Farzana Hassan responds to niqab controversy in Canada

The Toronto Star – December 17, 2010

In Quebec in March 2010, provincial premier Jean Charest initiated legislation that would ban the niqab in public. Ontario’s Court of Appeal, meanwhile, said that the niqab must be removed in a court of law if the accused’s right to a fair trial requires it.

Farzana Hassan, a scholar and activist from Pakistan and the former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, advocates a ban on the burqa and niqab, both of which obscure all of a woman’s face and head except her eyes. Hassan says the Qur’an does not demand adherence to these garments, and that even though some women say they “choose” to wear them, both represent a form of intolerable subjugation.

“The burqa is steeped in patriarchy,” says Hassan. “It is not a legitimate choice.”

Eid in Toronto Focused on Helping Families in Need

The Toronto Star – November 15, 2010

The Qurbani Project, an initiative of the Toronto chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada, aims to distribute 1,360 kg of meat to as many as 300 GTA families for Eid al-Adha — many of whom may not eat meat at all because they cannot afford it. Up to 30 volunteers from MAC and from multifaith and Muslim groups at U of T will help distribute halal beef and mutton through the Scadding Court community centre on the weekend. They will also help provide lunch for families receiving donations.
Meanwhile, thousands of Muslims will celebrate by attending the 25th annual Eid Festival Tuesday at Exhibition Place. Following a sermon and prayers at 10 a.m., the festivities will include a bazaar, rides, a petting zoo, shows, sports and meals throughout the day. It’s also an occasion for MAC to reach out to help not just Muslims, but everyone across the GTA, with a food drive and other programs.

Former Muslim Canadian Council President Publishes Book about Islam and Anti-Semitism

The Toronto Star – November 19, 2010

“One would expect Muslims to denounce the depiction of their Prophet as a mass murderer,” Fatah writes in The Jew Is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Anti-Semitism (272 pages, McClelland & Stewart , 2010). Fatah calls himself a secular Muslim and ranks as one of Canada’s most fearless critics of Islamism — the ideology that promotes Islam as a political system as well as a religion. Two years ago, he published Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State arguing that when Muslims buried the Prophet they also buried many of his values.The problem, the author says, is that Islam lacks a tradition of questioning religious texts.

“Toronto 18” Leader Sentenced to 16 Years in Prison

The Toronto Star – October 25, 2010

Fahim Ahmad, the convicted leader of the so-called Toronto 18, was sentenced October 25th to 16 years in prison for his role in a plot to launch a campaign of terrorist attacks in Canada. In imposing the sentence, Justice Fletcher Dawson granted him a time served credit of eight years and nine months. The 26-year-old Toronto man, a married father of two young children, won’t be eligible to seek parole for 3 1/2 years. Under his direction, plans were made to attack nuclear stations and storm Parliament, taking politicians hostage until Canada gave into his demands to pull troops from Afghanistan. He and seventeen other young men were arrested on June 2, 2006.

Ismaili Leader Aga Khan Celebrates Canadian Pluralism

The Toronto Star – October 15, 2010

In a world where technology and human migration push people of differing backgrounds increasingly “in each other’s face,” spiritual leader the Aga Khan hailed Canada as a country that has got pluralism right.The religious leader — imam — of the world’s 14 million Shia Ismaili Muslims praised this country for allowing citizens to keep their identity as they become Canadian.“What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others,” he said Friday in the keynote address to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s prestigious annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium.

The concept of people of different backgrounds living in harmony is the focus of a think tank he is creating in Ottawa in a building once home to the Canadian War Museum. In Toronto, he also announced earlier this year he will build a new Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum and Gardens at Eglinton Ave. and Wynford Dr. Both centres – in Toronto and Ottawa – reflect the ties the Aga Khan said he has felt with Canada for nearly 40 years, since this country welcomed thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis.

