Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Back To The Future For Geocities

Nostalgia seems to be pretty big nowadays. Today I was surprised to see an article on nostalgia for Web 1.0.

Er, Web 1.0, you ask. What is that?

That used to be the day. This was the internet of the late 90s and early 2000s. Those were the days before Google took shape (I remember using Alta Vista search engine) and blogging was just lurking around the corner. If you wanted a website, you had to build your own. You had to know HTML, DHTML and perhaps JavaScript (nowadays you just need a blogger or wordpress account). The best example was of course Geocities.

I had a Geocities account. Curiosity got the better of me and I used an internet archiver to see what my website looked like in 2002.

I also had a little bit of space on the university website (both as a student and as a TA) and this is what it looked like (the archiver is missing some of the images as well as styles).

What I find amazing is just the sheer amount of personal information I used to put online back then! One can argue we put more information online nowadays on Facebook and LinkedIn but those are behind a password protected account and shared with friends only (or so we think). From my site in 2002 you would know the names of my friends, my class schedule, where I worked, what my interests were, where we went for holidays and what I thought about the World Cup (well, some things don't change). ANY one could have seen that and all that was preventing them from visiting my site was not knowing the exact URL.

Ironically, I see that the time when Google broke through was when Geocities began to die, and blogging started to take root. I have already been blogging since 2004 (more than a decade now; my first post was on a cricket match).

I wonder what I will be posting as nostalgia in another ten years! Perhaps we will be looking back on the glory days of Facebook!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Shaming "Child" Marriage

I recently saw this picture on my Facebook feed along with a caption "What a shame".

I decided to push on this. Why is it a shame? If both parties (and let's be real here - the older man would have no reason to say no, so the real question is the bride) have freely, without being forced either by circumstances or their family, have consented to the marriage, where is the shame?

Ah, but look at her age!

The notion that we don't marry young is a fairly modern concept.

Gandhi married when he was 13 years old (to a 14 year old girl). The famous Rana Pratap (recognized by the British as King of Mysore) got married at the age of 12 (to a 14 year old). Drew Barrymore was 16 on her first engagement, and less that twenty before her first marriage. Macaulay Culkin married when he was 17.

Even in our literature - Snow White is 14 years old when she is married to her "prince", Jasmine of Aladdin is 15, Pocahontas is 18 and Cinderella is 19. Juliet of the famous Romeo and Juliet was 13 as written by Shakespeare (while Romeo's age isn't mentioned, but he is older than her and a young man - presumably 21).

Ah, but look at the difference in their ages.

Surely it is a cause of concern. It is uncommon, it is not healthy, etc. But is it a cause of shame?

Princess Emilia of Saxony in 1533, at age 16 married the famous George the Pious who was then 48 years old. Demi Moore married Freddy Moore when she was 17 and he was 30. Let's not forget Celine Dion. She was 12 when she met her then 38-year-old future husband Rene Angelil. She was 19 when she started "dating" him. Their age difference is 26 years old. So clearly it isn't a shame for some people. A cause of concern, yes, but not shame,

You would never let your own daughter (if you had one) be in such a marriage.

Ah, but what I do or don't do or will not do in a future hypothetical situation isn't the factor here. When I was younger and was looking to get married, I wouldn't marry a Chinese girl. But that doesn't make marrying a Chinese girl wrong. It's just that our cultures would have too much differences to be easily resolved in a marriage. Some Bengalis I know have tried it, and it worked for them.

I have been brought up in a culture where people wait until they are in their 20s to get married, and they get married to someone close to them in age. Usually the guy is a little bit older. That's what I am comfortable with. But I am not going to superimpose my cultural upbringing on another culture or situation and say, "Oh what a shame".

You may be sorry at a girl in a Bangladeshi village marrying at the age of 16, but perhaps that's what she wants. Maybe this is what they are used to - and they don't know any other life style. It works for them, it makes them happy. If there's some criminal element there like forced marriages or abuse, or poverty or lack of access to clean and safe water etc. those are different issues and we should tackle those.

Let's not forget the real cause of shame.

Over 40% of women are unmarried when they give birth in the United States. The mother of the child that was just born is not married to the father. Over 48% of teens have had sex by the time they are 16. Over 28% of males and 16% of females under the age of 20 have sex with multiple partners. Over 5% of all abortions are by minors. The reasons teens most frequently give for having an abortion are that they are concerned about how having a baby would change their lives, cannot afford a baby now, and do not feel mature enough to raise a child.

A marriage involves being in a legal relationship with someone, having physical intimacy, bearing the responsibility of rearing a family and sacrificing for your kids. It looks like if you do all of these at the ages of 16-19, it's a shame, but if you are a selfish person who just wants physical intimacy, then you are OK.

What a shame.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Why the RIS List of Speakers is Inexcusable

On the very same day that Canada's new government took office with a cabinet that was made up of 50% women, the RIS (the Reviving the Islamic Spirit) Convention released its list of luminary speakers at this year's December convention.

RIS is an annual conference held since 2003, and has become one of the largest Islamic conferences in North America, along with ISNA in the USA. Over 20,000 people attended in 2015, making it the largest Islamic conference in Canada. Yet, year after year, there has been a complaint about the list of speakers at RIS, so one hoped that this year RIS would get it right.

Here is how RIS gets it spectacularly wrong (or doesn't get it at all) .


It should not be lost that today was the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started his government in Canada and for the first time ever, the cabinet was made up of 50% women. Asked to explain why that was important, he simply - yet so powerfully - replied, "It's 2015."

