“So What Are Your Lunch Plans?”

Always around this time of the year when people ask about my lunch plans and I tell them I won’t be eating because I am fasting during the month of Ramadan, they become defensive and apologize for bringing the subject up. I don’t think discussing the topic of eating or drinking has bothered me for as long as I can remember. If anything, it reaffirms my belief and the reasons behind why I fast. Again this year, it has given me the opportunity to tell some people about Ramadan and why Muslims fast – a discussion I will gladly have with anyone who is genuinely curious. It is still pretty amazing to see the looks of people’s faces when they hear the fact that we are not allowed to drink any liquids as well during the course of the day. I suppose the western culture here have adapted the fasting to exclude water should one become thirsty.

Aside from the spiritual benefits, a few clear cut physical and material benefits are pretty easy to see. When you limit the amount of times you can, it has a direct and positive effect on the amount of money you are spending on breakfast or lunch while during the work week. To kill off some time during my lunch hour, I usually head out for a walk around downtown Toronto going to places like Nathan Phillips Square, CBC Tower or just underground to wherever the random paths will take me. That’s a decent amount of walking during the middle of day to change things up although the lack of energy towards the evening does take away from my will to properly exercise or go for a run.

Throughout all this, we are all susceptible to mistakes and can be found complaining, waiting for the sun to go down before we can break our fasts. I am no different on that as some of the people I regularly talk to can attest but most of us have it pretty easy here in the west – especially for the fasts during the summer months. Most of our days we spend in a fully air conditioned work building or at home, staying away from the outside heat as much as possible while those in less fortunate countries in less than reasonable conditions.

I’ll finish with you don’t have to be a Muslim to fast on a regular basis, and you certainly don’t have to do it for a month but why not give it a shot. It not only has personal health and financial benefits but it also serves a greater purpose in opening your eyes and seeing how the other half lives – if only for a day.

Repercussions of the Norway Attacks

It has been just over a week since the brutal Norway terrorist attacks and it is not at all surprising to see that the news of the attacks have completely disappeared off the western media front. It’s all about debt ceilings, celebrity deaths and anything else that comes to mind ever since it was found out that the terrorist wasn’t Muslim or hadn’t converted to Islam. It is embarrassing and pathetic. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if the terrorist attacks weren’t carried out by a blue-eyed, blond haired, Norwegian? It certainly wouldn’t have dropped off the news this quickly, that’s for sure.

There was a piece titled “Why Norway Could Happen Here” by Peter Beinart a few days after the attack which stated that “the same anti-Muslim bigotry that influenced Anders Breivik in Norway is widespread among right-wing extremists in America, and could trigger a similar attack here” and you saw that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Sure the attacks can happen any where and it is not necessarily just limited to the United States but the tendency to allow military ideology to prey on mentally vulnerable people fosters a hostile culture towards anything that is different.

There were reports left and right that this had the hallmark signs of Al-Qaeda or Muslim extremists but that just wasn’t the case. In a matter of days, the Crown Prince of Norway did apologize in person to the Muslim community there at the World Islamic Mission Mosque in Oslo that there were some in Norway that immediately thought this was an act of a Muslim. That kind of humanity and sincere gesture is something you would never see here in the immediate aftermath.

In the clip below, Stephen Colbert walks through the American media’s early coverage as the news of the attacks were unfolding.

“These journalists were able to get the story they wanted and scoop reality,” Colbert joked. “Even if there was a rush to judgment, we must not repeat that mistake by rushing to accuracy. Just because the confessed murderer is a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian-born anti-Muslim crusader doesn’t mean he’s not a swarthy, ululating Middle-Eastern madman.”

Even more embarrassing than the media’s rush to judgment, though, were the half-hearted retractions that came after. Colbert played a clip of a CNN guest attempting to explain how a Nordic-looking person could have a committed such an attack. “Maybe it was a good disguise?” the guest theorized.

“Yes,” Colbert said, “which is more plausible? That a non-Muslim did this or that Al-Qaeda has developed Polyjuice Potion?”

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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September 11th Aftermath: My Story

I had actually begun writing this post last month but for some reason divine intervention, I decided that I should just hold off a little while longer before publishing. Throughout the years I had this idea continue to build up in my head but I never really felt I could write a full composed post on it until last month. So instead of putting it off, I decided I should finish writing it and post it now anyway when it seems relevant. The topic of my post this entire time: my life in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.

We had just moved to New Jersey in 2000, when I was in 8th grade and was just getting settled in and decided to apply to this brand new “Academy” school which had opened up just across the street from my complex. I didn’t have any initial interest but my math teacher really encouraged me and my parents really saw potential in going to such a school (I’m sure the proximity played a role as well). I paid them a visit, liked what they pitched, gave an entrance exam and here I am, almost a whole decade later.

