MPO

“Domestic violence and, the extreme practice of killing to “restore family honor” clearly violates a non-negotiable Islamic principle, and should be categorically condemned”

 

Anas ibn Malik, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said, “I have never seen anyone kinder to one’s family than the Prophet Muhammad.” (Sahih Muslim).

This kindness is something to reflect upon as Muslims listen to Imams across the country today delivering sermons for the Friday prayer, and raising awareness on the serious issue of violence against women in Canada.

This across Canada action is in response to the Muslims for White Ribbon Campaign, part of a larger world-wide, grassroots effort to end violence against women.

The objectives of the campaign are to break the silence on violence against women in the Muslim community, promote healthy relationships through education, and create partnerships among Mosques, women’s organizations, and social agencies to create a future without violence against women.

The Campaign will run from November 25, 2012 [International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women] and culminate in White Ribbon Days at Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (December 21 – 23).

These actions need to be taken immediately as the facts and figures on domestic violence and abuse are staggering.

On average, every six days a woman inCanadais killed by her spouse/intimate partner. On any given day inCanada, more than 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.

Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence – that’s about 12% of all violent crime inCanada.  Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher. Half of all women inCanadahave experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

As Muslims who base our values and behavior on the teachings of the Quran and the authenticated example of the Prophet, there is absolutely no room within these teachings for any person to seize physical control over the life of another human being in a family.  Domestic violence and, the extreme practice of killing to “restore family honor” clearly violates a non-negotiable Islamic principle, and should be categorically condemned.

Let us make a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women, girls and families.

 

 

 

“In relation to ourselves, to our neighbors and to societies, we must develop counterpowers, spaces of spiritual, intellectual, social, political, cultural and economic resistance”

Men being men, vigilance must be the watchword. In his philosophical essay Human, all too Human, Nietzsche enumerated several of the characteristics of the human being above and beyond religions, philosophies, cultures and beliefs.

They included a hypertrophied ego, a taste for power, gregariousness, pretension, social role-playing, etc.: a never-ending human comedy in which men create illusions, lie to themselves, and deceive themselves and others.

The common man is nothing more than this, claimed Nietzsche; only the exceptional artist can rise above the human condition.

The moral philosophers, from ancient Greece to Kant’s practical reason—by way of the Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual traditions, as well as the three monotheistic religions—also affirm that such is the human’s sorry state, the single cardinal difference being their claim that the common woman and man possess the intellectual and ethical capacity to overcome their state.

Humankind is in shadow; if it aspires to full existence and to light, it must seek education and critical intellectual mastery, the counter-power of the individual and collective conscience.

Mankind must be positively and constructively wary of mankind, of their fellow man, of their families, of the members of their faith community, of their fellow-citizens. Depending on whether they are alone or in a group, they are not the same; not the same in a minority as in a majority; not the same in power or in opposition; theirs are not the same victims, the same executioners.

The same persons, wearing different hats, are no longer the same: beware of self, and keep an eye on those like you.

The final verses of the Qur’an, seen in this light, are troubling: at the end of a revelation of light and of the moral horizon, the repeated appeal for the protection of the Unique against mankind delivers up the secret of our societies: with or without God, alone or in society, oppressed or oppressors, we remain human, all too human. Dangerously human.

History is replete with ideologies of freedom, justice, liberation of the downtrodden and the exploited, that have been turned against the very people they had mobilized, or that have reproduced the same logic of exclusion and terror toward those whom they claimed to set free.

No civilization, no political philosophy, no religion can claim a monopoly of its contradictions, of its opportunism, of the hopes dashed, despoiled, manipulated. The liberal and financial illusions of capitalism, the promises of equality and justice of socialism and communism, the moral ideals of the Islamists have been invoked and shown to be empty… All have guilty blood on their hands. No exceptions.

The great capitalist democracies protect their interests and sow death and dictatorship in the name of their “civilizing mission;” the socialist and communist resistance, in the name of justice, as inVietnam(and so often repeated) end up exploiting, killing, torturing.

