the exceptions, and the contradictions. Intention renewal is key to obtaining knowledge in a balanced way. It is time that we surrender and appreciate science through the light of Divinity. We need to let our minds taste the sweetness that comes with stopping and pondering about how this all came about, and the peace that comes with knowing that only God has complete knowledge of everything. This renewal of intentions will only allow us to strive toward knowledge with more conviction and it can give us the ability to understand it with complete serenity.
Lessons Learned & Reminders:
Advice for Students AMEN HAMMAD
he number one lesson I have learned after 4 years of studying at Rotman Commerce is that the University experience is what you make of it. A lot of people get bogged down by the daily grind: studying, working, eating, sleeping etc, and they get way too stressed about grades. I want to pull you all out of this mindset, help you maximize study efficiency with this exclusive set of study hacks. That way you can save time in your schedule to engage in extracurricular projects that are meaningful to you, spend time with friends and family and so much more!
Planning and Prioritizing: I like to start every semester by “mapping out” my schedule. Every important exam and assignment is noted in my schedule from the beginning. This has helped me tremendously in planning ahead for busy weeks with multiple exams or assignment deadlines, i.e. that time of year you pray extra carefully and spend lots of time with your tasbeeh rather than streaming Netflix. Head out to the UTSU office, pick up a free student handbook and get planning! Bright and Early Mornings: Our Islamic faith is designed for busy students such as ourselves. I enjoy waking up every morning for Fajr and spending my early mornings reviewing course material, finishing up homework or brainstorming ideas for assignments. This is basically a reverse “all-nighter” that will help you get school work finished off early so that you can spend your day engaging in the fun events that are going on at campus all year round. You will also feel well-rested and productive. Studying right after waking up is one of the most effective ways of memorizing and retaining information for memorization heavy courses, such as history courses.
Attend classes: I notice a lot of students skipping out on a classes, especially during those really busy weeks with multiple deadlines. This is highly counterintuitive. By finishing up your homework and studying after Fajr from Step 2, you have saved time during the day to attend class and ask the Professor thoughtful questions about any material you’re still confused with. Professors are an amazing resource, they teach the bulk of the material, write the exams and grade you! Get some highly valued guidance from Professors by attending class. Avoid procrastination: Easier said than done. There are many instances I’ve put off assignments because I’m afraid of having no idea how to even begin to formulate a cohesive answer. The first step in solving this dilemma would be to read through the assignment and highlight the key words. These keywords have probably been defined and explained at length in the lecture slides, notes or textbook. These preliminary notes will put you on the right track to getting an A in the assignment. Remember: any large task can be broken into smaller, easier steps. This has always worked for me even in advanced accounting/audit courses with 20+ page assignments!
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S h a yk h
Y a s ir Q a d h i P re s e n ts
S I E G E o f m a k k a h L E S S O N S&MO R A L S MAY21, 2016 TORONTO
6PM 9PM al maghr i b. or g/s i ege