WINTER 2015 / VOLUME XX/ ISSUE II
TABLE OF CONTENTS
4 5 6 8 10 12
CONTENTS Editor’s Address Amina Mohamed
Associate Editor’s Address Elham Ali Lifestyle
We Need To Talk Elham Ali
Eating Clean Yasmine Kherfi Academics and Career
Inside the Career Centre Roshaan Wasim
Practical aspects of work and education after graduation Nora S. Fathalipour
Finance and Sanity Nimo Abdulahi
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The Quest for Agency Naveeda Hussein
The Armchair Activist Sania Khan Culture and Heritage
Freewill and Islam Omar Qashshou
2 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | JANUARY 2015
STAFF Copy Editors Noor Baig Laila Khoshkar
Editor in Chief Amina Mohamed
Graphic Designers Ammar ElAmir Anam Alvi Reem Draz Manal Chowdhury
Associate Editor Elham Ali
Photographers Adel Keshavarz Mouna Tahar
Writers Amina Allalo Elham Ali Naveeda Hussein Nimo Abdulahi Nora S. Fathalipour Omar Qashshou Roshaan Wasim Sania Khan Yasmine Kherfi
Illustrator Seema Shafei
Special Thanks Zaeem Siddiqui (TMV Online Manager) Nilufer Hoque (Vice President MSA) Yasmine Nasef (TMV Liason) Hamdi Ali (Cover Photo)
*THE IDEAS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THE MAGAZINE DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THOSE OF THE TMV STAFF, THE MSA, AND THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO STUDENTS' UNION
JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 3
PHOTO // MOUNA TAHAR
Head Content Editor
Editor’s address Amina mohamed
s Salamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatu,
Jazakallahu khair for picking up the latest issue of the TMV. In this issue, our team sought to uncover the basic tenants of maturity: responsibility, compromise, respect and a willingness to push through adversity. University students are placed in an unusual middle ground between adolescence and adulthood in that we are granted all the freedoms of teenage-hood but with the added weight of personal and financial responsibility. It is easy to complete a degree and forget you have debts to pay or few theoretical job opportunities, that is until your final semester. This act of forgetting is the separating factor that creates the quintessentially selfish, self-centred, immature and isolated university bubble. It is the very thing that allows us to experience these years with such youthful abandon. It is the proverbial formaldehyde in our personal, portable fountains of youth. The TMV hopes to jump-start these conversations before the bell tolls on convocation day. What does it mean to be an adult? How do you learn to manage finances while they are still a student? How does looking after your body help you in the long run? How do you balance work and play? How do we adult? The purpose of this issue is to explore the intersection between scholarship and practical skills. How prepared are we to enter the real world and what does “the real world” even mean? As we prepare ourselves for this potentially perilous journey, we steel ourselves with the knowledge that Hamlet, Shakespeare’s greatest character, was also faced with this difficult task of choosing forward action over passivity, of welcoming change and addressing personal adversity. Granted his experience ended in death, so let us rest knowing we may, at the very least, best him in that. This time around the TMV covers all these topics and more. Have a read and try to answer some of them for yourself and send us an email with your answers.
Amina Mohamed Editor-in-Chief
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associate editorâ€™s address
elham mohammed ali
s'salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatu to you, our dearest readers. How are you? How've your exams been, I hope they went well.
Jazakallahu khair for picking up this newest issue of the TMV, it means so much to those who have worked on it. Alhamdulillah, this year the TMV has been blessed to have so many wonderful and talented individuals, each with their own set of experiences, insights, and visions, working on the magazine in all its aspects. From the writers to the photographers and graphic designers, and our editors as well, the aim of the TMV is to give our readers a variety of perspectives, and I think that the diversity of our teams has done that beautifully. Alhamdulillah. It was one of the intrepid members of the TMV team who early on named this issue "How to Adult," our aim to create a how-to guide for our readers on just a few of the facets of adulthood. With articles ranging from health to social activism and grad school, again we hope that everyone will find something relevant to them. At the same time though, I like to think of the magazine itself as being an embodiment of the theme in that there was a lot of "adulting" that went into it; a lot of adult skills and challenges that went on behind the scenes. Certain issues that we couldn't put into words, like the importance of teamwork (because I wholeheartedly believe that it is in adulthood and not childhood that we learn to play nice with others), the ability to take criticism, how to be a team leader as well as a teammate, and how to put yourself out there in the real wide world, and deal with both the success and the failure are all important aspects of being an adult. While they are not in article form, they were a big part of creating the magazine you hold in your hands, and I hope that you, our readers, see this. Thank you again for picking up the TMV, I hope that you gain from it in any small way, be it a smile, a laugh, a question or a burning desire to write for us as well. All the best to you and happy reading,
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PHOTO // Hiyam Kadi
Elham Mohammed Ali Associate Editor of the TMV
LIFESTYLE “And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” (Quran: 17:23)
have a very vague memory of sometime in high school, discussing parents with my friends as we walked home from school. While the details of the memory are faded near to black one instance stands out when, for whatever reason or another, I had mentioned to my non-Muslim friends that in Islam, respect towards parents was a concept paramount. “It’s basically,” I had said, cutting the air with my hands, one over the other, “worship God, then respect your parents.” Whether I knew it then or not I cannot be sure, but that afternoon what I had essentially quoted was the above sited verse, ayah 23 of Surat Al-Isra’. Growing up, every Muslim child hears this verse, quoted directly or indirectly, at some point in their early lives, and more often than not, more than once. From our parents and sheikhs, aunties and uncles, Quran school teachers abundant, respect for parents was a concept drilled into us. Alhamdulillah, I for one have no complaints against this concept and having spent a year working at a daycare, I can understand why it’s so important and applaud the adults in my life for teaching it to me early on. At the same time, appreciation does not bar me from critical analysis, and looking back on my life and around me right now, I notice that respect for parents, while it is vital, has always had a certain look about it in my own communities and those I have seen. Often in the eyes of our parents, “respect” is equated with total obedience, which as a child is fine but as an adult becomes a bit more of a challenge, especially when it’s time to make those big life choices. Now before I begin, I would like to foreground my article with the stipulation that this is not and will not become an invitation to rebellion against parents in the Muslim community. Respect for parents is coded in our deen and closer to godliness than cleanliness. The fact that Allah mentions it right after worshipping Him is a clear testament to its importance in Islam. What I will be discussing in this article is a very particular situation and circumstance, that being the point in every young Muslim’s life when it comes time to make those big decisions for the future, be it in terms of a career, education or even choosing a spouse. The reason why respect for parents is so closely tied to this is because very often, parents have a certain plan for their children that involves an idea of what they want them to be doing and sometimes this plan can come into conflict with what the child wants for themselves. As university students now, and as a new graduate I can attest to the fact that finding a balance between self actualization in an academic and cultural environment that heavily favours the wants of the individual, and a spiritually mandated need to please and respect your parents and their desires can be incredibly challenging. So the question I will attempt to tackle in this article is, where and how does one find such a balance? I must also emphasize that I am no expert in parent and child relations, and what I say here should be taken with a cup full of salt and a critical eye. What I will try to do here is, based on my own experiences as well as outside sources that I have researched, try and present what I have seen as tips and advice for students who are look6 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | JANUARY 2015
WE NEED BY ELHAM ALI
ing to make their own choices. Let the records show that readers have been warned, therefore go forward down this path at your own risk. For the entirety of my life, my father wanted me to be a doctor and my mother, a politician. I wanted to be a ballerina, gymnast, teacher, archaeologist, writer, astronomer, architect, lawyer, and at one point pediatrician. I soonrealized that literature had my heart and settled for a major in English at the University of Toronto. I was happy to go with the wind, consider my options, and pray for the best, because Allah is the best of planners and I’m still young, right? While my mother came to accept early on that this was the path I had chosen (particularly because it still leaves the “diplomat” door open), throughout my undergraduate years my father still maintained the hope that I would switch to a major in engineering despite making it clear that I had not the stomach for science. But now graduation has passed (I convocated on November 17th, Alhamdulillah, with both parents present and proud), and real life begins, so it came time to make the big decisions. The truth is, this situation is nothing new but it’s just more prevalent now because there are more decisions to make. Be you a first or fourth year, in between or beyond, you’ve had to make an important life choice before, if you’re in a post secondary institution and majoring in something, you’ve done it, and knowing that should make future instances of decision making less scary no matter what the decision. There are, however, certain things with which you can arm yourself that will make the decisions you make in the present and in the future easier, because you will be older and wiser and maturity should come with that bachelor’s degree. A few things I have learned that are necessary tools for a mature parent child relationship -the kind where you can be the respectful, dutiful child that you know you should be, but still be the individual you want to be, because these things are not mutually exclusive,- are in the verse itself. An important thing to note about verse 23 of Surat Al-Isra’, is that it is firm in its command, but it is also beautifully vague. What I mean is that the command is to respect your parents alone, and while the ayah lists the major trappings of respect, namely caring for your parents in old age, not brushing them off and speaking to them respectfully, it leaves the rest open to our own interpretations. Moreover, there is no mention of the self there in any limiting sense, what is commanded is the bare minimum of what you should do, and the rest is left to us. As long as we maintain that minimum, and do so properly and to the best of our abilities and intentions, finding yourself and choosing your own path is fine, as long as you do so respectfully. So the key then becomes figuring out how to do that, and these are the keys I will hope to provide here. The first, and arguably the most important thing, is clear and open communication between you and your parents. The difficulty with this is that while it is the most important thing, it can also be the most difficult to achieve. The reason for this is that, I know personally and for many people that I’ve known over my lifetime, “communication” throughout childhood was usually one way, and often came down in the form of a command. As kids this made sense. I know I for one
D TO TALK
had a plan in place for executing them in such a way that did not put my futurity at risk. And I am working on it. No matter what the issue is, what you want to study, where you want to work, or even who you want to marry; to be taken seriously as an adult you must prove to your parents that you are mature enough to make adult decisions, that you know what you are doing, that you’ve thought it through and are prepared to take those steps, be they small or large.