Yesterday’s victims of extermination, who lay claim to such status, have become today’s oppressors, as withIsrael(and with so many other peoples and ethnic groups around the world).

Muslim leaders, self-proclaimed reformers, Salafi literalists or violent extremists, who had promised the Islamic ideal of peace and justice end up enmeshed in power struggles, conflicts of ego and self-serving interpretations, reproducing little more than repression, the death of intelligence, and the elimination of their opponents.

Grim realities; grim truths.

While we speak of liberating uprisings in the Middle-East and in Africa, while we speak of universal consciousness, while the shared values of democracy or the ideology of the free market and the liberal economy seem to be imposed on all of us, we must remain more than ever vigilant. Those who, in the West, yesterday supported dictators now support the people in the name of the same logic of self-interest.

Those who yesterday supported the peoples may well end up supporting dictators, as in Syria or in the petromonarchies, in the name of dark interests and calculations.

The mass movements, the emotions, the shared illusions are dubious councilors; the crowd can be carried away, can become collectively blind, blinded, and dangerously ignorant, easily manipulated.

The world is a complex place and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions. Instantaneous and mass communication is the mother of mass naivety.

Should we then lose hope? Is there any hope? But to lose hope is as dangerous as to nurture false hope. Where then can we find hope that is responsible?

In relation to ourselves, to our neighbors and to societies, we must develop counter-powers, spaces of spiritual, intellectual, social, political, cultural and economic resistance.

True critical consciousness begins precisely with this essential requirement: an ethics of counter-power that observes and seeks to master and to forestall the slippage of its own ego, the potential betrayals of its sisters and brothers in faith and in struggle.

A counter-power that resists the excesses of power but does not hesitate to identify the latent oppression that slumbers among the minorities, the oppressed and the victims of today.

The ethics of counter-power require an ethical counterpower: in the name of the overreaching principles of freedom, dignity, and justice, the humanity of humankind must be submitted to ethical judgment, one that is never compromising, compromised or selective.

Such a position cannot mean that we flee human society, social or political commitment: quite the contrary. In the light mankind’s destiny, and of its human, all too human characteristics, there can be no question of offering power to those who will abuse it without counter-parties, without requirements.

To power we must hold up the demanding and determined mirror of resistance, and of counter-power, one that will make no concessions, neither to our brothers, nor to our foes.

This is the awareness that, in the final analysis, is the cradle of just and reasonable aspiration, where the oppressed, the poor, women, the excluded, who so often count for almost nothing in the circles of power, emerge as subjects of their own history, and become the motor of historical change.

The power of counter-power is but another name for conscience, a synonym for faith.

Originally published in  the Arab Gulf news and reprinted here with permission of the author.

 

“The Muslim community has made an art out of giving unsolicited advice” 

I regularly read the advice column by David Eddie in the Globe and Mail. He puts a hilarious spin on the problems people face in their everyday lives.

Recently, a woman wrote that her daughter -in- law was refusing to speak to her. The reason? She wouldn’t stop giving unsolicited advice.

It reminded me of the Muslim community who has made an art out of giving unsolicited advice. Walking into the mosque literally feels like one is entering a minefield of judgments, looks, or pushes.

The judgment

“Sister, don’t you know that nail polish is haram?” “Brother, control your children, they have no manners.” “Sister, pants are not allowed when you pray.” “Brother, your feet stink.”

The look

That peripheral vision thing, staring from the corner of the eye-the Muslim glare. It looks at your hands to see your jewelry,  at your feet to check out your pedicure, and up and down to see the fashion sense.

The push

You’re in the throes of ecstasy, with the best connection to God ever and suddenly get pushed out of your reverie by the person next to you who wants to stand closer.

In fact, one of the above just happened during the last Ramadan. At the mosque, I heard a few sisters chastising a woman for wearing pants.   Two days in a row, the women brought a long skirt for the girl to wear. The girl responded politely but kept praying. After that, I never saw her again. I was revolted and the incident provided the impetuous to write this article.

