Wednesday, December 18, 2013

World Arabic Language Day--December 18, 2013

Today is the UNESCO World Arabic Language Day, commemorated on the 18th of December as the anniversary of the day in 1973 that the United Nations declared that Arabic would be one of its official languages. Today it is one of 6: Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish.

Other posts of interest on World Arabic Language Day include: Starting Today, Party Like It’s World Arabic Language(s) Day on the status of the different "dialects" of Arabic in relation to Modern Standard Arabic; La giornata mondiale della lingua araba è oggi! on the Italian blog editoriarabia, with readers' expressions of why they started studying Arabic and why they love it.

News articles include those from Dubai, Celebrate World Arabic Language Day by learning the language'Dubai Centre for Arabic Language’ opens in Dubai; from Egypt, Egypt's SCC to celebrate World Arabic Language Day 18 Dec; from Kuwait, UNESCO marks 2nd World Arabic language Day; from Algeria, Journée internationale de la langue arabe : « L’évolution d’une langue dépend des initiatives individuelles », from Morocco, A propos de la Darija dans l’enseignement : Un débat pour un recul plus grand on the teaching of the North African dialect of Arabic in schools; from Saudi Arabia, Book fair in Riyadh to mark World Arabic Language Day.

Two learners from the UNESCO celebrations site:

As for me:
أدرسُ اللغة العربية، أكتب و أقرأ بشكل سيئ و أتكلم بشكل أسوأ، مع الممارسة والاستمرار سوف أتحسن

What about you?
Do you think it is a good idea to have a day celebrating Arabic or "the Arabics"?
Have you tried to learn Arabic? What have been your experiences?
Do you want to learn Arabic? Why? How will you go about it?
If you are a native speaker of Arabic, what do you feel are its special qualities? What reasons would you give for learning Arabic? How would you recommend going about it?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chez Chiara is 5 years old! *Important Update: She is only 4!

Chez Chiara is 5 years old today, 
and in honour of her December birthday,
she is wearing tiaras
featuring one of her December birthstones,

She is being festive, even if she is most displeased with me, Chiara, for neglecting her. I have explained to her about my "mystery illness", but what with being a 5-year-old she is often rather pouty about it.

Once she learned that I FINALLY have a diagnosis, she has become more sympathetic--somewhat. She agrees with me that it is rather scandalous that it has taken over 3 years to prove the diagnosis I suggested on my first visit to the doctor, a thyroid problem.

She is happy that I have, and therefore she has, an excellent prognosis, and should return to normal (to the extant that she ever credits me with being "normal") over the next few months.

She is most grateful to all readers and commentators, for their exemplary patience with our medical  ups and downs, blogging stops and starts--as am I.

As the birthday girl,
she is determined to celebrate.
And I agree.
Bring on the tiaras!  

Important update:
She is only 4!
She just wishes she were 5!

I take full responsibility for letting her get away with this "bit of mischief" (rather typical of a 4-year-old). She still gets another tiara though!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Street Scene in Riyadh--Accurate or a Photographer's Composition?

Riyadh, November 17, 2013 REUTERS/Faisal Nasser

I first saw this photo at Full Focus, Photos of the Week

For some reason it struck me as particularly natural, and probably fairly common, in other words, an accurate depiction of a street scene in Riyadh. 

However, I am not in a position to judge based on experience, so I would appreciate the comments of those in the know. 

Also, I wonder if others who have not been to Riyadh would also (mis-)take this as representative.

How about the one below (from this article on a report on the legal status of women in Saudi Arabia)?

Any other comments, reactions, impressions?

Veiled women carry vegetables as they walk along a street at the neighbourhood of Shmeisy in Riyadh April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Action Day on Human Rights: Saudi Women Activists Jailed for helping Canadian; UN Rapporteur on Canada's Aboriginal "Crisis"

This year's Blog Action Day focuses on Human Rights, a broad topic indeed. I have chosen 2 themes to suggest for readers to discuss here. While there is a "Canadian connection" between them, in fact they are as diverse as the two countries in which they are occurring.

The first relates to the jailing of two Saudi women activists who are convicted of takhbib (inciting a woman to defy her husband’s authority), relating to the case of Canadian Nathalie Morin who has been much in the news, trying to leave her Saudi husband and take their children with her back to Quebec--or so her mother claims. Two previous posts have addressed the background of the case, and then the original detention of Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni.

Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have written about their sentencing to 10 months in jail and a 2 year travel ban, and the sentence being recently upheld, as have a number of international news outlets, including Saudi writer Ahmed Al Omran at Riyadh Bureau. Al Omran cites Al Huwaider as saying she believes the government has taken an opportunity to punish her for other advocacy over the years, including for a woman's right to drive.

It is difficult to find a Western article that does justice to the injustice of this jailing, while not indulging in simplistic Saudi-bashing. Below is a relatively good article, that takes a broader perspective on social limitations on women while still holding close to the idea of driving as a fundamental right for which these Saudi women activists have faught.

