Jews, Muslims urged to fight against intolerance
by RON CSILLAG, staff reporter

The global uproar over Danish editorial cartoons that depict Muhammad provides the perfect opportunity for Jews and Muslims to band together and speak out against intolerance, a meeting between the two faith groups heard earlier this month.

Freedom of the press should not give the media carte blanche to ridicule a whole group, interfaith activist, author and speaker Raheel Raza told the meeting of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), held at Temple Sinai.

Who promotes hate? she asked?Almost anyone who can get away with it.

Raza, author of the recently released Their Jihad, Not My Jihad, was joined by Arlene Perly Rae, who presented a Jewish view. The audience, though small, was evenly divided between Jews and Muslims.

Among the ideas raised was for the association to protest the cartoons in letters to the editor, over the signatures of CAJM co-chairs Barbara Landau and Shahid Akhtar.

On Feb. 6, the Toronto Star published such a letter. The cartoons provoke outrage because they demean and vilify Muslims and Islam and do not protect their freedom from such disrespectful treatment, Landau and Akhtar wrote.

Cartoons depicting Jews as less human or worthy of respect set the tone for the slippery slope toward the Holocaust and ongoing anti-Semitism, the letter stated. No one would consider it freedom of expression, if in the guise of a debate or exercising their right to caricature, someone began questioning the Holocaust.

Cartoons can create tremendous harm.

Jews, Muslims and others who have experienced such disrespect need to stand together, to say, We need protection from such abuses of power by the press, the letter said.

In her talk, Raza called the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper and denounced as blasphemous by Muslims worldwide, very blatant hate propaganda? which are contributing to an epidemic of Islamophobia around the world.

In Europe, being anti-Muslim is considered normal.

Muslims and Jews should watch the media very carefully. It doesn't matter which faith is doing it. We should stand together. We need to make hate a common enemy.

Speaking to the Muslims in the audience, Perly Rae said both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are forms of racism and xenophobia that are rooted in stereotypes. Allowed to fester, both will be threats to liberty.

For Jews in Canada, there are several no-go areas, Perly Rae explained. Most upsetting is Holocaust denial.

It's deliberate and profoundly wounding. Denying the Holocaust is like killing the victims all over again. The pain is indescribable. It's like telling blacks that slavery never happened. Every suicide bombing brings back the trauma of it.

Another area that's non-negotiable for Jews is Israel's right to exist.

It has nothing to do with borders or fences or annexations, she said. We should not allow the Middle East to serve as a pretext for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. She also urged an end to singling out Israel. If you're going to criticize Israel, do so to all others.

Perly Rae and Raza proposed similar action plans. Both advocated grassroots efforts aimed at young people. Perly Rae called for a return to teaching civics and citizenship, and for joint programs between Muslims and Jews to restore civility on university campuses.

Both faiths must resolve to fight lies, denounce terrorism and hatred, and work toward reconciliation, she said.There has to be lots and lots of dialogue. And cooler heads should prevail.

Raza said Muslims and Jews need to work together and pray together. Sometimes, people of faith need to come together. The most tragic issue is silence.




Interfaith advocate speaks in North Vancouver
by Manisha Krishnan,
North Shore News

Raheel Raza, an interfaith advocate and award-winning writer, will host a discussion on cultural diversity from the perspective of a Muslim woman at Mount Seymour United Church on March 29.

Raza, author of Their Jihad . . . Not My Jihad and winner of Toronto's Constance E. Hamilton Award for supporting women's rights, said encouraging people to ask questions about the differences between Islam and other religions is the best way to clear up misconceptions while finding common ground.

"I believe that we need to know a little bit more about each other, where we are coming from, and realize that if we have the same goals then we can all work together for peace in Canada and internationally," Raza said.

Raza, a freelance journalist, immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 1989 with her husband and two sons. She has written many articles for the Toronto Sun and was the first South Asian woman to narrate CBC's The Passionate Eye, but said the journey to get to where she is today was difficult.

"As a Muslim woman growing up in Pakistan, getting my voice heard was always hard," Raza said.

"It has been a struggle and it continues to be an ongoing struggle, especially after 9-11, because there are so many stereotypes and convoluted images out there about Islam and Muslims, especially about Muslim women."

Raza has made many public speeches, and said she' has been asked everything from what kind of food she eats to questions about extremist Islam from audience members.

"I tell them no question is too controversial because people need to express what's on their minds.

"My two sons are 22 and 24, that's the image of the so-called terrorist," she said. "But I explain to them that they're as Canadian as maple syrup and hockey."

Raza believes answering personal questions provides a way for people to relate to each other and Islam. "I feel that people see me, they hear me, they understand and realize that we're not aliens from outer space; you know, we're really like everyone else," she said.

Church board member Jen-Beth Fulton said she is excited about the message Raza represents.

"I think with her sense of humour, with her passion about interfaith and gender, peace and equality -- all those things -- she is really serving the making of peace," Fulton said.

Saturday's event starts at 7:30 p.m. The church is located at 1200 Parkgate Ave. in North Vancouver.



Muslim for a day:
Unique service honours our troops

by Rob Faulkner
The Hamilton Spectator

The sacrifice of Canadian soldiers mixed with an Islamic festival of sacrifice this past weekend in what's likely Canada's first Muslim remembrance service for this country's troops killed in Afghanistan.

