Friday, December 30, 2005

2005 - My Year In Review

From a personal viewpoint, 2005 did not carry much significant milestones. The year began with me in Bangladesh, playing the role of a tourist. I returned to a snowstorm and project deadlines in Canada. All that snow proved good as I organized a ski trip for the BSA in February. In March I bought a new car and sold my old one. In April, the winter finally began to recede and we started to shed our parkas and slip into lighter jackets. Rumana organized an indoor BBQ. The Canadian government got involved in a corruption scandal, and I wrote about how similar Bangladesh and Canada could be.

In May, winter made a brief reappearance for the BSA trip to Wonderland. Miss Canada became Miss Universe.

Summer hit Toronto full blast in June, with temperatures heading above 40c. I worried about making parathays and finally got my degree framed. I sort of got the hang of cooking. BANGLADESH BEAT AUSTRALIA. Noha got married. We caught 150+ fish.

July began with the amazing story of the power supply at the Bengali mela in Dentonia. London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics, and my post on cruel fishing practises was picked up by Rezwan. Behold the Supercycle Watering Stand.

Come August, came the Miracle at Pearson. England won an epic Ashes test match, and gave me my picture of the year. The ineptitude of Toronto's planners bugged me, oil prices crossed $1.00, and I went to Deep Space Nine. Anyone residing in Toronto cannot forget this storm, and I drove through it.

As September began, Americans began to fully comprehend the disaster that was Katrina. My post on US and Katrina made its way across various blogs and forums. Shariah law was quashed in Ontario, a position I supported. England finally won the fantastic Ashes series. Ramadan began in October amidst God's October Surprise. Someone told me Toronto ROCKS, and why. An earthquake happened in Pakistan, with some people claiming it was God's punishment. A story about Iftar Parties, and why certain uncles give us no respect. The K-man got married. My post on Eid Party Games proved popular.

A pretty boring November followed, lit only by the Usual Suspects reunion. I found out what NOT to do in the gym (if you don't want to be considered gay that is). Someone stole our Green Bin (read Behbood's hilarious comment), and our elections began (God, is that how long ago that was?).

December was a time of Christmas parties, discussing doctor-seeking aunties and arranged marriages, 'caught-doing-wudu' tales and RIS (days 1, 2 and 3).

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2006 to all my readers.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sharia In Canada - II

In the recent RIS conference, Dr Zakir Naik mentioned Sharia as having two components, i) social policy to prevent crimes and ii) punishment policy to provide justice to victims and deter future criminals. Despite my misgivings about Sharia in Canada, I am going to indulge in a mental exercise, regarding the recent Boxing Day shooting in Toronto.

According to Sharia every citizen who has a savings of greater than $0 in their bank account each year have to pay a tax of 2.5% of those savings to the public social treasury. This is called Bait-al-Maal, and is used to fund social programs and people on welfare. This was present in the Islamic empire as early as 600 AD, and is quite possibly the first social welfare program anywhere. So if it was in place in Toronto, there would be enough funds to make sure those below poverty line can climb above it, to provide social centers and basketball courts, to have anti-gun programs in schools, to fund police anti-gang programs and so on.

(As a sidenote, in absence of a central collecting agency, most Muslims pay 2.5% of their savings each year as charity to local and foreign poor people, called Zakat.)

The second aspect is punishment. It is no secret that Sharia punishments are tough. In this case, all the gang members who participated in the gun battle would be found guilty (based on evidence where innocence is presumed until proven guilty). In Sharia helping commit a crime carries the same sentence as committing the crime, so all gang members would be put to death (i.e. the death penalty).

Now, like Dr. Zakir Naik, I have to ask the question.

If we implement a policy where a portion of our savings go to help poor people and social programs to help reduce crime, and then punish murderers with the death penalty, will the level of crime go down, stay the same, or increase?


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Blaming Blacks and Gun Crime Culture

Basically a continuation of race and crime from my previous post.

On Boxing Day (Dec 26), with downtown Yonge St. crowded with shoppers looking for a bargain, rival gang members opened fire on each other, injuring several shoppers, and killing one of them.

The 15-year-old victim of the Boxing Day shooting was Jane Creba, a Grade 10 student, police said Wednesday.

Creba was a star student and athlete and will be remembered as a loving and caring soul with a cheerful open heart, said a statement by the family. As I scoured the various news reports for an identity to the killersterrorists, I could not find one mention of their race, ethnicity or description. Probably the newspapers decided not to print those for fear of revenge attacks. Police are still looking for 15 suspects, and have arrested 2 young men. After a bit of diligent searching, I came upon this from the Star.

A suspect is placed under arrest.

If there is a major terrorist attack, the first thought that comes to any mind is that a 'Muslim' is responsible. Similarly, if there is any shooting incident in Toronto, the suspect is almost all cases will be black.

As usual, the blogosphere was quick to comment upon the case. One Canadian commentator described two black gangs fighting, even though such a description is not to be found from either the police or the press. Another said the government should be voted out of power, so Stephen Harper can come and clean up our immigration system. As if all crime is the fault of immigrants. These gang members are probably Canadians by birth.

I can admit that the first thought to come into my mind is that somehow black culture is a gun culture and is responsible for it. Almost immediately I banished that thought. As a Muslim I am used to people assuming certain things about 'Muslim culture', and blaming the whole community for the action of a few bad apples. Just as Muslims range from all cultures, so do blacks. There is no such thing as a specific black culture. Black Canadians who have immigrated to Canada from African countries in recent times, for example Nigeria or Somalia, are very different from black Canadians from Jamaica, for example. The music industry promotes black culture as hip-hop, drugs, scantily clad girls and guns, whereas black culture as a whole is far richer than that (think jazz, blues, crafts and so on). The media always focuses on the crimes committed by a minority of black people, while it is understood that most black people are just engaged in common, every day activities and pursuit of happiness.

I can make such a statement and not tarnish the whole black community with the same brush as I am a Muslim, I have first hand experience of how it is. What about those who have no black friends, or have never met any black person, or has never faced any discrimination? I can tell you I have heard first hand comments from some people who have no qualms about saying it is a gun culture 'down there', and so on. People are afraid of what is not their own. Black people have a unique way of styling their hair, or wearing bandannas, or different taste in music, and others are afraid of those differences.

I was happy to see both Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and NDP leader Jack Layton talk about such crimes being a product of 'exclusion'. Somehow I think Stephen Harper's get tough on crime approach will play better with voters. I wish I could combine both their approaches.

We must give justice to Jane Creba. Those who commit such acts of terrorism must be punished, and given such a strict punishment that it deters other people from picking up a gun in the first place. Tougher laws need to be made and enforced, including mandatory punishment for having an illegal gun, or committing crimes with guns. On the other side, social programs need to be implemented so that underprivileged kids have a choice. Parents must play a role. Young single mothers in particular need to ensure their kids are getting proper attention and moral guidance. The government must help people climb up the social ladder, by a) providing support for mothers so they don't have to work a lot and can be at home caring for their children and b) forcing the father of the kids to play a role in their upbringing. Religious leaders have to emphasize that a materialistic approach to life is not the best one, as well as warn young people who want to enjoy sexual relations without any thought to any of the consequences of the result of such a live-in relationship.

Police try to direct Boxing Day shoppers away from the crime scene.


2005 - Bollywood

Best Bollywood Songs:

  1. Aashiq Banaya Aapne - Title Song
  2. Garam Masala - Chori Chori
  3. Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena - Ankhiyan Na Maar (remix)
  4. Zeher - Woh Lamhe Woh Baatein
  5. Maine Pyar Kyon Kiya - Laga Prem Rog
  6. Kaal - Dhamaal
  7. Bunty Aur Babli - Kajra Re
  8. Salaam Namaste - Tu Jahan
  9. Lucky - Sun Zara

Worst Bollywood Movies I Saw:

  1. Mangal Pandey
  2. Kaal
  3. Waqt
  4. My Wife's Murder
  5. Shabd
  6. Kisna

Best Bollywood Movies I Saw:

  1. Salaam Namaste
  2. No Entry
  3. Parineeta
  4. Garam Masala
  5. Maine Pyaar Kyon Kiya
  6. Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena
  7. Kya Kool Hai Hum
  8. Chocolate


Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day Musings

After battling the usual crowd at the usual places on Boxing Day (the Future Shop deal on the 1 gig SD card MP3 player was awesome) I drove to Danforth-Victoria Park to pick up some furniture that mom had ordered. For those not from Toronto, Danforth-Victoria Park is the Bengali area of Toronto - lots of Bengali shops and people.