Women's rights supporters condemn Saudi Arabia as activists ordered to jail
Supporters condemn length of sentences as bid by authorities to silence criticism
Tracy McVeigh
The Observer, Sunday 29 September 2013

A Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy the ban on women driving. Photograph: AP

Two prominent female rights activists who went to the aid of a woman they believed to be in distress are expected to go to jail in Saudi Arabia on Sunday after the failure of their appeal against a 10-month prison sentence and a two-year travel ban.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, a writer who has repeatedly defied Saudi laws by driving a car, and Fawzia al-Oyouni were arrested for taking a food parcel to the house of someone they thought was in an abusive relationship. In June they were found guilty on a sharia law charge of takhbib – incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband, thus undermining the marriage.

Campaigners say they are "heroes" who have been given heavy sentences to punish them for speaking out against Saudi restrictions on women's rights, which include limited access to education and child marriage as well as not being able to drive or even travel in a car without a male relative being present.

In 2007 a Saudi appeal court doubled a sentence of 90 lashes to be given to a teenager because she had been in a car with a male friend when they were abducted and gang-raped by seven men.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an activist for the group Equality Now , said the authorities had been trying to silence the two women for years and their sentence "is unfortunate and scandalous". It marked a dangerous escalation of how far Saudi authorities were willing to go.

"These women are extremely brave and active in fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, and this is a way for the Saudi authorities to silence them," she said. "If they are sent to jail, it sends a very clear message to defenders of human rights that they should be silent and stop their activities – not just in Saudi Arabia, but across Arab countries. These women are innocent – they should be praised for trying to help a woman in need, not imprisoned. They now find themselves at the mercy of the system they have fought so tirelessly to change."

According to reports, this is also the first time in Saudi legal history that a travel ban has been imposed in a case involving domestic issues.

"This case and the system of lifelong male guardianship of women in Saudi Arabia shows that protecting a husband's dominant, even abusive, position in the family is far more important than his wife's wellbeing," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh.

The women themselves believe they may have been set up, that they were contacted by text message by a woman claiming to be the mother of Natalie Morin, a Canadian national married to a Saudi who has herself been campaigning for several years to be allowed to leave the country with her three young children – something she says the authorities will not allow her to do.

The text, in June 2011, said she had been abused by her husband, an unemployed former Saudi intelligence officer, who had then left for a wedding and left her and her children locked in their apartment in the eastern city of Dammam for a week and that they were running out of food and water. When the two women arrived in Morin's street they were immediately arrested.

"Actually when we went to there, the minute we arrived a police car arrived," said Wajeha al-Huwaider. "I'm sure the judge knows that it was a trap and they meant to catch us at that time in order to make a case against us."

At first they were charged with trying to aid Morin escape to the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, but the intervention of a local member of the Saudi royal family led to those charges being dropped, because, said Huwaider, even he was embarrassed at the obvious nature of the set-up.

Morin was also arrested and held for several hours. It was not until a year later that the two women were told they were to face the new charge of takhbib, a law that effectively puts all aid workers and activists helping Saudi women in need of protection from domestic violence, at risk.

Morin was not permitted to testify at their trial earlier this year that she had never met Huwaider and Oyouni. She has declared support for them on her blog writing: "I am sorry for what's happening to madam Wajeha al-Huwaider and her friend." She said the "two Saudi women find themselves in a serious legal problem with jail just for trying to help me … there is no evidence for the charges that are against her and her friend."

Huwaider and Oyouni's conviction has been condemned by numerous human rights organisations, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Equality Now and Pen International.


It is easy for those living in Western democracies to think that human rights abuses happen somewhere else. However, anyone who has bothered to read an Amnesty International report on their own country is soon disabused of that notion.

Canada is frequently cited for human rights violations against our First Nations peoples, Indian, Inuit, or Métis (mixed Aboriginal and European). These are often related to inappropriate arrests, abusive treatment while in custody, or unfair legal outcomes. Nevertheless, there are longer standing systemic issues, including ones more directly related to broader issues of cultural identity loss, educational deficits, family disruption, and poverty.

Recently a UN special report has detailed current failings and labelled Canada's treatment of its indigenous peoples as a "crisis". Below is a comprehensive CBC news article summarizing the special rapporteur's findings, particularly regarding the issues of Aboriginal education and the callous disregard for Aboriginal women who have been murdered or disappeared.

