Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012!

May the New Year 2012 bring new hopes, new dreams, new adventures,
and new happinesses to all!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Praise of Muslim Men: A Start Towards Counterbalancing the Stereotypes

Asim Rehman defending women against domestic violence

I first read the following Huffington Post Religion article on the blog The Loon Watch.  I'm sure I would have appreciated it at any time, but it struck a particular chord as I was just in a bookstore killing time and looking at the Boxing Week sales. The bookstore was one of the Indigo's chain which dominates retail book sales in Canada. The chain is also the sponsor of a pro-Israel foundation, Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers (heseg=achievement in Hebrew; "lone" as in no family in Israel). This program encourages the recruitment of non-Israeli Jews into the IDF by granting them a 4-year all expenses paid scholarship to an Israeli university if they serve 2 years in the IDF. "All expenses" very generously includes all living expenses as well as tuition and academic supplies--which is rare. Most scholarships at the undergraduate level cover only tuition and maybe books. Certain countries, including Saudi Arabia, do offer scholarships which include a sum adequate to cover living expenses, but these are the exception.

As I was browsing, not buying, I wondered how many of the titles on sale at the local Indigo's would be from what I call the "I was abused by a Muslim man" shelf. Indigo's is very good at stocking and profiling all books on women abused by an individual Muslim man, or an Islamic regime. For a while, most were about Iranian situations. Nowadays, many are about Afghan ones. There is no counterbalancing content. Also the Religion Section has very few books on Islam, while the History and Political section has many about current conflicts, but not from an Arab or Islamic perspective. Needless to say, Bernard Lewis books have pride of place. Yes indeed, all the most recent hardback titles in that category were featured face up on the strategically placed sales tables.

I read the article below with that imbalanced presentation of Muslim men in that particular medium of books and their marketing as one lens. Another lens was that of the Muslim students I meet, men and women, whose fathers, like many of the men mentioned in the article, are encouraging their university studies, and have high hopes and expectations combined with a great deal of material and moral support for both sons and daughters. A third lens was that of Muslim husbands, including the hub, who have made compromises, sacrifices, and accommodations to encourage and support their wives in their chosen careers.

As I was reading, I was struck by how the list reflects the preoccupations of the compiler, though this is to be expected of any list. There is an emphasis on those in prominent positions who are formally as well as informally advocating women's rights, including that to a safe home environment. Domestic violence is a problem in Muslim cultures as in others, past and present. It was not so long ago in Western European and North American societies that domestic violence was tolerated, even supported, by conservative patriarchal elements, and that laws and law enforcement considered it a private matter. If called, police would arrive, calm the situation, ask if the beaten spouse, most often the wife, would like to press charges, and leave it up to them to do so. This changed over time, following the impact of the women's movement beginning in the 70's, and with better understanding of the greater peril that women who pressed charges faced, resulting in their refusal to press charges or dropping them--to the great frustration of police officers. To say that domestic violence is a problem in Muslim cultures is to begin to address it, while not suggesting that all Muslim men are abusive. Some are. Some cloak their behaviour in religion or in tradition, or both. Some make headlines, including in Canada currently, when the abuse rises to the level of "honour killing". Like most headlines, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Overall, I found the list more representative of the Muslim men I know, from all walks of society, and a variety of Muslim cultures, than the other headlines. What are your impressions?

Dr Mohamed Tantawi, Pediatrician, of Hackensack, New Jersey,
 makes the 2011 list of Favorite Kids' Docs as well as that below.

A Few Good Muslim Men -- Honoring Those Who Honor Women
Posted: 12/27/11 02:43 PM ET

If the stereotypical Muslim woman is an oppressed one, then the archetypal Muslim male is responsible for her condition. In news stories, popular entertainment media and even video games, the image of the violent, misogynistic or abusive Muslim man is present time and again.

To be sure, bad apples exist in every religious, ethnic and racial group. But there is a dearth of positive Muslim portrayals to counteract such negative images on TV or the big screen. As a result, your everyday regular Omars and Mohammeds are sometimes viewed with suspicion and fear.

