Sunday, August 31, 2014

Canadian National Exhibition

I was telling an American colleague, "I went to the Ex on the weekend, and had a really fun time." There was a minute's pause, and then he said, "And your wife ... er ... let you?!!"

I have to remember it's us Canadians who know what the Ex is! The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), also known as The Ex, is an annual event that takes place at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada during the 18 days leading up to and including Canadian Labour Day Monday. With approximately 1.3 million visitors each year, the CNE is Canada’s largest annual fair and the seventh largest in North America.

And it's an oddity that despite living for almost two decades in Toronto, I have never been to the Ex. It's almost an annual tradition for Torontonians to visit the CNE, marking the end of summer and getting ready for the upcoming back-to-school and Fall season. So this summer, I decided to try out the Ex.

There's a huge fair like component (we desis call it mela) at the Ex. You have the regular games, guess your age, and other impress-your-date-and-win-a-stuffed-toy variety. And not to mention, FOOD.

In addition to the regular fare variety such as corn dogs, frieds, waffles and other calorie-unconscious dietary assaults, there's a whole separate building devoted to food. And of the many exotic foods present, some are totally outrageous. Behold!

Because, you know, a regular Mars bar was too healthy. *smile* No, I didn't try it - and this time there was also the chocolate covered fried chicken if you wanted some meat.

For the religious Muslim, CNE also had halal options. I had the Original 8 inch Philly Steak sandwich and it was delicious! It was great not to be limited to just fish or veggies at yet another North American festival.

In fact, there was yet another bonus for the Muslim visitor - prayer rooms!

While there was plenty of grass and other semi-private areas you *could* say your prayers in if you really wanted to, the fact that there were two (yes, two!) official prayer areas meant we didn't have to. I even prayed Jummah prayers at the CNE!

The CNE has free shows throughout the day on a variety of stuff (sometimes at the same time so you have to choose). We chose to see the Mirage Acrobats show, and boy was it mesmerizing!

I really liked the hologram / laser part - it was absolutely amazing how the performer seemed to control the light beams as if they were sticks in his hand. I am still trying to figure out how technically this was made possible. There was also a dog show where ordinary pooches entertained the audience with fun and innovative tricks.

A big component of the CNE is the Farm. They had a multitude of animals in that building, and even a whole barn of cows and sheep. There was a milking demonstration, as well as a sheep rearing demonstration.
There was also a bee hive on display, with the sides transparent so we could peer in and see the worker bees and the queen bee. It was something I never had seen before in my life, and was something really educational. Not to mention, they were selling fresh honey right there!

The Farm also had something that is a staple of big fairs across North America - butter sculptures. These were huge structures built entirely out of butter.

The crowds are legendary, but only on the weekends and evenings.

We had gone early on Friday, so it wasn't too crowded to begin with, but it got busier after 5 pm. Even then, the CNE is so huge that it's manageable, and you don't feel claustrophobic.

Another notable part of the CNE is the Garden Show and the sand sculptures. Plus, the epic Rock Balancer was on show again this year.

We actually got to see the last sand sculpture being built in front of us (the iconic scene from Star Wars) and it was something novel (and looked like fun!).

Of course, if you ask anyone to describe what's the most fun thing to do at the CNE, you would get one word - rides. And thus the rides.

Some of the rides were really crazy - like the Mach 3. If you do it, props to you.

Over all, it was a really fun experience at the CNE, and I look forward to making the Ex an annual tradition. If you want some tips: arrive as early in the day as you can, and be prepared for a lot of walking. Dress for the weather and drink plenty of fluids. Plan the shows you want to see, and over all, have fun!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why (Many) Muslims Have a Problem With (Most) Feminists

Yes. This is a very general, stereotyping and broad article. Read "The Way Forward" at the end.