UN aboriginal envoy says Canada is facing a 'crisis'
James Anaya urges Ottawa to call an inquiry into aboriginal women, not to 'rush' education reform
By Susana Mas, CBC News Posted: Oct 15, 2013 1:40 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 16, 2013 9:16 AM ET

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, says Canada is facing a 'crisis' when it comes to its treatment of indigenous people. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, painted a grim picture of the conditions facing First Nations, saying Canada is facing a "crisis" when it comes to its treatment of indigenous people.
The remark came during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday following the completion of his nine-day mission to Canada.
'I urge the government not to rush forward with [education reform] legislation but to re-initiate discussions with aboriginal leaders'- James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people
"From all I have learned, I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country," he said.
Anaya said the Canadian government still has a long way to go in narrowing "the well-being gap" between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
On the eve of Parliament's return, the UN fact-finder urged the federal government not to "rush" forward with the tabling of a controversial aboriginal education reform bill it intends to introduce this fall.
Anaya also called on the federal government to launch a "comprehensive and nationwide" inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women, something the federal government has so far refused to do.
He also urged the federal government to extend the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that it can complete its work.
The TRC's mandate expires next summer but it is unlikely the government will be able to provide all the requested documents in time.
In a written statement to CBC News, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said Anaya's observations are at "the centre of Canada’s preoccupations and explains why the government has taken, and continues to take, effective incremental steps to improve the situation in partnership with Aboriginal Canadians."
"As acknowledged by the rapporteur, positive steps have been taken and challenges remain," Valcourt said.

Funding for aboriginal students

First Nations education reform is expected to be featured in Wednesday's throne speech, and it will also be the centrepiece of the Harper government's aboriginal policy.
The UN aboriginal envoy said while everyone agrees that First Nations education is a priority, he heard a "profound and consistent mistrust" towards the First Nations Education Act being developed by the federal government.
Anaya said he heard "a particular deep concern that the process for developing the act has not appropriately included nor responded to aboriginal views."
"In light of this, I urge the government not to rush forward with this legislation but to reinitiate discussions with aboriginal leaders to develop a process and ultimately a bill that addresses aboriginal concerns and incorporates aboriginal view points," Anaya said.
The UN fact-finder said the federal government could increase the level of funding for aboriginal students "relatively quickly."
But in an interview with CBC News last Tuesday, Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt said education reform would have to come before more funding.
"Reform will take place, funding will follow. But funding will not replace reform because the current system is failing these kids," Valcourt said.​
The 2011 national household survey showed that 48.4 per cent of aboriginals aged 25 to 64 had a post-secondary education, compared to 64.7 per cent of non-aboriginals.
Of those aboriginals with post-secondary education only 9.8 per cent had a university degree, compared to 26.5 per cent of non-aboriginals.
Shawn Atleo, the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, welcomed Anaya's remarks and called on Ottawa to give "serious consideration" to his preliminary observations, pending his official report and recommendations.
"It is our hope that the special rapporteur’s report will help compel action. First Nations are willing and ready for the hard work," Atleo said in a written statement.
Atleo had vowed two weeks ago, during a rally in Ottawa for missing and murdered aboriginal women, to tell the UN fact-finder that Canada is facing a "grave" human rights crisis. He and Anaya met on Monday.
"If the government is wise, which it hasn't demonstrated so far, it will pay very close attention to what the special rapporteur said," said Jean Crowder, the NDP critic for aboriginal affairs, in an interview with CBC News.
Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs, told CBC News in a statement that the Conservatives’ "adversarial approach to Aboriginal Peoples on a host of issues has created conflict and distrust, rather than reconciliation and better lives."

Inquiry into aboriginal women

Anaya called the unresolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women a "disturbing phenomenon" and an "epidemic." He called on the federal government to launch a national public inquiry into the matter.
While he acknowledged the federal government has taken measures to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women, Anaya said aboriginal people expressed, "a widespread lack of confidence in the effectiveness of those measures."
"I concur that that a comprehensive and nationwide inquiry into the issue could help ensure a co-ordinated response and the opportunity for the loved ones of victims to be heard," he said. 
Anaya said such a move by the federal government would show "a responsiveness" to the concerns raised by families and communities affected.
In that interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Valcourt said that inquiries are for those who want to hide behind the pretext of taking action.
'An inquiry would not bring anything more than we already know.'- Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt
"An inquiry would not bring anything more than we already know. So instead of further study and spinning our wheels, let's take action," he said.
The Native Women's Association of Canada has been calling on the federal government to launch a national public inquiry into aboriginal women for just over a year now.
Conservative MP Ryan Leef, last week, pledged his support for a national inquiry — but only if the provinces are willing to play a role.
While the premiers agreed to support a call by the NWAC, the provinces and territories did not say what role, if any, they would play.
Anaya told reporters he met with the RCMP at the beginning of his nine-day visit to discuss their practices "particularly with regard to investigating or preventing acts of violence against women."
Last week, the Mounties launched a five-day social media campaign calling on the public to help them solve 10 cases involving missing aboriginal women.
The RCMP said the social media campaign was not timed around Anaya's visit.
The UN fact-finder spent the last nine days meeting with government officials, First Nations leaders, and indigenous people in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Anaya is expected to make his findings public in a report that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014.
His visit follows a 2004 report by the previous rapporteur.
What thoughts do you have about these Human Rights cases?
Are they indeed issues of human rights, or has that concept been overextended?
What human rights issues do you find compelling?
Other thoughts, feelings, comments?