As 2011 draws to a close, we take a moment to recognize the following Muslim men -- fathers, brothers, husbands, academics, advocates and religious leaders -- selected by others for their individual contributions to the lives of women and, thus, humanity at large:

Asim Rehman (36, New York): Asim is in-house counsel who volunteers his time representing domestic violence victims. Asim's wife describes him as a "fabulous" partner who encourages her intellectual pursuits. Asim has turned down professional opportunities requiring relocation so that his wife can remain in her NYC post, which she loves. The couple is expecting their first child and Asim "cooks, cleans and grocery shops without complaining." His wife says she "can't imagine a better partner than Asim."

Shyam K. Sriram (32, Georgia): A college professor, Shyam is known for his stance against violence against women and girls. In less than one year, he helped a fledgling initiative -- Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence -- become a viable one. Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence trains Muslim men how to teach others that violence against women and girls is Islamically impermissible.

Abed Awad (42, New Jersey): Abed was recognized by his colleagues for the work he has done on behalf of Muslim women both as a past Board Member of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, and on the legal front. An accomplished attorney with his own practice, he has earned a reputation for defending women's rights in religious divorces and other family law disputes.

Davi Barker (30, California): An artist and writer, Davi's wife -- an activist, attorney and community leader -- described him in this way: "He is exactly what I dreamed of when I thought I wanted to marry a man who lived his life and marriage through his faith. Religion, and more specifically 'love and mercy' dictate everything he does in our relationship. His support is what makes my work as [head of a civil rights organization] possible. From being understanding when I have a difficult case or am coming home late regularly to helping with the graphic design for [my organization] and carrying more than a fair share of chores around the house ... I couldn't do this without him."

Imam Mohamed Magid (40ish, Virginia): Imam Magid is the Imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center) located in Sterling, Va. He is also President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Imam Magid was referenced by a congregant who characterized him as, "One of the biggest advocates out there for women's rights." He conducts domestic violence prevention training seminars for other Imams around the country and serves on the Board of Directors of Peaceful Families, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Muslim families.

Omar Sharif (29, California): Omar was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda who spearheaded numerous small business projects which placed women at the forefront.

Mohamed Tantawi (38, New Jersey): Mohamed's wife says of him: "He's a great pediatrician, he does most of the cooking (and well too), he sings at Carnegie Hall. Most importantly, he does all that is in his power to preserve our family dynamic, one in which he is an active partner."

Ahmad Hussain (28, California): Currently in Nashville, Tenn., completing his surgical residency, Ahmad was also suggested for inclusion on this list by his wife, a filmmaker in California. She remarked about the breadth of sacrifices Ahmed has made for her. For instance, when she indicated her willingness to sacrifice her filmmaking career which requires her to spend half her time in Los Angeles in order to stay with him in Tennessee, he was adamantly opposed to her doing so: "He said he wouldn't be happy with himself if he kept me from becoming a filmmaker. He said it makes him happy to see me doing these things. ... I know it kills him -- he's tired, he's lonely, he's hungry -- but he can't be convinced."

Abdul H. Abdullah (67, Georgia): Abdul is the Chief Financial Officer of Baitul Salaam Residence for Abused and Neglected Women and Children. In addition to contributing his time and money to the organization, he also allows battered women to seek refuge at his private family business when they are in trouble.

Taraq Chand (late 60s, New Jersey): A father of four daughters and one son, he has taught his children that Islam supports women's rights. As a result his daughters are all professionals: a doctor, chemical engineer, pharmacist and soon-to-be-lawyer.

Sheikh Abdala Adhami (Washington, D.C.): Sheikh Adhami is an Islamic scholar who has been serving the Muslim community in the U.S. for more than 20 years. A Washington, D.C. native, he was praised by several women including a New Jersey Muslim mom who described him in the following manner: "Simply a magnificent person, he spoke endlessly on women's rights in Islam, with the notion that women should know their rights and men should know in order to protect these rights, and any infringements on those rights are seen as a crime in God's eyes. He spoke of the many prominent women throughout Islamic history... and how men would travel far and wide to study at their feet. He lectured on how women, even at the time of the Prophet [Muhammed], owned their own businesses and how this money was solely theirs -- to be shared with her family at her discretion, and any money she gave to her family was a charity... [His message] was in stark contrast to what we hear from the Taliban. It brought a peace and comfort and nourished a true connection with one's Lord -- and that is what religion is supposed to do."

