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FROM THE Editor’s address DESK



The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Our Next Steps as Canadians


Hirra Sheikh

Aaminah Amin

6 8 10 12

The Departures Being a Young Muslim Woman with Bipolar Disorder Farrah Kabeer

Why Don’t Muslims Talk Mental Health Khalood Kibria

The Departures Timothy is My Friend Ahmed Mezil

My Friend Took a Selfie with the Prime Minister of Canada


Countering Islamophobia


My Experience as a Muslim Minority


Hirra Sheikh

Mariam Lightwala

A Halal Love Story Jenny Khan

Bushra Siddiqui

Hirra Sheikh

associate editor Halla Ahmed

head content editor Bushra Siddiqui

Copy editors Yusra Qazi Omar Saeed Halla Ahmed Elham Ali 02 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2016


Bushra Siddiquie Aaminah Amin Jenny Khan Ahmed Mezil Farrah Kabeer Hirra Sheikh Mariam Lightwala Khalood Kibria

photographer Ammara Wasim

graphic designers Busra Yildirim Manal Chowdhury Ammar ElAmir Meriem Benlamri Ammara Wasim

special thanks

Zaeem Siddiqui (TMV Online Manager) Ilham Islow (TMV Liason) Elham Ali






from the Editor’s Desk


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi

salamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatu,

Ever since I was a child I was well aware that my identity as a Muslim, born and raised in Canada, was unique. I asked my mom why we practiced our faith differently from the rest of my classmates. I asked her why I couldn’t wear pants that fit above my ankles when the weather got hot outside; why others said they worshipped ‘God’ while I was told we worship ‘Allah’. These questions arose as I tried to understand my place in the world as a Muslim. Through this process I fell in love with my identity while still understanding that I belonged to a minority group. With time I also realized that there were people who embraced me regardless of my ethnicity or faith, and there were those who held certain reservations about me, or what they thought I represented. Then came a series of unfortunate events at a political and global scale that demonized a faith that was so beautiful and dear to me. I was being told that individuals who I did not know somehow represented myself, and all Muslims alike. I’m sure this isn’t atypical to the average Muslim who grew up around the same time as I did. Even now, with the political instability in various regions around the world and the irresponsible and hateful rhetoric being championed by many presidential candidates south of the border, among many irresponsible others, it becomes easy to feel as though we are the only victims. And yes, Islamophobia is very real. Yes, it is very dangerous and we must make a continued effort to counter it.

We address some of the areas in which our Muslim community lacks inclusivity. By portraying one singular image of what it means to be a Muslim that is welcome in our communities, we often times turn away those who are in the most need of our help and support. We address the implications of feeling entitled to judge others based on their appearance, apparent religiosity, the sect someone identifies with, sexual orientation, or marital status. And finally we discuss the ways in which we can begin positively changing our communities through our attitudes, political involvement, support, and care to anyone and everyone who needs it. Hirra Sheikh, Editor in Chief


However, what we fail to recognize and focus on are the inhibitions, micro-aggressions, racist ideologies, and exclusion of individuals who belong to our very own community. Our feeling of victimization from others has hindered, to a great degree, our duty to address the problems that exist within our own communities and the recognition that we perpetrate hate and victimize our own minority groups. We, as a Muslim community, are far from perfect, and in this issue we sought to address a few of the many issues that inhibit our growth and betterment.


The Syrian Refugee Crisis:




ith the change in federal leadership this past October one of the most pressing issues facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada after their victory was their mandate concerning the aid they would offer to those fleeing Syria. Trudeau has committed to widening Canada’s intake of refugees from Syria by 25,000 through government sponsorship, thousands of which who have already arrived and Trudeau has planned on allocating resources to help private sponsors accept more Syrians (Liberal Party of Canada). In order to accept this influx of Syrians, Trudeau plans on investing $250 million, $100M this fiscal year, to assist the settlement services and refugee processing capacity within Canada (Liberal Party of Canada). Arguably the majority of us were persistent that whoever won the federal election would implement a plan of action to bring a significant amount of Syrian refugees to settle in Canada and following the positive result of the election it is our responsibility to help in any way we can. Bringing the Syrian refugees to Canada was a huge step in their journey, creating a welcoming and safe environment for them to interact and integrate into a different society 4 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2016

is the next big step. It is important to recognize and be grateful for the services that the federal and provincial governments have provided especially considering how different the circumstances could be under the leadership of an alternate party. However, to not be critical of the treatment and integration into Canadian society of the newcomers would be irresponsible. There have been too many reports of Syrian Canadians being ill treated and lacking true support once they arrive in Canada, some of which include poor temporary living conditions and a lack of communication. It is important that we as a community step up to not

only make sure that the refugees are being treated adequately but also to fill the gap between the government and refugees to provide as much support as we can. Without the help of the Muslim community and the Canadian public the transition for the majority of these individuals will be strenuous and with the journey that they already been on, it is our role to ease their transition to Canadian society. It is essential that we understand our responsibility to the new Syrian Canadians and the significance of continuously advocating for their wellbeing and welfare as they make this transition and unimaginable journey.

As the youth in this country there are several opportunities for us to take advantage of to play an important role in this ongoing refugee crisis. There are organizations such as Lifeline Syria, which offer a variety of outlets including include volunteering, becoming a part of a sponsorship group, and working within the organization to host information sessions. There are also governmentestablished organizations with specific programs surrounding the refugee crisis like SPARK Ontario, which aim to provide interactive volunteer opportunities for people in the province. As youth we have a great opportunity to work one on one with families and take advantage of the fact that Ontario is home to new Canadians, which a year ago would not have been possible. As Muslims, and as Canadians it is time for us to step up, welcome the Syrian families who

young adults need to be acquainted with the Toronto Transit Commission and look for employment opportunities and enrol in classes to bridge any language gaps. As a volunteer it is eye opening to see how eager people are to learn things that we as Canadians take for granted and the lack of support that they are receiving. There are countless opportunities for us to take advantage of to help the Syrians make a smoother transition and build a strong relationship with them along the way. Young or elderly one constant I have discovered after meeting with Syrian families is their enthusiasm to be safe and it is really their security that they appreciate the most. There is a lesson to be learnt here in striving to grow as a Muslim community in creating a safe and inclusive community for people of different backgrounds to learn and grow from one another.

bring us closer together. Although they have fled from persecution for many years, we have to remember that many of the new Syrian Canadians had prosperous lives before the conflict started, and that they have such a great amount to contribute to Canada, which will be to our benefit once they are given the opportunity. Building a community with the Syrian Canadians if at the very least provides a platform for individuals to express themselves uncensored and creates an atmosphere of togetherness. As much as the Syrian Canadians have been on a tumultuous journey, the next part of their journey takes place here in Canada and we have a responsibility to positively impact their journey. The connotation of the word refugee sometimes brings up this idea of weakness, but make no mistake, these new Syrian Canadians are some of the strongest

as for those who believed and fled and struggled “hardAndin Allah’s way, and those who have shelter and helped, these are the believes truly; they shall have forgiveness and honorable provision.

