Monday, 17 December 2012
During this tragic and horrible incident of sadistic killing of young innocent students and teachers, we would like to extend our condolence and sympathies to those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. May your pain be removed with healing and forgiveness and may you enrich the lives of those who have gone on, with the continuation of their passion for life, faith and good works. In times like these, we are reminded that humanity needs spiritual guidance and strong legislations in order for us to live a civilised and safe lifestyle, amidst the chaos and abundance that modern civilization offers. In the words of the Prophet Muhammad, owbp, we are commanded to walk in the shoes of those who mourn; as none of you will have true faith until he loves for himself what he loves for others.
Thursday, 13 December 2012
Prayer is a helpful means to remind us that the Divine is working behind the scenes when our human endeavours are lacking.
It is very sad and distressing, rather pathetic to read about the plight of a mother in Enmore, who was repeatedly turned around, after days of pointless waiting, to see the doctor at the Enmore Clinic - SN 13/12/2012.
I would be happy to facilitate, as we have done in the past, as no one, especially as children of the great martyrs of Enmore and sons and daughters of Guyana, need to suffer like this. Now that the holiday are on us and we are a nation filled with natural resources and globally acclaimed 'full of love', this is unacceptable. I'm sure this letter will make Guyanese all around the world willing partners of generosity and they will ensure not only this mother but anyone seeking help at Enmore clinic gets the right attention, timely and appropriately.
The Enmore groups abroad will be more than willing to support initiatives and I know that many such are already doing like Br. J donates regularly towards the Orphanage there, etc..
The way we treat the most vulnerable in society is an attest of our worth and when mothers, who have sacrificed most of their lives, for the success of a nation, cannot feel comfortable and secured in the social services of a nation, then only tears of sadness belong to the leadership that ensconces the colours of spiritual ascendancy.
Merry Christmas to all Guyanese!
Jesus was born to give us this sense of compassion in a cruel world of the Pharisees and to see his Mother Mary breastfeeding him during his tender age of fatherless birth, is to remind us that mothers must no longer suffer- not in Enmore at least!
Quran 19:21-19:25 “He said, "Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, 'It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.' "
So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten."
But he called her from below her, "Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.”
Prayer is a helpful means to remind us that the Divine is working behind the scenes when our human endeavours are lacking.
Monday, 10 December 2012
Forward to Whispers of Khaieteur
Sheikh Habeeb Alli is passionate about building up community; the Islamic Community, the Interfaith Community, Canadian Community, and that of his beloved homeland, Guyana. His compassion for humanity and tireless efforts, rooted in his devotion to Allah, overflows in these poems, articles, letters, and accounts of the myriad of activities he has both catalyzed and given testimony to on these pages.
Alli’s book makes evident his capacity to network and build bridges of understanding within and beyond the Canadian Muslim community. His Guyanese background gives him an edge at noticing where communities are ready to transcend racism and other barriers on the path of faith. Indeed, it has given him the ability to “navigate between cultures, traditions, and religious personalities” and we, his readers, benefit from his dexterity. His News section frequently praises the possibilities for meaningful interfaith engagement that Canada offers, but his poems show the depth of daily interfaith coexistence in “the country of six races”. Alli not only enjoys the many different people he encounters, but he listens carefully and learns from them, inviting the reader to share in the wisdom he is finding along the way.
The News reports show a vibrant, living, faith community that is active in caring for one another and their neighbors in Canadian society, and further abroad. Alli not only lets us see the multiple layers of Canada’s Muslim communities and leadership, but invites us into his heart through his poetry, as he is “melted” by encounter after encounter with inspiring people. He shows Allah’s care of inmates, abused women, men and seniors, the youth, as well as God’s desire for our health, and whole-ness. In particular he describes God’s will for people to live at peace with one another and demonstrates throughout the book what it could look like when people live in harmonious relationships at home, in the mosque, and broader society.
Alli observes, “…while God has not given up on us by sending new babies every day we seem to give up on man by judging each other daily.” Through poetry, wise letters of exhortation, and news documenting the activity of the Muslim community, he demonstrates how we can seek to be more like God, not giving up on one another.