Nabile Safdar (35, Maryland): An accomplished doctor who recently returned from a volunteer mission to Haiti where he provided much needed medical care, Nabile is a father to three young daughters. He delivers religious sermons to his local community preaching against spousal abuse while urging men to treat women with dignity and respect.

Ezat Yosafi (Connecticut): Born in Afghanistan, Ezat was recognized by his daughter, posthumously. She attributes her professional accomplishments as an attorney to her father's guidance and advice. He passed away in Connecticut in 2008.

Furqan Ahmed (27, New Jersey): Furqan's wife says that he is "someone who has made law school a more tolerable experience. ... It is not easy to be married to a law student as law school ... involves such a dedication of time and effort. But he really pushes me to do more and presses me to follow up with law firms. ... I think it is really helpful to have someone who is a partner in all aspects."

Ali Hussain (63, Massachusetts): Ali's daughter notes, "He's coached me in multiple ways with my career, helping me overcome hurdles, to be confident in new situations, maintain integrity, be bold yet gracious in asserting my needs. He also encourages [my sisters and me] to dream big and sometimes dreams for us even bigger than we do."

Prophet Muhammad (posthumously): He is considered by Muslims to be the seal to a long line of God's prophets and messengers beginning with Adam. The Prophet Muhammad's private relationships were based on open communication and mutual respect. He never asked anyone to wait on him and participated in household chores and childcare; he used to mend his own clothes, play with children and perform chores around the home. He promoted and nurtured the education of women (e.g. Aisha bint Abu Bakr). He never raised his hand against anyone in his household. He chastised the Muslim men who dared to strike their wives. In the words of the woman who praised him, "He was kind and respected women and asked men to do the same."

While the Muslim men included above are deserving of our collective support, recognition and accolades, this list is by no means an exhaustive one. Rather, these men are representative of many more Muslims whose names are not included here but whose lives and contributions are similarly noteworthy.

If I may humbly suggest, perhaps this year Hollywood can make the following addition to its collective list of new year resolution: more positive portrayals of the American Muslim community. After all, an image of the Muslim advocate effectively representing the rights of his (or her) female Muslim client in a religious divorce or the imam educating his congregation of Muslim women's equal social status is a truer realization of art imitating life.

On the subject of accolades, a note about Muslim culture. "Mashallah" is a word frequently heard used between Muslims. It literally means "whatever God wills." And it is often said in response to hearing about a person's good deed or impressive accomplishment.


Engy Abdelkader is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.


What Muslim man or men would you include in this list as praiseworthy?
What suggestions would you make to Hollywood about the representation of Muslim men?
What other ways might the prevailing stereotypes be counterbalanced?
Other thoughts, impressions, experiences, comments?

Omar Sharif, Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, center, 
creator of business projects headed by women

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Greetings! December 25, 2011

Peace on Earth,
Good Will towards All!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Interfaith Christmas Charity

Depending on where you are in the world at the moment, you likely have one shopping day before Christmas, and just enough time to donate to a charity before the actual day of Christmas. Today, I just squeaked in a food donation, with 15 minutes to spare, before the charity I wanted to contribute to closed at noon until the 27th. I had hoped to have some time to shop, and add a contribution of clothing and toys as I had last year. I asked the woman in charge if they would still need donations just after Christmas, and she said, "Yes". I asked of what in particular, and she replied, "Everything". So I said I would add my clothing and toy donations then.

