Where's Islam?

I attended a "lunch and learn" seminar today presented by the Calgary Police Services, on the topics of Honour Based Violence (HBV) and Forced Marriages. My stomach doesn't do well when I hear stories about people being deliberately attacked, assaulted, coerced into decision, or worst yet, plotted against to be murdered. And then the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) came up and I felt even more nauseated. According to statistics in Canada and the US, FGM is being increasingly popular as girls from cultures where FGM is embraced are making trips back home over the summer. (see http://www.trust.org/item/?map=female-genital-mutilation-on-the-rise-in-the-united-states-report). A number of these girls are unfortunately forced into FGM or marriages, some of them never returning to home or perhaps worse yet, returning with a multitude of physical and psychological scars with them. While Islam was never mentioned during the presentation, a majority of the countries where HBV, FGM and forced marriages are practiced are unfortunately home to Muslims. HOWEVER, I would like to make very clear that nowhere in Islam are these three barbaric practices allowed. In fact, they are all anti-Islamic and are a result of backwards and uneducated cultural practices that see parents and families placing perceived family honour ahead of a girl's own life and wellbeing.

So much of what I hear on the news lately, which people brand as "Islam", is far from it. Islam cannot be brought into these acts, there's simply no basis. On the radio this evening, I heard a story from Syria where the rebels captured and tortured a 14-year old boy because he wouldn't serve them coffee past his stall's closing hour. They returned him back to a popular public place, shot him twice in the head and left him there, threatening to do the same to anyone else who crossed paths with them. This story was from a non-profit organization who is tracking inhumane acts in Syria and other war-torn countries. I've also read about a huge number of girls and women who are abducted and rape during wars in such countries. Or the number of boys in Afghanistan who are captured by wealthy men and forced into slavery and sexual acts (termed "bache bazee" or "child's play"). This is not the Islam that I grew up learning and loving. This is not the Islam that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) spread those centuries ago upon revelation of the Qu'ran to him by the Angel Gabriel. This is not Islam at all...they are culturally rooted and have no place alongside the term "Islam". Yet the media, and those uneducated about what Islam truly is, seem to have no hesitation in blaming "us Muslims" for all these atrocities.

And if we think that as Muslims in the west, we are safe from all the above mentioned, we are perhaps not. The CPS estimate that at least 40 cases of honour based violence occur in Calgary each year. These are reported cases, since many go unreported or fall under mis-categorized units such as hate crimes of domestic violence cases. Forced marriages (VERY different from arranged marriages, which are consensual on both parties' behalves) occur more frequently, with many of these couples not registering their marriage in Canada or the US, and thus leaving the victim with nothing to build on should they decide to leave the relationship. Britain is far ahead of North America in terms of forced marriages and HBV. Both are illegal and part of the British legal system and the Police in the UK have taken great steps to educate their entire police force about both such issues. See this document for more information: http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/crime/2008/200810CRIHBV01.pdf

Locally in Calgary, we are blessed to be living much safer and healthier lives than those in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. And while we are living our lives here, I do hear and see many Muslims here who are astounded at what is happening overseas and try to raise awareness about the issues. To be honest, I think that more needs to be done than solely posting links on Facebook about the latest happenings. Education is powerful, but the facts and history of such atrocities needs to be understood and that may mean turning away from typical media sources such as CNN and the BBC and going back in time to examine the multiple facets that led us here. Only then, I believe, are we able to truly educate others about "how things got here" without needing to always defend Islam. Because it's not about Islam and it's not about Muslims being the bad guys. Arguing against those who hate Muslims or Islam won't do anything, their minds are closed. We need to start being proactive and looking into the political, cultural, social, and historical contexts that led many Muslims countries to where they are today. AND we also need to consider that there are other players (i.e. the United States) with hidden agendas who may be playing a giant role in the mess that is in the Middle East today.

But I digress. While Calgary Muslims are much more blessed, we have our own issues to deal with. There's a lot going on with Muslims here that we don't know about. Domestic violence, honour based violence, forced marriages, substance abuse, identity crisis, poverty, high rates of divorce, marital rape, mental health issues, etc. The same issues that plague humans all around the world. Yet what we are seemingly concerned about? Telling women who have high buns under their hijab that they're going to hell. Or fashion t-shirts such as the one to the right. Ha ha, sure it's an attempt to be cute, encouraging and funny, but really, is this where our focus is? What about "Keep Calm and Pray" or "Keep Calm and Say Dua'a" or any combination of recognizing our spirituality. Our community is blessed with such safety, and we're wasting our time and energy telling men to grow beards and women to wear hijab; we're telling the youth that what they're doing is haram without offering alternatives and/or explaining why; we're scaring our community into being "good" by describing the hellfire with such detail that you can already feel your skin start to boil. And we're ostracizing people in the community who are trying to raise awareness among Muslims. Why are we so superficial? Why don't we care about what's going on? Is it too scary to face?

It is hard to stay positive when you hear negative news day in and day out about Muslims around the world. Those who are being oppressed and killed and those who are the oppressors and murderers. The latter are not Muslims...they misunderstand their religion and use it to their benefit.

We have a role in our community. Each one of us has different strengths and abilities to make a difference. And enough of the insulation that some Muslims tend to prefer. Attending Muslim-only organized events and Muslim-run this and Muslim-funded that. For goodness sake, we live in Canada and I'm guessing that most Muslims didn't immigrate here to start their own version of their homeland in Calgary. It does wonders to step out of our bubbles and to talk and work alongside others. We can't keep relying on our own community to provide everything we need. Evidence actually shows the opposite...communities cannot survive if they remain insular. On a positive note, I am seeing more Muslims in Calgary make that step towards integration and acculturation. It's awesome and badly needed. Since the more we can reach out and keep open minds, the better.

So make a list of issues you don't know about or topics that scare you, and become educated about them. Talk with family and friends, write blog entries, attend seminars and workshops on these topics, etc. Find your humanitarian passion and start somewhere. Follow the examples that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) set out for the rest of us.

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