That area is as Bengali as you can get in North America. Once I was waiting outside (it was summer) while my parents shopped for groceries inside one of those crowded Bengali shops (I hate those) I even saw a chintai - purse snatching. One Bengali lady suddenly started shouting, then two Bengali gentlemen started to chase a young hoodlum, who also looked Bengali. There was a policeman nearby who helped give chase as well. As a sidenote, Victoria Park subway station (known as Bengali station amongst desis) seems to always have a policeman on duty. Probably a good idea.

As I walked to the furniture shop, I spotted a family entering Marhaba, a big, Bengali, grocery store. Father, mother and a young child (probably no older than 8). Now I could hazard a guess that the family was new to Canada. Even though it was a calm +5 degrees centigrade today, no wind, rain or snow, they were dressed as if it was -40. Woolen gloves, thick parkas with layers, a ninja-type ski mask covering half the face and thick snow boots. I could see people give them the stares. I guess I can call myself Canadian now as I can brave +5 degrees wearing just a jacket over my T-shirts and normal jeans. It's almost BBQ weather!

As I passed by Marhaba I could see that the child was half way to being a Canadian. He didn't want to enter the store, saying it was crowded. Then the mother started to shout, "Come inside or you will be taken by chele doras (child kidnappers)."

Boy, I haven't heard that threat since I was ten, and in Bangladesh. And even at that time, I, brought up outside Bangladesh, thought it was funny. Outside of Bangladesh, does that threat work?

One sign of being Canadian, I think, is the dumbing down of winter. I was at my cousin's place the other night, and stepped out on the balcony along with her daughter. My niece exclaimed, "Hey! It's not too bad, it's only -2!"

They are now studying for their citizenship exams.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

RIS Day 3 - Reflections

Attending RIS from Dec 23-26 ... Regular blogging to recommence from Boxing Day.

As someone who has been involved in organizing huge cultural events before, I know it's hard to please everyone and people will always criticise. Having said that, I must let loose a rant.

*Rant alert*

It is all well and good to have distinguished speakers come and proclaim Islam to be the best religion and way of life for all human problems. We know that. It is nice to hear Dr Zakir Nair tell us about comparative religion. It is entertaining and is supposed to make your faith stronger. However, as an event organized by young people I found it puzzling that there was no focus on some specific problems Muslim youth in North America face. Not all of us have media treatment of Muslims, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Iraq war, the lost civilization of Al-Andulus, the corruption of Muslim countries and preventing selfishness as our top priority. Here are some specific issues that concern North American youth, that I wish would have been raised at the conference:

  1. Finding a life mate, or meeting that special someone.
  2. Finding a life mate that meets our parents' expectations.

    Often we are barred from a young age to speak to the opposite sex, and suddenly its the most important thing to get married. OK, but how? And don't say let parents find someone. Often, they can't. It's not the home country where every young member of the opposite sex is a potential candidate.

  3. Peer pressure at university for drugs, alcohol, dating and cheating.
  4. Work situations. Often our colleagues will go to a bar after work, or have as a topic of their conversation issues that Muslims feel uncomfortable with. How can we mix and develop a good working relation with them?
  5. The stubbornness of some scholars who make irresponsible statements in the media and place Muslims living here in uncomfortable situations. For example stating voting is against Islam (stupid, I know).

As for the first two, well, you got what is probably a large number of Muslim guys and girls in the same place for THREE days! Like ISNA, a match-making service run by competent, experienced older people would probably have been a good idea.

*rant off*

Synopsis: A very dull day.

For once I reached early (I drove all the way and parked at CNE). Dr. Ingrid Mattson, God bless her, may be a smart and educated Muslimah, but what a boring talk, I am sorry to say. It was about women's rights and places in mosques (and etc.) so naturally we guys would be less inclined, but even the girls in our group decided time was better spent in the bazaar. And that is what we ended up doing.

I wanted to buy a scarf for my sister, and made the mistake of asking a friend's wife for advice. She gave me a looooong lecture on the differences between hijab, nikab, jilbab, abaya and khimar. I made an excuse and popped into Hijab Fashions. The lady vendor showed me a Calvin Klein scarf.

Wow, a brand name hijab! I didn't even know such a thing existed. And to give me more choice, the lady said she also has some Adidas hijabs!

We came back halfway through the lecture on Muslim civilization's contribution to humanity by some sheikh. Or atleast that's what the program said. It was hard to come back and follow what was going on, so I will refrain from commenting on the speech, except to say it was getting really difficult to keep focus. Maybe three days in a row was a bit too much to digest, first up.

Another talk followed, by an Arabic sheikh, translated into English by another person. Just like yesterday, half the time was lost when Arabic was on. However, I must say for some reason that there seemed to be more (a lot more) Arabs in the audience today than yesterday. The speech seemed to be good, as he got laughs out of them, and quite a lot of clapping. The English translation, when it came, merely woke me up from pretended slumber. However I did catch a joke, about the importance of saying Inshallah. Apparently some guy went to buy a donkey in the market and didn't say Inshallah, I would buy a donkey. He was robbed on the way and couldn't buy the donkey. When he came home empty handed his wife said he was like a hundred donkeys.

Maybe such comments made my married friends take the decision to go to the bazaar again, and buy some gifts for their wives, Inshallah. When the sheikh started to speak again in Arabic, I decided to join them. We killed time there until after the Zuhr prayers.

It was time then for Dr. Zakir Naik's talk on 'Quran - the Final Guidance'. Keeping with his style, it was a very entertaining talk, but nothing you haven't heard before. If you have read the book 'The Bible, The Qur'an and Science' by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, that was what Dr. Zakir Naik summarized. I have heard this speech before, but even then I found it good to listen to again. My friends who have not heard it before enjoyed it thoroughly. This was the best session of the day.

Things were really delayed, and the following session was completely in Arabic. We kept waiting (and waiting) for the English translation, but it came at Maghreb time, so the translator couldn't say much. It was about Purification of the Heart by Dr. Omar Abdel Kafi, and all I can remember is he saying (via translation) that the heart has some diseases which causes our conflicts and we need to purify our hearts. Basically that's what I can get from the title!

I am sorry if I am making it sound dull but it was like that to me. Another striking difference from yesterday was the presence of heavy security. I was told a secret yesterday, but today the organizers spoke openly about it - misplaced tags and funds. More on that later.

Sheikh Riyadh Ul Haq gave a talk on selfishness, entitled 'Me, Myself and I'. At the end when everyone applauded LOUDLY, the shiekh then said, this time very diplomatically unlike the first day, that we should take care to do everything in an Islamic manner. Our food, our dress, our manners, our attitude, our applause, if we are to attain Allah's mercy. No one got the stress on applause part and clapped even loudly. For those who weren't here on the first day, the sheikh was anti-clapping.

The following sessions were taken by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir on civilization, and in particular Islamic civilization. Dr. Munir El Kassem spoke a abit about Canadian politics and a Liberal rally in an Islamic center in London, and of opening dialogues with non-Muslims and contributing to our wider community. Dr Tareq Suwaidan then talked about his plan to revitalize the Ummah, stressing the need for media, education and so on. It as too bad he came on very late at night, as he had to keep a dozing crowd on their feet (which he seemed to do well with his jokes, PowerPoint slides and some management anecdotes), but we had to leave before he was finished.

It was really the fault of the evening moderator Moez Masoud. His job was to introduce the speakers and shut up, but he seemed to think he was there to hold a session of his own. He quoted ayahs from the Quran, gave his own talk and basically took up a lot of time. Everytime when he took the podium he wasted time.