Making decisions, taking steps and putting plans into action are all well and good, but it is also vital that throughout, we as children maintain boundaries and respect for our parents, that is what it all comes back to. As you get older it can be tempting, and remarkably easy, to fall prey to the illusion of self sustainability, basically “I am (insert age), I am grown, I need no one especially not my parents”. Do not lie, we’ve all thought it at least once. And as intelligent as I’m sure our high caliber degrees demonstrate, thoroughly researched plans and surefire decisions mean nothing to our parents if they are executed at the expense of our relationships with them. Again, the beauty of verse 23 is in its breadth. The ayah is clear, in his explanation of the verse in a 2011 “Quran Weekly” video, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan points out that the word used to describe one’s conduct towards their parents is “ihsaanan”, meaning “the best”. The Ustadh also points out that the word is grammatically an exertation, meaning that it implies force in the action being described; the Oxford English Dictionary defines “to exert” as “to manifest in action” or “to put forth one’s latent powers” (“exert”). So what the ayah is doing then is two things, grammatically, the forceful tense of the word, “ihsaan” is a superlative giving it more implied force than its regular tense “ahsan” meaning better or good, it gives the command more weight. At the same time, the exertation also implies will and force on the part of the one doing the action. What the ayah So how does one do that? The answer is reis basically saying is “you must actively spectfully and tactfully, which leads to the second point which is to be the absolute best to your parents”. That is the command, so it go in with a plan, or at the very least, an idea. The key to self actual- is important to make sure that this is kept in mind throughout ization is to actually know what you want and how you plan to get it. the conversations, and sometimes arguments, that we will have. This sounds frighteningly specific, I know, and I realize that the girl who’s “going with the wind” probably doesn’t seem like the person who Finally, my ultimate advice is this, do not be afraid. Once should be giving such advice. However sometimes, knowing what you again, the plans, concerns and machinations of our parents are want can be as simple as knowing what you don’t want. For example, brought out of love. They want us to do well and be happy, and I knew that sciences and mathematics weren’t for me because I prefer very often, especially for those who are new immigrants in a forcreative expression and critical thinking to calculations, and knowing eign land, they know only a few ways to do this. So we must be pathat, I could narrow my options enough that when I went to speak to tient and understanding with them, and know that no matter what my parents about what I wanted to do with my life, I wasn’t all over the we do, hopefully, they will still love us at the end of it. Hopefully. map or coming with nothing. Your parents have a plan for you, so if you come forward with nothing, then the natural alternative is what’s So, two roads diverge in a winter wood, and you, being one already in place. Moreover, what we also need to realize is that more traveler, cannot travel both. So you must make a choice. But these often than not, our parents’ plans are born primarily of concern. My roads wind back and forth, they crossover each other and somedad used to talk all the time about my “futurity,” how I was going to times they are miles apart, but in the end they run side by side. sustain myself in the future and in his eyes, literature provided noth- But so long as you keep the best of intentions and make those ing for me while medicine was a “guaranteed” alternative. So in order choices carefully, know that as long as you are happy in the end, to convince him of my decisions, I had to prove to him that I knew you’ve made the right ones. what those decisions entailed, that I had done my research and that I needed my parents to tell me what to do and how to live, because if they didn’t it is very likely that I’d still have my hand stuck in an elevator somewhere. I was a trusting child and I did stupid things and my parents were always there to keep me safe. But as you grow older and you learn, suddenly you find you are able to figure things out for yourself and you no longer need your parents to tell you that the elevator door doesn’t need to be pushed and you can look at it and see that it opens by itself. Eventually, you reach university and critical thinking is part of your every day life and you are constantly being pushed to think analytically and individually. Naturally, you bring what you learn home, and find yourself having political debates with your father that you’ve never had before, you’re disagreeing and at times arguing, and you find yourself wondering why. Opening up communication with your parents on a mature level is more vital than I can impress upon anyone, and it will not just happen over one night of convocation. Let me tell everyone right now that your parents will never look at you and say “Wow, my kid is an adult now! I never have to question their life choices or tell them what to do again. They’ll be fine without me! Mission accomplished!” If only, if only. Parents always see their kids as kids, everyone knows it, so unless we as adult children speak up and open the doors of adult communication ourselves, our parents will forever speak to us as if we are still those four your old kids getting our hands caught in elevator doors.
JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 7
ILLUSTRATIONS // SEEMA SHAFEI
EATING MY EXPERIENCE
t is safe to say that most of us care about our health and wellbeing to a certain extent, and that of our family and friends as well. Yet in all honesty, at first I was annoyed and thrown off by the overload of fitness-related pictures and quotes that invaded social media. The “fitspiration” trends had exponentially grown in a very narrow time span. From “foodstagrammer” posts of green smoothies and plant-based dishes, to pictures of New Balance and Nike running shoes, I wondered whether social networks effectively promoted a healthy lifestyle, or merely gave us the platforms on which to trick people into believing we cared about health issues. After all, these are the same social networks that ingrain self-promotion in our daily lives to a rather sickening extent, of which we are all (perhaps subconsciously) guilty of, myself included of course. So I assumed the same about the social media fitness and clean eating trends. It looked like they incentivized posting pictures of artistically arranged salads, for nothing else but the pursuit of a sense of validation from the virtual community, measured by the number of “likes” one got. When a significant amount of time is spent moving around a bowl of oat meal with dried fruit and diced mangoes, to find its most flattering angle and the best source of light for the perfect picture, its perhaps safe to say my worries were justified. Because the age of technology provides us with so many tools to fabricate our lives, it becomes difficult to tell in general whether certain trends take place based on genuine concern or not. For this reason, the idea of following the mainstream was not appealing. I mean, quinoa salads for lunch and kale chips for dessert … Really now? A chocolate fudge cake sounded much better. I viewed the trends merely as a way of flaunting the inner “hipster”, a sort of free-spirited and environment-loving part of us. (Needless to say, I was (and still am) proud that mainstream trends are not limited to the likes of twerking).
of my fellow foodies out there can relate. Before entering university, we are exposed to many myths about college life and unfortunately, a lot of them are not debunked the moment we start year one. Most of the time, we learn through experience, and that was the case when it came to the lifestyle and eating habits to adopt in college. University life is usually described as a stage in which we can afford to be sloppy and messy, sleep late and eat pizza - an integral part of the student diet apparently. And while deep down, many of us know that this is an exaggeration that we may have partially borrowed from the Hollywood movie culture’s perception of college life, I still took it as a way to justify any bad habits I had. If I was spending an all-nighter at the library, the excuse was “hey, it's university, we all cram for exams.” If I was having a Subway sandwich for dinner, four days in a row, the excuse was “hey, it's university, we don’t have time to cook.” The idea of how university life was supposed to be lived was used as a way to shelter me not only from the adult world of work, but also from “adulting” in ways that did not require me to wait until studies were over – in fact, ways that were actually an important part of the university experience. I believe an essential part of “adulting” is working on self-improvement, and I decided to start with changing my diet.