Muslim NHL Toronto Leafs Player Under Pressure to Build Bridges

Toronto Star – September 26, 2010
Nazem Kadri survived Sunday’s round of cuts that chopped the Maple Leafs’ pre-season roster to 30 players — 23 will open the season. But whether he is on the roster on opening night or has to spend time with the AHL Marlies, it’s virtually assured Kadri will be with the Leafs for a significant portion of the season and in his career to come. There’s more pressure on him than on most other 19-year-olds because he’s a visible minority in a mostly white pursuit and a Muslim in a mostly Christian arena. He noted: “Hockey is going to become more multicultural. People from all different backgrounds and religions are going to be coming into the game of hockey. That’s good for the sport, that’s good for all communities.” Kadri certainly isn’t the first prominent Muslim athlete — Muhammad Ali and Hakeem Olajuwan long ago broke those barriers. But he could become the first prominent Muslim hockey player.

Ringleader of the “Toronto 18” is not Dangerous, Trial told in Toronto

Toronto Star – September 28, 2010
The ringleader of the so-called Toronto 18 should be given a 10- to 12-year sentence because he was merely a “wannabe” with “grandiose ideas,” whose talk of storming Parliament Hill and acquiring weapons “amounted to fantasy,” a court was told on September 28th. “He is not that jihadi serial killer,” defence lawyer Dennis Edney said at the sentencing hearing of Fahim Ahmad, 25, who was arrested in June 2006 for participating in a cell that plotted to attack Canadian targets. He and co-counsel Bella Petrouchinova suggested Ahmad receive two-for-one credit for time already served in pre-trial custody. They also requested Ahmad be sent to a prison nearby so his family, which includes a wife and two children, can visit often.
While incarcerated, Ahmad has abandoned the flawed interpretations of Islam he learned as a teen when frequenting theologically conservative mosques in Mississauga and Scarborough, said Edney. “He now favours a broader interpretation of the Qu’ran. That is essential in my view,” said the lawyer, adding his client is “well on the road to rehabilitation.” Ahmad pleaded guilty in May to participating in a terrorist group, importing firearms and instructing co-accused to carry out an activity for a terrorist group.

Five years since the Ontario Sharia Debate

The Toronto Star – September 11, 2010
Harvey Simmons, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Political Science at York University, has written this short piece reflecting on the Sharia debate which transpired five years ago in the province of Ontario. He claims that it is still not clear why Premier McGuinty dumped religious arbitration. Some felt the premier foresaw his whole legislative agenda being derailed by endless fighting over religious arbitration. Others felt he agreed with the anti-tribunal forces over the putative threat to women’s rights.
Once taken, the decision was greeted by anti-tribunal groups as an example of how multicultural societies draw lines around the illiberal activities and beliefs of minority communities and say, “this far and no farther.” The pro-tribunal groups, however, saw it as proof of Islamophobia and as a violation of religious freedom. He concludes that five years on, there is simply no way to pass judgment on the premier’s fateful decision.

Opinion column claims that anti-Niqab positions in Quebec are unfounded

In his editorial column in the Toronto Star Haroon Siddiqui points to the errors within the two commonly cited reasons for supporting the anti-niqab bill in Quebec. Siddiqui states that the two most cited reasons in support of Quebec’s anti-niqab bill are that the veil is an imposed oppression since no woman would ever voluntarily wear it and, second, that the province’s proposal to deny public services to niqabi women is far less punitive than the strictures imposed on non-Muslims in some Muslim countries. Siddiqui concludes, with reference to statistics on women around the world and an argument of cultural relativism, that the first proposition is conjecture while the second is misguided moral equivalency.

Opinion column points to power of Quebec media in niqab debate

Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert claims that the newspapers in Québec have a profound role in shaping the current niqab debate. She argues that by the sheer nature of its size and its relative homogeneity, francophone Quebec is home to a journalism of proximity that translates into a capacity to mobilize public opinion in ways unparalleled anywhere else in Canada. Gérard Bouchard – who co-chaired the recent Quebec commission on the so-called reasonable accommodation of cultural and religious minorities – has also often criticized the media for setting off that discussion on unduly inflammatory terms.

Hébert claims that if anything fuels the high level of support of the proposed Bill 94, it is certainly not populist empathy with Quebec but rather the post-9/11 environment and – more specifically – much of the media and political narratives on Afghanistan. It is impossible for media and politicians alike to spend the better part of half a decade advancing the notion that one is sacrificing Canadian lives to give women and girls a fairer shot at equality in Afghanistan – routinely using the burqa and the niqab as code images for oppression – and not expect a significant number of voters to want their place (or non-place) in Canada’s public arena addressed in no clear and decisive terms.