The first thing that many people think about when providing assistance is financial aid, but it is important to recognize that there are countless other and equally as important opportunities to provide assistance. More than one third of the individuals seeking refuge are children and when they settle in Canada they need to be registered in school, set up with a family doctor, and become familiarized with Canadian culture and customs. Parents and

(8:74) individuals, we just have to help them become even stronger and settle in to a place where they will hopefully be proud to call home.


have gone through such upheaval and make it known they are part of our community and that regardless of the obstacles they face at the very least we will provide them with support.

Part of building an inclusive and welcoming Muslim community comes from recognizing how much we have to learn from each other and how our experiences unite us and




why we don’t talk about

MENTAL HEALTH ...people are told that their suffering is caused by their weak faith and disconnectedness from religion 6 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2016

“ “ Islam does not teach us to brush difficult topics under the carpet


recent study conducted by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum revealed that young South Asian women in the U.S — a lot of whom are Muslims — had higher suicide rates than the general U.S population. Although no widespread research studies have been conducted about the prevalence of mental illnesses in the larger Muslim community, the aforementioned study is troubling enough to call attention to this matter.

This study notably exposed information about women in particular. Speaking from a Muslim South Asian female’s perspective, I can confidently say that there are a host of cultural norms somehow falsely related to religion that have the potential to give birth to mental illnesses, especially among women. A number of pressures are exerted on young women such as achieving ridiculous standards of “feminine perfection”, having a “timely marriage”, being encouraged to make all sorts of compromises, no matter how unfair, just to “save” your marriage, and so on. Young women are constantly battling society’s prejudiced expectations, and when their own communities also do not provide them with the support they need, it’s easy to see why taking your own life can start to seem like a possible route out.

This is not to say that young males in our communities are not struggling with similar issues. They, too, are condemned to unjustified scrutiny, and it is expected of them to “be a man”, which is equivalent to suppressing their emotions and problems, including mental health issues. Suicide, of course, is an individual’s last resort to escape any sort of calamity that they experience in their life. As suicide rates continue to rise, it’s baffling that nobody in our communities is asking the crucial question of why and how people around us are reaching this point in their struggle. It seems that while negative attitudes about mental health are prevalent, the infrastructure necessary to provide people with the support they need is clearly absent, ultimately leading to a lot of suffering. Our masaajid (mosques) — that are ideally supposed to function as community centres — do not provide members of the community with adequate counselling or resources to deal with problems such as mental health issues. Personally, I’ve never attended a Friday prayer with a sermon addressing mental health. Unfortunately, people’s experiences with mental illnesses are instead brushed off as inevitable consequences of “low imaan”; people are told that their suffering is caused by their weak faith and disconnectedness from religion. Of course, even the most religious of people can face mental illness and although turning to our Creator and finding solace in His words is beneficial and important during times of hardship, having open con-

versations and seeking professional help is equally important, too.

The adults in our communities also continue playing a massive role in making it impossible for people to open up about their mental health. Muslim Aunties are always on the lookout for juicy gossips about anyone and everyone. They love to carefully judge every move you make and they’re especially good at finding a reason to shame you for it. I think most Muslim youth, especially females, suffering from mental illnesses would agree that one of the reasons why they stay quiet about their sickness is that they don’t want to be the target of harsh criticism, unjustified assumptions and insincere sympathy at the Aunties’ next potluck.

Allah (swt) says in the Quran “Then on that day you shall most certainly be questioned about the bounties (al-Takathur, 102:8)”. The Quran makes it clear that as Muslims, we will be questionable for all the bounties, all the blessings Allah has bestowed upon us, including our bodies - every part of our bodies. He has gifted us our bodies as an amanah, a trust, that we must keep with utmost care until our last breath. In Muslim communities, however, mental health is an especially taboo topic that most people are reluctant to address. Treating mental health as an “off-limits” topic is not a religiously endorsed attitude; Islam does not teach us to brush difficult topics under the carpet. Rather it asks us to inquire into various issues, especially if they are related to our health because “Allah, the Exalted, has let no disease exist without providing for its cure” (Tirmidhi) While our religion teaches us to be particularly kind to the sick and to visit them frequently, most of us run away from people suffering from mental illnesses due to the stigmas attached to these diseases. There is no excuse for us to continue being silent on the issue of mental illness. It’s real, it’s growing and we are continuously discovering new things about it. If we are too afraid to even approach this topic, then we will be doing our communities a great disservice by abandoning so many of its members to fight their battles alone. It’s O.K to be mentally ill. It can be overcome with support and treatment. Let’s start creating safe zones for those who are dealing with mental illnesses. Let’s stop throwing around the words like “crazy”, “mental” and “retarded” so casually. Let’s stop shaming people for consulting a psychiatrist. Let’s stop pressuring our youth, especially our females, to live up to impossible ideals. Instead let’s make mental health a priority in the global Muslim community and actually act upon the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah by looking out for our brothers and sisters in faith. APRIL 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 7