What I would call “stress eating” was blowing out of proportion and made me feel guilty and moody.
However, I quickly started to realize that my college eating habits needed to change. What I would call “stress eating” was blowing out of proportion and made me feel guilty and moody. No amount of school work could justify treating my body in such a way. I came to understand that there will always be a lot of work to do in life, and that I had to stop making excuses and learn to treat myself with care regardless of the situation I am in. I am sure some 8 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | JANUARY 2015
We are at a stage in life where we develop the habits that become difficult to change in the future. I did not want unhealthy eating to become one of them. Nevertheless, it took experiencing its discomfort to truly realize all the bad effects it had on me, and actually feel motivated to do something about it. It turned out that the benefits were far greater than I had ever imagined. Obviously, we do not have to be doctors to know that living on pizza, pasta and Subway sandwiches is not what a balanced and healthy diet looks like. Yet I was not aware of many of the benefits of clean eating, and I figured that many students may not know as well. So I would like to share with you what I found out through my personal experience in hopes that it may help you as well. First, and what was most obvious, were physical health benefits. Increasing my daily intake of fruits and vegetables made me look
CLEAN BY YASMINE KHERFI
healthier and feel more energetic. The extra energy increased my productivity. It gave me the ability to complete more tasks each day and as a result, I felt more accomplished and satisfied every evening, as I would check list what I got done during the day. Drinking a lot of water became a strict rule in my diet as well. For some reason, I was not used to drinking water that much in the past. When my friends would ask me why, I would tell them that living in a desert climate for a long time had made my body used to not needing fluids. Essentially, I believed I had the ability to tolerate dehydration and water loss like a camel. When I became aware of my alarmingly low water intake, I began to force myself to drink at least one liter per day. For someone who often confused boredom with hunger, this decision really helped me avoid unnecessary snacking. Also, my skin started to look better overtime. Drinking a lot of water and having a balanced diet decreased my facial bloating and under-eye puffiness. Who would have thought that the cure was that simple and uncostly? I had previously tried everything from putting cucumbers on my eyes to testing facials from The Body Shop, with not much luck. Increasing my water intake also helped my fatigue. It made me feel lighter and more refreshed. Not to mention, it helps with digestion and prevents constipation. Just as we need to shower regularly, we should not forget that our body needs internal cleansing just as much too. Overtime, I even began to willingly substitute high calorie drinks with water because of how good it made me feel in contrast to the sluggish feeling I would get after drinking Coke. What helped me transition into clean eating was the supportive environment as well. We are fortunate to live in a country that accommodates for the variety of nutritional preferences in our community. It was also important for me to surround myself with people who would support me rather than sabotage my efforts. That is why I decided to share my health goals with close friends. Since I do not live with my family, my friends were the only ones who could remind me to not give up when I was faced with the temptation of doing so. During my time as a member of a campus dance club, I met an outstanding dancer named Kerry. We became friends and she would invite me to join her 10 day clean eating challenges on Facebook. Every day, Kerry would post tips, such as ways to curb cravings or mobile fitness applications that would help us reach our health goals. The game required me to respect basic clean eating principles, do 30 minutes of exercise per day and keep track of what I ate. At the end of each day, I had to write how well I handled the challenge as well as BACKGROUND // ZHAOLIFANG/VECTEEZY.COM
what went wrong. The mere idea of having a challenge, as well as Kerryâ€™s encouragements, made me want to keep the momentum going. For a person who does not like losing, turning clean eating into a game made me take it seriously. I would get angry at myself whenever I ate junk food, and I even kept the habit of tracking what I eat after the Facebook challenges were over. I became more health conscious by internalizing the game rules Kerry had set up, and applying them in my daily life. Being health conscious and practicing clean eating gave me the power to affect the people around me in a particularly important aspect of their life. What better way to demonstrate positive change than by encouraging family and friends to make healthier eating choices? These small steps ultimately work towards reducing risk of disease and increasing life expectancy. Even though I cannot give medical advice, many friends still ask me about my general grocery shopping preferences as well as recipes. Furthermore, I learned that practicing clean eating is a form of self-respect. It is acknowledging the fact that our body deserves healthy food in order to fulfill its maximum potential. When I first started to prepare homemade meals, I did not enjoy it at all. But as I integrated cooking into my daily routine, I began to realize that it was an exercise that trained me to be more focussed and dedicated in any given task. I learned that I did not have to enjoy something in order to give it my full attention. Although, I eventually started to find pleasure in cooking and realized that clean eating does not have to be boring, as many people think. There are many healthy, delicious and filling foods. I have the chance to experiment with the ingredients and control the portions. Plus, I am doing a favor to my wallet and my figure. In a world that relies on technology and is increasingly threatened by physical inactivity, I figured that the health trends on social media were not so bad after all. High quality healthcare remains largely exclusive and complaining about the system would not solve anything. In reality, many people will continue to die in large part due to the aggregate effects of unhealthy choices made in their life. If I am concerned about this, it must at the least be reflected in my personal food choices. Another perk I discovered through clean eating, is that I am participating in the development of health awareness, and thus demonstrating social responsibility. I recognize the duty to utilize my health consciousness to inform and help people whenever we get the chance to. JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 9
academics and career
inside the ca Navigating the Career Centre: Common Questions and Tips
or the majority of students, the university experience is undoubtedly enjoyable and enriching, but it can also be greatly overwhelming. Trying to find the proper balance between studying, working, keeping up with friends and getting (some) sleep can be highly stressful. Indeed, possibly the only thing even more stressful than this balancing act is the transition from student life to practical life. Choosing a career path, applying to jobs, and thinking about further education are among the most important considerations for all graduating students. Fortunately, most universities have services or programs dedicated to guiding students towards a suitable career path and helping them develop the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. At the University of Toronto, this role is fulfilled by the Career Centre, which is fully accessible to all registered students at any faculty at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate levels. Having worked at the University of Toronto Career Centre for the past few months, I have realized that it is a place a lot of students seem to discover only when they enter their final year and begin to have mild anxiety attacks about their future. However, the Career Centre is there to help students from the very beginning of their university life, and even after they graduate; all graduates of the University of Toronto have full access to the Career Centre and its services for two years after graduation. After working at the Career Centre and personally speaking with the students who come in for help, it is easy to recognize that certain questions are consistently repeated, especially among students who are preparing to graduate or who have recently made the transition to working full-time. By exploring some of these common concerns below, I hope to supply some helpful information regarding the Career Centre with a special focus on the resources available for students and recent graduates who are preparing to pursue fulltime employment.