Eddie, in his advice column says that it is a curious and extremely annoying impulse: airing your views on how other people should live their lives, even though they haven’t asked.

From an Islamic perspective, Muslims believe they are following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and exercising their Islamic duty to Nassiha (good advice).

It is true,  the Prophet (pbuh) did say :“The religion is (built on) advice.” The people listening asked, “To whom?” The Prophet replied, “To Allaah, to His Book, to His Messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims, and the common folk,” related by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim.

However, this concept is being implemented with little education or  insight as to the strict conditions required for giving advice. If these rules are not followed, then “[For] whoever pursues the shortcomings of people, Allah will pursue theirs” (At-Tirmidhi).

Using examples from Prophet Muhammad’s life (pbuh), we learn that he was very gradual in his approach to giving advice so that it would be deeply rooted in the hearts and minds.

He would counsel that prior to enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, mutual trust and friendship must already be  established. But what we see in reality is completely different. Oftentimes were are being given advice from complete strangers.

“And true believers, both men and women, are friends to one another. They urge one another to what is good and forbid what is evil.” (9:71)

The Prophet was so right. A recent internet poll reveals much the same.  Asking the question, Do you generally like unsolicited advice?  6% said “Yes”, 56% said “No,” and 38% said “Only if the right person gives it.”

The Prophet knew that when giving advice, the individual on the receiving end should truly feel as though the adviser cares; they should be psychologically ready to hear the counsel.

Usually, people don’t react that well to unsolicited advice because justifiably or not, it can come across as criticism, distrust, one-upmanship, or assertion of superiority.

Psychologist Peter Gray takes it further, explaining that we as humans don’t like getting unsolicited advice because we are trying to protect our own freedom, something we naturally crave.

The Prophet (pbuh) understood this.  He would give his undivided attention to the person he was speaking to, pick the right time, the right context, listen to opposing points of view, and not make any assumptions.

He couched his advice in politeness, not revealing people’s mistakes in public and never targeting any one individual. Instead he would say, “What has happened to the people that they do such acts.”

He knew that public shaming would make it much less likely for the advice to be heard and digested.

Imam Shafa’ee (rad) reiterated this point, “Whoever advises his brother in confidence, has advised in a true sense and showed respect to his brother. The one who advises in public has in fact insulted his brother.”

Ibn Abbas (rad) was also very cognizant of how advice should be given, saying that people need to be ready to be spoken to, so they are open to listening. (Bukhari, No: 5978).

Another requirement for giving advice is to be humble.  The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “The man who looks at himself with admiration and at others with disdain is proud.”

And finally, we have the excellent example in the story of Imam Hasan and Husayn (RAD) on the wisest way to give advice: through modeling behavior, something one often hears about when parenting.  When they saw an elderly man making errors while performing wudu, they asked the man to judge between them as to who was doing it correctly. In doing so, the man automatically realized his own error.

As for the woman who was perceived to be not properly attired at the mosque? The issue was raised directly in a Khutba once word got around of the incident. The sisters were counseled to cease and desist in God’s house of worship. In other words, stop harassing people.

Now that’s good advice.

 

 

“The silencing of Michael Harris is a tremendous loss of important information and debate in the Nation’s capital but the man has resurrected from two firings in the past. While his light has been extinguished on the air waves, my bet is that we will see that bright spark rise again somewhere else soon”

 

On Thursday, February 9th, 2011, Bell Media, owners of CTV and CFRA Radio in Ottawa, fired talk show host Michael Harris. Harris is a journalist of the highest integrity, a Woodrow Wilson Scholar and award winning author of numerous books, four of which have sparked Canadian Royal Commissions. He has been outspoken on Palestinian rights, environmental issues and the Harper government’s undemocratic behaviour just to name a few.

The station also fired 15 others on the same day but they were not controversial, high-profile individuals of Mr. Harris’ calibre. Bell Media, of course, denies that he was fired because of his views and cites corporate restructuring as the reason for all the dismissals. An examination of the facts indicates otherwise. Two extremely right-wing talk show hosts were retained while Harris was fired; one, Lowell Green, is 75 years old and in poor health and the second, Nick Vandergragt, is a recent hire and right-wing militarist who comes to the air waves with a strong background in truck driving.