About the misplaced tags and funds. It appeared that some tags were stolen and sold to people in the parking lot at a discounted price by unscrupulous people, so the management appeared to be heading for a loss. When Dr. Munir El Kassem told the audience about this and appealed for donations to offset what he called the 'Shaytan's attempt to infiltrate us', people donated generously. Someone gave a gold chain, someone made a thousand dollar pledge and so on.

And thus ended RIS. An average to good first day, a super exceptional second day and a ho-hum dull third day. Will I come back next year? I don't know, but I would like some changes in the program to address my rant at the head of this post, and I would like some different topics next year. If it's the same topics as this year, why be back? In the meanwhile, I leave you with some pictures.

Update (January 2, 2006): Moez Masoud wrote to me:

Salam Alaikum,

Jazak Allah khayr for your efforts, and I want to thank you for reminding me of my flaws. I saw your comments online about that night at RIS.

I just wanted to tell you that upon inviting me, the head organizor specifically asked that i give a commentary for ten whole minutes in between each session but I myself cut down on that. They were trying to make up for not having time for an independent session for me this year.

I am sorry if I offended you in an attempt to do what I was asked to.


Moez Masoud

Well, that puts a different perspective to the whole issue. I was not aware that he was just more than a person who was merely introducing the speakers, but a speaker in his own right. I didn't see him as a 'speaker' in the program guidebook and merely thought he was just a person introducing the speaker. As such, he had a right to do what he did and I have to retract my comments about him. My comments about him were also based on what other people reflected to me, but again, as Moez says, he was asked to give a talk, which he did.

Prayer mats lie awaiting salaat.

I call it 'Canada-US relations'. I represent Canada. The giant is the US.

Footsteps to Islamic Financing!

Mo at his family's stall in the bazaar. His sister created the paintings.

One of Mo's sister's calligraphy pieces, stating 'Allahu nurus samwatey wal ardh', meaning Allah (God) is Light of the Heavens and the Earth and what lies in between.

Empty chairs as tighter security meant less people sneaking in.

My tired feet getting some rest. You can also see I am very bored.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

RIS Day 2 - Review

Attending RIS from Dec 23-26 ... Regular blogging to recommence from Boxing Day.

I decided to take the TTC all the way today, instead of partially. That decision caused me to miss Ustad Muhammad Al Shareef's lecture (thank you stupid TTC). The 9.40 bus I was supposed to take came early at 9.35. And the next bus was conveniently late. One and half hour later, as I stepped into the CNE, Sheikh Abdullah Adhami was just warming up to start his lecture, 'Men and Women as Partners of Faith'.

Synopsis of the Day: Morning session: Excellent. Afternoon Session: Excellent. Night Sessions: Excellent.

Warning: I took notes, so this is a longer, detailed, post that yesterday's.

If anyone missed Sheikh Adhami's lecture, I recommend buying the CD. He said men and women are equally important in Islam, and Allah has accorded equal rewards to good deeds by either gender. In the days of the Prophet, the Sheikh said, men and women were equally fundamental in helping the growth of Islam.

Today, however, we have preconceived notions about role of men and women in society, based on our CULTURE. The Sahaba realized that they were the product of cultural upbringing, and kept it separate from their Islam. Islam also recognizes that man and women are governed by chemistry, by hormones, and rather that fight these natural urges, Islam gives us a system to cope with them, to help us direct our physical and hormonal urges in the proper channels. For example Islam permitted marriage and did not subscribe to abstinence or monkhood. The relation between men and women are then based on pure thoughts, not base desires.

The sheikh also warned us not to reduce every relation between a man and woman to pure carnal terms. There can be relations between a man and a woman, he said, that can be not carnal and yet pure. They may not be related, yet share an intimacy that is not physical but holy. For example, he pointed us to the relation between Isa (Jesus) (pbuh) and Mary Magdalene, or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Khawla (Raa). Historians to this date cannot understand the relation between Jesus and Mary, so they try and say she was his bride, and what not. Similarly, some historians erroneously count Khawla as one his wives, when she was not. Just friends, as they say. And it is OK, the sheikh said.

Following this was Sheikh Riyad Ul Haq's talk on 'A Transformed Ummah'. He stressed that rather than asking others all the time to change their behaviour, first we should concentrate on ourselves, and then our families, and then others. We should first try to become better, remove our bad habits, before asking others. He said the Ummah is just a collective of individuals, and if individuals are bad, then the Ummah will be too. He pointed out that whenever Allah asked the Prophet to teach new instructions, new orders, He always asked the Prophet to first teach it to his own family members, then close relatives, friends, and then the other believers. Change starts at the lowest level, he said. Today, he warned, we make excuses for our own behaviour and weaknesses, but are quick to pounce on others.

Then it was the turn of Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah. He gave his talk in Arabic, and it was translated by Hamza Yusuf. The topic was 'Ettiquetes of Disagreement'. I find it hard to believe such a gentle man can be from Saudi Arabia. I have always associated that country with Wahabbism, a tough, strict, misrepresentation of Islam. But this man is from that country, and I like what he has to say. Why is he not on TV, as the face of Islam, rather than the terrorists in Iraq who cut off peoples' heads?

The sheikh said while we may disagree, diversity is one of the blessings (mercy of Allah) of the community. He said diversity is a sign of Allah, where he made fruits of many colours, people of many compositions. As such, diversity of opinions, even in Islam and its rulings, is to be expected. What is important, the sheikh stressed, is that such diversity not become a source of resentment. He said Omar bin Abdul Aziz once remarked that he was GLAD that the Companions did not always agree in Islam, as that made broader opinions and viewpoints possible. Also as an example, Imam Malik once refused the Ummayad Caliph's order that Malik's interpretation of Islamic rulings be the official rulebook of the empire, as Malik felt it would reduce chances of future amendments to the jurisprudence. He felt his interpretations were for his time, his place, and fixing it as official would reduce chances of someone else with another viewpoint from challenging it.

The sheikh also provided some other excellent examples of dissent. Once a group of Companions were leaving for Quraizah. The prophet told them to pray Asr when they were in Quraizah. On the way, the travellers were delayed and it was time for Asr. One group of Companions said the Prophet meant they should hurry and try to reach Quraizah before Asr, and since they were delayed, they should now pray Asr. So they prayed. The other group decided the Prophet meant for them not to pray Asr until they were in Quraizah, so they did not pray at all and missed it. Once they reached Quraizah they sent a message to the Prophet asking him to decide which group was correct. The Prophet did NOT condemn either group - both were correct as they had gotten to their conclusion by logic and best intentions. There were other examples, when learned scholars and Companions disagreed, but they always respected each other, and each other's opinions.

Differences in interpretation can be due to i)ambiguity of language, ii)selection of hadith. The first is easy to understand, the second was interesting. Apparently Imam Hanifah rejected several sound Hadith in his rulings when they went against jurisprudence and common sense. For example the Prophet said in his hadith that no Muslim should kill another Muslim, but Imam Hanif saw no objection to dropping this Hadith when legislating death penalty for murder. Is the executioner, a Muslim, allowed to put to death the murderer, another Muslim? Imam Hanifah saw no objection.

This lecture was very detailed, but it was sad that half of it was in Arabic. Most people simply dozed off. I saw one woman watching Gladiator on a portable DVD player during the Arabic portion. Another brother was playing games on his cellphone. Another brother was watching what other people were doing (me). The whole speech should be given in English.

Then came Sheikh Sulaiman Mulla's lecture on avoiding moral bankruptcy. He was saying it is not enough we fast, pray, go to Hajj and give charity, if we backbite others, we tell lies, we cheat, we usurp another person's lies and we leave debts behind then we will be bankrupt on the day of Judgement as Allah will give our good deeds to those whom we have wronged, and take their sins upon us. The sheikh had a tendency to branch off when making his speech, so he would be talking about A, then branch off and talk about B, then C, then come back to B, then A, then again to D, then back to A and so on. I guess he had so much to say, but so little time. But his content was good, and his qirat, during his talk, was nasheed-worthy.

