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.


'liya said...

Wow, it's such a shame that the principal didn't stick up for the student so that other students could learn something about this. People are so scared to say anything about Islam or disagree with things because of this "bullying" way that some people have to force their way of life/views on others. That's not how you learn, that's how you scare, and nobody should have to live in fear of someone else/another group.

I didn't hear about this and now you got me all curious. Was it a high school or a middle school because you say grade 8?

I'm going to link to this with another post soon, it relates to something I've been thinking about a lot.

Em said...

I must disagree with you. You cannot compare your metaphorical meaning to her literal one. The Kaaba *itself* is sacrosanct to Islaam, therein lies the difference. In fact we know it will be guarded until its destruction closer to the day of judgment, and of course we know the history if the kaabah with the Prophet (saw)'s grandfather. Desecrating its sanctity with an image on Colonel Sanders on it is very inappropriate. In fact I would term this graver than someone fouling the premises of a Canadian mosque.

From my limited understanding, corporations are *not* (and CANnot be) taking over the kaaba. They are catering to the materialistic needs of some of the patrons of the kaaba. There's a distinct difference. To make my point clear, one cannot simply replace the Kaaba and place a restaurant in its place and merrily go about eating chicken and perfoming hajj. Yet I don't see the harm of eating halal KFC to the extent it doesn't conflict with a pilgrimage, and as it stands, it shouldn't.

The girl was creative, admirably so and it's a shame indeed that her young mind will probably look upon this as injustice as she develops. Perhaps though, one hopes, that like her head teacher, she too can one day harness within herself any lustful desires to incite hatred in the name of creativity and freedom of expression.

This is all my opinion, of course.

Em said...

Oops, my last para is unclear. I'm sure the girl didn't have any malevolent intentions when she designed her project. I mean any malevolent intentions she may develop as she grows up would best be kept at bay.

Farah said...

She chose a brilliant way to make a point. It's a pity the 'mob' as you put it chose not to think. The principal should have told those group of students to protest through proper lawful channels.

Em, what about the destruction of Islamic sites in Mecca and Medinah to make way for more businesses funded by these corporations? Destruction of monuments such as the Prophet's house and so on?

ps. Mezba, why do you attach those "girlfriend, weed and drink" attributes to the mob?

Suroor said...

I would have liked to know what the girl meant through her exhibit. Sarcasm, evem blatant, is often not understood by the daft idiots that humans have become. This is just sad.

cubano said...

I am sort of beating a dead horse here but why is the faith of Muslims so weak and easily shaken that any incidents that seem to "insult" or criticize the religion force Muslims to quickly resort to bullying, threats and even violence? If the religion is so supreme and perfect then it should be invincible to arguments, criticism, and questioning by mere mortals like us. Why resort to violence instead of reason? Those who can't persuade others by their words turn to sticks and stones to prove their false sense of superiority.

I am not saying that in this particular incident, threats or bullying or violence necessarily took place as I don’t have all the facts but such behavior is the most common and popular response of Muslims whenever some one dares to question or insult Islam.

BTW, why is it that religious individuals are always so infuriated when their religion is insulted or criticized by others? They don’t seem to care for the feelings of the non-believers and don’t hesitate to criticize them for their so called immoral behavior. The hypocrisy of religious people who never shy way from trying to be our moral guardians but cannot respond to provocations with reason is laughable.

It infuriates me when our education institutions which are meant to be models for the growth and nurturing of reason are threatened by this idiotic nonsense.

sabrina said...


I don't know if that is exact point. I don't think, from Mezba's post only, it was really like corporations taking over kaaba but more like how we are losing the pure culture. The problem with having halaal KFC and staying inside a five star Hilton are at least the followings, (and maybe more, but I will have to leave for work):
1. During hajj, we are supposed have NO "maya" and "ahamkar" of this dunya. Take this term "maya" in its extreme phisophical sense from hinduism.. attachment, illusion, pride and what not. For men, they are not even allowed to wear any dress that is anything other than two pieces of plain WHITE CLOTH! I find it hugely contradictory to spend your nights at Hilton and yet trying to remain as simple as possible.

2. Last year I was trying to get tickets for hajj, and of course it went beyond my affordability. I looked at expenses from two destinations: Bangladesh and the United States. It turns out that US citizens or those going from the US have to pay a higher price for hajj. But how does that happen? Even the cheapest package from the US come with MORE facilities (AC tent/hotel, and other junk) than what people get from Bangladesh for their cheapest deal. We are slowly but surely creating a class system in this pilgrimage. HOw do the poor people feel when they can't afford the Hilton hotel but their brothers in Islam DURING HAJJ do that!