ofT is tough. We all know that. We’ve all experienced academic stress at one point or another. Similar to a climber, you make certain moves to progress upwards, perhaps approach a certain rock shelf that seems sturdy on the outset. Yet as you shift your weight onto it, the rock beneath starts to crumble away and you’re left hanging by your arms, with no sound support beneath you. The difficulty has amplified; this wasn’t what you signed up for. You start asking yourself questions that only further break down your spirit: can I really do this now? Do I have the skills to finish this task? Am I qualified to even be here? Is this what I really want out of life? Should I give up...? Everyone’s been there. I’ve been there. I’ve asked myself those very same questions, and in my experience, I have succumbed to them. There have definitely been numerous times where I’ve considered giving up; it’s the easy way out! It’s the quickest way to get out of situations that stress us. All you have to do is let go of that rock wall……but then what does that set you up for? An article that I once read (sent to me by a dear friend) redefined the way to approach such scenarios. In one’s pursuit of success, one shouldn’t ask “What do I want to enjoy?”, but rather “What pain do I want to sustain?” Our lives are established on the quality of our negative experiences, not our positive ones. We learn much more from our mistakes than we ever do when we get something right; which leads to our fortification for future experiences. Life’s going to give you troubles at some point anyways, so any reinforcement helps. The sooner we face this fact is the sooner we’ll be able to cope with life’s trials and tribulations; and the sooner we’ll be able to pull ourselves up on the rock wall, and continue climbing. - Omar Saeed


f I could go back 4 years and give myself advice, I would tell past-Abokor that everyone has a story and if you listen long enough, you realize that the world has so much more to offer. I would tell him that things got better and that he will inevitably love being at UofT; so much so he wouldn’t hesitate to make the 3 hour commute even though he did not have class. I would sit him down and explain how he’ll be introduced to some of the smartest people he will ever meet, who have the most interesting back-stories and that when he is around these people, his heart will feel at ease. He will learn quick that there is a lot evil in this world. He’ll learn that he might not be able to solve any of the world’s problems. However, I will tell him to skip the small talk, skip the formalities and just dive right in. Abokor, listen to the words of the people and once you’re done, thank Allah (God) for the beauty that is his creation and then make dua for your parents. -Abokor Abdulkarim



ow have I grown? Well I began by struggling with my limitations. I saw that no matter how hard I tried, how much I toiled, how earnest I was in my attempts to help others, I would never save the world. I would never be a superhero and human beings would always suffer. From that I learned that I am limited. I learned the importance of working with others, working in communities. I learned that we cannot help others alone. I moved forward through failing. Again and again, in a number of different domains, I failed. I failed and for a time I believed that I was a failure. Through failing to live up to my own expectations I learned that the goal, ultimately, is not to seek perfection, but to seek growth. To seek those steps forward, no matter how small they are, and even when you have to move a couple steps back in order to take that inevitable, huge leap forward. I’ve ended with awe. Awe at myself: what I have accomplished, what I can endure and how much I now believe in myself. Awe at my friends: the conversations that have helped me to unlock so many keys to the universe, and into myself; the warmth and joy that have sustained and nourished me; and the kind of deep love I’d never even known to hope for. And finally, awe at the grace of God: that no matter how long I turned myself away from Him, He always allowed me to find my way back; that He never allowed me to fall without allowing me to also gain a few lessons and gems while picking myself back up; and that He has blessed me, infinitely, and continues to do so every day that I am alive. The Halla from four years ago didn’t know these things, but now she does. And that’s how I’ve grown. - Halla Ahmed


n the cusp of finishing my undergraduate degree, I find myself reflecting on my past experiences in university. How has my journey at U of T played out, relative to what I imagined it would be like at the start? Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect. As a general rule—and those who know me well are acutely aware of this—I try not to cultivate expectations, because I feel like doing so sets oneself up for disappointment. I like to go with the flow, and take things (with a grain of salt) as they come. The summer before first year, I recall having very abstract and picturesque notions of what university life would entail: independence, freedom, discovery, and exploration. The uncertainty of the future and what it might bring had me highly optimistic. Though university is largely considered a bubble from the “real world,” I feel like my journey at U of T grounded me in realities that my younger, idealistic self did not foresee at the start. I considered the course of my future much more. I became highly reflective on my life choices, and how they impacted me: academically, professionally, and socially. I still had independence and freedom; I still discovered and explored. But overall, U of T has been a journey of maturity, self-awareness, and growth in serendipitous ways that I would never have imagined from the start —but am eternally grateful for. One thing that I hope remains constant is the family from the wonderful friends around me throughout the U of T journey, who I am truly blessed to have in my life. - Shalah Mohammed


timothy is


...sometimes we forget that many of us judge the same way about people we’ve had shaky understandings of, mainly due to the stereotypes instilled upon us while growing up BY AHMED MEZIL

We Stereotype People too, You know In order to fully grasp the message of this article, I kindly ask that you remove the veils of objection, take off your shoes, turn on the lanterns of empathy, and sit with me on the universal carpet of peace and understanding. *Ahmed provides tea and Timbits to the reader*. Please, have some.

I approached their booth to learn more, and to my mind I thought they’d most likely be Muslim, but they in fact weren’t. One of the students I spoke with, a young man, passionately described their initiative, and got me to sign a petition. After interacting with this caring and heartwarming individual, it came to my attention that he was in fact gay.

For the longest time, we (Muslims) always felt victimized by people who have ill understandings of our religion. However, sometimes we forget that many of us judge the same way about people we’ve had shaky understandings of, mainly due to the stereotypes instilled upon us while growing up from our family and/or culture. For example, how many of us have had positive interactions with gay individuals? That’s right, not many.

Before leaving the booth, I felt I needed to express my deep gratitude to these individuals for being advocates for this initiative, as they were both members of a non-Muslim and non-Arab community. As I was expressing my appreciation, the young man became emotional and started to cry. It really shook me, I was speechless.