And then came the talk. It was Dr. Tareq Suwaidan on 'Islam and Democracy'. This was after the evening break, and my friends and I could not find places to seat except far away from the stage, way behind. And the place we sat was occupied by characters. One guy, as Maniac Muslim would say, was the karaoke attendee. Whenever the speaker would recite a verse of the Quran, he would repeat it. Loudly. Another character was a sister who kept clapping after every other sentence. Then there was the guy who would suddenly wake up and shout 'TAKBEER!' for no reason.

Dr. Suwaidan was the first speaker I believe should have been given 2 hours rather than 1. His speech was excellent, captivating, and I was engrossed. He stated how Islam supported democracy, freedom of speech, movement, organization, opinion, etc., and how the early Islam was an embodiment of democracy. Due to lack of time, he could not cite hadith and sources for his numerous conclusions, which I would have loved to hear. Once he said that the Prophet made several decisions as a political leader, not as a Prophet, and those decisions are not binding. At this point someone seating one row behind us started should 'No. No!' - before the sheikh could respond, he had to move on.

One interesting point from his speech I noted down. In an Islamic country, he said, there can be political parties that can be un-Islamic, as Islam supports freedom of speech. During Muhammad (pbuh)'s time there was a Jewish party in Medina and Munafiqueen party, both of which criticized the Messenger of Allah and the leader of Medina to no end, and they were left untouched. Today in Pakistan someone can be hanged on a false charge of blasphemy.

Dr. Suwaidan also got a big applause when he said today, the Canadian government, due to its practise of permitting free speech and association, and other freedoms, is MORE ISLAMIC in that sense than ANY Muslim country. Big statement, this.

I attended only one more session. One was the Q and A by Dr. Zakir Naik, the most popular speaker at the convention. Several people asked him questions relating to various aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and he gave solid, excellent answers to all. If anyone wants to buy this section, I highly recommend this as well. The highlight was the last question, by a sister I presume was Christian. She asked him why Muslims don't believe in the crucifixion of Christ.

Dr. Zakir Naik explained to her politely our belief comes from the Quran (4:157-158). He also used the Biblical verse of the Sign of Jonah to explain to her, why according to the Bible, Christ could NOT have been crucified. It is too big and detailed to post here. At all times he was polite, witty, and extremely convincing.

It was getting late, and I had a long journey back home (thanks to TTC). So as Imam Zaid Shakir started to speak, I had to leave. I have never travelled late on Christmas Eve via TTC before, so it was an experience as tired shoppers plopped down with beer cans, as drunkard after drunkard ambled onto the subway, obviously too lost for words to drive home safely. I thought about my RIDE check yesterday, and the sort of company I left behind at CNE. For the first time, I felt my 45 dollars have been well spent, if it has increased my knowledge and understanding of religion.


Friday, December 23, 2005

RIS Day 1 - Review

Attending RIS from Dec 23-26 ... Regular blogging to recommence from Boxing Day.

"Yes, I know you are headed for the Muslim 'thing' at CNE." The TTC streetcar operator smiled at me. "I will let you know when we arrive."

"Why, thank you very much." I smiled back at her, then got into my seat, wondering how she knew. Then I realized. As the streetcar passed Fort York street, the passengers were me, two other Pakistani guys, and around 20 young women in hijab. I need not have asked the operator, just followed the hijabis.

As the vehicle stopped next to the CNE, the two Pakistani guys decided that the presence of so many women meant they would have to act cool. Unfortunately one slipped on the ice on the streetcar steps and fell straight on his bum. The girls did the un-Islamic thing and some started to laugh. And so I arrived at RIS, the Reviving The Islamic Spirit Conference, Toronto, 2005.

Synopsis of the Day: First session: Bad. Evening Session: Good. Night Sessions: Excellent.

I had missed the morning session, so met up with my friends and slipped straight into the afternoon session, anticipating a good speech by Eric Margolis, my favourite columnist. My mood soon changed, however, as they announced a schedule change. Sheikh Riyadh Ul Haq gave a talk instead, supposedly on something called 'Divisions of Religion'. I say supposedly, as the talk was all over the space. Now I know he is a learned gentleman, but I must say I was disappointed (bored) with this session. First, he provided no examples. He said people are more observant of religion and yet do not practise the essence of religion, yet did not give any example of what he meant. Once he said we can destroy a Muslim neighbour with a sin of the tongue or the ears, and yet did not specify what he meant. I never got it. His tone was serious (angry) throughout, no jokes, no brevity.

And to top it all, when some people politely clapped as he ended his speech, he told them not to clap as it was against Islam?!!! Maybe I don't get it. The Muslim community of North America is in many ways an infant community, still learning its roots, you don't need to make things harder for us. If someone doesn't know how to drive, you don't put him on the highway and tell him to worry about checking the blindspot. You show him where the brake is first, then the accelerator. Read Surah Taha, verse 2-3. Islam has not come to make things hard, but to make it easy. What is wrong with clapping?

This was immediately tackled by the next session. Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah was the speaker, and the topic was 'Ignorance and Extremism in the Muslim World'. The only reason I give the session good instead of excellent is because half the sheikh's speech was in Arabic, and translated to English by another person. But what a speech! The content was superb, the examples vivid, and a splendid summary of how ignorance can lead Muslims to either not observing their religion at all, or going to the other extreme and practising a strict but incorrect observance of Islam. The best example he gave was of Caliph Omar, who SUSPENDED the Islamic punishments for stealing in a time of extreme draught in the empire. He recognized the situation and reverted to the spirit of Islamic law, and not the letter. The sheikh also argued that since no recognized Muslim scholar is present in North America to give qualified Shariah rulings, based on not only the letter but spirit of Islam, Shariah law should NOT be implemented in North America, as Shariah could be interpreted falsely. Essentially this is what I argued here.

I only wish he could have spoken in English throughout, so we didn't lose time for translation. Sheikh Abdallah is presently a member of several legal bodies, such as the European Council of Legal opinion and the organization known as Al Majma' al-Fiqhi, the Supreme Fiqh Council, which is comprised of a body of scholars that come together from all over the Muslim world. These scholars represent a variety of madhabs (viewpoints) and study and analyze issues that confront Muslims in the modern world. He also has expertise in a lot of areas that have been ignored, such as the science known as fiqh al-aqaliyaat, juristic rulings related to minority Muslims. Ironically, this learned sheikh resides in Saudi Arabia. The speech he can give in North America on dangers of extremism, a benevolent Shariah and others is a speech he may not be free to give in the cradle of Islam.

And now the final session. Clearly the organizers saved the best speakers for the last. First up was Imam Zaid Shakir, and then Ms. Atalla Shabazz (the daughter of the legendary Malcolm X). They talked about Malcolm X, his life, his achievements as a Muslim, his stance against oppression and discrimination, and what lessons we can draw from him. Both speakers were very good speakers, not only learned but also well versed, and knew how to work the crowd. People clapped their applause (I made sure to clap loudly). The best line they said was Malcolm never let his circumstances limit him, only his potential. It is important, they reminded us, that the first slaves brought over from Africa were Muslims. Their blood and sweat and tears helped form America into the power she is today. So Muslims are no strangers to America (read Alex Haley's Roots, or remember Malcolm X (a former Christian and son of one) was descended from Muslim slaves from Togo). Muslims have been part and parcel of America from the start.

Finally it was the turn of Dr. Zakir Naik. He told us how Islam is wrongly portrayed in the media and why it falls on us to defend Islam and its practises whenever it is wrongly slandered. He gave excellent examples on why Islam is the solution, and not the problem. They call Muslims extremists, but Islam supports being extremely kind, extremely generous, extremely just. They call all Muslims terrorists, but just a policeman strikes terror into the heart of a criminal, all Muslims are required to strike terror into the heart of robbers, thieves, rapists, the unjust, the anti-social elements. He gave practical examples of how verses of the Quran are taken out of context to by many writers (for example Surah Taubah verses 5 and 7, omitting verse 6, and omitting the whole context of the verses 1-4). He told us not to be apologetics. If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will, he asked. Certainly the best speaker of the day.