“I really need a job.” One of the best ways to discover the numerous services provided by the Career Centre is through the Career Learning Network (CLN) website (cln.utoronto.ca). After logging in to the CLN website, at first glance it is difficult to truly appreciate the wealth of information and resources it contains. The CLN website is home to a Job Board with thousands of job listings, an Events and Workshops section where you can find anything from employer information sessions to workshops that teach you how to write an effective resume, an Appointments tab that explains how to receive one-on-one help with a Career Educator, as well as other useful materials for current students and recent graduates. 10 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | JANUARY 2015
After speaking with students at the Career Centre, I have realized that many job-seeking students are unaware of the extensive Job Board on the CLN website, which is constantly updated throughout the year. The Job Board contains thousands of job postings separated into two major categories: on-campus and off-campus work. While any job board is extremely useful for job-seekers, the CLN Job Board is especially useful for University of Toronto students and recent graduates because it is available exclusively to them. In other words, when employers list job postings on the CLN Job Board, they are aware that these listings are only available to University of Toronto students and are thus actively seeking University of Toronto students and graduates to fill these roles. Of course, while this fact does not guarantee your chances of securing a job through the CLN Job Board, it is definitely a great place to start the job search process rather than looking at other generic job listings websites.
“My resume is empty!” Occasionally, I speak with students who are preparing to apply for jobs after graduation, but are concerned that they do not have any previous related work experience. Launched just this past year, the Co-Curricular Record (CCR) is a perfect tool not only to help students who feel as though their resume is empty, but also to make any job application stand out. The CCR, which can be accessed online at ccr.utoronto.ca, is a database of paid and unpaid extracurricular opportunities at the University of Toronto. In fact, over the past several years, many Canadian universities have established their own Co-Curricular Records, including Carlton, Laurier, Western, Waterloo, and York Universities. Not only can students search through the CCR database to discover opportunities on campus, the CCR also allows students to recognize the transferable skills they have gained from their previous experiences and articulate them on their resume and cover letter. For instance, the “Competencies Framework” available through the CCR website allows students to understand the different types of skills they have gained by participating in a certain activity. In this way, the CCR is definitely one of the most helpful tools to use when creating a resume. Seeing as the CCR is an official record of activities recognized and validated by the university, it is also a unique addition to any job application. The CCR complements the academic transcript by demonstrating involvement and development beyond academics. By attaching the CCR to a job application, the student has an official university document to solidify their record of participation in extracurricular activities which can help to distinguish them among other applicants.
areer centre BY roshaan wasim
Possibly the most common question I get asked at the Career Centre (apart from “Excuse me, where is the closest washroom?”) is by students who need help with improving their resume and cover letter. Although the CCR provides very helpful advice regarding the skills that can be listed on the resume, it is sometimes difficult to gauge personally whether the structure and overall appearance of your resume and cover letter are appropriate. The best place to learn the fundamental elements of creating an effective job application are the Resume and Cover Letter Workshops provided by the Career Centre. On the CLN website, the Events and Workshops link displays a wide range of workshops, including the Resume and Cover Letter Workshops. In addition to these, there are several other workshops which can be extremely useful in the job search process, including LinkedIn Labs, Own Your Interview, and Job Seekers’ Guide to the Labour Market. All University of Toronto students from any campus can choose to attend workshops at all three campuses. In case a student is unable to attend a workshop, the official Career Centre website (careers.utoronto.ca) has a collection of online workshops which have excellent tips on creating effective resumes and cover letters.
“Is this what I really want?” As students prepare to graduate and look for work in a certain field, it is natural to question whether they are on the career path which is most suitable for them. The Career Centre has several different job shadowing and placement programs which can help students decide whether they want to stay in their current field of study or pursue another interest. Not only are job shadowing programs a great way to see what a typical day at work looks like in different job settings, but they can also help students gauge whether they are suitable for a certain position. In addition, job shadowing is an excellent starting point for developing contacts in the industry (networking!). For some students, the most valuable part of job shadowing programs is the chance to directly experience what a typical day at work looks like in their potential career path instead of simply reading job descriptions online. The Career Centre has drop-in hours every day between 11am and 5pm which are perfect for a quick 10-15 minute talk with Career Start Peers who can give detailed information on these job shadowing programs. Career Start Peers can also provide students with an overview of the many different services at the Career Centre and guide them towards the resources that are most suitable for their particular situation.
“Should I stay (in university) or should I go?” As some students approach graduation, they are faced with the difficult decision of whether to enter the workforce or pursue further education. The decision to stay in school often comes with some doubts about whether the degree will be a good investment, and many students simply want some guidance on the application process and their personal statement. The Career Centre can help students with both of these concerns by directing them to the information they need in order to make an informed decision about pursuing further education, as well as helping them construct the most effective application and personal statement. Among the workshops mentioned earlier, there are several designed specifically to help with this process, including: Further Education–Do You Need It?, Further Education Applications, and Further Education Personal Statement Labs. The Career Centre website also contains an extremely helpful section for students considering further education with information regarding different graduate school programs, how to connect with people already in the field, conferences and events related to graduate and professional schools, as well as general tips on how to maximize your chances of getting into the program of your choice.
“I have a strange question…” Finally, a large number of students who walk into the Career Centre are simply looking for help with navigating around the University of Toronto and its seemingly endless options surrounding academics and extracurricular activities. The new ASKme Information Hub located just inside the Career Centre is the perfect place to visit if you have any questions about the Career Centre’s services or about the University of Toronto in general. I can almost guarantee that the “strange question” in your mind has already been asked, and it is absolutely not strange at all (a lot of other people are also searching for the closest microwave). Ultimately, the University of Toronto Career Centre exists to help students explore their career options and to ease the transition into the workplace. And the best way to discover how the Career Centre can help you is to visit in person and get acquainted with all the different services and resources available to help you achieve your career goals.
JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 11
PHOTO // Freepik.com
“It’s not you, it’s your job application.”
ACADEMICS AND CAREER
PRACTICAL ASPECTS AND EDUCATION AFTER GRADUATION BY NORA S. FATHALIPOUR
nless you are a mature (as in a proper adult) student when you graduate from university, the world beyond higher education institutions, with their stuffy classrooms and their delightful quirks, can seem like an enigma. You’re worried about people’s expectations conflicting with the dreams you’ve held on to for so long, the unpredictability of the job market and the sheer lack of information about how one is supposed to move on from university. If you’re nodding your head to any of this, I feel you. What follows is a short summary of some of what you can expect if you choose to continue your higher education or decide to start working right away. Hopefully you’ll find yourself just slightly more prepared for when the day you graduate comes.
efficient; they want you to show it. You are no longer a student and are now expected to act as a meaningful member of a team with a common goal other than earning money for rent and the like. The interview process for jobs available to university graduates is usually more momentous than interviews for other jobs. If you have not already experienced this, prepare yourself for interviews that could drag on beyond 40 minutes, where you are evaluated by two or more people, and where you will be expected to demonstrate verbally but, depending on the job, sometimes also through other means) that you have the exact skills they ask for. This can mean recounting past experiences where you responded in a certain way (e.g. you were co-operative or generous) to a specific situation to show how you cope with stress, unyielding superiors, an unfamiliar task, and so on. If your prospective employer is an unimaginative troglodyte, and thinks it’s still cool to ask you to mention “your negative quality”, try to not say “none” or actually mention anything negative about yourself. If you’re lucky, you might get away with the latter response if it makes a merciful interviewer see you as humble. Obviously look and smell your best for an interview, but stay away from excessive perfume usage, as most work places actually have a ban on odours (event pleasant ones) these days. Even exquisite ittar is unwelcome.