See also previous Blog Action Day posts, 2010 Water; 2011 World Food Day

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

!عيد مبارك Eid Al-Adha Mubarak! 1434/2013

A Blessed and Happy Eid

to All Muslims Around the World!

!عيد مبارك وسعيد لجميع المسلمين في جميع أنحاء العالم

From a series of Eid images from around the world at Gulf News; Image credit EPA; Palestinians at Eid prayers before Al-Aqsa mosque in old Jerusalem.

For more information on Eid al-Adha (The Feast of the Sacrifice) use the search feature of the blog or review the relevant posts in under the Celebrations category.

From the same series; Image credit AFP; two girls preparing for Eid prayers in Malaysia

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autism, ADD, and other Special Education Needs: Lecture and Mini-fair, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

I received notification of this event sponsored by the US Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday September 28, 2013, at the International Schools Group Auditorium, Dhahran, and wanted to share it with readers who might be able to attend.

Judging from the information available online, Dr. Heather Applegate is a highly credentialed and experienced clinical expert in childhood developmental, learning, and behavioural disorders and their impact on a child's learning through their formative years.

It seems as if along with the information Dr Applegate will share in her lecture, there is to be a mini-fair, which is usually a good way to find out about various resources available to parents and educators.

I have often received requests for help regarding Saudi and Gulf country education resources for special needs children, and although I still hope to answer these individually, I would encourage those interested to attend this event, and to share their impressions in the comments here. Possibly a post could evolve from them, to facilitate the search for Saudi and Gulf country resources for educating children with very specific types of challenges.

Please note that the REQUIRED online registration deadline is September 26, 2013 at

Below is a copy of the full announcement:

Dr. Heather Applegate

U.S. Consulate General Dhahran

Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM (AST)

U.S. Consulate General Dhahran cordially invites you to attend a lecture on the world of special education with
Dr. Heather Applegate  
Child clinical and school psychologist
Trained in autism, learning disorders, ADHD,
and childhood behavioral disorders
Saturday, September 28, 2013
4:00 - 6:00 pm
at the International Schools Group Auditorium, Dhahran

Following Dr. Applegates's lecture, a special education mini-fair will be held in the auditorium 

For questions, please email:
Casual Attire or National Dress  

Gate will open at 3:15 pm. 
All guests MUST confirm their attendance in advance.
Please bring a Saudi government-issued ID or original passport for verification


Related Posts:
Autism in Saudi Arabia Includes links to a number of online resources, like the Saudi Autistic Society (in Arabic), and others.

Any comments and suggestions about resources special needs children in Saudi Arabia or other GCC, MENA countries are welcome.
If you do attend this event, please share your feedback in the comments here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Eid al Fitr 1434/2013 !عيد مبارك Happy Eid!; Mahmoud Darwish Excerpt

!عيد مبارك

Eid al-Fitr Mubarak! 

Happy Eid al-Fitr! 

At this time of thanks giving,  

the greatest of blessings to you and yours!

At any time of thanks giving, we also think of those less fortunate. In the quieter moments of this Eid celebration, some may wish to read this excerpt from the famous Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish's Journal of an Ordinary Grief (trans. Ibrahim Muhawi, Archipelago Books; Winner of the 2011 PEN Translation Prize), about the challenges of visiting family in Palestine, even, or especially, at holiday time:

You want to visit your mother on a feast day?

For several long months you have not visited your mother and father and brothers in a village that is no more than an hour’s distance away. This time you make a real effort to choose your words in the letter you send to the police. You write, “Please take into consideration the sincerity of the human feelings that lie behind this request and my hope that you will not see in them anything that goes against the careful efforts you exert in guarding the security of the State and in fulfilling the requirements for defending the safety of the public. In seeking your assent for a permit to visit my family during the holidays I am hoping that you will see the point that the security of the State does not in the slightest degree contradict human feelings.”

Your friends leave the city, and you remain behind to drink your coffee and feel sad all alone. There will be family reunions everywhere tomorrow, and you have no right to go to anyone’s home. You remain by yourself.

The solution lies in the sea. Early in the morning you head for the beach by yourself to put out your fire in the blue water. The wave drags you away and does not carry you back. You have to return on your own. In solitude you lie on the warm sand in the open air. Why does the sun squander so much of its energy, and why do the waves break? There is a huge amount of sun, a huge amount of sand, and a huge amount of water. All around you people speak a language you understand, but your sadness and your loneliness and your alienation intensify. A desire possesses you to describe the sea to your girlfriend, but you feel lonely. With reason, or without, they curse your people, yet they enjoy what your people have left behind. Even while swimming or joking or kissing they damn your people. Is the sea not capable of granting them a single moment of innocence and affection so that they can forget about you for a moment? How can human beings feel hate while they are stretched out on the sand? Saturated with sun, salt, and longing you head for the beach snack bar. You drink a beer and whistle a sad song, and all eyes turn to you. You busy yourself with lighting a cigarette that has no taste, and you buy an ear of corn and eat it all by yourself. You wish to be able to spend the whole day at the beach in order to forget that it’s a feast day and your family is waiting for you. But the time of your daily appointment at the police station is approaching and you remember all that is happening to you. And in the blink of an eye the color of noon, the sea and sky turn even more blue. Then you leave.