As I was driving back, the police stopped me for a RIDE check. The lady officer asked me to roll down my window, sniffed, and then asked me if I was drinking. I said no. Then she sniffed again. Then she asked me where I was coming from. The words of Dr. Zakir Naik ringing in my head, I told her very proudly I am coming from a Muslim festival(?) from CNE. OK, she said, sniffed again, and then gave me a brochure on not Drinking and Driving, before wishing me a Happy Holidays and letting me drive off. Why was she sniffing so many times? Maybe the garlic was a bit strong on the shwarma I had at RIS.

The main entrance to CNE against a cloudy sky.

Rows of chairs await attendees for a session at the convention center.

T, Me and S, finishing up some biryani.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Garam Masala And Girls

I watched Garam Masala on DVD yesterday. There is no logic in the movie, yet I would give it 9.5/10. It is funny, completely entertaining and laugh-out funny. This year Akshay should get an award, not Shah Rukh Khan. Rediff review here.

What struck me as I watched the movie, was that I knew how Akshay's relationship would end. He would be three-timing the pretty air-hostesses, living with them, enjoying from a fiancee, as he tells his friends, 'the conveniences of a wife minus the hassles', or as Raymond's dad from Everybody Loves Raymond put it so eloquently, 'all the bagging and none of the nagging'. The flight attendants dress in skimpy Western clothing, live life in the fast lane, change relationships like musical chairs (from Mac to Sam in one night), all the while Akshay's fiancee lives with her old uncle, dresses in shalwar kameez or saris, and forgives Akshay for EVERYTHING in the end.

Indian culture (and on reflection desi culture as a whole) has never gotten out of the medieval era. Different standards are still being applied to men and women. Ram goes off to live in the forest, his wife Sita has to follow him. Ram suspects his wife Sita of an affair with the guy who KIDNAPPED her, and Sita has to prove her chastity by walking on coal. These are straight from old Indian scriptures, and the standards are still being applied today. The air hostesses are being portrayed as sluts (a standard the West used until recent times) while the homely girl 'won' in the end. The only progress I saw was that the family-chosen fiancee was studying to be a doctor. In real life it would have been fair for the fiancee to dump Akshay. If she has held herself to a higher standard, it is her right to expect Akshay to live by those standards as well.

What about Muslim culture? Or even Western culture? I admit both guys and girls ARE expected to live life chastely, but in real life 'guys will be guys' is more suited for guys then girls (hence the expression). At the end of the day, Rahul (from the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai - another classic and great movie) still wants to come home to momma with a sari-clad Anjali rather than a skirt-wearing Tina.

PS. I will be attending RIS over the next 2-3 days, so if anyone wants to meetup, email. My main reasons for attending is to review it, and hear from Eric Margolis and Ms. Atalla Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X).

PS2. Check out the spirited comments in this post.


UAE: I Wish I Was There

This is where I was at the start of this year, spending my vacations. One of the benefits of a government job is extra long paid holidays during Christmas-New Year on the top of regular vacation time. I recommend anyone to visit the UAE.

London, UK. On the bridge over River Thames.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Abu Dhabi, UAE, with my cousin Jasmine. Check the pole out of my head!

At Jebel (Mt.) Hafeet, UAE. It was 30C in the city, but only 18C at the top of the mountain!


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Talk Begins

I drove to the airport to pick up this friend and his wife. I don't know why he didn't take the airport taxi - I guess he wanted to show off to his new wife that he has friends that will go to the airport for him. I made sure not to stuff the trunk too tightly and put some luggage in the rear passenger seat, so he had to sit up front with me, with his wife in the rear, accompanied by a couple of five-year-old Samsonite suitcases. I am just mean.

Another couple of my friends is getting married soon, one in April and the other in a few days. This ultimately implies elders everywhere suddenly take an interest in moi.

"So when are you getting married?"

"Beta, it's your turn now."

"Baba," [this is an auntijee] "I have a new sari I am going to wear just for your wedding."

I have nothing against marriage. I find it surprising that people who would frown at you if you just stopped to ask directions from a girl suddenly decide you should get married and ask you when are you doing it, as if you have a girl ready, and waiting.

These are the same people who would give you this advice when you depart, after high school, to the big, bad, West for higher education:

"Remember, you are the honour and pride of your family. You are the example we give to our kids. So study hard and make us all proud."

Bottom line: Books - good (thumbs up), Girls - bad (thumbs down with astakfirullah).

Now, it's suddenly the reverse. "Haven't you seen anybody yet?" So hypocritical, our desi world. And it seems girls have it a bit stricter than guys. I am sure they mean well.

This Ramadan, during the Taraweeh (night prayers), right after the first part (Isha), the Imam (priest) stands up and gives this speech, somewhat uncomfortably.

"My dear brothers and sisters. I would have to call your attention to an urgent matter. It seems some our younger brothers are not coming to the mosque to pray. When we are praying, they are ... um ... outside, going to the coffee shop, ... or ..." [very uncomfortable pause here, before coming out in a gush] "or meeting, er, some of our, younger sisters."

I almost had a ROTFL moment there. Guys, will be guys. And apparently, girls, will be girls. Let them meet, Imam saheb, what are they going to do? There's 10 guys and presumably 10 girls. All they will do is sit in two corners of Tim Hortons and drink hot coffee and giggle like high school kids, which they are. But music leads to dancing, dancing leads to touching ...


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Couple of TV Series

We had some visitors from the homeland recently (who visits Toronto during the winter?) so had to go and do the usual stuff (CN Tower *yawn*, China Town, VicPark-Danforth Bengali mobtown, Gerrard, a semi-frozen Niagara Falls *super yawn*). The best comment, when visiting Niagara Falls, was by the mother of my aunt, a fiesty 70+ old lady:

"What, we drove all this way just to see some water falling?" Eto duur ailam shudhu pani porte dekhte?

Fortunately there was a couple of my all-time favourite TV mini-series on DVDs.

The first was the Pakistani drama Dhoop Kinaray. It's about two doctors. Dr. Amar (the male lead) is an older (40+), completely boring person who is disillusioned with life and going through the motions. Dr Zoya (the female) is a young, peppy, let's-have-masti(fun) doctor. Somehow she's a brilliant doctor by 25 but we'll ignore that for the moment. The story starts when Dr Zoya stars to work for Dr Amar and their on-again-off-again love story. There's also a delightful supporting cast that makes this mushy drama a laugh-out funny comedy at times.

They used to show this drama on a local Arab channel when I was a kid in the Middle East. I would come back from school on Tuesdays and my mom would be watching it, and my food ready on the table. I would pick up my lunch and sometimes watch it with her. Oh God, why did that Dr Amar not tell the other doctor he 'liked' her? Why did she not make 'dosti' with him? So this stupid drama can be over and I can watch Smurfs. Now I'm wiser, I get it.

The other is the Best Bangladeshi Drama Ever! If you have to watch one Bengali TV series, you have to watch Kothao Keu Nei (Nobody Anywhere). To give you an idea of how popular this classic was, a major character in the story dies. The day they aired that episode, there was a misil (rally) outside the TV studios, with people protesting at the 'death'. The next day, the Imam (priest) of a major mosque in Dhaka held a janazah (funeral service) for the dead person. This was a character from a TV show. Me thinks Bangladeshis have a lot of time.

It's the story of a street in Dhaka. There's the street hoodlum (the lead) with a heart of gold, and his gang. There's the working class girl (the female lead), who works as a secretary, is near 30 and is engaged to this college teacher. There's her mama (uncle), a bitter, middle aged man tired of fighting the system, and his wife, a forever sick woman. There's the rich lady across the street who supplies girls to high paying clients. There's the rival street gang, and the ever brilliant cranky lawyer. A complete out-and-out funny at times, but poignant when needed, it captures life on that street perfectly. It's not an art film, it's a drama for the masses - the brilliant writing of Humayun Ahmed switches tones perfectly. You know how some people watch Casablanca or DDLJ numerous times and it never gets old? This is one such piece. Be prepared to shed some tears though.