Before any of it, let's just ask WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF HAJJ?

Only my two cents. I don't think it was anything like corporate world is taking over the Kaaba, kaaba is only a symbol and the holy place that should instill fear of God in us. But how does that happen when we eat KFC chicekn, in my simple vocab I call them junk food and th Quran commadns to eat from "anything halaal AND pure", and how do you spend nights at 5 star hotels where your brothers in Islam don't get to eat food and the Quran says "do not repulse a petitioner". Of course these corporations, seemingly,are harmless, and only catering the needs, but why how could we indulge in them when we have already made up our mind that we wouldn't indulge in materialism. Couldn't we at least ask for an environment free of this fitnah?

Again, my knowledge of this story is from only what Mezba wrote!

Rawi said...

Mezba, this is an excellent post, thank you so much for sharing! I strongly recommend that you reframe this as a letter to the editor in the local press, or perhaps at least as a letter to the principal of the school. There's a bit of responsible activism that we must all partake in.

Re. the event itself. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. On some level, I'm inclined to pity the people with such a dearth of understanding.

Em: you don't realize that perhaps the artist was making almost precisely the point that you are. By pitting corporate symbols against the image of the central Islamic shrine, she's probing the potential meanings of such confrontation. Even if she's unaware of the real-world connections that Mezba is making, her work may raise some very significant questions: How does the religious space/image resist the encroachment of the capitalist market? Do KFC and McDonald's violate the sanctity of the Kaaba? Has fast food become a new religion? etc etc.

Also, you said: "You cannot compare your metaphorical meaning to her literal one." This is a misunderstanding. It is that girl who's exploring the metaphorical meaning, while it is Mezba who's making the literal connections!

Lastly, as something for all of us Muslims to think about: we must be sure of what we worship. The Kaaba is the beit of God. It is not God.

p.s. Not entirely relevant, and perhaps not of appeal to others who don't share my position on the Left, but let me also suggest: eating a zabeehatarian McDonald's may be a halal act, but it's not necessarily a very moral one, as it feeds into a major corporate machine that sustains global structures of injustice.

Ahmed said...

I was raised that even for just a picture of Kaaba you shouldn't point your feet at it because its disrespectful.

But with that in mind...I still don't think I find the exhibit to offensive. And what, for me, it boils down to is intent.

I don't believe the girl had any ill intentions nor meant any disrespect. I find it to be a commentary on what the purpose of the project was, how commercialism is infiltrating our lives and our values. And though of course from Islam comes the root of our values its not a piece focused on her views of the Pros and Cons of Islam or a negative portrayal of Islam.

To a lesser extent I'm also not really offended b/c the girl created her own model solely for this purpose and did not deface or alter an existing model/picture/item holding religious significance. Fine lines I know but again I think she meant well.

I do think it was wrong for the people to act as a mob. There are much better ways to handle the situation. But I can't really comment too much on that without knowing more about what really happened.

I do find your description of the mob a bit unfair though as I can easily see how many people could be upset by this.

mezba said...

Liya: I was surprised that the principal gave in to the mob mentality as well. She should have at least said "OK hold on let's see what's going in here".

You are right, nowadays some people are afraid to be politically incorrect and fearful of criticizing Islam. It is not Islam that is afraid of criticism, it is shallow Muslims. How else do you learn and rectify?

Actually I made a mistake, it was high school, so it should be Grade 9, not 8. I got to know about it first hand from a student who goes there - it happened yesterday. If you want to know more about it, you can email/MSN me.

Em: Actually the Kabaa itself is not sacrosanct. During the battles between Yazid and his opponents early in the Islamic history, Yazid's army actually destroyed the four walls of the Kabaa. The Kaaba was then rebuilt by Abdullah Ibn Zubair and his companions.

Similarly, in 930 AD, a radical sectarian group known as the Qarmatians raided Mecca and carried off the Black Stone itself, keeping it for some 20 years until forced to return it. And in the year 1981 the Saudi government brought tanks inside the Kaaba to crush the Kahtani revolution against the Saudi regime and almost demolished the South Eastern Wall.

Thus we see that while the Kaaba is a very special and holy building, it is JUST a building. After the last hajj a whole wall of the Kabaa was destroyed on purpose to renovate and strengthen the rest of the structure, and later rebuilt.

So I don't think this artist, depending on her intentions of course, did anything bad. Rather, she forced us to question ourselves.