Feminists. They used to be a good thing. Even Muslim feminists. At one stage of my life, I was very sympathetic to Muslim feminists. And who couldn't be? The way many women were treated in the Muslim countries (sometimes due to a history of colonial oppression and sometimes due to a lack of proper Islamic scholarship) would make anyone a Muslim feminist. Women are not allowed to attend mosques (places in Bangladesh), not allowed to vote or drive (Saudi Arabia), suffer domestic abuse (Pakistan) and don't have access to education (Afghanistan). Then some of those misogynistic folks running the establishment there immigrated to the West and brought their cultural baggage dressed as Islam here. Walk into any mosque run by "uncles", and you will become a Muslim feminist. Where is the women's prayer area? Oh, the broom closet. Why don't you have women on your Shariah board? Why can't women see the imam? Etc. and etc.

And yet, something started to give. Despite the myriad of issues that could raise support for their cause, Muslim feminists started to become shunned by most Muslims. I too started to develop a distaste for them, their writings and their fights. Ultimately it cultivated in me writing on Why Muslim Feminists Don't Win. After more than a year of reflection, I have come to the following conclusions on why most Muslims, even (and especially) the educated, young and liberal ones from the West, don't care for (most) Muslim feminists.

Insulting Respected Scholars and Using Derogative Terms for Them

No scholar, no matter how educated, knowledgeable, experienced or intelligent, can be hundred percent correct all the time. Similarly, you will not find a scholar whose views you agree with completely all the time. We are all human and the one perfect human being, the final Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him), lived more than 1400 years ago and is no more. It is possible that a scholar today may have mountains of knowledge in one area, but say a completely stupid thing in another field.

This does NOT negate his (or her) expertise in other areas or disregard a lifetime of work. However, when a typical Muslim feminist encounters a scholar whose views (particularly on women, on gender relations etc.) they disagree with - suddenly this scholar is a dinosaur, a relic, a fossil, or worse.

During the whole AbuEesaGate, many scholars took issue with what Abu Eesa had to say, while some others (sadly) defended him. Some Muslim Feminists cheered those scholars that rebuked Abu Eesa as "allies" and "men who get it". It would have been similarly possible to disagree with the scholars who defended Abu Eesa in a polite manner - yet if you peruse many Muslim feminist blogs (and comments), many of them had harsh words and resorted to name calling of these scholars, and completely disregarding their work in other fields or even according them the respect that any scholar deserves. Calling someone's fatwa or Facebook posts "misogynist" or "having a frat boy mentality" or even "disgusting" is fair; however when you go into insulting the scholar themselves by calling them "vultures", "predators" etc. or their work as "public excretions", then you have crossed a line.

Insulting the Sahabah (Companions) and the Hadith

Many Muslim feminists reserve special vitriol for the Companion Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him). Not only did this man record the most hadith, he also narrated some sayings that sharply go against the Western mindset of many feminists. They love to quote Dr Abou El Fadl's position on Abu Hurairah, where the professor apparently says (in his book) that this Companion has transmitted sayings that "denigrate the moral status of women". Similarly, many of such feminists openly denounce hadith which rubs them the wrong way, or try to belittle the Companion that has narrated the hadith. Most Muslims revere the Companions. We do not hold them as a perfect specimen (they are humans after all) but they were the best generation. For 1200 of the 1400 years of Islamic history, their values and their teachings have caused Muslims to rule the world; it is inconceivable that for all these years Muslims were missing something that some feminist has suddenly discovered with her keen eye.

Picking and Choosing Islam

Islam is not a buffet that you pick the things you like and ignore what you don't. If you are a Muslim, you accept the religion as a whole. This goes back to the previous point where some feminists try to cherry pick hadith which suits them, and ignore or try to classify as "weak" the ones they hate. Here's a classic example - a hadith that is widely shared by many feminists.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was travelling on the road with his cousin, Al-Fadl ibn Abbas, a woman stopped him to ask him a question. The woman was very beautiful, and Al-Fadl couldn’t help but stare at her. Seeing this, Prophet Muhammad reached out his hand and turned his cousin’s face away. - Bukhari Volume 8, Book 74, Number 247

He didn’t tell the woman to cover her face.
He didn’t tell her to change her clothing.
He didn’t tell her that her appearance was too tempting or indecent.
He averted his cousin’s impolite stare instead.