A marathon of all-night viewing later, I can say the weekend wasn't a total waste. They don't make them like they used to anymore.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Canada Leaders' Debate Review

I should have wished I won the lottery. Or the Mercedes Benz draw my bank is having.

I was watching the Canadian Leaders' Debate on TV tonight. This one was in English. Jack Layton, the leader of NDP (our Ralph Nader, remember) asked Martin how he could improve our healthcare when immigrant doctors were driving taxis. At that moment I wished someone would ask this question again. Boom! The very next question they had a guy from Ontario, some Mr Sultani, ask the Prime Minister of Canada why they don't recognize immigrants' skills and qualifications and why they had to struggle.

This is very important - in Canada the first generation immigrants always have to struggle to establish themselves - it's their kids who get the fruits of Canada, should they wish. BTW Mr Sultani spoke from his living room which appeared well furnished. Yeah, I notice these things.

I was wrong here when I said the debates would be boring. They were not. I heard yesterday's French debates were boring. There was no such problem today. The English debate contained some good fireworks.

Harper: How can Mr Martin be concerned about my private advertisor's money when he misused the public advertisement money? Zing!!!!

Martin: I went on American TV and told the Americans they were wrong (on softwood lumber dispute). Mr Harper went on American TV and told them we (Canadians) were wrong (on Iraq). Take that, huh, huh, uhuh?!

Martin (to Duceppe, the French guy): My kids are born and raised in Quebec and you are not going to take their country away with some backhanded vote. Zing zang zoom!

There was also one unbelievable comment.

Layton: I believe if there were more women in Parliament, it would be less rowdy.

This from the guy who is married to Olivia Chow. Jack, Jack, you haven't met some of the women I know. Women have a lot of ideas and are often, um, more vocal advocates of their positions then men. As Antonia says on her blog, "maybe that's because they're stuck in the back benches, Jack".

And then the gaffe.

Duceppe: Even if I want a sovereign Quebec... Ok, so long bye bye. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Gille!

My general impression would be that Martin won the debate over all. Harper started well but he remained in that monotone emotionless state. Imagine a robot talking. That's him. It starts off in an interesting manner but then you hear the same speech again and again. No passion. Martin demonstrated proper emotion when required (i.e. Quebec separation, Americans, Canada's future). These were issues when Harper could have done something, but instead he went back to reading his notes.

Martin started winning it from when he was talked about healthcare benchmarks and continued to rise from there. When asked on his record and politician's promises, Martin replied, "Last time I promised to do something about fixing healthcare. I said I would have a conference with the premiers, I did that. I said we would have healthcare benchmarks within 2 years, and we got them within 1 year."

Then came his moment. Duceppe (our French separatist guy), who was coasting so far by insulting the Liberals, completely became unstuck by Martin's vigorous attack on him. When talking about the Clarity Act, Martin passionately advocated a Quebecor's love of Canada and warned Duceppe about stealing his country from him via some obscure and abstract referendum. From that moment on, Duceppe was a rambler, repeating his statements and lost whatever coherency he had in the English debate. You had to see it to believe it.

Martin even managed to convert me over to his day care plan. The Conservatives argued that giving everyone money (very little of it) was good as we were giving them choice. I liked it as it would mean $1200 per year per kid. And as we know, we desis have a lot of ...

But Martin then asked the question, "giving money is fine to those who have daycare. But what about those who cannot find anyone to care for their kids? Who will look after them? Your plan won't create spaces for them, and the money is not enough to pay for daycare. My plan will make spaces for them."

Layton was Layton. He wants to solve all of Canada's problems and ills and tax everyone to do it. Rich pay for the poor. Stand up for everyman. Noble, unrealistic. I like his party. I really do like him. But I just can't find myself that leftwing.

Duceppe lost it when Martin ambushed him on Clarity Act. He kept rambling and repeating from then on.

Martin's line, "Who thought we would be debating surpluses" shows how good Canada's economy is. So, Liberals, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Representing Your Culture

Do you remember one of the lists that used to be the regular part of email forwards during the early days of the internet, one that had a title called "You Know You Are A Desi When ... "? That list, plus Sardar jokes, Bill Clinon jokes and 'Why Computers Are Female' used to form the staple diet of my inbox in those days (ah, 90s nostalgia). But one of my relatives who discovered the internet like yesterday sent me one such email.

"Hey look what I discovered on the net, pretty funny, ALL ARE SO TRUE!!" Ya, R--- Apu, thank you very much. Welcome to the 1995s. I would have pressed the 'Delete' button but one item on the list caught my eye.

"You know you are a desi when you speak to foreigners you act as if you represent your entire culture."

This is SO TRUE. OMG. I sound like R--- Apu.

I am taking this evening class called Advanced Database Design. It consists of mostly middle aged people who have suddenly decided Database Design is the way to go, even though they are like, in Marketing. The only guy below 25 is me. They are all pretty nice folks, and yesterday, after our evening class was over, everyone decided we should have an official Christmas party/dinner after our last class. We started to debate the nearby restaurants and where to go.

"Chinese? No, we have that too often. How about Greek? No, ok what about ... ?" and so on it went, until one guy suddenly blurted, "Hey, I KNOW!! Why don't we have INDIAN food?"

As if on cue, EVERYone turned to look at me. And I am not even Indian. Close enough, it would appear. Just because I was brown, I am expected to have a Top 10 review of all Indian restaurants within a 10 km radius.

There was the time I was with a few friends in Montreal and we went for Italian food. That restaurant seemed to have pork and alcohol in every dish, so I stuck to the seafood (yucky looking mussels, shrimps, some barely cooked salmon and oysters). My friend's girlfriend (they are Tamil) saw my plate and automatically concluded, "Oh fish? Ya, I heard you Bengalis have a thing for fish." In this instance I am not the regular Bong, I LOVE meat. Fish I can barely tolerate. Now, whenever I am invited to my friend's place, his girlfriend (now wife) cooks fish. And since they are Tamil, the fish tends to be really spicy. Trust me, you don't want to go there. Jhaal Bighead cooked in Telapia Style *shivers*.

Then there was one Irish electrical engineer at my last job for whom we were developing a computer system. He had to explain this mathematical chart called Dry Bulb Enthalpy to me. Instead he goes, "oh I don't have to explain the formula to you, I heard South Asians are good at mathematics." What was I supposed to say to him, "I'm sorry I'm the dumb one. But seeing you are Irish you are probably drunk anyways." I mean if someone is stereotyping you but in the GOOD way is that racism? Is there such a thing called 'affirmative racism'?

In that respect I let his good opinion of desis continue while I googled later for what I needed.

The biggest debacle is when someone picks up something you did and concludes its Muslim culture. I have a bad habit of separating caspicum from my rice in any dish. I hate caspicum. My Jewish buddy sees me do this and exclaims, "See? We Jews and you muslims have very similar laws. I cannot eat fish, milk and meat together, and you guys apparently cannot eat rice and caspicum together. We have a lot of similarities."

If the menu was the only problem in the Middle East we would be living in a better world.


16th December: Commemorate And Move On?

Tomorrow will be 16th December, a day Bangladeshis celebrate as Victory Day, when the the Pakistani occupying forces surrendered to the joint Indian-Bangladesh forces. I am not a very nationalistic person and I consider Canada to be more of my home than Bangladesh, and usually hate to dredge up past conflicts as they can cause a lot of acrimony and achieve nothing fruitful. However a lot of Bengalis have very conflicting emotions and attitudes about the day. Many get very patriotic, and start blaming the Pakistani kids of today, who had nothing to do with what their fathers' generation did, for all the ills of the war and beyond. Other Bengalis go the opposite way, claiming it's all in the past and completely ignoring the enormous sacrifices made by their fathers and mothers.