Between the covers of this book we find many signs as to what it means to entrust one another “with your life and religion – knowing you will be dignified and your freedom of religion will be respected…” This book will be a blessing to all who read it.
Susan Harrison PhD Candidate in Theology, at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto October 19, 2012
Don’t Judge Exceptional People as Outsiders
A glimpse into Islam’s view people with special needs
“Whoever helps a Muslim in this world, God/Allah will help him in the Hereafter". Prophet Muhammad
In an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie, a candidly-humorous sitcom about a community of Muslims living in a small town in the Canadian Prairies, a newspaper reporter who uses a wheelchair makes some noise – and justifiably so – about the lack of a ramp to enter the town’s Masjid. Of course, a ramp is built, but in the fanfare of the ribbon-cutting ceremony the reporter gets stuck in the concrete which hasn’t fully hardened yet! The point made was simple: a mosque, like any other public place, must be accessible to those with special needs and it shouldn’t take an article in a local newspaper to move it to the top of management leaders’ agendas.
Philosophy of acceptance
What does the Islamic teaching offer on the subject of special needs? With the incidence of disability and impairments becoming increasingly prevalent and spanning all racial and ethnic divides, what is our religion’s view about Muslims with exceptionalities? A local worshipper once asked me whether a fellow worshipper who is deaf would merit entering heaven, since he could not hear the Imam’s sermon despite his undaunted attendance. In fact, all people with special needs have a place in heaven, as the pen of accountability has been lifted from those who have cognitive and physical impairments, where the observance of religious duties becomes either unbearable or impossible.
People with special needs are children of ours; these are the members of our households and communities. They must feel as comfortable as any other in our midst. In a party the “odd” individual feels alienated. Life is a continuous party and no one should stop another from dancing to the music of love and affection, belonging and contributing. Being an exceptional person does not warrant pity but rather accommodation and respect of the skills he or she brings. One of my teachers, NaBina Hafiz Saheb of Deoband, as he was popularly known, had a visual impairment but nevertheless succeeded in teaching numerous students the art of recital and explanation of the Holy Quran through Braille. Imam Bukhari, despite being visually impaired at a young age continued traveling and collecting millions of Hadith and finalizing the most authentic book of Hadith (traditions of the Prophet).
The Prophet Moses, highly regarded in Islamic literature and mentioned over 150 times in the Quran is among the model Messengers of Allah. Muslims learned about his “tongue-tying impediment” through his conversations with the unparalleled tyrant, Pharaoh. He continued to be God’s chosen messenger despite his personal fears around his ability to communicate effectively as a leader. As a matter of fact, this Biblical and Quranic story of Moses underscores that those with special needs are not to be pitied and looked down upon, but helped, and their skills recognized. It also carries the rich moral that those affected must never be ashamed to seek assistance and support. Moses said to Allah, “Send Aaron as my aide,” Q 20:29-30 “…and appoint for me, out of my kinsfolk, one who will help me to bear my burden Aaron, my brother.”
On a personal level, no exceptional person serves as a greater model of courage than Julaybib, a companion of The Prophet, who lived 1400 years ago. Having been born with dwarfism and extremely dark skin, he was discriminated against because of his physical appearance. Although his stature did not compromise his ability to fight courageously in battles, marriage was impossibility, since people tended to steer away from him. But the Prophet believed in Julaybib and recommended him to a girl in Madina. Although the girl’s parents opposed the idea, she retorted, “Who are you stop to me from marrying a man the Prophet himself recommended?” And so she married him, but tragically, soon lost him when he died in battle. Julaybib’s death largely went unnoticed, with the exception of the Prophet, who mourned his passing and said of the little hero: "He is of me and I am of him." It was then that members of Julaybib’s community recognized his true worth and value.
One of my regular congregants, Azeem Qayum of
published a book about his youth, when he had a severe respiratory condition.
