Thursday, June 28, 2007

Signs You May Be A Bit Too ...

To be taken with a pinch of salt and generous dose of humour ...

Signs You Are A Bit Too ... Conservative A Muslim

- If you could ride a camel to work you would, as that was Sunnah, in your view.

- You can hide a miswak in your beard, and do.

- You quote verses and sayings in Arabic to fellow South Asian Muslims, and impress upon them as to how important it is to learn the language of the Prophet, and how easy it is. Ofcourse, the day you meet a real ARAB Muslim you shut up.

- You judge a person's piety by the cloth on their head or hair on their face.

- Wearing trousers, clapping of hands, playing the guitar, sports is all unIslamic activities to you, as they are imitating the foreigner and their ways. So says the desi cleric dressed in Arab clothes.

Signs You May Be A Bit Too ... Liberal A Muslim

- You are the master of re-interpretation. You are fond of saying 'Islam needs to be re-interpreted'. Not that faulty interpretations are to be corrected - reinterpreted.

For example, when Allah said do not drink alcohol - you have reinterpreted it to mean Allah is asking us to stop from consuming the addictive products of the day - so today we don't need to stop drinking but stay away from marijuana and the like.

- In a similar vein, mosque has become a place where Muslims meet, and where Muslims meet has become where anyone meets - therefore wherever people meet is a mosque - be it the local Starbucks.

- You are fond of saying 'atleast I don't put a cloth on my head and makeout with my boyfriend' and make out anyways.

- "The Prophet prayed in Arabic because that was his mother tongue. Today we should pray in our mother tongue." And so saying, you begin your namaaz (if you pray) with "God is great", before progressing to "Thee alone do we worship ..."


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

At least he got his priorities right

"Hey," I speak to one of my friends. "I thought you were going to Bangladesh on Canada Day (July 1). Isn't your wedding a couple of days later?"

"Ya, about that," My buddy replies, "I talked to her and postponed it till two weeks later. You didn't know? Postponed it quite a while back."

"Oh really?"

"Ya," He answers with a goofy grin. "I got her to tell her father I couldn't get a holiday from work until a week later."

"Ah." I lean in closer. "So, why did you really delay the wedding?"

"Well," My friend has a really embarrassed look on his face now. "Transformers is coming out on the 3rd of July, and I have always wanted to see that in the IMAX theaters ..."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Immigration Consultants

When we were thinking of moving to Canada, over a decade ago, the Canadian embassy was just being set up in the capital. It was a rented apartment, converted into an office, in a small, unremarkable building in an incognito part of the city. I remember going with my Dad to pick up some forms as well as some university information packages.

We took the elevator to the floor, found one hand-painted sign proclaiming 'Canadian Embassy' on a door. Pushing it open, we saw some movers shifting boxes of furniture.

"Hi," My dad walked to the empty desk marked 'information'. "I am looking for some information. Do you know where the receptionist is?"

"That," one of the movers came forward and shook our hands, "would be me."

"Oh," I interjected. "I also want to meet someone who can tell me a bit about universities in Canada."

"That," the man replied with a smile, "would be me again."

Ah! That man - was the Ambassador of Canada to that country.

That small meeting with the Ambassador, where he served us coffee from a can, a brand unknown to me then (Tim Hortons), led him to naming one of his friends who worked as an immigration consultant in the area. And it was through this guy that we, and almost countless others of our friends, applied for and obtained immigration to Canada.

From that one-man operation the embassy is now a sprawling complex with various departments to handle all its affairs, not surprising given the amount of trade and Canada's role in affairs in that part of the world nowadays. However, given the huge demand that is the result of people wanting to move to Canada, there are now hundreds of people free lancing as "immigration consultants to Canada" across the world, and many here in Toronto.

Truth be told, most of us know of at least one guy or family that are here on not exactly legal terms. They have filed for a "refugee" status while not being refugees at all, or have overstayed their visa, and what not. "Don't worry," is the usual response, "we got lawyers working on it."

The Toronto Star recently did an underground investigation into these 'consultants'. And their results are shocking. They had reporters wear wire and hidden cameras. The compiled videos are available on their website, and make for revealing findings. You should read that article and see the videos (the Karan Arora one is the best!).