My Encounters with Gay Folks I want to begin by saying that I fully acknowledge and adhere to the forbiddance of homosexuality in Islam, and that, it is a condition that needs to be addressed if present within our community. I fully abide by what’s mentioned in the Quran and prophetic teachings regarding this manner. This article does not discuss the ethics or rulings of homosexuality, but rather aims to build a bridge of understanding and respect with groups that wish the same for us. I’d like to highlight my interactions with two gay individuals who’ve had a positive impact on me: 1) The Advocate I once walked into Bahen Centre and noticed 2 students had set up a booth at the entrance, with the poster titled “Solidarity for GAZA”. These students seemed to be passionate advocates for a beautiful cause, and they were wearing the traditional Palestinian black and white scarf. 10 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2016

2) The Volunteer At Toronto Rehab where I conduct my research, I volunteered for some time as a Social Support volunteer, where I assisted and supervised elderly people during their social events. There, I was supervised by another volunteer by the name of Timothy (aka Tim). After working for some time with Tim, it came to my attention that he was gay. This was also confirmed to me by himself. Tim is a brain cancer survivor and he has been volunteering at the institute for over 25 years. He decided to devote his life to giving back to the institute ever since he was treated there. Volunteering with Tim became the highlight of my week as he has such a welcoming, lively, and REAL personality. Tim always said great things about Muslims. In fact, he once told me that he defended Islam when he was out with his friends. When they were criticizing Islam, he stepped in and said that if it weren’t for Muslims, we wouldn’t have many of the scientific inventions we use today!

The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions showed utmost respect to all good people around them, as well as forgiveness and tolerance to those who’ve wronged them.

Many times when I pass by Tim, he would say “What’s up brother?”. Ironically beautiful, isn’t it? What I learned from the advocate and the volunteer had washed away the ill perceptions I had of homosexuals while growing up. They’re like any other human being, good and bad, and I am in NO position to judge them. Like everyone else, I treat everyone the way I would like to be treated. As I became more interested in the ethics of dealing with gay individuals, I came across a beautiful talk by Imam Suhaib Webb, in which he says: Politically and socially, it’s an obligation for us to respect their presence in our society. Just like we Muslims have the right to build mosques and freely practise our religion in this country, the gay community must be provided with the same level of respect. How the Prophet Dealt with Non-Muslims The Prophet (PBUH) not only taught us how to live like proper Muslims, but also taught us how to live like dignified human beings who show mercy to every living creature on this planet. These included animals, plants, insects, but also people from all walks of life and various faiths. Throughout many situations of his life, the Prophet (PBUH) showed us examples where he demonstrated exemplary behaviour in dealing with non-Muslims. Many of us have heard of the incident where there was once a funeral passing by the Prophet (PBUH), which happened to be for a non-Muslim (a Jewish woman). As the funeral passed the Prophet (PBUH) while he was sitting with his companions, he stood up. When the companions asked why he did so, since the funeral was for a Jewish woman, he replied “Is it not a living being (soul)?” The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions showed utmost respect to all good people around them, as well as forgiveness and tolerance to those who’ve wronged them. The Prophet (PBUH) never forced anyone to take on the message. Rather, Allah (swt) only commanded him to deliver the message and to lead by action. Those who accept it are welcomed whole-heartedly, and those who don’t have their own account with Allah (swt), but should still be treated with respect as you would expect the same from them. “If it had been your Lord’s will, they would all have believed. Will you then compel mankind against their will, to believe?” (Yunus, 10:99) It all comes down to Character The teachings of Muhammad (PBUH) left an important message that we should never forget – a Muslim must treat all people well, as he said: “I have only been sent to perfect good characteristics”. Have we adopted these characteristics to treat all people with respect? Or do we only expect that respect from them because we feel only WE are the minority? If we don’t start treating everyone with the same level of respect we (Muslims) want to be treated with, we will never flourish. I’m happy I’ve met people like Timothy in my life, as it had improved my capability to understand, respect, and appreciate people that are far different than who I am. After all, that’s what life is all about. APRIL 2016 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | 11


my friend took a selfie with the prime minister of canada


Literally, my friend’s closeness to the PM in the photo shows a sense of approachability that should not be simply shrugged off as trivial because it was simply a photo...Figuratively, the image represents the larger reunification between citizen and politician.

In my opinion, the picture represents the literal and figurative reconciliation of what unfortunately had become dichotomous disjunctions betweencivilian and politcian, citizen and government, a voter and the representative.


y friend took a selfie with the Prime Minister of Canada … was a sentence I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to say in my lifetime. But lo and behold, I say it now: My friend, Zahra Hossain, took a selfie with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. Now you might be wondering, what is so important about that? A selfie amongst thousands of selfies with movie stars, athletes, and famous personalities seems quite commonplace in this digital era. But my friend’s photo resonates with me on a much deeper level. In my opinion, the picture represents the literal and figurative reconciliation of what unfortunately had become dichotomous disjunctions between civilian and politician, citizen and government, a voter and the representative. Literally, my friend’s closeness to the PM in the photo shows a sense of approachability that should not be simply shrugged off as trivial because it was simply a photo. Yes, my friend only received minimal face time – pun intended – with our Head of Government. However, this photograph is but a simpler example of the more widespread case of reintegration into citizen society that has occurred after the election. We should not deny the fact that the Prime Minister and his team have made extra efforts to return to the people that have put him on top, as exemplified in his visit to Islamic Foundation, or his bhangra dance routines that have been floating around on the Internet. Figuratively, the image represents the larger reunification between citizen and politician. Importantly, this reunion stems from a sense of accessibility. Not only are the actual Members of Parliament more accessible to the people, but also those very professional positions are more accessible to individuals who have generally been marginalized in pursuing them. Just look at any photo of all the current members and you will see various colours, ages, and genders, representing a great diversity in ethnic backgrounds, opinions, and skills. In essence, the diversity expressed in that limited Parliament is roughly the diversity that actually exists among the 35 million people and counting of Canada. It might not be a perfect representation of people, but it’s a start. And it is this start that Muslims need to take advantage of.