At the entrance to the police station your younger brother is waiting. “Hurry up!” he says. “Prove you exist quickly. Your mother is waiting for you in your room.” You forget your pen and paper and hasten back, short of breath. Your mother has refused to eat the holiday meal without you and has come to see you, bringing the food with her from the village, even the coffee and the straw-basket tray full of bread. She has even brought olive oil, salt, and condiments.

When your mother bids you farewell in the evening, you close the door behind her. You cannot accompany her even to the street because the sun has set, and the State of Israel does not allow you to leave the house after sunset, even if the reason is to say goodbye to your mother. On this day of celebration, you feel your loneliness once more. You sit in an ancient chair, and you listen to a concerto by Tchaikovsky, and all of a sudden you start crying as you had never cried when you were a child.

For many years you have been carrying these tears that are pouring down now. Dear mother, I’m still a child! I want to carry my sorrows and run with them to your bosom. I want to close the distance so you can hold me while I cry.

All of a sudden your neighbor calls out to you, to let you know your mother is still standing at the door. You open it, and fulfill your wish of crying in her arms.
Inspiration and excerpt from this post on the excellent blog, Arabic Literature (in English) 
by M Lynx Qualey.

Title of the original (1973) book by Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008):
مجلة من الحزن العادي

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Muslim Canadians: Stigma, Identity, and Rap

Canadian Muslim Union logo

The following post was drafted some time ago, as evidenced by the linked articles which date from 2011. However, I have decided to post this now, as I have had a number of conversations about this question of Muslim identity, and especially living as a Muslim in a non-Muslim majority country, specifically Canada, in recent weeks. The week that just past was also a week of national celebrations--Canada Day (July 1) and (USA) Independence Day (July 4). Next Sunday is the French national holiday, Bastille Day (July 14).

The articles below demonstrate a range of positive attitudes and suggest that one can invent more. There are ongoing challenges, perhaps especially for women wearing hijab, even in Canada, where we like to think of ourselves as more accepting of others and more diverse than other countries. Indeed, we see that as part of our identity--even though we don't necessarily live up to it, as recent studies and accounts of personal experiences have shown.

Whether you read the articles or just skim, and whether you are Muslim or not, of whatever nationality, I look forward to your comments on the topic and its general themes.

General Mgr. Hussain Guisti of the the Zubaidah Tallab foundation that raised funds for the project stands in front of a mosque destined for the Arctic being prepared on Aug. 31, 2010, in Winnipeg, to make the 4500 km trip to Inuvik, NWT. The mosque is 30x50 ft, and there are about 100 Muslims working in Inuvik. - General Mgr. Hussain Guisti of the the Zubaidah Tallab foundation that raised funds for the project stands in front of a mosque destined for the Arctic being prepared on Aug. 31, 2010, in Winnipeg, to make the 4500 km trip to Inuvik, NWT. The mosque is 30x50 ft, and there are about 100 Muslims working in Inuvik. | The Canadian Press

Globe Editorial
Consider this: visit a mosque
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 03, 2011 9:00PM EDT

Have you visited a mosque lately? Islam is a religion that in practically all its incarnations preaches kindness and hospitality, and the doors of its places of worship – in the basements of private homes or in purpose-built cultural centres – are often open to strangers.

Why go through the trouble, the discomfort? Because Canadian Muslims are here. From the 2001 census, Muslims were the fastest growing large religious group in Canada, with a median age of 28 – 9 years less than Canada as a whole.

Like many first- or second-generation immigrants, young Muslims in Canada are torn between tradition and modernity. Unlike others, they are the object of a particular skepticism and fear. A 2010 survey of 1,700 people in Canada by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation study found that 55 per cent disagreed with the statement “Muslims share our values.”

That betrays a lack of curiosity about Muslims in Canada, a group that can’t be painted with one brush, but includes everyone from the explicitly secular to the highly devout, from the recent Sunni immigrant from Pakistan to the Canadian-born Somali.

A conversation with an imam or a Muslim neighbour can quickly yield an invitation to a gathering of Muslims. And in the process, we can start the bigger conversation, around what it means to be a Canadian today – something that Canadian Muslim youth, in overwhelming numbers, want to be a part of.


Third year student Aisha Raja poses for a photo at the University of Toronto on June 30, 2011. Raja who has been Muslim her whole life, is involved with promoting 'Keeping it Halal', a campus internet publication which she hopes will help break Muslim stereotypes. She has been wearing an hijab since high school and feels it is part of her.