I had mixed feelings when I was reading that article. Sure, not everyone comes here legally. But some people are just good honest folks who contribute to society, they are just caught on the wrong side of paperwork. But then I realized, shouldn't alarm bells start to go off when your consultant asks you to lie? When he or she says, "Don't worry, you wouldn't need to do anything, we will decide on a story for you."

What is unfortunate is that many of these 'false refugee' cases take years to settle (usually they are not approved). So after 5 years of building a life here, these immigrants have to get out of the country, are prohibited from re-entering because they have 'lied' on their application, lost tons of money. Meanwhile, the 'consultant' is free, richer and able to ply his or her trade on a new batch of immigrants.

I would blame the clients for not doing their research. But then, go to Bangladesh and go to one of these offices for these 'consultants'. They have certificates galore from everywhere to prove their 'credentials'. How would you know who is real and who is not? After all, not all immigrant consultants come recommended by an Ambassador.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Useless Facebook Rant

  1. The number of friends requests you have pending is NOT an indicator of how popular you are. Seriously, if you get your thrills by periodically looking at the number of people who want to be your friend and giving a quiet chuckle to yourself as you leave them hanging, you need therapy.

    On the other hand, not everyone should be your friend. I just met you. I don't need you to add me to your Facebook. I don't need you to see all my albums of my wild graduation party at the Keg convocation - remember ... I ... JUST ... MET ... you.

    Also, you really shouldn't be adding me. You are friends with the eleven year old kid I call my cousin. You shouldn't even BE on Facebook. Ah the good old days when Facebook was restricted to university students and alumni!

  2. Your birthday should not be an indication of pseudo popularity. True friends remember your birthday. I call someone to wish them 'happy birthday'.

    'Ya,' he replies, 'but remember to wish me on Facebook.'

    WHAT?!! Again, the number of people who wish you HAPPY BIRTHDAY on Facebook does NOT translate to real life bosom buddies.

  3. If you really want to increase the bonds of friendship with all your friends, do a bollywood lookalike album for all of them! *grin* Nothing will endear you more to them than comparing them to Mithun (or even better, Mamooty!).

  4. And finally, "poking". What a useless thing to do!

    And what fun!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Nancy Will Kick Harry's Ass

I have to admit - I have not read a single Harry Potter book completely (on that account I haven't seen any of the Shreks either). I read a bit and then gave up. I saw all the Harry Potter movies (and I think only Azkaban was really good, Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone - can someone clear up the confusion) was passable, the rest all snoozeworthy). So I am one of those who are not going to camp outside the bookstore dressed like a witch and address each others as "muggle"s on Jul 21. I only know about the release date because I have been forced persuaded to buy a book for my sibling.

Don't get me wrong, I am not doubting J.K Rowling's literary prowess. When I saw each of the movies, I was amazed at how much she has going on there - and how many aspects of the story all tie in together. It's a proper fantasy - she has witches, magic, dragons, mythical beasts etc. all woven together with a little bit of mystery that gets solved in the end. Yet, I can't help but think - it's all so COMMON. For example, when growing up, I used to read Bengali fairy tales (yes, it wasn't all Hans Christian Anderson for me). There's Moha Upponnash, Thakurmaar Jhuli to name a few. There there was the famous Arabian Nights.

All of them told stories of demons so strong, yet their life was contained in a blue bird hidden in some silver cage. There was the ponkhiraaj - or the horse with wings. There was the talking snake. What J.K. Rowling has done is take all these ancient legends and fables and somehow packaged them all in a nice mix, palatable to the common people, and has done it well. She deserves every bit of her success.

Yet, there is something in the not-so-literary-masterpieces that I read as a child which is far, far better than Harry Potter. I am referring to the mystery series by writers such as Enid Blyton. When you read Harry Potter, you cannot dream of having the same adventures as a boy wizard (or there's something seriously wrong with you). But you can dream of being a member of the Famous Five and solving mysteries, or being a Secret Seven and having a clubhouse. Harry Potter's school? Yuck - go read The Malory Towers or The St. Clare's series by Blyton. Far more adventure but far more realistic.

And then of course there's Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys. Yes, the authors were not real, and yes, it was very formulaic ("and the last thing Nancy heard was a sharp blow, and then it all went black. Next chapter."). But it was so much fun! Harry Potter - 700 pages - that's not a leisurely story book - that's a dictionary!