In many ways, the undertaking of an undergraduate degree can be compared to standing on the outside of a large building, looking into a window, catching a glimpse of what is inside. The building contains many pathways that lead to different experiences. When you graduate, you are no longer just by the window, but you are ushered in through the door, and What you need to remember about interviews, if only to calm left to decide which path to embark on in this unfamiliar place. your nerves, is that you are no longer a student, and employers are excited to hear you discuss your abilities and knowledge in a conThe modern adult life is comprised of many different things, one fident. If you don’t get a job right away or if it takes months and of which is choosing what to devote your life to, in terms of your career you end up with a job you feel lukewarm about, it isn’t always a and further education. This can be a daunting endeavour, as few of us reflection of your abilities; it could be the fluctuating market. Perknow with certainty what it is we want to do, and rarely do we receive haps something better is waiting for you out there. Don’t lose hope. meaningful guidance. Our peers are often as perplexed as us, and our “elders” in all likelihood had to approach adulthood in distinct ways You might find yourself dreaming of going back to university and relevant to the time they lived in. Unless you take a professional stream your glory days as you’re applying for jobs or working after you gradat university, what comes next is only limited by your imagination. uate. While the university experience as a graduate student is someQuite possibly, the work experience you had before graduating (if any) was rather different than the ones you can expect as you enter “proper” adulthood. Work experience prior to and during an undergraduate degree is often for the benefit of a bulkier CV and to pay for overpriced (and, ultimately, unsatisfactory) lunches. It is of course quite acceptable, and sometimes downright necessary, to take on the same jobs you became familiar with as an undergrad even after you have left university. If you are looking for a job which calls for someone with your specific skills and abilities, the level of responsibility and commitment that your employers might expect of you is higher. You will be expected to contribute and give a lot more of yourself than when you were just taking on part time jobs to earn some pocket money. When you apply for a job after graduating, your superiors won’t want you to say you are, for example, responsible and 12 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | JANUARY 2015
what similar to that of an undergraduate, in that you have access to an environment that is inspiring and pioneering, this is where the similarities end. You didn’t need a clear idea of what you wanted to learn at the institution when you entered as an undergraduate however as a graduate student you will be asked to demonstrate that you have at least some sense of what it is you want to pursue and investigate. It doesn’t mean you have to have your methodology down before you apply, or that your professors expect you to be familiar with all the relevant literature before your first class. The reading materials you will be assigned will be heavier, longer, and far more theoretical and in-depth than you’re used to. You might have only two or three courses per term, but each will demand more time of you than your four to six modules per term as an undergrad did. You won’t have many exams as a master’s stu dent (quite possibly none at all, save your oral examination of your dissertation), but 30-page essays are the norm.
NORA S. FATHALIPOUR
S OF WORK
are trying to apply the knowledge you are gaining, as you develop theories and projects. If you thought you had no time for “fun stuff ” (what’s more fun than the library, though?) as an undergrad, you’ll most likely find that you have even less time as a graduate student. At the same time, you are devoting time to a subject you are passionate about, and as you will have so much you need to learn, you will still feel like you don’t spend nearly enough time in the library.
If you needed one or two references as an undergraduate, most Canadian universities ask for three when you’re applying as a graduate student.. This is where you’ll need to dig through old class syllabi to find your professors’ email addresses and remind them of your excellent previous performance and whatever kind of a good impression you made in a class. Few will turn down a request to write a letter of reference, unless the professor really does not recall you at all and has misplaced your class marks, or if you ask for a letter too close to the application deadline. As long as you give professors about a month, and give a gentle reminder of it a couple of weeks before your documentation needs to be in, you should be able to obtain fair and encouraging reference letters.
Despite being overwhelming, being a graduate student has some great perks. You can work at the university and be paid sometimes more than twice as much as the so-called-minimum-butapparently-maximum-in-practice wage you’d get somewhere else. As a library assistant, a research assistant, a TA or similar, you get to work in your favourite environment and have excellent work hours tailored to your needs as a student. Instead of “wasting” your weekends working eight hour shifts, you might instead be working for two or three hours a few times a week. If you’re not terribly unlucky, you will most likely find some internal funding (through the university) or external funding (through grants and scholarships from organisations, government bodies, and funds) - or both - to pay for your tuition fees, so going into debt as a graduate student is Most programs ask for a research statement (sometimes called less likely. If you land one of those dreamy university part-time jobs a statement of research interests), the length of which is deteras well, you might just be able to afford a cup of Starbucks coffee mined by your department and is usually between one and three thrice a year (let’s be honest here: they’re not getting any cheaper). pages long, sometimes longer. The application guideline will most likely spell out what needs to be included in this part of the appliWhile you may have had your favourites among your profescation. Usually you will be asked to outline the academic literature sors when you were an undergraduate student, as a grad student relevant to your proposed research (which can still be somewhat you’ll have more direct contact with your teachers, and it will be vague or broad at this stage) and how your research contributes to important to cultivate good relations with them. You will have a existing knowledge in your field. Some programs may ask you to supervisor, and usually also two committee members, who togethdirectly contact the Graduate Chair or to meet with a contact perer oversee your progress and assist you with your learning and reson, a seasoned professor in the relevant department, to discuss search. If you are fortunate, these professors will provide you with your research topic and potential supervisors. The contact perample and crucial guidance and support, giving you advice on son or the application page will indicate whether you need to sewhat topic to pursue, offer insights into how to perfect your writcure a supervisor before or after being accepted into the program. ing style, bestow career advice and perhaps also provide you with teaching and writing opportunities. Even if you have the best suOnce you are accepted into your program, it’s a good idea to pervisor and committee members in the world, you will discovstart reading any relevant literature related to your field. If you’re er the ins and outs of academia mostly by chance encounters and new to the discipline associated with your topic, you have a lot of helpful comrades and you will anxiously over-analyse your emails catching up to do. You can still get by without doing a great deal to and responses from professors. That’s alright, since everyone of preparation before your first day as a graduate student, but you’ll else in your situation more or less behaves exactly the same way. feel a lot less inadequate if you can keep up with the other students’ name-dropping and cryptic references to classical texts. If you’re in Leaving university is intimidating and uncertain, like anything your early or mid-twenties as you start, you could be the youngest you do for the first time. Rest assured that most people who enter the person in the room, often by as much as a decade, a couple of kids job market or graduate school start out pretty much clueless, despite and a mortgage. If you found that the social activities as an undercareer advisors and blogs aimed to fill the knowledge gap. Perhaps grad were limited, be prepared to expect absolutely no invitations to what is most frightening is the idea that failure is not accepted once anything other than pub hangouts as a graduate student. However, you’ve graduated or once you’ve become an adult. Thinking you are if your classmates know you are Muslim and are somewhat culturinadequate to succeed, and comparing your own progress to that of ally aware, you will hopefully meet some really intelligent and kind others is tempting and typical), but neither options offer realistic inpeople, whether in your program or just through your supervisor. sights into your abilities. If you don’t get a job right away or if you doubt you’ve made the right choice concerning graduate school, that As an undergraduate, the size of your classes was probably anyis absolutely fine. Alhamdulillah, each of us have a multitude of talwhere between 40 and 2000 students; as a graduate student it’s rare ents and experiences, some of which are undiscovered, and we learn to have more than 6 people taking the same course. Some of your best from our failures. It’s normal to be frightened – even terrified classes could be just you and your professor! Although you are still – of what comes next, because it can often feel too unknown, too learning and absorbing knowledge at this stage, you’ll be expected undefined. But if a single mother living on benefits could become the to show a lot of initiative, and to lead seminars and influence the most best-selling writer of our time, and “if they can make penicillin direction of class discussions. Don’t worry; there is no expectation out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you”. of you being a genius already, but you need to demonstrate that you JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 13
FINANCE AN I
f you’re anything like me, the subject of money comes up in your household at least once a month, most likely in the form of your mother questioning your decision to opt for a Starbucks Frappuccino rather than a Tim Horton’s Double Double. Is it just me, or do they not even bother to stir the milk and sugar into the coffee at Tim Horton’s anymore? In any case, this conversation usually comes up on a Friday that I have mistaken for payday. I usually find myself spending more cash in the week leading up this mistaken Friday, all the while reassuring myself that all will sort itself out once payday comes. The vague notion that things will “sort” themselves out, whatever that entails, carries a certain level of frivolity that allows me to be blithely unaware of exactly how much I am spending. And it is this short lived frivolity that led me to find myself in a certain predicament one blustery Friday evening as I opened up my RBC online bank account. I needed to buy a metro pass and fill my GO Train Presto, a fixed expense that comes up to about $160 each month. It turned out that I was about fifty dollars short what I needed and the day mistaken as payday was upon me as I noticed that there was no record of a third party deposit in my account. Alhamdullilah, it was the last day of the month so my metro pass was still available for use and I had one ride left on my Presto card. However, the new month was just around the corner and I found myself at home that evening with my tail between my legs, buttering up my mother to loan me the $50 that I needed and receiving an all too important lecture about the value of money.