The new Islam comes with a reluctance to label orthodoxy
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 03, 2011 9:00AM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Jul. 03, 2011 10:38PM EDT

Aisha Raja is rarely hassled on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus or at home in diverse Markham, Ont. It’s the space in-between – she takes a subway, light rail, and bus to and from school – that is troublesome. When she commutes, she’s not a political science student, a campus activist or a tea store employee. She is reduced to a young woman in a hijab.

“I’ve had random people yell really rude things sometimes, like, ‘Oh, you bloody Muslims!’ and you obviously can’t engage with those kind of people in that time,” said Ms. Raja, the 20-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants.

Her experiences indicate that, for some young Canadian Muslims, an “us and them” mentality persists in their home country.

A 2006 Environics poll of 2,045 Canadians bears this out, finding that of those who had rarely or never had contact with Muslims, 49 per cent held a negative view of them. The large majority (70 per cent) of those who were “often” in contact with Muslims had positive views of them.

But regardless of what other Canadians think of them, it’s getting harder to ignore Islam, and young Muslims, in Canada. Islam is Canada’s fastest-growing major religion. According to a Statistics Canada estimate, the Muslim population will soar to 2.9 million by 2031 from its 2006 base of 884,000 adherents.

A population shift alone may not be enough to close the gap between the solitudes. Ms. Raja is optimistic that attitudes will change, but said the responsibility also lies with her and her fellow Muslims.

“I guess people gravitate towards their own community, but for me, I feel like it’s extremely important to engage with the larger Toronto community,” she said.

High-profile stories, including the Toronto 18 terrorism bust, the murder of Mississauga, Ont., teenager Aqsa Parvez by her father and brother, and tales of radical youth travelling overseas on jihadist missions, have left many non-Muslims with a skewed understanding of the religion – a faith whose diversity, especially within Canada, is immense, with differences across sect, ethnocultural or national origin, and levels of adherence.

The same narratives also make some Muslims pessimistic about engaging in community work while representing themselves as Muslims, Rizwan Mohammad said. “They felt almost like, ‘We’re fighting a losing battle.’”

In 2009, Mr. Mohammad set out on a two-year cross-Canada project with the Canadian Council for Muslim Women to better connect young Muslims with their communities. The more than 800 Muslim youth who participated in workshops shared one gripe in particular: their portrayal in the media as an isolated, alienated and – in the case of females – oppressed group.

Although Sana Rokhsefat serves on the University of Toronto’s student union, takes karate classes and wears the same trendy clothes as her peers, she still must battle those who equate her decision to wear the hijab with patriarchal forces in Islam.

She said her Iranian-born parents were surprised when she chose to wear the headscarf in junior high, so soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“There’s nothing about me that is oppressed. To have people think that about me is very disheartening,” said Ms. Rokhsefat, 20.

Dispelling the widely held belief that Canadian and Islamic values clash can be a burden for Muslim youth: they often have to correct both their parents and their peers.

Adam Koshin’s Somalia-born parents enrolled him in Islamic schools in Calgary and Regina until he was 13 because they feared he’d “meet the wrong people, start doing the wrong stuff” at a secular public school, he said.

Now 15, with a circle of mostly non-Muslim friends, he still prays regularly and visits his local mosque at least once a week on his own.

Leaving the Islamic school cocoon was a shock to him, though. His friends’ views of Islam were shaped by sensational media stereotypes.

“They think we’re all terrorists and we’re all waiting for 40 wives in the afterlife. All the stuff from the TV. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

Although there are significant Muslim populations throughout north and east Africa and Indonesia, his classmates thought all followers of Islam came from the Middle East or South Asia.

“Most people when I tell them they go, ‘I didn’t even know black people could be Muslim.’”

Muslim youth in Canada don’t practice the faith in any single, prescribed way. Some follow the schedule for five prayers a day with rigour (Ms. Raja has excused herself from exams to pray) while others visit their mosque only a few times a year with their families.

But some young Muslims are reluctant to label or rank their level of orthodoxy.

“Every label has connotations around it, right? I’m not a fan of words like moderate and everything like that,” said Sabour Baray, the 20-year-old president of York University’s Muslim Students Association.

Mr. Mohammad said that when the subject of radicalism came up during the workshops he led with Muslim youth, participants were at first reluctant to talk about the existence of extremist views among their peers.

They eventually acknowledged that “bullying” and “intimidation” with a radicalizing intent occurs at some mosques.

At the same time, young people stressed that simply adhering closely to the Koranic tenets of the faith does not automatically lead to extremism.

Although 15-year-old Emaad Mohammad, the son of Pakistani immigrants, feels a responsibility to correct his classmates’ misconceptions about his faith, he wishes teachers at his Mississauga school took on that cause instead.

“You could learn about math, you learn about science, you learn about all these things, but to learn about people and people around you and their culture and their religion is probably more important,” he said.

Educators have grappled with the idea of bringing education on Islam to public schools.