What about RIS? Let's see how a conference about Islam, which many of these same scholars say gave women equal rights in 620 AD, is doing in 2015.

Out of the 23 speakers listed on the site, only 6 are women. That's merely 26%. Moreover, if the past is any precedent, the women will speak either in the morning, or early evening, while the men will get the prime time evening spots when maximum number of attendees are there. Many of the men are also scheduled to speak multiple times, while most of the women speak only once.

Is it too much to ask that out of 23 speakers, at least 10 be women? I am sure that despite the fact that some women scholars dislike to speak in front of a huge mixed gathering, we can at least find ten in the whole world?


RIS is a Canadian conference, yet where are the Canadian scholars? From the bios provided on the site, I could only find 1 Canadian. If you think women have it bad, that's  0.043%. What about renowned Canadian scholars and imams like Sheikh Yusuf Badat, Imam Dr. Hamid Slimi, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Sister Ingrid Mattson - just to name a few? We are in Canada, and as recent elections, governance and public discourse has proven, we are a distinct society from the United States. Why should we have a conference where the overwhelming bulk of the speakers are foreigners?

There are plenty of other reasons for criticism of RIS as well. They are too shy of courting political controversies and hence their talks are always very timid. Since Tarek Ramadan published a popular open letter as to why he doesn't attend these conferences anymore, RIS seems to have doubled down on any political activity or call to action for justice.

So if you want a timid, feel good, nothing substantial but overpoweringly fluffy male dominated foreigner populated Islamic conference, please do attend RIS.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Minority Rights on the TTC Subway

So on the subway today, as I was preparing to doze off until my stop, an elderly white gentleman seated beside me suddenly turned to me and said, "Excuse me, are you Muslim?"

When I replied in the affirmative, he said, "Can I ask you a question if you don't mind? Why is it that whenever Muslims come here, or to a Western country, they are all very nice about minority rights, but in Muslim countries minorities are treated like garbage?"

It was a very loaded question, and though he was a soft spoken man, I could see a couple of other people turn in to listen.

"Great," I thought. "Here I go, being the representative of 1.6 billion people."

"Thank you," I told him, "That you asked me. If you have questions about Muslims, go to a Muslim, or to the mosque. Is there any particular Muslim country you are thinking of?"

As chance would have it, he mentioned Bangladesh (how a secular publisher was hacked to death by fundamentalists) and Pakistan (whose Hindu minority is fleeing to India). I then asked him if he followed any religion. Very proudly, he replied he was a Catholic, and sang praises about the current Pope and his tolerance.

"Tell me one thing." I asked him. I was very grateful for the fact that he was willing to listen and engage. "Have the Catholics always been tolerant of minorities? Is there not a history of massacre and mayhem in Catholic history, particularly during the Crusades? Forget the fact that they massacred a whole city of Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem, these knights were personally blessed by the Pope and they killed Orthodox Christians by the thousands!"

He was quiet for a while, and then replied, "But that's in the past, IF it's true. I am talking about the present."

"Do you know who Rana Bhagwandas is?" I asked him. This is where I was glad I recently read about the very two people I would talk about now.

"No." He replied. "Is he Indian?"

"He is actually the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan." I replied (I didn't know that he had passed away this year, something I found out when composing this post). "A Hindu. A recent Captain of Pakistan cricket was Yousaf Youhana, a Christian then. Do you know who the current chief justice of Bangladesh is?"

When he said he didn't know, I replied it is a Hindu person as well (I didn't know the name then, but it's Surendra Kumar).

Then I told him, "No doubt, it is not as rosy as it is for minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as it is for Muslims here in Canada. But those countries have other political problems, and religion is just one factor. Many Muslims also die in the political violence there."

"But what about Saudi Arabia?" He said. "You can't build a church there, or drink beer, and the women are treated like animals."

"Have you been to Dubai? Or Beirut?" I asked him. "Those are right next to Saudi."

"I haven't been there," He conceded.

"I lived in the UAE." I told him. "Lots of expatriates there, many of them Christian and they have their own churches and services. They are not allowed to convert anyone though, In Lebanon, by law the President has to be a Christian and the Prime Minister a Muslim."

"But what about Saudi?" He insisted. "It is the home of Islam. In Rome, we recently built the largest mosque in Europe."

"I would think the home of Christianity is in the Holy Land." I really cannot defend Saudi Arabia, so I switched the venue. "Jerusalem, where Christ preached. His Church of Nativity still stands today, after a 1000+ years of Muslim rule. In fact, till today, the person holding the key of the Church is a Muslim, because the Christians are fighting amongst themselves."

I then decided to go on the offensive. "In this country, Canada, the Harper government has spent thousands of your dollar trying to prevent a woman, a Muslim and a minority, from covering her face. Where was the respect for minority rights then? In Quebec, they tried to ban women from covering their hair get government services. Where was the respect for minorities there? In France, women cannot cover their hair and go to school. Is that respect for minority rights?"

"Well..." He was quiet for a bit. "They are immigrants who should respect the culture of the land they moved to, and not try to impose their way on the majority."

"And that," I told him, "is what a fundamentalist in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Burma would say."

We talked some more, but my stop had arrived, so I shook his hand and departed. I don't know if I changed his mind (he didn't seem convinced), but the hardest part in all of this exchange was for me to maintain my cool.

It would have been so easy to lash out and say "well f*** you the Western imperial army has destroyed the Middle East and support regimes and blah blah f*** you and look at black people being killed in USA" but I don't think that would have accomplished anything. I also went and did some reading on minority rights and the West. Hopefully I will run into this gentleman again.