And the final reason why Nancy Drew and her compatriots would kick Harry Potter's ass. Harry's only power is magic - that he cannot use in the real world. Nancy - she has wits (everyone knows where Harry's wits are - Hermione Granger). So using her wits and her legendary karate skills - Nancy will kick Harry's ass every time. Beaten by a girl, Harry, how do you like that?

And now Nancy has her own movie too!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Good or Bad Signs

Signs That Your Parents Are Thinking About Someone's Marriage
(played to the tune of Somebody Is Gonna Get Hurt by Russel Peters)

(Note, I said someone's marriage, so no stupid comments about moi!)
  1. Your mother asks you if there is a hyphen between the words 'bio' and 'data'.
  2. Your father suddenly has Hossain uncle from the travel agency on speed dial.
  3. Your cousins are downloading henna patterns from the Web, and it's not even Eid.
  4. Your mother is suddenly friends with that "flower lady" from the local mall.
If you are a guy:
  1. Your mother goes "maybe it's time you did a Ph.D?" even though it's zero significance to your job.
  2. When you are planning a Vegas trip, your parents hint that you should save that 2G for a more "fruitful" trip.
If you are a girl:
  1. Your mother (it's the mother again!) suddenly going "maybe we should ALL eat more vegetables" *hint hint*.
  2. Your mother signs your email up at the "Daily Indian Recipes Made Easy" website.
  3. Suddenly you are being invited to all these ladies' tafseers.
  4. A phone call from the local telemarketer selling you long distance to Jamaica becomes a source of concern to your father because it was a guy on the phone.
Feel free to add to the list.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Story of a School Exhibit

A very interesting incident happened yesterday at a local high school in Toronto. I am not giving any links to the news story or pictures to protect the identity, but it provoked quite the debate.

The assignment was to build an exhibit, themed around corporations' influence on our way of life. Basically, the teacher wanted these students (Grade 8, mind you) to explore what would happen if corporations indeed took over many aspects of our lives. So what does one (Muslim) student do? She built a model of the Kabaa, but attached to each sides of the Kaaba were stickers, one of KFC, one of McDonalds, and a couple of other corporations. So basically, corporations had taken over the Grand Mosque of Mecca. McKaaba?

When I first heard of this exhibit - I thought now here is a true piece of art! Art is supposed to be provocative, and this exhibit suceeded in pushing all the right buttons! If you didn't know, corporations have truly been taking over the holiest of Muslim lands.

For example, now you can stay at Makkah Hilton, built right next to the Kaaba. Their website states "Wake up to an Art Deco-style room offering Kaaba or Holy Haram Mosque views, opening windows, and a seating area. Get to work at the workstation, relax with a newspaper on the sofa or refresh in the luxury bathroom. The Twin City/Haram Tower 6 rooms have a kitchenette."

Right next to the hotel is a shopping outlet, offering KFC, Burger King, etc. for all your shopping needs. So it would seem our young high school student wasn't that far off the mark after all! And it's not just their presence, these corporations have impressed upon the powers that be to destroy Islamic heritage sites (in the name of religion) to make way for even more of their presence [source].

So what happened at this school once this exhibit was present amongst other exhibits? Suddenly, a bunch of young Muslim men in that school decided it was up to them to defend the honor of Islam. So saying good bye to their girlfriends, taking a last sniff of their dope, snuffing out their cigarettes and chucking their half-empty beer cans into the bins, they marched en masse to the principal's office.

It was a near riot. Shouting, gesturing, threatening the student who made the exhibit with dire consequences, they forced the principal to act. She of course marched to where the exhibit was being held, told the student in no uncertain terms that exhibits were meant to foster the learning spirit and not to insult, and asked her to take down the exhibit. The mob went back to whatever they were doing.

It's a pity that the principal could not support the student who made the exhibit, or at least give her the option of defending her work, and succumbed to mob rule. The first place young people learn Canadian values of diversity, freedom of speech, peaceful resolving of differences, is our schools. Yet today, we have a group of youngsters who learnt that mob rule works.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tariq Ramadan at York

I attended Dr Tariq Ramadan’s speech on Canadian Muslims and Citizenship at York yesterday. Lately I had been running into many bloggers, and it was no different last night. I met Safiyyah Ally, the host of Let The Quran Speak on a local T.V. channel here, who formerly used to maintain a blog and now writes as one of many at Disconnected Verses. Accompanying her was Asmaa of Randomly Placed. In fact, when another woman stopped me and went “Hey, Mezba!” I half expected her to be another blogger.