Alhamdulillah, we do have some Members representing our concerns in Parliament, for example Salma Zahid and Maryam Monsef, but we can do better. Nay, we have to do better! After the years we have spent under Stephen Harper, especially the last few years where many immigrants have been threatened to become second-class citizens and Muslims have been targeted specifically in Bill C51, I was baffled at how our rights were so easily misrepresented in what is supposed to be a representational government. More crucially I was wondering how could we have let it get so far? I realized one of the reasons why we let it get so far is because we couldn’t stop it - we had no voice to represent our needs at the level where it matters most; and that needs to change. After the years we have spent under Stephen Harper, especially the last few years where many immigrants have been threatened to become second-class citizens and Muslims have been targeted specifically in Bill C51, I was baffled at how our rights were so easily misrepresented in what is supposed to be a representational government. More crucially I was wondering how could we have let it get so far? I realized one of the reasons why we let it get so far is because we couldn’t stop it - we had no voice to represent our needs at the level where it matters most; and that needs to change. And yes, many believe that we deserve a pat on the back for voting out the Conservatives, but this article is no adulation of the Liberals either, no matter how handsome you consider Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The reality is that politics is something that should be highly monitored and properly discussed amongst the local community and then relayed to prominent leaders, and not just a topic of heated conversations that occurs amongst dads during a family gathering following complaints about the failures of their favourite sports team. But that does not mean I am advocating that every single person should be a politician tomorrow. Rather, I simply state that with a change in government has come a change in opportunities, and there are openings for Muslims for the taking.



y biggest challenge coming into university was the unexpectedly difficult transition of going from a tight-knit high school where almost every nook and face was familiar, to a place where it was a daily struggle to make sense of the vast amount of roads and brand new buildings - I had to use Google Maps for the first couple of weeks, even if it was just to get from Sidney Smith to St. Mike’s. The most uncalled for feeling was that of being suspended in this frightening, purposeless existential dilemma. I am someone who places a lot of meaning into my relationships and I hold dear those closest to me because they keep me grounded. Without that support system, it was easy to feel unhinged. No one told me that university is first and foremost a huge reconstruction of your social world. It’s impossible to realize how isolating UofT can be, particularly the early days of that life sci mission. This probably sounds like every other cliche UofT froshie experience, which is terrible of course, but I think it makes reflecting back on the last 3 and a half years so much more rewarding - alhumdullilah for growth and chosen communities that finally feel like home away from home. It’s these enriching experiences and friendships that have been cultivated since first year, oh so long ago, that I’m slightly apprehensive now, standing on the cusp of graduation and entering the “real adult world”. Surprisingly, it’s not the looming dark cloud of debt, financial responsibility and job insecurity that is most concerning, but rather, feeling the motivation to invest into new meaning systems. Without the comforting bubble of on-campus organizing, I need to look for spaces that I can contribute to in a fulfilling way, emotionally and spiritually. Easier said than done, unfortunately. The MSA has spoiled me and although it is easier to tightly grasp on to who I am and what my goals are than I did at 18 years old, there is still a sense of anticipation with a thread of excitement and maybe a little bit of nervousness, if I’m being honest, about what lies ahead. God willing. - Aruba Ahmed


s much as I love engineering, designing, and building stuff, there was one thing that gave me the most sense of fulfillment and happiness like no other. That is - helping people.

Ever since I started to learn more about my personality and what I’m truly passionate about, I dove into every opportunity I could get my hands on to improve myself, outside of my academics. Through UofT, I was able to improve my leadership skills through the involvement with big two high school camps, MIST (Muslim Inter-Scholastic Tournament) and DEEP (DaVinci Engineering Enrichment Program). Through UofT, I was able to improve my teaching skills while being a TA for first year engineering students for 2 consecutive years. I was able to interact with a variety of youth from various backgrounds, and become a source of support to them in many aspects of their lives. My biggest victory at UofT was being brave enough to inspire youth all around me, all while being a full-time MASc research student. Of course it wasn’t easy to balance this time, nor was it easy to battle the status quo that “grad students should only focus on their research”, but I knew I just had to pursue something that I loved deep down in my heart. Because once upon a time, I used to be that lonely kid in high school and that depressed and anxious first-year student, and I only wished that somebody was there for me. It brings warmth to my heart knowing that I am now there for them. - Ahmed Mezil



find it incredibly hard to pinpoint one person who I can say has impacted me “the most” during my undergrad at UofT because it’s been such a transformational time for me. Alhamdulellah, I’ve come to know some truly inspirational people and learned at the hands of some of the smartest folks in Canada. And so I would not attribute the most impact to one person, but rather to a group of people: everyone who has challenged my ideas or beliefs and took the time to engage me in a thoughtful conversation. At first, it was difficult to participate in these types of conversations because they were uncomfortable and I feared the consequences they may have on my worldview. But with time, I learnt how to let my curiosity override this fear. Naturally, in addition to better understanding the world around me, having these tough conversations about my beliefs and values taught me more about myself and my own convictions. It’s almost like the scientific-process – if you want to test whether a particular idea holds, put it to the test! You’ll either prove it wrong, or find proof to further strengthen it. For all the first and second years reading this, university is a time for growth and exploration. There’s no better way to achieve that than finding people you disagree with and trying to understand their worldview. Challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself. - Mohammed Saleh


y four years at UofT have been turbulent, a series of high and lows. Remembering my first year abroad, it was a self-awakening experience. I had never been so distant from my comfort zone, but despite the struggles that came with it, I learned an immense amount. One of the most important take-aways is: validation, love, and contentment start and end from the soul. Allah put a piece of Him in us, and the only way peace is attainable is to actively and consistently connect with our higher being. Circumstances are constantly changing, but striving for faith will always be a grounding experience amongst the chaotic of times. Everything in this life is fleeting, but Him. Reliance and dependency on Allah is a skill which needs to be constantly worked on in order to be maintained. Time and time again it has proven to be worth the effort. So despite all the ups and downs, I would not change a thing about my experience at UofT because every minute detail about my journey has taught me something. With that being said, I firmly live by the belief that if you know you’ve got Him, you’re a winner. - Marya Kayyal