I had a parental buffer, a safety net if you will, that was always ready to catch me if I fell. However, the reality was that I was not always going to have this safety net. One day, perhaps living on my own as I pursued some sort of post graduate education, I would have to realize that making frivolous purchases like frappuchinos and going to lunch with friends when I could have easily brought a lunch from home, would be the kind of decisions that could cause me to be short on cash when it came to more important things like rent. This kind of safety net brings with it an ever so subtle hint of entitlement. Now, I’m not saying that we are subdued versions of the teenagers on My Super Sweet Sixteen, however the idea that Mom and Dad will always be there can lead to a chain of behaviour in which one justifies their spending simply because they know that their parents will be there to bail them out.
The skill of properly managing one’s finances is something that we all need to master
But the issue lies in exactly this scenario; I had the privilege of asking my mother to loan me money due to sheer irresponsibility on my part in keeping up with my expenses.
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This article assumes that those finding themselves in my predicament have the good fortune of working a part-time job, however it is still applicable if you do not and can still be applied to the money that your parents loan to you with a few adjustments. With most of us still living at home as we finish up our undergraduate education, it is important to remember that moving beyond the life of an undergrad involves being thrown into what our parents call the “real world” far sooner than we expect. If we aim to be selfsufficient, independent adults, the skill of properly managing one’s finances is something that we all need to master and it is best that we learn this skill now when we do not have mortgages and children to worry after. There are a few habits that one can start with now in order to pave a path of financial responsibility that will make life move a whole lot smoother as the responsibilities of adulthood increase.
AND SANITY BY NIMO ABDULAHI
MAKING A BUDGET One does not have to stretch their mind very far to realize that the most important step in gaining financial responsibility is keeping track of how much you are earning, spending and what your fixed expenses are. Thus a budget is critical in making sure that you do not lose track of where your money goes each month. The first thing that you need to do is familiarize yourself with an excel spreadsheet. It will make keeping track of what you make and what you owe infinitely easier. Start off by making a list of what you spend each month. This includes every instance in which money leaves your pocket and can be everything from the fixed and essential like rent or transportation costs to the frivolous Starbucks runs and late night burgers (is it blaringly obvious that I frequent Starbucks?). One way to do this is to start off with three columns: one for where you spent the money (eg. GO station, school bookstore, that one restaurant last week where you had a disappointing shawarma), another for what you bought and a third for how much it cost. This is essential in realizing where you made your most unnecessary purchases. Once you’re finished, take a seat (because you will need to be sitting for this) and look at just how much you have allow yourself to spend. It is this shock that will enable you to move to phase two of the budget making process: categorizing. The next thing you will need to do is divide these expenses into categories. These categories can be as simple as you need them to be; for example, housing, utilities, food, transportation and entertainment. Once these categories are set up, divide the items on the monthly expense list you made into these categories and add up how much you’ve spent in each. Now you have before you a rough draft of your monthly budget. You will then need to make a new spreadsheet that will become your monthly budget. In this spreadsheet, you’ll need to account for what you spent in the previous month, what
you need to spend this month and what you actually end up spending. You will also need to account for how much you make each month and how this affects each category. The greatest reality check occurs when you subtract your total expenses from your income and you come face to face with the fact that you’re spending more than you make. This is where you need to go back to those categories and adjust, and by adjust I mean be completely honest in where you can cut back. The overspending usually comes down to eating out too much or personal purchases that you wake up regretting like that $30 sweater at H&M that the sales clerk told you would last you at least three winters but faded in the wash the next week. This budget is by no means set in stone but it will change as your circumstance changes and as you gain more responsibility or make more money. It will however create the foundation of financial accountability that is paramount to your stability as an independent adult. Being smart with money now will come in handy later when it comes time to pay off those student loans, plan that exchange trip abroad or get married. It is important to remember that that the money that we earn and spend is an amanah, a trust, from Allah Most High, and that one day we will have to account for how we spent the wealth that He granted us. Having a carefree attitude when it comes to money only paves the way for instability and debt later on when we will no longer have that all too comfortable safety net. So the next time Starbucks is having a promotion, make your way to trusty good old Tim Hortons and take pride in the fact that you are making a decision that seems small now but is one that will lead to habits that ripple out into your life in the coming years. And if the embarrassing thought of being summoned for a financial intervention by your family at the age of 30 doesn't faze you as you stand in the line at Timmies, the least you can do is convince yourself that you are being mildly patriotic.
BACKGROUND // FREEVECTOR/VECTEEZY.COM JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 15
ON YOUR QUEST
BY NAVEEDA H
f I am, by virtue of my very existence, endowed with the faculties necessary to bring my wildest dreams to fruition, what is stopping me? If I am capable of achieving all that I set out to do, why would I impose limitations upon myself? Am I really the only obstacle on my path to realizing the ever elusive, yet intricately envisioned future that my mind is wont to wander off into?
PHOTO // ADEL KESHAVARZ
There are all kinds of agents - real estate agents, reactionary scientific agents, and insanely cool secret agents to name a few. While these agents may appear to be fundamentally different in what they do, they are all connected by the fact that they are all actors with the power and willingness to act in order to arrive at their goal. Essentially, they know what their objective is, and are not only confident in their ability to realize this gargantuan final goal, but are aware of, and feel entirely capable of seeing it through. In that case, shouldn’t we all be agents? Therefore, our ultimate goal should be to assert our agency and feel confident that the insurmountable Mount Everest of a task that lies ahead of us can be climbed and conquered. Is it really that simple? If I worked hard enough, studied enough, researched enough, and networked enough, would I have the equal likelihood of say, my white, male counterpart classmate of “making it,” solely based on my merit in politics? Or would my chances instead be determined by my ability to exploit my female and minority status to appease the populace, and be the spokeswoman for the success of gender equality and multiculturalism in this great nation? What role does privilege play in our relative abilities to do things? The privilege narrative is not an imagined blockade that we create for ourselves, but a real barrier in one’s chances for upward mobility. When it comes to networking, for example, the idea is that a fair amount of your chances for success are not only based on who you know but how you can engage with and establish rap-
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port with the people you know. I was lucky enough to work for a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and was invited to a lecture for professors with an ex-Chief Justice that involved a pre-lecture professor social. Prior to this event, I told myself that I was going to take full advantage of the opportunity to network with some of the most cultivated, knowledgeable and passionate minds at the University of Toronto. The evening turned out to be not at all what I expected. The second I walked into the room, I was offered the choice between Port wine or sparkling mineral water, Perrier. Upon denying the wine and accepting the Perrier, which was only there as a fixture of politesse, one that would be an utter aberration to actually indulge in, a minor discussion ensued on why exactly I denied the alcohol. Upon explaining that as a Muslim, and for a plethora of personal reasons, I don’t drink, the professor I was speaking with promptly switched her gaze to the student beside me and engaged her in a discussion on the Port’s origins and distinct taste. My colleague was able to respond to these comments and give her educated opinion on the kinds of Port she had had the pleasure of experiencing as well. As this conversation unfolded, I stood awkwardly to the side, pretending to be engaged in a texting conversation so it wouldn’t be painfully obvious, aside from the fact that I was the only brown-skinned individual in the room, that I simply did not fit into that space. I could not relate. Thus, privilege encompasses not only the grandeur of things such as access to a far wider scope of resources, but also the casual interactions that one faces in navigating certain social settings and the pretentiousness and cultural sophistication needed to engage with the professors whose mentorship I covet. Is it then not only the limitations I impose upon myself because of whatever doubts I may have in my own ability, but also the limits imposed upon me that I have no control of that hold me back? Or do I instead seek to infiltrate the unfamiliar? I wonder if it is idealistic to pro-
ST FOR AGENCY