John Counsell, another right-winger in the 10 p.m. to midnight time slot was also kept on. It is doubtful that Counsel gets any ratings worth mentioning as he actually shouts through the whole two hour program. Why fire a mid-day host and not a late night host? Ten to midnight is a relatively unimportant time slot that on many stations is filled with syndicated programming. Are we to believe that keeping three right wingers and firing the one balancing voice was purely a business decision? No media organization will admit to firing someone for their views unless the individual made a blatantly racist statement (although Muslims and Arabs seem to be fair game these days). In light of the facts, can anyone be blamed for believing that Harris was fired for speaking truth to power.

Being fired is not a new experience for Michael Harris. His refusal to cease his investigative reporting into allegations of abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland led to his firing from a St. John’s newspaper. The resulting book, Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel won the Book of the Year, Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters award in 1991.

More recently (April 2011) he was fired from the Sun newspaper chain, (owned by the right-wing Quebecor group with strong ties to the Prime Minister’s office) after writing a series of articles critical of the Harper government. He suspects, that a column he wrote just before the May 2011 election titled “Harper no longer on high moral ground,” was the stimulus for his dismissal.

Mr. Harris has told this writer several times in correspondence over the years that he has been under attack for his support of Palestinian Human Rights. It was obvious to regular listeners who are well versed in the powers and tactics of the Zionist lobby that this was no doubt the case. There would be bursts of discussion on the Middle East followed by periods where no matter what atrocity was being committed on the ground he would not raise the event as a topic and instead engaged in more typical talk show fare; Tiger Woods, cats, violence in hockey, Valentine’s Day etc. Mr. Harris like the rest of us has to eat and pay the rent.

A year or so ago, after a particularly long silence on Palestine there was a change. One day he opened his show with a lengthy monologue about standing up for the principals that one believes in and ending with a quote by Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Since that day, his shows, while maintaining balance and presenting a variety of opinion have been a right-wing ideologue’s worst nightmare.

Not only did he begin to talk about Israel Palestine again, but he also addressed with even greater intensity and more directly, topics of deep significance to our globalized world. For example, the no strings attached bailout of US banks in 2008 , the 1% that would turn us all into “corporate serfs”, environmental issues – from declining fish stocks to the Keystone pipeline, Monsanto, food sovereignty and Stephen Harper’s multi-facetted and unrelenting attacks on democracy.

In the past weeks he spoke a great deal about Caterpillar’s shutting down of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario using it as a spring board to highlight the general assault on unions and the betrayal of public interests by our government. The Ontario and federal governments provided millions of dollars in incentives to Caterpillar just 18 months ago but are now taking the position that they can’t interfere with the company’s business decision and are not calling for a return of public funds.

His firing from CFRA takes place after a concerted attack from the Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), following a detailed article he wrote last week in iPolitics highlighting Israeli human rights violations and lambasting the Harper government’s lack of balance on Middle East issues.

Was Harris’ most recent firing a result of pressure from CIJA? We will probably never know but when a child is beaten in the school yard it is only normal to suspect the school bully. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has opined that Israel’s policies are a petri dish for anti-Semitism. The Zionist lobby in Canada may someday find that their tactics have created some very unfavourable results. Comment boards on the websites of major news organizations such as the Globe and Mail and the CBC clearly indicate that a very large number of Canadians are increasingly aware and aghast at the influence of the Zionist lobby on our media and government and refuse to be bullied into silent complicity with Israel’s daily crimes against Palestinians.

The silencing of Michael Harris is a tremendous loss of important information and debate in the Nation’s capital but the man has resurrected from two firings in the past. While his light has been extinguished on the air waves, my bet is that we will see that bright spark rise again somewhere else soon. My hope would be a book on the destruction of Canadian democracy by the Zionist lobby.