In 2006, after the Toronto 18 arrests, the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education appointed Sarfaroz Niyozov, a professor with the department, to lead the Muslim Education Project. Its goal was to explore ways to accommodate and teach Muslim students in the public school system.

While school boards may offer a world religions elective to high school students, the majority of teachers, he found, are reluctant to discuss controversial political issues involving Islam: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But inclusiveness in lesson plans isn’t the end of it. While most major universities have designated prayer rooms on campus for Muslim students, that’s not the case in the public school system.

Providing such accommodations should be a priority for public schools, Prof. Niyozov said. Holding back could mean losing more students to Islamic schools or home-schooling, where they have limited opportunities to meet and interact with their non-Muslim peers.

At the same time, school boards must define “reasonable accommodation,” he said.

This spring, a group of parents in Winnipeg requested their elementary school-aged children be excused from music and physical education classes out of concerns about the content of “Western” music and the mixing of sexes.

In their desperation to keep students and compete with private schools, public school administrators might go too far in indulging the whims of parents, Prof. Niyozov said.

Ms. Raja said some of her co-workers have been shy to ask her about her faith when she takes prayer breaks in the back room or fasts during Ramadan. She’d rather be burdened by their questions, she said, than have them hold onto outdated stereotypes.

“An issue a lot of people have is they don’t understand it is a lifestyle … For Islam, you can’t have it separate from the public sphere.”


Yasmin Alsalman aka the Narcicyst seen on Rene Levesque Boul. in Montreal, July 4th 2011__The ring on his finger spells "YAssin" in Arabic.

Time to lead
Rap it or paint it, Muslim artists tackle identity
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jul. 04, 2011 10:44PM EDT
Last updated Monday, Jul. 04, 2011 10:53PM EDT

Sabrina Jalees is a lesbian comic of Pakistani-Swiss heritage who grew up in Toronto, now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her girlfriend, and likes to joke that when she came out to her parents she was worried her Muslim father would force her to take 10 wives. Yassin Alsalman is a Montreal rapper known as The Narcicyst who uses the aggressive language of hip hop to denounce the heavy hand of U.S. Homeland Security and the war in Iraq, his parents’ homeland. Boonaa Mohammed is a spoken word poet of Ethiopian extraction who celebrates Islamic history in his work – when he is not teaching at an Islamic school in Scarborough, Ont.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a generation of Muslim Canadian artists has emerged that addresses identity and religion through art – and whose members are quick to identify themselves as Muslims, no matter how tenuous their adherence to Islam.

“Maybe it would be easier if I just took photographs of Muskoka,” says Alia Toor, a Toronto visual artist born in Pakistan and raised in Canada, “but that is not who I am.”

Instead, Toor has created work about security and religion: She belongs to an artistic community shaped by the terrorist attacks and the wars that followed them.

“I learned about terrorism from CNN,” Mohammed says, explaining his urge to counter unrecognizable stereotypes by writing celebratory poetry about Islamic heroes and values. “After 9/11 you were either brave enough to wave the flag and declare yourself and be proud of your faith or you just shrivelled up and tried to blend in. There was this joke: Mohammed turns into Moe.”

But people who want to blend in rarely become artists: Jalees, who points out she could pass for Portuguese, began making jokes about her Pakistani heritage because she wanted to confront people’s new discomfort with Muslims.

For artists like her, political events and the gap between stereotypes of Islam and their own cultural experiences have provided plenty of inspiration. Immigrants themselves or, more often, the children of immigrants, these artists are steeped in Western culture and have no time for doctrinal debates about whether or not Islam prohibits imagery of the human form or limits the use of musical instruments. The vocabularies they use are usually those of Western media – stand-up comedy, contemporary visual art, documentary film and popular music.

“We learned from the African American community on how to be vocal about our experience artistically,” Alsalman wrote in an e-mail explaining the development of what is known as Arab hip-hop. “... before hip hop and the Arab world met, we were silent. Now our generation is speaking out more than ever.”

Others have adapted traditional art forms. Tazeen Qayyum, a visual artist who lives in Oakville, Ont., trained as a miniaturist in her native Pakistan, where that historic practice, once used to paint tiny portraits of battling heroes and frolicking monarchs, is being revived as a contemporary art form. Today, she creates work about political issues using the delicate and colourful miniaturist style, painting intricate images of cockroaches, for example, that represent the civilian body counts in Iraq.

The artists disagree about how well this work is received in Canada and how much Canadian attitudes are shifting. Alsalman, for example, argues that racism is still very prevalent and that the image of Muslims is generally a negative one; others perceive a gradual change in attitudes since the panic of 2001, precisely because people have been forced to confront the prejudices expressed against Muslims, and add that the popular rebellions of the Arab spring have helped build a more positive and diverse image.

“The racism and the intolerance and ignorance when it comes to Muslims is no longer cool; people know it is unacceptable,” Jalees says.