In retrospect, my questions were rather foolish, and brought on by my distress at discovering the offices would be closed so early. I was at the St Vincent de Paul Society, which is a Roman Catholic charity. Persisting in questions I knew the answer to, I asked if they gave only to members of the parish in need, or to others as well. As fast as I asked, she replied, "Religion doesn't enter into it; we give to the needy."  I added, "Of which there are many in this parish". In fact, I had deliberately chosen to donate there, as the parish has a mixed population, some extremely needy due to mental or physical impairment, or social circumstances, others newly arrived to Canada and still getting on their feet. Still others, whether native born or newer Canadians, are in a position to contribute to the well-being of others.

Christmas charity can bring food, clothes, and toys to all needy families, and is particularly important given the season. Even a hat, scarf, and mitts set is a good start for someone new to Canada, or down on their luck, and feeling the cold. Of course they will need much more, but it is a start, and one that people without many funds tend to overlook, as they try to find a suitable coat.

A couple of years ago, when I was getting my seemingly nightly order from the Middle East takeout, I made a point of asking the servers if Santa would be coming to their house. Most were single men in their 20s and 30s and just laughed along with me. However, an older man, an immigrant Muslim with 9 children, thought carefully, and said, yes, Santa did some times come to his house at Christmas, and brought treats and toys for the children. It was clear that at times his earnings were so low that he was on a charity list. He spoke of the experience with pleasure on behalf of his children, while leaving his own earning difficulties vague.

On the theme of interfaith charity at Christmas, I would like to share my experience last year, which was both unusual, and enlightening. What follows was part of a longer post on my cross-cultural shopping adventures last year, some of which were more pleasant than others, and which will be published in a separate post.

My Christmas Charity 2010

This year, as part of my grieving process after the loss of my father, and particularly as it is the first Christmas without him, I have been inspired to contribute to the St Vincent de Paul Society. St Vincent's is the Roman Catholic charity that provides for the needy, and particularly at Christmas makes sure that the less fortunate members of the parish and the broader community have food, clothing, toys, and gifts. This is the charity to which my father's family and my father would contribute, even while contributing to others--like the Salvation Army, who are particularly associated with Christmas.

The inspiration started when I attended mass on the First Sunday of Advent (for only the second time in my life) because I woke up grieving and needing to go to church and a mass, which is where I feel I can always connect with my father. At the end of that mass, in a prominent cathedral, there was an appeal from the head of the parish's St Vincent de Paul Society for parishioners to donate money in specialy provided pink envelopes.  That parish has a great number of poor, because it is in a downtown neighbourhood which is a mix of recent immigrants, low income families, psychiatric patients, and "lost souls".

I did give a monetary gift, but then, after the emotional hit of my father's birthdate, December 20th (which found me in a weekday mass, for the first time in my life), I decided to contribute goods to that parish's St Vincent de Paul Society. I began with a bag of groceries, followed with a second, and before I left for holidays on the 23rd, my Christmas garden of 2 white and 5 red poinsettias, and more groceries were donated.

Between the first, and the last donation, I started to find little things that I thought would make for a nice Christmas, and were both attractive and practical gifts--primarily for children, but also for adults. These included stuffed toys of high quality that were marked down from $5 to $1 each, because the penguin-snowman had 2008 on its scarf. As I said to the somewhat snarky cashier trying to promote the 2010 version at full price, I doubt that babies care about the year, and I am sure parents with few funds are happy to have a plush toy for baby. On my 3rd visit with the same cashier (10 stuffed toys, in 2 sets, and a 6th box of Christmas cards), I asked if those stuffed toys from 2008 had been marked down further. He stopped his derisive comment in mid-sentence when I told him I was buying them to give to charity.

In the meantime, I also found Old Navy trendy one size fits all gloves for $1 a pair in sets for boys/men as well as girls/women (still easier to buy for); packs of multiple hair clips, fancy pins, and special ponytail holders for girls and women of all ages for $2 each in an Ardene; and Old Navy children's socks in black, white, and grey unisex pairs, 10 pairs for $10. Oh, to have been in Old Navy on $1/winter scarf day! Still, for $30, which I can easily afford, even after my personal shopping for the season, I had the sense that 10 pairs of hands and 10 pairs of feet would be warm; and the girls, teens, and women in 5 families could share (fight over) hair bobbles, and feel that much more fashionable.