I remember the Tuesday morning like it was yesterday, we had just come out of our first period engineering classes when our principal called us all (and by all I mean the 70 kids that attended the school at the time) to the common area. He announced the events that had taken place and had any student whose parent(s) worked in the area or might have been affected, to go to the office and give a call to make sure they were okay. The rest proceeded to our next class where we all watched the events unfold in horror and amazement.

Being the only Muslim in my school was quite the unique experience but I had hopes of being to be a normal kid and go on my way without sticking out. That wasn’t going to be the case any more and to a certain extent, I am glad about it. I was able to stand out, defend my beliefs and religion against these atrocities and be able to learn from and educate my peers and teachers. As much as I didn’t want to be singled out, I look back on that as one of the best learning and growing experiences I have had. It makes you question what you stand for and ultimately I stood stronger at the end than I did coming in.

There wasn’t a single student in my freshman class that mocked me for my religion – I make that distinction because there was one racist kid in the year above me and I suppose calling me a terrorist made him feel better about himself. Most teachers were great too – again I say ‘most’ because there was one issue but I will get to that in a minute. As for the rest of the teachers, all held pretty open and fair discussions on what had happened and more importantly, why had it happened? We didn’t belittle each other, we were pretty open minded about it with far greater respect than I had expected 14 year olds to show each other in times of great tension. Maybe we didn’t know any better but through that experience I learned a great deal about the character of my peers in those very first few months of my freshman year than I would need to the remaining 3+ years. Our petty disagreements and hurt feelings on who our favourite team is or what your favourite pokemon is pale in comparison to how we treated each in time of great national distress. To this day, I’m quite grateful for the way I was treated by them and the teachers – for the most part.

The one dreaded issue that still lingers was in one class that I was sent down to the principal’s office because my actions “were not representative of a patriotic person” and “is not what the country needs at this time”. My crime: saying that actions by some Americans could be described as “idiotic”. Let me be clear, this discussion took place after we read a story in class and was not related to any 9/11 discussion whatsoever. That’s what caught me off guard with all of this. When I had said this, the teacher made no remark that somehow what I had said was wrong but a period later, when I am in another class, I was told to go down. To my dissatisfaction at the time, I didn’t receive any support from the school administration either although it is not surprising now that I look back upon it. To this day, the teacher never spoke to me about the issue and in my youthful ignorance (or better judgment), and partly I am to blame for wrongly choosing to drop the issue. I will still gladly take an apology but at this point, I better let bygones be bygones.

Re: Oreo Cookies and Halal Products

My cousin over at Chill Yo Islam Yo raised a very important question last week when he asked whether the Nabsico products sold in North America were halal because they are self-proclaimed NOT halal-certified in Europe.

“Before you start throwing Oreo cookies at me,” as Saad said, I contacted the Nabisco Customer Service regarding the issue and have enclosed the entire conversation below for your consumption (get it?).

If the pictures below seems too long for you and you don’t want to read it (tl;dr), Nabisco basically stated that “to the best of their knowledge” as long as the Oreo product is not “Reduced Fat” or of the “Sugar Free” variety, you are good to go. Their answer is the first thing you read in the image and my initial question is found below the dotted line in each picture.

Below is the FAQ from Nabisco’s European website that Saad pulled up:

Muslim-American To Speak At Stevens

I got this email just about half an hour ago stating that as part of Women’s Programs and Graduate activies, Zainab Al-Suwaij will be hosting “Women’s Equality in the Muslim Word” on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 9:00 PM in the De Baun Auditorium.

The e-mail states:

At the age of 20, Zainab was one of the few women to join the 1991 intifada uprising against Saddam Hussein. After it’s failing, she went into hiding and eventually fled to the US where she became and citizen and a respected professor at Yale.

Co-founder of the American-Islamic Congress, Zainab provides an eye-opening account of her experiences as a Muslim-American & serves as a bridge across cultures, religious divides, & political differences.

I don’t think I have ever heard of the American Islamic Congress where she holds the position of Executive Director but this is their mission statement:

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) is a civil rights organization promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples. AIC challenges increasingly negative perceptions of Muslims by advocating responsible leadership and ‘two-way’ interfaith understanding. As Muslim-Americans, thriving amidst America’s open multicultural society and civil liberties, we promote these same values for the global Muslim community.

So I think any civic organization that is working towards achieving moderation and promoting tolerance between people of different faiths is certainly something worth listening to.

I will be attending the event later this month and will hopefully be able to provide a follow up to the event. If you go to Stevens or are even in the area, I urge you to attend and take a look for yourself and make your own judgment and even take part in the discussion on culture, religion and gender.

For more information on Zainab Al-Suwaij, please visit American Islamic Congress.