Note the emphasis (and added conclusions) that is attached to this hadith. It implies that a woman can dress as she wants, and if a man stares it's his fault. Yet, this ignores the numerous times that the Prophet (pbuh) has asked women (and men) to dress modestly, to make sure their appearance isn't indecent, and so on. It's even there in the Quran when Allah talks about how one of the daughters of the old man of Madian approached Musa (peace be upon him) - "She walked shyly".

Subverting and Changing Islam

In the 1400 years of Islamic history, you will not find a single, reputable scholar or madhab that had women leading a mixed congregation prayer. Yet this is a common cause celebre for many radical Muslim feminists - despite it having zero support from the average Muslim. Similarly they now wish to change Quranic laws on inheritance, while ignoring their reasons, or polygamy, or the very fact that these laws are coming from God Himself. Apparently God failed to understand the changes society would be undertaking in the 21st century, nauzubillah! Similarly the hijab is targeted, or the fact that Allah put the responsibility of earning a family's income primarily on the men, and so on. They now openly cheer on a woman's staying single as long as she wants (neglecting the Islamic injunction to get married as soon as feasible), or a woman's choosing career over her family or kids (despite the immense Islamic rewards attached with motherhood).

Lack of Adaab

If you refer to my post on Love Inshallah where I expound on my view that Muslims (men and women) should marry young, and women who are delaying their marriage are harming themselves, it elicited a ton of responses and comments. Most of the negative comments came from women (and those who are the Muslim feminist type) and the majority of these resorted to name calling, insults, derogatory terms and so on. And I am hardly a good example to use - several sheikhs and scholars have felt the brunt of these insults by the supposedly "enlightened and liberated" women. Yes, disagree with our views, bring your own, but why the vitriol? One famous feminist writer (who does not have any scholarly credentials for analyzing hadith but writes about them all the time) wrote about why she felt "unmosqued". Then she posted a private message from someone who asked her to get educated on hadith before writing about it, and made fun of this man. And others (her supporters) joined in the insults and name calling. And then they wonder why the rest of the Ummah completely ignores them!

Associating With Known Islamophobes

This one hardly needs a write up.

The Way Forward

This article is of course very general and broad. There are tons of Muslim feminists who are doing good (and great work). Wood Turtle and the Salafi Feminist are two women whose writings and work I very much admire, even if I don't agree with their views at times. The very fact that Muslim women are suffering in Muslim countries (and in Western institutions run by sometimes chauvinistic men) is not up for debate - it's true, and it's happening. Here are some things that happen in some of the mosques in Toronto that I have personally witnessed:
  1. The women's prayer area is shut off and there is a physical barrier which prevents them from seeing the imam, contrary to the sunnah.
  2. When there is a big crowd (such as Eid), the women lose their prayer area and are relegated to the basement (or gym).
  3. Many mosques have no women on their advisory committee.
The way forward has to involve dialogue and education, and the pace of change will be slow. For example, Toronto has two great mosques (the Islamic Institute of Toronto, and the Sayeda Khadija Centre) which not only has great facilities for women, but also follow the sunnah style of prayer where women share the space with men and can see the imam. They have access to the scholars. Imam Hamid Slimi is a fantastic, down-to-earth man who is a jewel in the Islamic scholarship of Toronto. They understand the community and understand the needs and requirements of the community, and the change is happening in an inclusive manner which listens to concerns from all affected stakeholders and the changes are in accordance with the classical understanding of Islamic law. By insulting the imams, denigrating hadith, rebuking men and trying to change traditional Islam to suit Western sensibilities, many Muslim feminists risk doing more harm than good.