Meanwhile, some of the artists also believe Canada is particularly open to the kind of hybrid art they are creating because of its multiculturalism. Their work is made possible by a world of global communications and social media, where artists and audiences can follow the culture of any place they choose. If there is one theme that emerges, it is a refusal to define being Muslim in a context where East and West are themselves increasingly impossible to untangle.

“There is no one Islam,” says Montreal filmmaker Omar Majeed, the creator of a 2009 documentary about Taqwacore, the North American Muslim punk movement that he believes arose precisely because young Muslims felt marginalized by narrow depictions of Islam. “That’s an idea a vocal minority tries to push, the right-wing extremists in the United States and the religious fundamentalists inside Islam. It’s bogus. ... There is no pure Islam that exists any place. Wherever you may be, your are living in a global world.”


Would you visit a Canadian mosque?
42% yes 58% no
Have you attended an Islam-focused entertainment event this year?
3% yes 97% no


Photo Gallery
Tazeen Qayyum's political miniaturism
Globe and Mail Update
Published Monday, Jul. 04, 2011 10:00PM EDT
Last updated Monday, Jul. 04, 2011 10:53PM EDT
Oakville, Ont. visual artist Tazeen Qayyum trained as a miniaturist in her native Pakistan.

(Tazeen Qayyum, courtesy of the artist)
"Its Complicated" (2010). Artist Tazeen Qayyum says "The hot-water bottle, generally associated with comfort, serves as a metaphor for the female body in my work. The series 'Its Complicated' examines the challenges and everyday struggle of a universal woman and its commonality across cultures."

(Tazeen Qayyum, courtesy of the artist)
"Test on a Small Area Before Use III" (2007). Opaque watercolor, entomology pins, labels and cotton thread on wasli (archival paper) in wooden display case. Of these pieces, artist Tazeen Qayyum says "My work comments on aggressive global politics and the subsequent suppression of difference. Borrowing the language of entomology museum displays, a dead cockroach motif is repeated or opened up for investigation, to simultaneously attract and repulse; commenting on human rights violations, fatalities and fear as a result of wars of our times."

(Tazeen Qayyum, courtesy of the artist)
"A Journey Unfinished" (2008). Opaque watercolour and entomology pins on wasli (archival paper).

(Tazeen Qayyum, courtesy of the artist)
"Avoid Prolonged Exposure" (2008). Opaque watercolor on wasli (archival paper).


The Narcicyst (Montreal/Iraq)
from Hip Hop Diplomacy: Global Hip Hop culture and geopolitics

Yassin Alsalman, better known as The Narcicyst or Narcy, is a rapper, journalist and political activist of Iraqi origin, currently living in Montreal. Born in Dubai and raised in Canada, Narcy has experienced life in many different contexts and has always prided himself on questioning the powers that be, whether in his music or his writings. His musical career grew out of a collaboration with the Muslim artists collective known as the Euphrates family, of which Narcy became the lead MC. The crew gained international attention with their first two albums, “A Bend in the River” and “Stereotypes Incorporated”, but Narcy decided to go solo after the death of one of its members.

In addition to his life as a musician, Narcy also earned a graduate degree in Political Science and Media Studies, focusing on identity politics in Hip-Hop and the Arab-American experience. His thesis project, “Fear of An Arab Planet”, has since been expanded into a full book, set for release in 2010, along with a new album, “The Illuminarcy”. Narcy has shared stages with international Hip Hop icons from Talib Kweli to Dead Prez, and continues to tour, while also writing regularly about issues affecting Arabs worldwide, including mediation between Jews and Arabs.


What are the challenges of constructing a private/public identity when one is in the minority? and misunderstood?
What is it like to be a Muslim in a non-Muslim majority country compared to a Muslim majority country?
Are certain places that you have visited or lived more challenging than others regarding being Muslim? regarding being a different kind of minority?
If you are a non-Muslim, would you like visit a mosque? Have you done so?
What are the private and public roles and importance of expressing one's identity through art?
Other comments, thoughts, experiences, feelings?

Image from an article on the history of Muslims in Canada, "Canada's Muslims: An unnoticed part of our history", based on an address to the Canadian Parliament

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blog Update--Still Active!


My sincerest apologies to all readers that I have posted so infrequently of late. A combination of a highly unpredictable, and as yet not fully diagnosed medical syndrome, and trying to keep up with the rest of my life has meant that I have only been able to create drafts, and moderate comments, rather than to publish posts and reply.

I do intend to resume regular blogging, and commenting/replying here and on other blogs I follow. Given my "new normal", I will have to look harder for better ways to integrate this activity into others, rather than running out of steam just as I am ready to post something, or reply to comments (or emails) and then have time pass by imperceptibly.

I am very grateful to all who have kept reading, and commenting, and to those who have shared their concerns about me and the blog in comments here, or by email.

My apologies again to those who are still waiting on replies from me.

Please stay tuned, and do continue commenting. I always publish the non-spam comments within about 24-48 hours--usually within a few hours.

À bientôt!
Hasta pronto!
A presto!
!نراكم قريبا

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