I believe 'Forgive But Not Forget' should be the motto today. If Bengalis did indeed want to punish the collaborators and perpetrators of the horrific crimes of 1971, the days after the victory in the Liberation war was the way to go forward. Trials like the Nuremberg Nazi ones would have been the way to go. Unfortunately Sheikh Mujib chose not to go that route, instead trying to obtain recognition from other Muslim leaders for his new country (and funding to go with it). Their main condition - forgive and forget Pakistan - which Mujib did in 1974, and Pakistan also recognized Bangladesh. To be fair, Mujib had no choice as the country was devastated, and it laid the foundation for good relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh ever since. Ironically, Israel was the second country, after India, to recognize Bangladesh and raise the issue of the genocide on the world stage. All the Muslim leaders and the US chose to support Yahya Khan. Today the Bangladeshi passport reads 'Valid In All Countries Except Israel'.

Today there is no reason to go Pakistan bashing. The crimes of 1971 were committed by a ruling elite, who forbade their own press from covering the genocide, told their own people in West Pakistan everything was fine and the army was just dealing with a few insurgents in East Pakistan, invoked religion as an excuse to oppress people, blamed neighbouring India for instigating trouble and put draconian laws to take away rights in the name of security. Today, the Bangladesh government sees no problem in phone tapping and killing people without fair trial.

Today, Pakistan and Bangladesh have a lot to learn from each other. We have yet to taste the fruit of true democracy. Our culture and development lags behind India. This year, during the D-Day celebrations, the German chancellor was invited to the commemoration. He gave a speech renouncing the Nazi genocide and the other leaders, former foes and now friends, applauded. There was closure. What is the chance of the Prime Minister of Pakistan paying a visit tomorrow to Bangladesh, apologizing for 1971, and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh accepting the apology and moving on?

Sadly, in our countries, rattling about a foreign 'foe' and imaginary issues on which nothing can be done is a good way to distract the masses from the real issues such as corruption, poverty and crime.

A few links:Tags:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wudu How Do You Do

Washing of feet during wudu - if there is one custom of Islam that I wish I could explain better at times it would be this. Now I know religion is perfect as it is revealed so don't go all 'infidel' on me, but doing wudu in Canadian washrooms can sometimes lead to interesting situations.

For the uninitiated, wudu is ablution that all Muslims have to do before saying the ritual prayers. It's terribly easy, and involves washing hands till the elbows, sprinkling water on the face and feet (to the ankles). In most Muslim countries, public washrooms have facilities to sit down and wash your feet. In fact the public washrooms at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, behind the Journey Behind the Falls ticket booths, have such facilities. But most washrooms are normal, and therefore you have to ... improvise.

Now your imaan (faith) may be strong, but when you enter the washroom at the office for wudu purposes you will always be hoping that there is no one there. OK, the prayer seems to be (temporarily) answered. Wash hands. Check. Sprinkle water on face. Done. Taking care, like a good Muslim, not to splash water and keep things tidy and clean. Now for the feet.

Just at the moment when one sock is off and you are in the crouching flamingo position, balanced precariously on one leg as the other leg is raised as you touch your wet hands on the feet, at that position, someone will enter the washroom.

Or you know, you enter the washroom and the only guy in it is inside a stall, reading the Daily News while doing his Daily 'Downloading'. You proceed to your wudu, wondering all the time what on earth he had for lunch instead of saying your zikrs, and the guy will exit JUST at the moment when you are about to do your feet. It does not matter he stinks and has toilet roll stuck to his boots, he will ask you what you are upto.

This is a good time to tell him a little about Islam and that you are only washing your feet as you want to pray, but that is not the 'cool' answer, is it? I remember once I was in Heathrow airport, London, UK, on the way back to Toronto. I entered the washroom to do wudu. Naturally it wasn't empty, but no one paid any attention to me. All except one Italian gentleman who stood right next to me and asked, "What are you doing?"

It was not a hostile "Go back to your homeland" tone, but a rather polite and genuinely curious tone. And ofcourse I lied.

"Well, you see on long flights, your feet tend to get swollen. It's called thrombosis of the vertebrae. You can get rid of it by sprinkling your feet with cold water."

"Ah," his eyes lit up. "I have that problem too!"

And the guy just rolled up his trousers, took off his shoes and socks and proceeded to do just what I was doing! Just to spite him, I repeated my whole wudu. The poor guy followed my every act. In my defense it was the evil of (extreme) youth that made me do it.

Sometimes the truth may just be simpler, and most people stop bugging you if you say the magic word of religion. And to be fair, all religions have customs that make other people go, "WHaaaat?" I have never gotten around to understanding the 'breaking of a coconut in India on getting a new car' thing.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Australian Race Riots And Canada

As I watch the news reports of the racial riots in Australia, one question keeps rising uncomfortably. Could this happen here, in Canada?

To recap, thousands of young, white men, chanting anti-Arab slogans, carrying beer bottles and waving Australian flags, attacked both people of Middle Eastern origin and police during a violent clash in Sydney on Sunday. They congregated via text messages and had slogans such as "We grew here, you flew here", and "100% Aussie". CTV news report here. Such incidents, as is prone in riots, do not go unanswered, and today, retaliatory attacks are reported by CBC.

I was told by a white Canadian friend sometime back that 'when times are good, there are no problems'. Indeed, in 1998, riots broke out in Indonesia when the currency Rupiah collapsed. The more successful Chinese minority was the target. In recent Paris times, segregation, high unemployment and discrimination forced Paris Arab youth to riot.

Canada, however, is the only G7 country paying down their debt, running a surplus, has its lowest job rate in 31 years, a growing trade surplus and so on. Crime is low. Immigration is sustained at a controlled level. If you are an immigrant here, the first generation can suffer as their foreign qualifications are not recognized, but the following generations can integrate easily should they wish. High school education is free. Generous student loans and scholarships are available from the government to cover university tuition or college diplomas. Yes, times are good.

Yet times were good in Australia too. Or were they?

Many people, amongst them white, British, describe the Australian society as one with serious race issues. I have a few Australian cousins, and certainly they tell me the situation has continued to worsen ever since Paula Hanson's dirty politics. Taking a look at the comments section on the BBC, the following are excerpts of a few comments.
Australia has the same attitude to race relations that the UK had 20 years ago. - James, London.

Whilst travelling through Australia, I found it a common occurrence for ethnic minorities to be called "Wogs" ... - Savio, London.

Responsibility for the riots in Sydney has to go to the very top. A government that has deliberately courted voters who fear migrants can not be entirely blameless. - John Romalis, Chicago.

To be fair, I have no way of personally verifying these statements. Are they applicable in Canada? In Toronto, I would say no. We are the most diverse city in the world and have a great tradition of multiculturalism in Toronto. If, however, you travel just a bit outside Toronto, the population diversity drops to almost zero. How would people behave in a situation, such as Australia, where large number of Muslims were arrested on terrorism related charges, or there was, God forbid, a terrorist attack?

Let us remember, the victims of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 are yet to receive justice. Let us remember, this summer Toronto went through one of its worst summers in terms of gun related crimes. Mostly, it was black gang members killing other black members. Yet everyone seemed to get seriously involved only when a non-black member of the community, in this case a young Iranian salesperson, was shot to death. Why does the government not investigate the social reasons for these crimes? Most black people are good citizens and decent law-abiding people (Muslims, sound familiar?). Yet the concern seemed less when it was black-on-black violence. I have heard outrageous comments that there is a 'culture of violence' amongst black people.

A criminal is a criminal is a criminal. The government should arrest all criminals regardless of ethnicity. It seems in Sydney the police turned a blind eye to some antics against white women by some youth of Lebanese origin. Such acts provide fodder for neo-Nazi style supremacists to hit back. Similarly, the government in Canada should be vigilant against all crimes, regardless of race.

Let us remember, during World War 2, the Canadian government arrested large numbers of Canadians of Japanese and Italian origin and interned them. Pierre Trudeau, Canada's enigmatic PM during the October crisis of 1970, the same guy who brought us our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and opened up Canadian immigration to everyone, when answering the question of how far he would go to stop the terrorists, replied "Just watch me!"