 

SIGN THE PETITION TO REINSTATE MICHAEL HARRIS TO CFRA

“What is truly “heinous” and “deplorable” is Mr. Harper’s sly use of coded language (“Islamicism”) to point the finger of opprobrium at Muslims and their religion. Viewed in the light of last week’s repeated acts of vandalism, the Canadian Prime Minister should be regarded as the biggest threat to the peace and security of Canadian citizens”

Despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statement describing the profanation of the Centre islamique de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, a Muslim house of worship, as “heinous” and “deplorable,” Mr. Harper has much to answer for, and should be further pressed to do so.

For the outrages committed in Gatineau are the direct and predictable results of the Prime Minister’s remark, to a complicit Peter Mansbridge on September 7 2011, that “Islamicism” (sic) represents the “biggest threat to Canada.”

What is truly “heinous” and “deplorable,” however, is Mr. Harper’s sly use of coded language (“Islamicism”) to point the finger of opprobrium at Muslims and their religion, practiced by more than one quarter of humanity. In fact, viewed in the light of last week’s repeated acts of vandalism, the Canadian Prime Minister should properly be regarded as the biggest threat to the peace and security of Canadian citizens.

Until he fully and publicly revokes his characterization of “Islamicism” as threat, Mr. Harper’s words, and those of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, must be regarded as hollow.

But caution must be exercised in interpreting the obscene graffiti inscribed on the mosque’s doors and walls. The ostensibly Jewish identity of the Gatineau vandal, as expressed in the symbols used, should deceive no one.

Though Zionist extremists such as the Jewish Defense League make common cause with extreme right-wing political groups, and welcomed Dutch race hater Geert Wilders to Canada last year, the crude and clumsy nature of the Gatineau incidents point in another direction. The aim of the perpetrator(s) is to incite Muslims against Jews.

Such a tactic dovetails perfectly with Mr. Harper’s unyielding support of Israel, and his own government’s provocative posture on protecting religious minorities.

These tactics, in turn, feed into the Harper government’s broad policy shift that seeks to transform Canada into a “warrior nation,” an implicitly Judeo-Christian, neo-imperialist one at that.

Having labeled “Islamicism” a threat to Canada, Mr. Harper has now declared Iran the major threat to world peace. All the elements of an aggressive domestic and foreign “warrior” policy are in place, including the implicit designation of Muslims as an enemy within.

It should come as no surprise that marginal elements or agents provocateurs choose, or are designated, to act out such a policy at the local level. In fact, more such outrages can be expected, along with wider damage to property and possibly physical injury.

Reaction among Muslim advocacy groups has been thus far cautious. They have called upon local police forces to step up protection and surveillance, and bring the culprits to justice. CAIR-CAN, a measured voice of advocacy for Canadian Muslims thanked Mr. Harper for his “reassuring condemnation.”

In normal times and circumstances, such measures would be sufficient.

But these are no longer normal times and circumstances.

Muslim advocacy groups, and ad-hoc coalitions of Imams such as those who recently united to condemn unequivocally abuse against women, should now consider discussing the wider context that has seen increasing attacks on Canada’s (and Québec’s) Muslim citizens.

Stephen Harper must not be allowed to get away with apologizing for the results of policies consciously adopted by his government and actively promoted by the ministers closest to him. It may well be time for Canada’s (and Québec’s) Muslim citizens, along with their supporters among the broader society, to consider organizing themselves into self-defense groups that would step forward where police forces are unable or unwilling to do their job.

Such a step would help focus attention on the true instigators of vandalism of houses of worship, the propagators of Islamophobia, and the master planners of armed intervention and war in the Middle East: the Harper government.

*Fred A. Reed is a journalist, literary translator and author. He received the Governer General award for his English translation of  Le temps aboli : l’Occident et ses grands récits by Thierry Hentsch (Les Éditions du Boréal / Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal).

(December 21, 2011) – Muslim Presence announces a rare opportunity to meet Professor Tariq Ramadan at this weekend’s Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention in Toronto.