DA HUSSEIN pose that these limitations are as important as we allow them to be, and that what truly matters is the way we view our circumstances. Perhaps there is little here to do with naiveté, and everything to do with fact and perception. There is evidence shown that awareness of a stereotype can lead to it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. One specific study examined women who were reminded of their sex prior to taking a test in a group full of both men and women and were told that historically, men performed better on that test than women did as women were told they just lacked that particular skillset. The same test was given to another group that included women of similarly measured capability who had not been fed this message. The latter group of women performed significantly better than the former. Something as simple as a dogmatic stereotype has the power to radically transform our results. Another study examining the perception of stress showed that people who viewed stress as a positive experience that was a result of their body’s natural response to a challenge, lived significantly longer than those that saw stress as detrimental to their health. Thus, if the issue lies not in our inherent capabilities, but in the narratives we are fed and subliminally internalize, whether negative or positive, how then can we construct our own independent narratives? We are the agents that purposively shape the paths of our lives, and as much as this may sound like a self-help book the reality of the matter is that one’s chances for success are highly correlated with one’s genuine belief that they can succeed. For many of us, we’ve crafted a certain image of ourselves in our heads. We know where we stand relative to others, where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and more importantly we are acutely aware of the approximate distance between who we are now and who we want to become. We also craft caricatured, larger than life versions of our ideal selves. In our heads, there is always the idea of “the me I’d love to be”. This person, who is far more put together than we are now, is a fiercely faithful Muslim
that never ceases to strive for a superior understanding of their faith and the world around them. They are artistically articulate, impeccably dressed, gracefully humble and undoubtedly confident in where they are headed. How then, do we bridge this gap? How do we reconcile this discrepancy and become our ever-coveted future selves? It may really be as simple as taking baby steps, being in good company and doing the things that make us happy. We achieve little by failing to recognize the factors that work against us, and thus it is extremely important to be aware of the contexts that shape our abilities to operate. However, we also achieve little when we allow these factors to become deterministic excuses for our hesitancies to create more for ourselves. So we rise above this by breaking down what is lofty and focusing on what is immediately tangible. We focus on the little achievements. We make a concerted effort to be around those who inspire us and do the things we would love to be doing. We make sure to keep each other motivated, and we build our repertoire of interests and activities that give us sheer and utter joy. Being a student of international relations, everything I learn is centered on explaining and analyzing the seemingly unsolvable problems of our world. Leading ourselves to believe that these really are unsolvable realities is akin to resigning ourselves to the effective conclusion that the world is ultimately doomed. We lose our potential by mitigating the value of perseverance, hope, and conscious and sustained action. Medical school, law school, Masters and PhD’s need not be things that are so far out of our grasp that we do not aim for them. I will leave you with this: Sergio Vieira de Mello, a UN diplomat that lost his life in the line of duty in Iraq summarized arguably the purpose of his life, and the United Nations more broadly, in one simple yet powerful sentence, “Unless we aim for the seemingly unattainable, we risk settling for mediocrity.”
JANUARY 2015 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 17
ARMCHAIR ACTIVIST BY Sania KHAN
post rant-style statuses on
tweets on twitter,
and/or excerpts on my personal blog.
rmchair Activist [ˈärmˌCHer - æk.tɪ.vɪst] ADJ A term used to describe a person who seemingly takes part in activism, but from a metaphorical armchair — i.e., from a mostly or totally inactive, theoretical position. Generation Y. We are brilliant, outspoken, and hopeful. We are also lazy, entitled, and attention-craving. You may probably recall the fad that was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge— the most recent success story of viral activism, taking the place of the incredibly noble, effective, not-at-all deceitful campaign that was KONY 2012. Introduced by Pete Frates, a Bostonian who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis— commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease— the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gained momentum in May 2014. The challenge included dumping a bucket of ice cold water over yourself, donating $10 to a charitable organization administered in research, patient services, and advocating for ALS, and challenging your friends to do the same while sharing the video on social media. The shelf life of this fad was minimal, with the world of social media losing interest in the viral phenomenon in a mere three months. How successful did this challenge prove to be? Well, according to Charities Aid Foundation, one in every sixth person in the UK partook in the challenge. However, a shocking 10% of the overall number of participants donated. The U.S. showcased a slightly different story: they were able to successfully raise $100 million dollars for the ALS Association, an association, however, that donates only 79% of their annual budget to ALS-related programs. So, was this viral phenomenon an example of the well intentioned yet easily influenced masses, or was it narcissism in the guise of altruism? The truth of the matter is that we cannot and should not generalize the intentions of the hundreds of thousands that participated. This question does however lead us to discuss a topic that is dreaded by those who use social media as a passive outlet, rather than a platform for active engagement: arm chair activism. Quiz time! To see where you fall on the ranks of armchair activism, complete the following quiz:
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A) Regularly. I don’t care if you couldn’t be bothered to read my thoughts; I’m going to post them anyway! B) Sometimes. Depends on the topic: how current it is, how passionately I feel about it C) Rarely. I refrain from writing out my opinions and would rather discuss them verbally. D) Never. Don’t have the time, skills, and/or willingness to write out my thoughts. 2. I prefer to be the first to share with my friends on Facebook current events, news articles, videos, and the like. A) Regularly. I take it upon myself to be the sharer of information amongst my circle of family and friends. After all, if not me then who else? B) Sometimes. If something speaks closely to my heart, I will share it to specific people on Facebook who I feel would gain something from the post. C) Rarely. I would rather share privately with a focus group than openly with a passive social media audience. D) Never. Who really cares? 3. To form a sound opinion on a subject, I consult the following number of sources (e.g. newspapers, books, blogs). A) 2 maximum. Doing my own research is very important, but I’m not writing an essay. B) 3 maximum. If I have an opinion on something, I try to make sure it’s not the regurgitation of what I’ve been told. C) 3+. The more, the merrier. D) Again, who cares? 4. Aside
from regularly posting about specific issue online,
also take it upon myself to work with organizations, research groups, and movements that speak to the issues I post about.
A) Rarely. I play my part by being an active activist on social media sites. B) Sometimes. If I care enough about the issue, I will join in advocacy work pertaining to that issue. C) Always. I can’t do one without the other. D) Can’t be bothered.
Now, calculate your answers! If you got mostly A’s… Congratulations! You are a certified armchair activist! You are a social media whiz. If one of your Facebook friends, Twitter followers and blog followers know one thing it’s that they can be welcomed by your posts at least once a day. You enjoy posting frequent statuses expressing your opinion on issues, you enjoy browsing your feed, “liking” just about every post, and you frequently upload pictures of your life so everyone can be caught up to speed on your importance. You care deeply for social advocacy work; after all, your recent status was about structural racism and how it affects us all. And you’ve definitely attended one or two protests in your life, so you can’t say you’re totally immobile. But, if it comes down to either physically putting in the work to combat said social issue, you would much rather put the figurative pen to work. After all, judging by the amount of “likes” you get on your post, there must be a demand for your words! If you got mostly B’s… You’re a selective activist! The probability of you sharing your opinion on a social networking site depends on the following criteria: how current the event is that you’re writing about, how much the issue at hand means to you, and how much knowledge you have on the subject matter. You’d much rather be well read on a subject and share new information on it before deciding to write about it. If you got mostly C’s… You are a hippie activist! Most popular during the 1960’s, the hippie activist feels that she/he doesn’t need social media to get the word out there. You tend to dislike social media in general; therefore, your inclination to use it as a tool for sharing information is slim. Rallies, discussion forums, and open mic nights are more your thing than clicking the “share” button. To keep up-to-date on current events, you like to read a good ol’ hard copy of your favourite newspaper, so no one can say you you’re out of the loop! If yoou got mostly D’s… Your’re every activists’ worst nightmare: the person who couldn’t be bothered. Wake up! There’s an entire world waiting for you to care about it. We all have at least one thing that speaks to us on personal level: racism, the environment, women’s rights, poverty issues, education rights, the list goes on. Hone on to what it is that speaks to you, even if it’s just one thing. Even if you may not have the time to dedicate yourself toward that subject, do whatever you can to at least keep yourself informed. In doing so, the “ah, there are enough people working on this issue so why should I?,” sentiment will quickly fade because you will realize how much your efforts are necessary. You care more than you give yourself credit for, so go out and make a difference! You can do it!