I must say that although I didn't enjoy the crowds of the last shopping days, this was among the most satisfying shopping I have ever done. While it is nice to select special gifts for the special people in one's life, it is uplifting to choose nice things one can imagine will bring joy to someone who is struggling, or struggling to provide for children.

In the past I have been happy to give money, or have it given by an association of which I am part. The only other act of Christmas charity which gave me the same level of satisfaction was shopping for a gift for one of the hub's female colleagues whose name he had drawn in the office gift exchange. The premise of that corporate Christmas party was to imagine the person at age 8, and buy them a toy. The wrapped and tagged toys were distributed by and from "Santa" who called each staff member to his place beside the Christmas tree at the office party. After opening and oohing and ahhing, the toys were collected and given to a children's charity.

I thought it was a brilliant idea, and the best exchange idea I'd ever experienced personally or vicariously. I had great fun maxing out the set limit on art supplies for a budding artist, or just a child who needed an opportunity for creativity and free expression. Alas, the next year, the new Christmas Party Committee decided that gag gifts with a sex theme would be more "fun".  Bah, humbug!

The reason I was buying a 6th box of Christmas cards from the snarky cashier above, is because somewhere between my dreadful Friday (Dec 17)--my anniversary reaction to the day I went to my family's home for the holidays last year, discovered my Dad was very ill, and returned to my normal life 4 months later, but grieving my Dad's passing--and Dec 20th, I read an article about Canada Post cancelling free postage for Christmas cards sent to "Any Canadian Forces Member" overseas.

Operation Santa Claus is a longstanding Canadian Forces program that makes sure even those with few correspondents receive cards and Santa packages over the holidays. In the past, Canada Post handled all related mail free, but has decided this year- the last one, supposedly, when we have combat troops in Afghanistan--to fund only those letters and parcels addressed to a specific service member, and to require postage on all those sent to "Any Canadian Forces Member".

The article described how this impacted school programs where annually the children spend time in art and literature classes making cards and composing letters, and look forward to the idea that some service member will enjoy receiving their creations. As so often happens with cutbacks affecting school children, teachers were paying the postage out of pocket.

Canada Post will continue to provide a program of free delivery to deployed troops. Parcels can be mailed for free to deployed CF members for the period 18 Oct 2010 to 7 January 2011. Letters and packages up to 500 grams can be mailed for free until the end of 2011. Visit the Canada Post Website for additional detail of the offer. Note that this program is not extended to mail addressed to "Any Canadian Forces Member " and all such items will require postage. [emphasis added]
--from the National Defense and Canadian Forces site, "Write the Troops"

I was, and am, incensed that Canada Post couldn't wait one more Christmas to choose this particular cost saving measure--until we at least supposedly won't have combat troops in Afghanistan. I also feel that it targets the vulnerable. Postage for letters and parcels sent to a specific armed forces member is still free. I guess that helps out armed forces families, and their friends, but presumably at least those service members have people wanting to send them greetings and gifts. Still, for me, the bottom line is they should have waited a year, if it had to be done.

Therefore, I decided to send cards this year, in part because of Canada Post's stupidity, and in part because my father would have liked the idea. I sent 216 hand signed cards with a little hand written note in English and French inside thanking them for their service and wishing them happy holidays and a happy New Year. Hopefully, the cards will give pleasure to someone far from home!

What part does charity play in your Christmas celebration?
What are your thoughts on charity across faiths?
What experiences have you had as a giver or recipient of charitable donations?
Other impressions, thoughts, comments?

While I was sleeping...Nov-Dec 2011

My sincere apologies to all readers and commentators for the dearth of posts during the months of November and December 2011, and even greater apologies for not updating as to why there were so few posts until now.

Over the last two months I have had both a relapse of symptoms in my ongoing recovery from iron deficiency, and been busy with professional obligations--a bad combination. Also I have had a couple of minor illnesses that just aggravated the situation, either by their symptoms or by side effects from combinations of medications. I am very lucky that all these issues are minor and treatable. Nonetheless, they have significantly interrupted my life, on and off line, over the last couple of months.