Clearly a macho culture is not exclusive to Australians.

The recent Conservative party ads feature (the 'Crime' ad) an older woman telling Stephen Harper she is tired of seeing gang members and drug dealers walking down the street. How can you tell who a drug dealer and gang member is just by walking down the street? Harper's statement - criminals being deported and not leaving - is especially troubling, as it implies that the bulk of crimes are immigrant-based. This ad advocates stereotypes.

Tazzy wonders about terrorism in Toronto. As she points out, during the SARS crisis, all of us were guilty of treating the Chinese community badly. And they are a prominent, well established community in Canada.

I guess I am rambling, but these events just enforce my fear that the thread of life as we hold it is very fragile, able to snap any minute.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Syriana: A Brilliant, Boring, Film

There are two statements that can be made about Syriana, the newly released movie starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.

As a film seeking to entertain, it fails. It's preachy, contains too much talk and not enough action, has too many characters and plots, and several dialogues are in foreign languages (Arabic, Urdu, Farsi). It's not a date movie.

As a film seeking to inform, it's brilliant. I found it riveting. It held my attention for most of the movie. It's realistic. Not a single frame can be said to be fake. And to a politically aware Muslim, this film is simply the best film of this year.

Watch this film if you want the following questions answered:

  1. Where is the gas that you are pumping into your SUV coming from?
  2. Why are there dictators in the middle east?
  3. Why are there poor Arabs in the Middle East, when they are amongst of the richest nations in the world?
  4. Why is America hated in many parts of the Muslim world?
  5. What happens when there is unemployment in America?
  6. What is the connection between the oil companies of Houston, the White House, the Arabs and the US military?
  7. Where are reformers, the liberators of women, the nationalistic rulers in the Muslim world?
  8. Why do some young, Muslim men commit to blowing themselves up?

Next time I meet some gung-ho cowboy telling me how his people are liberating people and fighting for democracy around the world, I will just point him to this movie. Whether he can sit through the movie is another question. It rams home some unfortunate and uncomfortable truths.

Too bad that those who are not politically inclined will find this movie long.


Friday, December 09, 2005

So How's My Wife?

"So, how's my wife?"

My friend hands me a picture of his wife and asks, "So, what do you think?"

No, this is not something kinky. It's a common situation in desiworld, followed usually by an equally common and awkward pause. My friend had gone back to desiland and gotten married (usually the typically arranged marriage NTTAWWT*). Upon returning to Canada, we meet up, as he is waiting for his wife's visa before she can join him here. In the meanwhile, I am going through the wedding album. He picks out a picture of the wife and then asks, "So what do you think of your bhabi?"

You cannot come out and say "Oh man she's HOT! You hit the jackpot dude! Two thumbs up!" Nor can you say, "That is the bride?"

It's tough to really see how beautiful a bride is. All bridal pictures are the same. Tons of make up, gold, the reddest of red saris - any woman will look gorgeous in that getup. And you cannot ask, "No, show me a regulaaaar picture." So the best answer is usually, "ya she looks good, I guess. Congratulations." And then switch the conversation by asking him if he got back any pirated DVDs.

On another note *rant alert*, some desi moms seem to have this compulsive obsessive disorder of not marrying their daughter to a guy unless the guy is a doctor. Doctors start earning ten times what an average guy will earn as starting salary. But they are also typically (a lot) older than the average guy (like 10 years difference?). I mean, there's nothing wrong with a doctor, but why only a doctor? what's the big deal?

I am talking of my friend above (and no, it's not me, it's really this friend of mine from university). He liked one of the girls in our class, and after a lot of long distance one way sighs he plucked up the courage to talk to her. That turned to a full blown affair on MSN (we were comp sci after all). As we all hung out together, we could see that they really clicked. But when, in a desire to do it completely the halal way, an 'official' proposal was sent via a third party to the girl's parents, it got rejected. I found out later it was because the girl's mom wanted a doctor for her daughter. Someone who can keep her rich (and presumably happy).

Now financial stability is important, but why reject a good proposal? It's not that the guy is penniless, on the contrary he got a proper job in his field after graduation. Just he's not a doctor. And what was even puzzling was that the girl was completely OK with her mom's interference. Which all led to us wondering how serious was the love anyways.

One of the Hadith (sayings of the Messenger of God) goes, "If someone with whose piety and character you are satisfied comes to you, then marry him. If you do not do so, there will be disorder in the earth and a great deal of evil." (Reported by At-Tirmidhi). On another note, isn't that like the Coolest Hadith Ever? It can be part of my regular muslim pickup line, "hi, it's your religious duty to ... hey?!! Where are you going?"

And what happened to my friend? Well, he went back to desiland, got married and is now showing me a picture of his wife. And he is completely infatuated with her. Such are the strange ways of brown people.


*NTTAWWT Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas Party

It's great fun being a Muslim at Christmas parties. Certain events seem destined to repeat themselves forever at every party. A few of them occur after a few drinks. As a sober Muslim watching from the sidelines, it can make for an interesting spectacle.

We attend dozens of Christmas parties from work around this time, but the main one is the Big One thrown by our company for ALL its employees at a five-star hotel. To give you an indication as to how big an event this is, our company owns the hotel. Naturally, the food is good and the portions generous - plus it's an open bar.

At the party, after filling up my plate with lots of food with French names, I stand behind many others at the bar. One by one we are served until its my turn. The server looks at me, "Yes, what drink can I get you, sir?"

"I will have a glass of orange juice, please."

Every year, I wish I could capture the expression on the server's face at the moment I request an orange juice. I think perhaps this year I will take my cellphone camera and freeze that moment. He will look at me with a wtf-is-he-crazy look and reply, "Excuse me?"

"I will have a glass of orange juice, please."

A pause, and then, "May I inform you sir, that it's an open bar?" It's free.

"Sure. An orange juice will be fine." Then I will give a satisfied smile as the server has to search the area to get my beverage.

As the party gets livelier, someone will start an argument that Christmas is somewhat cheapened by wishing 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'.

"No one takes offense at what you wish." He will say, "So why don't they say Merry Christmas?"

At this moment the bosses are looking somewhat uncomfortable until someone butts in, "Exactly! No one cares what you wish them. Christmas or Happy Holidays - take your pick! Shut up Jim!" Lots of laughter, and we go on discussing our holiday plans.

I agree in part with the semi-drunk person, though. Sometimes political correctness can be taken to an extreme. This year, I got a Christmas card from my client inviting me to their party. This is what it said, "We ---- would like to invite you to our Happy Holiday Bash. Come celebrate the season with some good fun and multi-cultural food."

So we now take offense at what food is being served? I'm sorry, but I take offense at when a black person is stopped without reason by the police, when a Muslim is arrested without charges being laid, when a woman is fired from her work for being pregnant. I don't take offense if a kebob is absent from the food served.

However, I don't think Christmas is being 'hijacked'. We all know what season this is. As long as Christians maintain the spirit of the season, I think they can rest easy. After all, that's what we stress in Ramadan. It's not just the abstinence, it's the spirit of being a better person, a better Muslim.

And finally, my favourite character. The guy who can claim with a straight face that Katrina was God's wrath on the US for Iraq (the polar opposite of the racist who will claim the earthquake in Pakistan is 'his' God's wrath). Usually, on the day of a party, my MSN will have a nick like 'Christmas party today' or something equally, um, informative. Then this guy will message me.

"You know attending a Christmas party is celebrating Christmas, right?"

I say nothing, as he continues, "And by celebrating Christmas you are committing shirk. Do you know how big a sin it is? So, technically, you should not be attending Christmas parties."

Okay. Technically, as you say, you are at work. And so am I. And you should not be chatting. You should be working.

I don't know too much about these trivial issues. I am just going to a gathering of friends where no one is worshipping anything or saying anything against Islam. And I leave when people start getting drunk. It's just a party with lots of free food.

People should just chill.

With a glass of orange juice, of course.