He chronicles bravely and articulately how Allah inspired him to keep going,
visiting his mosque at regular occasions and doing his best at school despite
the illnesses’ lengthiness. He learned, practiced and taught patience and
courage, setting an example for others with challenges to follow. Scarborough, Ontario
Imams’ current views
According to Imam Roshan Ally, a popular Scholar of South Florida, “While it’s not obligatory for people with disabilities to attend mosque in order to pray, it has become very necessary that whenever they choose to, there must be some facility to accommodate them. The Holy Prophet did not only accommodate Abdullah bin Makhtoom, who was blind, by leading him to the mosque, but honored him by making him the official muezzin (caller of the prayers). An entire Sura (chapter of the Quran) was revealed honoring this person of special visual needs.”
Shaikh Hassan Hamad of the Pickering Mosque, in Ontario, has observed that a growing number of Muslims with cognitive disabilities have been frequenting his mosque in recent years in search of social and health relief. Although many are referred to support services outside of the Muslim community, according to young approachable Canadian Imam it is paramount that Muslims with disabilities be embraced from within. The Quran relates that in the time of the Prophet, a woman with cognitive challenges requested to speak with him. He invited her to meet in a public place in Madina, rather than hold the encounter in the mosque or her home. The Prophet did this explicitly to teach that public institutions that cater to exceptional people should not only be supported, but also visited, without any taboo or cultural insensitivity.
The Moeen Centre is a non-profit organization based in
for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. It does an amazing job
of supporting clients in the areas of social networking, education and
financial assistance, despite its own limited resources. The Centre operates on
the premise that “Every human being is likely to experience disability in one’s
lifetime.” The concept of “Judge not, for you’ll be judged,” is a Quranic
principle found in 2:141 “That was a
people that have passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and you
of what you do! Of their merits there is no question in your case.” Toronto
The Moeen centre was established in 1996 in memory of Moeen Alam, a young adult with physical and developmental disabilities, who lost his life in a tragic house fire in December, 1995. His mother, Qaisar Alam, has since relentlessly made efforts to keep the memory of her young son alive, by ensuring the provision of day-programs for young adults with disabilities dedicated to improving their communication and mobility skills and encouraging them to reach their full potential.
Rabia Khedr is a Pakistani-Canadian, who resides in
She co-founded the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities (CAMD)
which strives to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to spiritual
and social activities and events in their places of worship. “Currently,
Muslims who are deaf or hard of hearing have no access to learn how to read the
Quran or take part in any Islamic study classes,” said Rabia. Among her organization’s
goals is to make the Quran available in Braille for
Muslims who are blind. CAMD summarized its values as follows: “We believe that
we as all human beings are unique and perfect as created. Our ability and
disability experiences are a natural aspect of life. We have the right to be
valued, respected and included in society and in our cultural and faith
communities.” The Quran paraphrases this in the Equality Verse of Q: 49:13 “Oh Humanity! We created you from a single
(pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you
may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most
honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.
And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Toronto
Noor School in caters exclusively to
the needs of visually impaired by providing them with spiritual and religious
education, especially memorizing the Quran.
But here in South Africa
there is no opportunity for Muslims with intellectual disabilities to learn
formally about Islam, outside of their families. The majority of mosques and
Islamic centers in the Greater Toronto Area are not even wheelchair accessible. Ontario
Muslims with disabilities in the workplaces
Torontonian Sumreen Siddiqui is a Muslim woman who serves as an example for all Muslims, but particularly those with disabilities. Sumreen has a visual impairment and works at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Her quest to find a life partner has been most challenging; something she attributes to potential mates’ inabilities to see her inner beauty. She is also bothered by the fact that her Islamic-intensive weekend-school course materials are not available in Braille on the computer. But despite her challenges, she consistently wears a smile and carries a positive outlook; having made hajj, she frequently travels and is a regular at local Muslim events. The following is a poem I composed a while ago in honour of Sumreen, entitled “Blindness but visually impaired”:
Eyes indeed the doorway of light
Prejudice against the impaired no doubt a pitiable sight
When the world sees for others they only see you their way
It’s like placing sun shades on your own sunny day
But be happy and keep seeing all your beauty
For the eyes of your heart bring a light of eternity
Where walls don’t exist
And the tulips or snowfalls are seen beyond the mist
Your beloved gifts of cornea and pupil are priced
With their sacrifice your other senses are even more realized
But with the All Seer we believe in a place of Eternal Bliss
Where all who sees with the heart are surely His promise
It is through our Faith that we recognize each person is valuable and to never dismiss anyone as lesser. As The Prophet said, “Verily Allah does not look at your bodies and wealth but looks at your hearts and intentions.”