A YOung Muslim WOman with BipOlar DisOrder BY FARRAH KABEER


was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 15. I had just come to Canada with my father, who was a single parent, and my little sister. Although the doctors prescribed me with the appropriate medication, I sometimes took them; I sometimes did not. My bipolar disorder meant that sometimes I went to high school and just sat there unresponsive, while other times mania kicked in and I acted really weird. The other kids bullied me as a result. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that I hated school with a passion. Despite the cruel kids, however, I loved learning, books, studying for exams. I loved gaining knowledge of any sort. But mostly I loved God. Here was the whole external world telling me I didn’t belong because of something I could not control. Here was my own internal brain reminding me that I was worthless and therefore did not deserve to live. My classmates bullied me at school and my father fat shamed me at home (even though gaining weight was a result of the medications I took). He didn’t know how to handle my depression. Yet, even when the entire world failed, God was there. I would scream and cry for God at night. I was too depressed to perform my 5 ritual prayers but God and I had an ongoing conversation in my head. And whenever I asked for help He showed up. He showed up through books I loved, through strangers on the street who gave me kind smiles. He was the air, the birds, and the trees. He was everything. He was the sound of a deep breath: “Hayy,” one of the 99 names of God, literally meaning life giver in Arabic and pronounced exactly like the sound of exhaling a deep breath. One of my favourite Quranic Ayahs that I stumbled upon during times of distress was, “Your Lord did not abandon you nor did he forget.” That line alone would reduce me to tears. I had always wondered, what is love? And would I ever have it? Would I ever experience it? I believed, basically my whole life, that because of having a mental health disability, I was not lovable; that because of the test I’ve been given, no one, not even my own parents would love me. I kept searching for love in places and people that were not God; people and places that could not give me the love that only God could provide. I tried being a stereotypical North American teenager and doing all the standard North American things. It felt wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.


I thought about dating. But that also felt wrong. People and friends could not give me the love that only God could. They could only be there for me. But they could not fix the cracks in my soul. The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along. - Rumi, The Illuminated Rumi God was in me all along but I never noticed, did I? “He is with you wherever you are” Quran 57:4 . When I was 18 I ran away from home. I became homeless; a horrifying act to those people who have always led a sheltered life. But I do not regret it. Not one bit. I met lots of different people and learned so much. I met men who were victims of rape. I met white men who were once rich and respected but lost all of it because of mental health issues. I learned that I should not generalize people. Everyone is a creation of God and I should respect that. Not automatically mark them down as threats; as people who are evil and therefore deserve to be treated with caution or antagonism. I learned that I should let go of my radical feminist ideologies. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” - Rumi What’s surprising is that I found more kindness on the streets from homeless people than I did from Mosques. I found more people reminding me of the kindness of God at shelters than I ever got from my Muslim upbringing. I found more people in this situation telling me it was okay to externally represent what I truly was internally. Meaning that it was okay to be who I was. For the first time in my life I was accepted for who I truly was. An acceptance I never found in the conservative mosques in Toronto. Or in my own Muslim community. I was always made to feel different. I was enrolled at UofT at that time; among tens of thousands of people, yet I felt like an alien who did not belong. Rather, I found acceptance amongst the outcasts of society; amongst the queer community and the poor. So I ask Canada’s Muslim communities to reflect on and understand the ways in which they drive people away, by being homophobic, racist, ableist, and incredibly misogynistic. Throughout my journey, I struggled to find a place in the Muslim community, so now I ask the Canadian Muslim community to hold themselves accountable for forgetting one of our prophets most crucial sayings: “Allah will not give mercy to anyone, except those who give mercy to other creatures.” (Abdullah b. Amr: Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi) How dare we forget this? How dare we turn converts away? How dare we turn trans and queer Muslims away? How dare we slut shame our fellow Muslim women? How can we claim to be Muslim if it is all about ostentation and nothing about what is deep within our hearts? What is the point of the Hijab, or the beard, or the daily prayers, if you turn away those members of our community who need our help the most? Are Muslim communities only meant to be there for people who are stereotypically Muslim and fit into a certain mold? Have we not learned enough? Have we taken 100,000 dollars of loans to fund our university education for nothing? We pursue knowledge yet we forget how to be kind and how to be compassionate? How to smile at a stranger? Just a smile. A genuine kind smile. Sometimes that’s all it takes to save someone’s life. I am 20 now and much better than I have ever been. Alhamdulillah. I have a good GPA, and I wish to study Human Rights Law. I have my own apartment; I pay all my expenses by myself. I rely on no one for love and validation except God. But I try to give away my own love as much as I can, whenever I can, without asking for anything in return, and the more I give the more I get back. So, do I regret abandoning my Muslim family and my Muslim community? No. But I will also always be one of the lovers of God.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. - Rumi


I always remember this quote whenever I feel sad. Or whenever I feel like I will never ever find someone who will appreciate me for who I am. I remind myself that God is always there for me. Even when other people are not. And yes death is scary. And yes life is scary. And yes people are almost always scary to me. But it is okay. I am always going to be okay. Because God will always be there for me. Always.



By Hirra Sheikh


e’re currently living in an age where racist, xenophobic, and islamophobic acts and comments are commonly heard about on the news. In particular the rise of visibly Muslim women being harassed on the street, on the subway, and various other public places after the Paris attacks has been quite sharp. I’ve even heard of a Muslim male colleague of mine being harassed and spat on while waiting for the streetcar at the University of Toronto campus, not to mention the numerous other events that go unreported. Now with the Presidential elections coming up just south of the border and the hateful rhetoric used by presidential candidates, the effects can be felt against the muslim community. In light of these events, the Muslim community at large feels the need to dispel misconceptions and counter Islamophobia. I’d like to list a few Do’s and Don’ts of going about this pursuit. Number One: Don’t apologize. Don’t apologize for the events. Don’t apologize for being a Muslim. Our condolences, thoughts, and prayers should always be with the innocent individuals who are subject to tragedy, violence, and terror attacks across the globe. This includes Paris, Palestine, Beirut, Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the others that don’t make the news. This, in no way, means that because of your faith you are responsible for anything you have not done. Don’t apologize or publicly condemn such events simply because it’s expected of you. It’s not your responsibility, you don’t need to. Don’t do it.

Number Four: Do make our mosques more transparent and welcoming. As a visible, identifiable Muslim woman I have walked into churches to admire the architecture. I’ve also made Salah in a chapel numerous times because there was no space to pray near by. Aside from a few curious glances I have not felt unwelcome. I think that’s a wonderful model for the way many of our mosques should be running. Not that some of our mosques aren’t doing this already, but it’s a very small minority. Get involved with mosque boards and strive to make our mosques more transparent. Hold regular open houses every month, where individuals from the community are invited to come in and observe and interact with the Muslim community. Have multi faith events that seek to tighten our bonds with our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. This is far more effective in countering Islamophobia than handing out pamphlets on the street, which to be honest, usually end up unread and in the garbage shortly after.