Farah: The destruction of the historic sites in Saudi Arabia is a tragedy that Muslims should pay closer attention to.

Look to my reply to Ahmed to see why I described the mob thus.

Suroor: Now she won't be given the chance to explain her actions, ever.

Cubano: As you can see, there are many Muslims here who are letting their views known via other means. The whole Danish cartoon incidence was handled in Canada far better by the Muslims than uneducated poor masses elsewhere. Thus it's not fair to say all Muslims react with provocation.

Finally, what did the principal do when faced with agitators? She caved in. Had the principal been resolute the mob would have been forced to think. I blame the principal here too.

Sabrina: I agree with whatever you said here. I can see having some basic comforts, such as tent, a/c, good food and water, medicine, and believe you me the Saudi government does a lot for the Hajjis, but this type of Hilton Hajjis and special access to Black Stone for privileged guests strike me as hypocritical. I also don't know if the Hilton Hajjis, cooped up in their own room, learn much from interacting with other Muslims. Then again, I am just uncomfortable with the way Hajj is being made into a business.

Rawi: I am thinking of writing to the local paper or the school about this. Just have to decide on the pros and cons of it all.

Ahmed: the way I described the mob is because I know precisely the people who was in that mob, each and every one of them. And they are mostly all thug wannabes. It's amazing that these sort of people, engaged in behaviour most of us would deem un-Islamic, would suddenly feel the need to "defend the honour of Islam".

Maliha said...

The mob part (sans your imposed characterization of weed, beer cans, etc) really makes me sad. Why do they have to act in the same irrational, crazy way that every "mob" on TV does?

Could they have sat in clas and engaged the girl in dialogue? Could they have questioned what she meant and proceeded to lay out their own opposition and then come to some conclusion on it?

it's sad that our youth are replicating the worst of us.

mezba said...

Maliha: walaiks.

While I may understand the alternate viewpoints of why it could be offensive, there was a better way to resolve this dispute.

As I said, the way I characterized the mob was not an exaggeration.

Em said...

Wow no one agrees with me... good thing I ain't in charge of a school, haha.

First let me say that I don't denounce the girl's creativity. I just think every single positive point she was making could be made with an image of Islaam other than that of the Qur'an and the kaaba (say the star and crescent, for example). I am in opposition to her using a scuplture of the kaaba, nothing else. Rawi, that's where the girl and Mezba differed on the literal and metaphorical -- Mezba wrote about the surroundings of the kaabah while she created a replica of the literal kaaba itself. But Ahmed's fourth para is also true, and I guess I'm being overly critical.

Mez, thanks for the history lesson. It's no surprise that the kaaba was re-built every single time, since its contruction by Adam (as), and will be so until the Ethiopian finally destroys it (an Ibn Kathir source I forgot now).

Farah, regrettable as losing Islamic heritage sites are, there's no basis in the shariah to necessitate their perpetuation, in contrast to the actual kaabah (eg. some scholars even consider visiting Qiblatain and the Badr mountains during hajj and umrah an innovation).

Sabrina, agreed. This has bothered me a lot as well. But all that said, so long as the Hilton-accommodated, Big Mac munching hajjis complete every explicit rukun and fard of the Hajj according to the shariah, I am in no position to say that an austere hajji's pilgrimage itself will be any more accepted than theirs, Allahu a'lam.

Mez, I'm confused about the rioting. "They marched en-masse to the Principal's office" -- well, beats going there alone. "It was a near riot. Shouting, gesturing, threatening the student who made the exhibit with dire consequences". So they rioted *inside* the office and threatened the girl *inside* the office? Such cheek!

mousehunter said...

I can clearly see the comments this has raised, and agree with the standpoints that the reaction by the muslims was uncalled for, and at the same time, the principal's was lacking in authority. It's her school, she has say based on her opinions. I believe an apology is in order by teh principal to the student, at least.

On the otherhand this student is making a very scary point in that corporations have driven their ideologies deep within us, and in essence have made many of us feel powerless against them. The Kabaa IS JUST a building, and although it is considered to by Bayt-ul-lah, and Allah is the one to protect it (we all know of the story of the elephant), I would argue that Allah will protect it as long as the muslims still revere it as a holy place! We the people must hold it dear in our hearts, and if WE the people would allow corp's to post their propaganda on the walls of the Kabaa, it has at that point lost all meaning. It isnt' destroyed, simply its meaning has not been protected.