As indicated by the title and illustrations for this post, fatigue and sleepiness have been the most disruptive symptoms. When not actually asleep, I have been "sleep walking" through some days, not awake enough to do all the posts I have had in mind, or to even complete drafts sufficiently well to post them.

Because I was able to start posts, and believed every morning that I would be able to post that day, I never announced on the blog an interruption in posting. None was planned, and I never expected the last gap in posting to go on so long.

Similarly, I have been unable to reply to comments here, which are always most appreciated, or to comment on other blogs as I usually do with pleasure. My apologies to commentators, and other bloggers for both of those.

I am optimistic that I will be able to post and comment more regularly beginning with this holiday season. I certainly hope that I will remain more awake than the woman in the painting below, who is sleeping through the hot June Solstice sun!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy December Solstice 2011!

As I have written previously, The Winter Solstice: Where Physics Meets Culture for All, I find the December Solstice an interesting event and celebration. As a physical phenomenon of the earth's relationship to the sun, it is an event that affects all on earth, and has been marked in various ways by all cultures over time immemorial.

The time and date in the Gregorian Calendar on which the December Solstice falls varies with the naturally occurring phenomenon, and ranges between December 20th and 23rd each year. Of course, the point at which the shortest day/longest night in the Northern Hemisphere, or longest day/shortest night in the Southern Hemisphere occurs in different places at different times, depending on time zones.

This year, the December solstice has been occurring over December 21 and 22, so in the mid-range of the usual span of time. Winter has officially begun, as have the group of celebrations that mark this time before the renewal of Spring. All have in common a celebration of light, and the resilience of nature and the human spirit when faced with physical challenges to mind, body, and spirit. Of the ones that come most readily to mind, Hanukah, Christmas, New Year, and the Solstice, the latter is the one that is most universally embracing, even in the diversity of its global celebrations.

Ancient Egyptian depiction of 3 gods at the divine re-birth of the sun on 26 Khoiak (December 22)

On a more personal note, my father was a "Solstice baby", born December 20. This made him even more difficult to buy for, trying to think of 2 presents, one for his birthday, and one for Christmas. He finally stopped protesting not to get him anything, or merely not to worry about what we got him, and succumbed to the pressure of 3 united women not to buy himself anything from September on--just to make do, until we could buy the presents, and then make up for whatever needs hadn't been addressed on the Boxing Day sales.

As an adult, the December Solstice has been the time I often head to the family home for the holidays, in order to celebrate Dad's birthday too. Two years ago I arrived home to find he was seriously ill, and instead of spending the planned 10 days, I spent almost 4 months at home, helping him and the family (and myself) through his illness, and death.

Last year, I was still in an earlier phase of grieving, and so the Winter Solstice, as welcome as it always is for marking the beginning of longer days of sunlight to come, was tinged with sadness. This year, I have been much better, though still sadly noting his absence, as is to be expected at this phase of grieving.

Sunrise on Stonehenge December 22. 2011, a clear sunny solstice is a good omen.

I mention this more personal aspect, as these types of sadnesses tend to rebound at holiday times, and in the physically dark days of winter. More importantly, I wanted to remind others that normal grieving feels awful, but is eased appropriately with time, and sadnesses are lightened by the sun and the change of seasons marking time. This year, we will honor my Dad's memory by going out in the next few days to the same restaurant we would have gone to for his birthday celebration, and remember his joy at being there, and be joyous as he would have wished.

For the Winter Solstice itself, I have been buying traditional greenery like holly branches, lighting candles, and planning charitable Christmas gifts, as well as those for family. How about you?

To All,

A Wonderful December Soltice,

filled with days of light and joy!

Related Posts:
The Winter Solstice: Where Physics Meets Culture for All
The December (Winter/Summer) Solstice 2010 with a Total Eclipse of the Moon

December Solstice 2011-Celebration at Stonehenge-From "The winter solstice, a split second on Earth’s analog clock"


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