Number Five: Do take back your narrative.

A couple of years back I attended a seminar by Dr. Ingrid Mattson on the coverage of Islam in the media. There were a few key points that I took away from her. In the world of news, if it bleeds it leads, regardless of what story it is. One of the major issues we face within the Muslim community is our lack of journalistic involvement and communication with media outlets. We should stay in constant communication with major media platforms. Write letters to the editor to express your opinions on the coverage of certain issues. Write to inform the media about events and ideas that Number Two: Do make yourself available for conversation you would like to see and read about. There is a significant absence of Muslim feedback and involvement which greatly influences and questions through community involvement. what and how news regarding Muslims is covered. Most importantly these relationships should not be limited to difficult times Individuals who know someone who is Muslim are far less but should be a constant in order to ensure that when things do get likely to be Islamophobic. Make yourself available, strike up con- difficult, there is an established relationship already. versations, get involved in campus groups outside of just Muslim clubs. This is the best way to dispel misconceptions. Number Six: Don’t let the actions of a few shape your view of society. Number Three: Do educate. Don’t forcefully “impart knowledge”. There is a difference between educating someone and simply being annoying, self righteous, and condescending. If you know someone or meet someone, and a conversation comes up where the person is genuinely curious, have a fruitful discussion through which you can dispel misconceptions. Do not grab a random individual and start getting fired up about Muslims not being terrorists and telling them you wish to “enlighten” them. They don’t care, they have their guard up, and nothing you say at this point is going to change their mind.

Just as others shouldn’t be stereotyping a faith group based on the actions of a few, as Muslims we should hold good views of people around us, regardless of faith. The recent Islamophobic hate crimes do not represent the views and sentiments of society as a whole. You would be surprised by the number of people who are very understanding and welcoming towards the Muslim community. Make conversation with those around you instead of assuming others are hostile towards you and alienating yourself. Many individuals would love to talk, make conversation and ask questions, they just don’t know how.



By Mariam Lightwala


am a Shi’a. Well particularly, I belong to a smaller sect called Dawoodi Bohra. Growing up, I was always aware that I was a BohriShi’a but never felt like a minority. I was born and brought in United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country and there was a considerable representation of Shi’as within that society and within my school; this was my entire world. Many of my peers were Shi’a, so I was never the representative for Shi’as within my class. Admittedly too, I wasn’t very attached to my Muslim identity, which made it easier for people to not categorize me according to my religion. Though the questions came when I entered university, joined the MSA and met a predominantly Sunni community, who had never met or conversed with a Shia. Initially, I didn’t feel like a minority, only much later did I realise that I was a Shi’a - an unrepresented minority. I vividly remember the first time I ever became very aware and conscious of being Shi’a. I was walking along with a few MSA members and across the street were a few Muslim girls walking towards us. As we passed these girls, my friend beside me turned to me and said, you know who they are? I was confused, and said no. She said they are Shi’a – she didn’t mean any offense at all, she was merely mentioning a fact. It was at that moment that I realised that not many people within the community knew I was Shi’a. It was a fact I had not seen important to mention; it hadn’t mattered before. I was curious though and so I continued the conversation, why does that matter? She responded, it doesn’t, it’s just that I want to be friends with Shi’as, I want to learn more about them and the differences, unfortunately these people don’t come to our events. I smiled, you can ask me, I’m Shi’a. I hadn’t known then but there is an invisible divide between Shi’as and Sunnis; once I was made aware of it though, it became hard to ignore. In the process of her self education, she had not categorised me into the ‘other’ category. This other category is the go-to for many people; a category where anyone unlike ourselves are thrown into. Instead she had created a new, specific category, which had not existed before in her understanding of Islam, but she expanded that understanding. The specific category recognised my beliefs and my identity and was not overshadowed by the stamp of ‘other’. Moreover, this stamp causes individuals to forget that we are all still Muslim, and hence we are still a part of the same larger community. This acknowledgement of differing beliefs is unfortunately very rare in the Muslim community. The majority is Sunni and hence their beliefs, like all majorities, becomes represented as the beliefs of the entire community. However, in reality our Muslim community encompasses numerous other sects. I remember attending an event that had a speaker mention reasoning of each of the 4 school of thoughts followed by Sunnis in her explanation, in order to encompass the different viewpoints present, yet easily ignored the other schools of thought also present in the room, like mine. It was sad to see the lack recognition from someone who had gone to lengths to include differing beliefs but conveniently ignore others. Actions like these and others create more barriers between our sects, and widens the already present gap of differences. Even today, many people I interact with do not appreciate the idea of intermingling with different sects. Initially, I was under the impression that these were only views of the older generation, but even from my own generation I have been warned to not become ‘too good’ friends with the ‘other’ Muslims. Just the mere categorization of ‘other’ overlooks the presence of numerous similarities. The thought process is frustrating and infuriating and fuels segregation. Understanding, recognising and acknowledging the differences between sects continually reminds us that in the end we are all part of the same Muslim community. Whereas this lack of acknowledgement will limit interactions and isolate sects from one another. And this separation will only make us a scattered society which drives on intolerance. Our rich diversity should be embraced, as it allows a growth of society and highlights the real beauty of Islam: our diversity and our welcoming nature.





regnant with anticipation, the air swam slowly around us. Tinkling china punctuated the low buzz of summer insects hanging fatly in the weary sun soaked air. The well-worn wicker of dated patio furniture wore a faint tattoo into my backside, my hair lay wetly across my temple as I felt my makeup worn face bake gently in the heat. The young man sat across from me was slender of stature and fervent of countenance. “Well?” said my would-be suitor, “do you have any questions for me?” “Just one, could you- uh- could you clarify the last thing you said?” the words politely drip along the sides of a long since empty tea cup. The cicada song rolls between us. “Sure.” I was beginning to find the upward lilt of his voice jarring, and immediately pictured a dozen identical children with equally irritating voices. I shivered.