Monday, 3 December 2012
I would just like to bring awareness to the issue of HIV and Faith as we observe World AIDS Day on December 1st. I will draw examples from the local context in
and also provide a brief global perspective.
As I try to be helpful in creating awareness about this chronic illness, which is now controllable and preventable through education, anti-retroviral drugs and early HIV testing, many people of faith continue to be daunted with fear and stigma.
Since the 1980’s, the awareness created by pop stars like Bono, Alicia Keys and others to reach into the consciousness of world leaders as well as leading faith people, has made the plagued continent of Africa no longer alone in its fight against HIV. To wear the red ribbon is not a stigma any longer.
Recently, I was involved with a team of Muslim leaders and concerned citizens, to bring awareness about pre testing for HIV. While people do not contract HIV by sexual activities alone but by blood transfusion and sharing unclean needles, etc., yet I saw the stigma people who are positive face. People living with HIV continue to face barriers around disclosure, and it heightens the stigma and prevents better health-seeking behaviour, and support. At the TARIC mosque, in summer 2012, a conference was held and a woman in hijab boldly spoke of her story of breaking down barriers and standing up against discrimination, even when she was faced with a lot of prejudice and stigma from community members. Another man who is a community advocate on HIV and other social justice issues spoke about his journey of living with HIV, and doing awareness-raising through education and community research. Both speakers felt dignified; that for the first time they were allowed and accepted in the house of God, without being judged.
In the spring of this year, at
University, in Toronto, a set of community leaders and people
living with HIV (PHAs) from various ethnic communities in the Greater Toronto
Area undertook a study of the impact of stigma and discrimination. Participants
in the study found that the hurt of being ridiculed and judged is worse than
the illness or the act itself. The study is still ongoing with participants
reporting on what activities they are undertaking in their communities to
address HIV stigma and related issues.
Faith is about leaving the judging to God. While religion doesn’t condone any lifestyle outside the pale of the Holy teachings, the reality is, several people around the world living with HIV are faced with lack of dignity, poverty, no access to medicine, ostracism. Such hopelessness and despair in people’s lives does not allow the survival and thriving of religion. Religion in other words becomes a disregarded issue and its neither encouraged or taught to both the young and the old. When a growing section of the affected communities are shut out from places of worship and are told that using protection during union is forbidden and other times affected individuals are told that they are cursed and cannot be cured, then faith leaders have the moral obligation to speak out.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the story of
It is heartening and humbling for an Imam who has taken on the HIV/AIDS issue
for the past two decades. Imam Farid Esack has embarked on awareness-raising
and education campaigns on the subject, and provided moral, spiritual, social
and financial support and dignity for people living with, and at risk of HIV
infection. The Imam has worked on legislation in collaboration with local
leaders to ensure that people living with HIV and affected communities have
better access to resources to improve their livelihoods, and continue to have a
better shot to their life goals and potential. Farid Esack is no stranger,
battling this neo-apartheid on the global front of human suffering.
We may all be aware that HIV is not spread by saliva or touching and that someone living with HIV can have a ‘normal’ life with family. Someone with HIV can visit the mosque for Friday Juma prayers, the church on Sundays or the
to worship the creator without hurting anyone. Jesus spoke to us long before that
‘judge not for you will be judged’ and the Prophet Muhammad taught us that ‘the
best of you are those that are most beneficial to humanity’.
It’s time for us to open our arms to at least listen to people with lived experiences around HIV and allow them the safe space they require in order for them to tell their stories, without being judged. In so doing we become the essence of a good life i.e. to make a difference to humanity.
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
I thank you Editor and looking forward to working with you in raising awareness around HIV and related issues.