“Your face looks so familiar!” I told her, trying to think of where I had seen her.

“Idiot!” She replied, “It’s me, your cousin!”

What can I say, some girls look TOTALLY different in hijab!

The official title of the talk was Canadian Muslims And Citizenship – Roles and Responsibility. Dr Ramadan started with his observations that now Western Muslims seem to be categorizing themselves into two generalizations – the invisible “I am a Muslim but not practicing” or the “super angry, agitated and isolation-minded Muslim”. Then he said there are politicians who on one hand implore the Muslims to “integrate into society” yet by their actions, legislations and policies provoke the Muslims and push the right buttons to get an emotional negative reaction out of them. In the midst of all this, he said, it is our duty as Canadian Muslims to negotiate a middle path. Thus began his talk on how.

Before delving into the details, he gave a few objectives for Muslims here. First, he said, Muslims have to be sure they remain true to themselves, remain Muslims and live an Islamic life to the best of their efforts. At the very same time, they have a responsibility to the society in which they live. And then Dr Ramadan brought up the Canadian society.

It is a problem, he said, that many Muslims nowadays idealize Muslim countries when the rules of many non-Muslim or secular countries follow Islamic principles more. It is the duty of Muslims, he said, to reinforce the good in society and work to eradicate the evil. How, he asked, will you do that if you isolate yourself – you do not recognize the inherent good that is present in this society and in the hearts of Canadians, and similarly, he implored, how will you eradicate the evil if you do not study it, do not understand it or where it comes from?

Don’t be agitated, he said. Muslims are quick to react emotionally yet the Prophet always spoke softly, after much deliberation and thinking. A fast speaker is speaking on emotion, yet we have to have a vision, which means not reacting to every provocation. Having laid his groundwork, he now went on to specifics.
  • Respect yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, you cannot expect others to.
  • How do you behave with your parents? Lot of older Canadians, he pointed out, are unhappy with their kids because the kids grew up with the materialistic viewpoint of the 70s and have now sent the parents to old age homes to be lonely. Canada, like all Western nations, have an aging population and Muslims have to behave well with these older folk and that means starting at home.
  • Don’t be judgmental. You have to love the people you wish to change. You cannot go to a drug addict and look at him as a sinner and then preach to him. You have to love him. You wish to change him because you love him. Leave the judgement upto Allah and do your best to change the man. In other words, hate the sin, not the sinner.
  • Learn to forgive. A lot of people can get even, but truly not a lot can forgive. The Prophet, he pointed out, changed many of his enemies to friends simply by forgiveness. He told us to look up the story of Lubaba in the Prophet’s seerah.
  • One Quran, but many readings. Dr Ramadan reminded me of Dr Suwaidan here, when he again repeated that while there may be one straight path, there’s many different ways on that path. There are no second class Muslims, and Muslims have to learn to deal with the divisions and diversity of opinions that exist within the Muslim sphere before they can learn to deal with the greater diversity in our society. No one is a lesser Muslim because they do some things differently than you or I.
  • Be consistent in our standards and behavior.
  • Don’t just concentrate on Islamic education but also avail worldly education. Comparing Muslims of the past, he said not only we had scholars and muftis of religion but also of the worldly affairs. A scholar, he said, must remain in the service of the community. Today, he lamented, it’s the other way around.
  • Be vigilant of your rights. You have rights as a citizen but no government is going to protect it indefinitely. You have to remain aware politically, as well as contribute to this society. Get rid of this victim mentality and be an agent of change.

    He concluded by reiterating his five Cs (Confidence, Critical Mind, Communication, Consistency, Creativity) and added a bonus C of Courage. There was Q and A session afterwards, on which his answers to the questions on hijab, the unfriendly (or not) media and the myth of conflict between Western and Islamic beliefs were outstanding.

    It was a 2 hr talk and I am not doing justice to his really excellent speech as there are far more points and specifics that he delved into. Besides, as I said, some women really look different in hijab. Distractions, distractions!