“It’s like this. In salah you can only have one imam leading the prayer, and the rest follow suit-right? Now it wouldn’t make sense to have two imams leading the prayer! We only need one. It’s like that in marriage, only the husband needs to lead- you know take charge, and his wife follows. Of course like in salah if an Imam makes a mistake, you just politely correct (of course you have to be absolutely certain of your correction and his mistake). Just so in a marriage, I make a mistake- my wife supports me and I carry on leading. That’s all really.” He inhales; I imagine his head slowly inflating along with his chest. My smile tugs hard on my jaw. You should get married young, that’s my philosophy. When you’re young with limited life experience you’re just stupid enough to believe the myth of love. The young would-be husbands and 22 | THE MUSLIM VOICE | APRIL 2016

wives of our community know that marriage may be hard- but only in the abstract. They think hardships in their marriage may arise from not liking the same pizza toppings, or wanting to name their child Ibrahim instead of Yusuf. You know, big problems. The older you get the more jaded you become, the more desperate your parents become, the more appealing your cousin from Pakistan looks. It’s no big secret that in the Muslim community we do get married young, most of us are happily married by our mid-twenties and having children before we hit our thirties. For the rest of us, like myself, we are instead beleaguered by parents who think we’ve passed s e l l - b y and the of ‘engaged’ statuses social I m e . that

o u r d a t e , o n s l au g ht and ‘married’ that litter our media.

was 20 when I first asked my parents to find someone for I, being the eldest in a largely traditional Pakistani household, thought this was the best course of action. My parents were slightly clueless on how to proceed-

What do you mean you want to change everything about me before I meet him? They were, without exception, polite, well dressed and charming. It was of course when we were sat together alone (the door always suitably ajar) that the real qualities began to ooze out. It was through the clever little phrases, the smiles and the expectant glances that would clue me in to one fact. Most men who tried to find a wife through their mums were in fact in want of a good looking maid/child bearer. I remember how Facebook searches of the respective suitors name led to photo after photo of wild partying, drunken antics, and scantily clad women dripping from their arms. As for my own aspirations, I felt that I should aim a little higher. My parents agreed. I moved out of my home for work, this was the first time I was on my own and not beholden to a curfew or demands to know who I’d been out with. I decided to start dating in the traditional sense; thing is- no one really decides to ‘start’ dating. It sort of falls into your lap, and there’s no real guidance. I, at this point, had tarred all men of my racial background and faith, as hypocrites of the highest order. I remember being asked out on my first proper date, sat in a coffee shop, a young good looking man approached me. He reminded me of Roger Federer, and his accent was disarmingly German. I went on three dates with him, but the lingering expectation of sex and commitments hung heavily between us. And it was entirely one sided. I sent a polite text, and moved on. This pattern soon established itself: one date, two dates, three dates- none. I found myself unable to commit to activities; relationships and bonds that I felt should come after marriage. Unfortunately, the current dating scene doesn’t really accommodate for women like myself. I wanted to avoid the Male Muslim Hypocrite, but found myself wedged against the Lasciviously Loquacious Lotharios. It seemed there was no in between. I begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact that I was to be a spinster, and sadly (though not uneagerly) began to peruse cat adoption websites. Where all of my dreams are meant to come true? That is until Ahmed came along. Ahmed was tall, bearded and Muslim. He was well spoken, practicing, of the same moderation in faith as myself, and interesting. He took a keen interest in me, and instead of asking for my number- he asked for my dad’s. I gave it to him

after much thought, and found myself quickly hurtling down something akin to the Muslim Tunnel of Love. That is to say, I was in the dark but it felt right, it felt halal, it felt possible. Ahmed was educated, he was kind hearted, he was funnybut above all else, he liked me. He didn’t like the possibilities I held, the potential I had. He liked me as I was, and as I am. After three months of very proper courting, he surreptitiously inquired about my ring size and a plan was put into motion. We were to be engaged in a few months time. We would live together, he would work, I would continue my postgraduate studies and continue on in my career, we would both wait approximately 5 years before thinking about children. It was perfect. Except it wasn’t. And it turned out that Ahmed wasn’t a Lascivious Lothario or a Muslim Hypocrite. He was somewhere in between. It soon came out that he didn’t want any of the things he had promised me, that as soon as we got engaged he began to renege on everything. His demands became grander, his latent (almost primordial) sense of ownership became readily more apparent. Ahmed liked the idea of me, and he was only ever interested in someone who’d be his sidekick. Not his partner. Not his equal. Someone to warm his bed and his food, a pretty young thing and not much else. His possessive jealousness and habitual lying led to me calling it off. It wasn’t pretty, but I handled it in the way I thought was best for myself. I call it a near miss now. But it seems after Ahmed the telephone calls to my parents home inquiring about ‘their lovely daughter’ who could perhaps meet their ‘handsome son’ had dried up. No one was asking me out, I felt like a pariah. At first I couldn’t work out what had happened- and I still can’t. Was it because I was past my mid-twenties? Did I look old? Was I too highly educated? Was I not pretty enough? I spent a good deal on this train of thought before a friend brought me back to reality and told me how silly I was being. She was the same friend who encouraged me to put up a muslim dating profile. I’d heard about such things, had heard that they were a magnet for people looking for greencards and thought it best to avoid them. Until I did some research and found a website called Ishqr. It had been popularly branded by young Muslims as ‘Hipster Shaadi dot com’. Pejorative as the moniker was, I felt like I’d found the right place for me. Muslim oddballs just looking for someone to stymy the loneliness with. This is pretty much where my story ends, it’s a ‘to be continued’ I suppose. I haven’t found anyone yet, and maybe I never will. But the one thing I’ve learnt throughout the entire process is that no one should measure their worth by their ability to find a spouse. It’s silly, it’s arbitrary. I find it difficult to believe, but I still try to anyway- I know there’s someone out there for me. And even if I don’t meet him in this life, I hope we’re united in Heaven. And that’s O.K.


they themselves never got married through the traditional rishta process. Eventually, I was introduced to three young men before I called it quits. I came to their homes dressed presentably (no indication of the previous struggle with my mother evident as she attempted to apply lipstick on my face through means of brute force), and I was met with the angelic and positively preternaturally good natured presence of a potential husband.


The Muslim Voice - Volume 21 Issue 3  

The third issue of The Muslim Voice Magazine for the 2015-2016 school year.

The Muslim Voice - Volume 21 Issue 3  

The third issue of The Muslim Voice Magazine for the 2015-2016 school year.