About 50 people, Muslim and Christian, secular and not, were "Muslim for a day" at a service held Sunday morning in the liberal Eternal Spring United Church on Rymal Road East.

Keynote speaker retired Major- General Lewis MacKenzie said ignorance has eased since he served in Gaza with the United Nations force in 1963.

Back then, he says, ignorant soldiers laughed about Muslims praying for Allah to fix a flat tire, when they were actually observing the tenets of their faith at the roadside.

"That's opposed to what we see here," said MacKenzie, who drove from Ottawa for the event.

While he thinks Canada is doing the right thing in Afghanistan, the Muslim Canadian Congress has urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bring his troops home in light of casualties.

A total of 44 Canadian soldiers and a Canadian diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Among them, former track star Private Mark Graham, 33, of Hamilton, killed in so-called friendly fire.

Raheel Raza, interfaith affairs director of the Muslim Canadian Congress, organized the non-political service.

It was held amid the Muslim celebration of Eid ul-Adha so the theme of Abraham's sacrifice could be tied to the sacrifice of fallen soldiers, she said.

"This is being done on a humanitarian perspective, a spiritual perspective," Raza said. "The soldiers who have died are our sons and daughters, and we are Canadian and we feel that solidarity."

Raza said this type of service has not been held by a Muslim group in Canada before because mosques prefer to avoid the politics involved.

The multi-faith talk fits in with Rev. David Galston's approach at Eternal Spring. Galston focuses on compassion in all world religions, and says being "Muslim for a day" was a perfect fit for his open-minded, 120-member church. "We are not so concerned about being right or wrong, we are concerned about sharing life," he said.

Church member Ken Watson said "What really attracted me here is it's expected that you will question. If you want to belong to this community, bring an inquiring mind. I find that so refreshing."

Also at the service was a friend of the Raza family, Private David Hannan, 21, who served with the Canadian infantry for six months this year in Afghanistan.

"I think it's really important to show that Muslims have that other side, that they also care about Canadian soldiers, as well as other coalition nations," said Hannan, serving with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton.


Raheel Raza, Muslim Canadian woman, struggles with racism, sexism and terrorism in Their Jihad…Not My Jihad!

Toronto, Ontario – Distressed by the challenges facing Muslims living in Canada, author Raheel Raza has engaged her own jihad in her adopted homeland. Basileia Books has launched Raza’s new book, Their Jihad…Not My Jihad.  In the book, Raza, who was born in Pakistan and now lives in Mississauga, examines how Muslims, their religion and their culture integrate into Canadian society. A progressive Muslim feminist, Raza is particularly sympathetic to immigrant Muslim women who are bewildered and often disadvantaged as they try to transition from their old way of life into the new. Raza believes in building bridges of understanding saying “one can spend a lifetime talking about differences – I believe in talking about similarities.”

Their Jihad…Not My Jihad! explores spiritual, gender and political jihad. Raza writes:
“Since September 11, 2001, I’ve been invited to many churches, schools and community centers to speak about Islam to non-Muslims. People curiously ask if I’m trying to convert others or get converted myself! I tell them it’s neither: What I do is essentially “damage control.

With time, I thought this fleeting interest in Islam and Muslims would fade, like a passing fad. Much to my surprise, it hasn’t and today, I still find myself doing the rounds, teaching Islam 101! One of the most satisfying aspects of these sessions is the Q & A’s; this is when real issues surface and the spectre of an unknown fear is put to rest. I usually start off by telling my listeners that no question is too controversial and no issue too contentious for me. Questions have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: “How many wives does your husband have” to “What is the history of the turban in Islam?”

However, there is one serious question that is posed every time, in various formats: “Is violence a part of your faith and does it say, somewhere in your scripture, that suicide is an honourable act to be rewarded by God? Is killing non-Muslims a form of jihad?”  It concerns me that while I spend valuable time and energy informing non-Muslims about the true interpretation of jihad (moral, intellectual and spiritual striving) and that violence and suicide are forbidden in Islam, there are many people in positions of authority within the Muslim world who simultaneously promote and condone violence. These are Islamists who believe their jihad is physical violence against civilians seen to be their enemy; to blow themselves up for political aims and to rid the earth of non-Muslims. Obviously, their jihad and my jihad are not the same. I believe the jihad preached and practiced by the Messenger of Islam, Mohammad is not the one being propagated by people who support the path of violence against civilians, or who encourage the destruction of lives through suicide bombings.”

In Their Jihad…Not My Jihad!, Raza offers insight, opinions and solutions to restoring dignity and respect to Muslims living in the West, while reminding them that they need to take back their faith from Islamic extremists.
Raza has appeared on CBC Newsworld, CTV, City TV, Vision Television,  and OMNI TV.  Her book has been reviewed on CBC radio (Here and Now), TV Ontario, CTSTV, The Toronto Star, and various radio shows across Canada. Raza has been invited for book readings to Iona College, Windsor University, Harvard Pluralism Project in Boston and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, New York.

Read the reviews, see the book on Raza’s website:  www.raheelraza.com. Book is available from Amazon.ca, Toronto Women’s Bookstore or online at www.snowstarinstitute.org

 

 

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