Well that's my 2cents, for what its worth. I'll msn you, cuz I want to read the article. I'm glad you posted about it though.

cubano said...

mezba: I didn't say that all Muslims react in the same manner. I am Muslim as well. I was referring to those who do react in that manner and lets face it there's certainly not a shortage of those. Actually it's not just Muslims, I was trying to refer to all religious people in general. Why should they only hold the right to be "insulted"? For example I think that a gay person has just as much a right to feel insulted and scream discrimination when a religious cleric condemns them with immorality...

BTW, i like your blog. Keep it up.

Maliha said...

Salamaat Em,
There are many verses in the Quran that encourage us to travel and see the "ways of those before us."

I find it strange for a Muslim to consider historical sites irrelevant. It's actually a sad perspective.

We are here in this world as vicegerents. To take care of our heritage, of our environment, of our past and construct a viable future for the next generation.

If we all start destroying everything that doesn't "have a shariah basis" what kind of world we will be living in?

The term innovation is very strict in Islamic law pertaining to matters that only apply to worship.

Going to visit historical sites, to stand in the same space that the Prophet (peace be upon him) or his companions traversed, to get a three dimensional snese of their time...can not be an innovative thing.

Going to worship *those* sites is a problem, but again why not educate the people instead of opting for destruction?

It's a skewed way of regarding the world, and our position and purpose in it, and it disturbs me to no end.

Anonymous said...

Now,what happened to the girl???Did she say/explain what she really wanted to convey(or did the mob just *silence* her). We will never know,but mezba, do post any *latest* info on this. Do you blame the principal for what she did(put an end to this)? I don't think I would since everyone here seems to be walking on eggshells. sf

Em said...

Salaam, Maliha.
Oh I certainly am not *for* bulldozing 'em sites and bringing on the KFCs in their place! Astagfirullah, what a horrid thought... I repeat what I stated, ie that protecting the kaaba is an ordained responsibility whereas protecting the other sites may be a mere moral responsibility as opposed to an ordained one.

Re the innovation matter, the opinion I stated is straight from the official Saudi publication they handed out to hajjis in 1995 (I know, I was handed one). Visiting such places *during umrah and hajj* is apparently an innovation. Just like going to *visit* a far-away mosque other than the two haraams and aqsa is an innovation. Allahu a'lam.

Mousehunter, "if WE the people would allow corp's to post their propaganda on the walls of the Kabaa, it has at that point lost all meaning" -- beautiful words!

mezba said...

Em: I also think she could have made it another way without using the Kabaa, but would it have been equally a strong one? I don't condone or condemn her work, but find the manner in which the opposition was registered a bit sad.

As for the "rioting" well they marched with the principal to where the exhibit was being held (a classroom) and there argued/threatened the student. Maybe riot was a strong word as it's only a bunch of high schools students yelling.

Mousehunter: agree with all your points. Also, one important fact. One of the gates of Kaaba (which is part of Kaaba itself) is named after one of the rulers of Saudi. Corporation? You decide.

Cubano: Thanx for the comments. Yes that's why I noted this issue everytime we have a contentious issue we must debate and oppose peacefully and prohibit others from rampaging.

Maliha: I agree with all you have said here.

Sf: I think the girl was in too much shock and later didn't consider it worthwhile to pursue the issue - she got her marks that's all that mattered! I will update on this later when I get the news. I am actually going to an event later where I will meet some of the protagonists, so I will let you guys know.

I blame the principal for not dealing with the miscreants, but now I see she has managed to keep a lid on this issue and prevent it from boiling over, so I don't know. Peace sacrificing freedom?

sonia said...

Interesting! Goodness me - yes people do take things the wrong way. i think mezba's point about the weed/girlfriends is to highlight that many people are busy doing that stuff on the 'side' and then rushing into 'defend' islam when necessary.

the girl has guts - critical thinking too.

No Em, it certainly shouldn't be kept at bay, if it were, we'd end up with more silliness like this. It never works trying to restrict youngster's creativity and questions.

Anyone who has been to Saudi Arabia can see the hypocrisy oozing out of the pores. money money money is what allows them to throw their weight around. and then all this business about being the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques!

And yes - the Kaaba is just a building, it is NOT where God lives. ( though you might think some people really do think that - how much more idolatrous can you get?)

Anisa said...

that breaks my heart. that was true art and made a real statement. ignorance is our biggest threat and these guys once again proved just that. it's funny...if they would've stopped to think, all that art was doing was defending the honor of the kaaba.

mezba said...

Sonia: I agree exactly with what you commented. We cannot just start banning creativity. For art to be offensive people must see the intent. Here the intent was not to offend but to cause to think.

Anisa: exactly.