With so many resources readily available to us to gain knowledge and raise awareness about issues affecting our communities, how dare we not use them as effectively as possible? The problem isn’t social media; the problem is how much we rely on it. In a time where we have great amounts of information at our disposal, most of us do just that— we dispose of it. But we must humble ourselves enough to realize that we should be affected by the crippling difference between our privileged realities and the contrastive livelihoods of our sisters and brothers in humanity. And no, the difference isn’t just the little boy rummaging through a garbage heap looking for a pair of shoes to wear. This difference is also our neighbour who lives only a few houses down the road: the single, racialized mother working odd jobs in order to make endsmeet for her children, but is structurally disadvantaged and forced to turn to welfare, which only further perpetuates her socioeconomic struggle. But this w o m a n’s problems a r e n’ t visible and as such, they don’t get the attention they deserve. This is one of the greatest faults of our generation: to consider something a problem only if it affects us directly. In doing so, we take for granted the resources we are so privileged to have, one of those resources being social media. We choose to remain in the bubble of our own lives and inadvertently don’t give enough attention to those individuals who need it. In this sense, social media is important: it allows one to reach out to the masses with a click of a button. But, in no way should our work end there. We are responsible for the well-being of those who live on the same Earth we do, even if their lives may not necessarily intersect with ours. Unless we are willing to physically step away from our computers, tablets, and phones and tangibly help those in need, we have no right to call ourselves activists— whose root word is active. Where are you willing to be more active? For whom are you willing to be more active? There is an issue out there that needs your dedication, your intelligence, and your resources. How will YOU react?
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illustration // Seema Shafei
CULTURE AND HERITAGE
dulthood comes with a lot of freedom and, more often than not, we are presented with this freedom a lot sooner than we are ready to handle it. A major milestone in the transition to adulthood is the acceptance and realization that our free will comes with a lot of responsibility. The idea that we are first and foremost accountable to Allah raises a couple of questions. As adults what is the significance of our free will in Islam? Also, what are some important aspects of Islam that one should keep in mind as responsible adults? Belief in Divine Decree is Not a Shortcut to Doing Good Works Belief in Divine decree and predestination can lead us to believe that we are not responsible for our own deeds. However acknowledging the importance of the inner and outer work that needs to be done in order to cleanse one’s intentions and efforts is what brings us closer to Allah. The following verses from the Quran show that one must know that his or her good works will be counted in God’s scales no matter how small they may be.
Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds. So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it.” -(Quran 99:6-99:8) Actions are Judged by their Intentions We have all seen examples of hadith and verses of Qu’ran
emphasizing the primacy of our intention over actions. God looks at not only one’s good works but also the intentions behind them. It is, however, our actions and responses to situations that showcase said intentions. Even when one chooses not to act in a particular situation that in itself is a form of action and a display of ones intentions. The question is not about action or inaction but about how we act. Implications of the Realization and Acceptance of Free Will When I accept my free will, I accept that my contentment in life is my responsibility and thus I cannot blame nor force that responsibility on anyone else. I realize that the best decisions I can make are those done with a clear mind not those which are made under circumstances where I hope to gain peoples favour rather than God’s favour. Realizing that we are accountable to Allah alone and that we are not put on this earth to please others makes it easier to avoid feeling offended by others’ opinions of us. While it is impossible to please everyone, learning not to feel offended by others is not an easy task. As Muslims, we should look to the character of the Prophet (pbuh) as an example for how to deal with criticism. When the Prophet (pbuh) was denounced as a madman and faced threats to his life he never felt any personal vengeance towards those who wished him harm. Increased remembrance and thankfulness to Allah alone is where we can find the strength not to feel offended by others. Allah says in the Quran, “ Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Qu’ran 13:28). In remembering Allah often, we also remember that we cannot live up to the expectations of others and should therefore instead strive to live up to the expectations of Allah. Continually praising God -both outwardly and
FREE WILL A
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FREEWILL IN AC BY OMAR QASHSHOU
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OMAR QASHSHOU inwardly- allows us to be more at peace in our hearts. Praising God should make us focus less on the faults of others and on being content even amidst the more difficult situations in life Lack of Supervision From Family Does Not Reduce Accountability As university students and adults, many of us no longer have our parents looking over us to the same extent and we find ourselves with more freedom then we once had in high school. In these situations, an opportunity arises to realize that the rituals and teachings of Islam are there for the benefit of the traveller on the Path to Allah. Allah is in no need of His creation but His creation is in need of Him. What were the sayings of the Prophet regarding the youth? What are the benefits of implementing the teachings of the Prophet at this stage in our lives for many of us as students and young adults? Here is an excerpt, which shows the benefit of the Prophet’s teachings taken as a whole for the youth. The excerpt is from a biography of the Prophet titled “ Muhammad: Man of God” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the speakers of last year’s and this year’s RIS – Reviving The Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto.
“The Prophet’s instructions are based on the deepest love for
youth and their needs which are not only physical but also psychological, intellectual and spiritual. They are promulgated with the goal of enabling the young to gain the only freedom which is meaningful and lasting, the freedom that issues from performing ones duties and obligations toward God, oneself, the family and society in general. Whenever traditional Islamic society has functioned fully, the face of the young has certainly
not been without the smile with which God created man” (p 86) The Prophet (pbuh) provided the means for which all Muslims, including the youth, could gain freedom that is meaningful and lasting as the quote mentions, the next step is to actually see for oneself that The Prophet (pbuh) did indeed provide the teachings for the attainment of freedom that is meaningful and lasting. There is no better time than when we are young and in an academic environment to try to delve into the meaning of Islam and its core teachings. We need to keep in mind that the teachings of Islam are there to help us towards the greater goal of the remembrance of Allah, finding inner peace and getting closer to God. On the one hand a spiritually healthy adult must accept the responsibilities that come with free will and accept the consequences of ones actions and use the free will given to us by God to consciously embrace the word of God. There is no power to do good nor power to resist evil save through Allah as is said by the Prophet (pbuh). In an environment where there are so many teachers and so much information, a well-educated Muslim adult must be able to try to discern and ask himself or herself what are the signs of those who embody the spirit of Islam? The ability to discern what is needed and to focus therein and act accordingly is critical when it comes to our approach to a spiritual path of knowledge. And Allah knows best.
PHOTO // MOUNA TAHAR
ACCEPTING THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM
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CULTURE AND HERITAGE
HOME BY AMINA ALLALO
fter a decade of separation, I felt the sea of my childhood once more, the Mediterranean.
The waves, continuously hitting the shore, had never ceased even for a moment. The distinct salty air, awoke memories long dormant. The taste, still stung. The laughs and screams echoed. I was back, as if nothing changed... but had forgotten how to swim.
What had symbolized joy and thrill, now exuded danger. Such happens as one grows â€“ impulses are inhibited in exchange for careful cautious deductions. Itâ€™s safer. Besides, longitudinal research does purport such maturity and self-control as the cornerstone for future success. But could there be love devoid of spontaneity? I tried to enter the water, taking one step at a time. The water was wild, and after a certain distance from shore, following a strong wave, my knee would inevitably bend, and I would always fall. I knew why I kept falling. I needed to hurry in, and ride the wave, not stand facing it as a concrete wall. Only then could I rediscover the joy. Such is life. A stormy sea need not be the cause of our downfall, but may simply call for a different dance. Some waves, some tests, are greater than others. I take a short break, to catch my breath before the next wave. Success is not standing as a wall against the flow, instead, it is to use the flow towards your goal. Success is not in externalizing blame, but internalizing change. The voices of my family and relatives resounded in the air. I knew I could plunge.
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PHOTO // MOUNA TAHAR