Ramadan, a leading Islamic thinker was named by Time magazine as one of the most important visionaries of the twenty-first century.He will be signing his books (English and French), including ‘The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism’ and ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad,’ at the Muslim Presence booth.

Muslim Presence is also pleased to host two distinguished Canadian Muslim authors for book signings throughout the weekend.

Fred A. Reed, an international journalist and award-winning literary translator, will be signing his latest book, ‘Then We Were One.’ A three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation, plus a nomination in 2009 for his translation of Thierry Hentsch’s Le temps aboli, Empire of Desire. 

Monia Mazigh will be signing her latest publication, ‘Hope and Despair.’ Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year.

The book signings will take place at times to be listed at the booth from Friday, December 23 to Sunday, December 25.

Muslim Presence will also be running a White Ribbon Campaign at its booth. The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.

Attendees at the convention will be asked to take the pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls and wear a white ribbon to signal their commitment to end violence against women.

WHERE: Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention @ Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building Booth number: 1422

WHEN: Friday, December 23 – Sunday, December 25, 2011

TIME: Check booth 1422 for schedule of book signings

This wave sweeping across the region, which is indeed a historical turning point, is essentially about restoring dignity to people – a dignity that Allah has conferred on each human being

 

According to the Qur’an, human beings are created with a natural and innate disposition (fitra) that leads us to recognize the Divine:

“[Adhere to] the nature (fitra) of Allah upon which He has created [all] people.” (Qur’an, Surah 30:30); “He (God) has inspired in [human beings] the good or evil [nature] of an act, whosoever has purified it (soul) has succeeded, one who corrupts it has surely failed.” (Qur’an, Surah, 91:8-10).

This innate disposition is engraved in the human conscience and leads humans to question their actions and the imbalances in society.

Today, we reflect on these verses of the Qur’an as we try to understand and draw lessons from the growing discontent being expressed through mass street protests and the occupy movements in cities around the world.

People in many countries are expressing their frustrations with the system they live under by going out onto the streets and into the public squares.

They are fed up and won’t take it any more – they are fed up with being suppressed; they are fed up with being oppressed; and they are fed up with being treated unjustly.

In the second decade of the 21st century, and in this year of 2011, we are observing a shift around the world.

These street protests are leading to unprecedented and rapid changes in many countries.

In the past year, governments have fallen in North Africa and the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring demonstrations.

In the last few months, protests have sprung up in Europe and North America to push back against austerity measures being imposed by international financial bodies.

Greater equity is being demanded. But we also sense a search for meaning.

The Arab Spring uprisings were sparked by a young 26-year-old fruit vendor in Tunisia who took desperate action by pouring gasoline on himself, then lit himself thereby consuming his body.

The desperate action of this young man, Mohammad Bouazizi, ignited a revolution in Tunisia.

Less than a month later, the dictatorship which ruled Tunisia came to an end.

This led to Tahrir Square in Egypt and fall of another dictator; to the Libyan uprising and the fall of the government; to continuing struggles in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and around the region.

Many analysts and commentators have said that these uprisings are about people seeking democracy and aspiring for freedom.

But the word that is frequently mentioned is “dignity”

This wave sweeping across the region, which is indeed a historical turning point, is essentially about restoring dignity to people – a dignity that Allah has conferred on each human being:  “Indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam” (Qur’an, Surah 17:70).

For decades, the dignity of people in these lands have been trampled and suppressed by tyrants. What the people in the region are asking for is a restoration of their human dignity.

These uprisings reminded us that when people stand together for common universal values – change happens.

Beyond commenting and analyzing the events that have captivated the world, we must look for lessons we can derive from these historic moments.

We have learnt that courage and non-violent resistance trumps tyranny. Once fear of the tyrant is removed from the hearts of the people, the game is up.

We have learnt that when people mobilize for something noble; to speak truth to power; to fight to restore their human dignity, exceptional things can happen.

Now we are witnessing mass street movements around the world.

Protestors are expressing frustration with, what they say, is an unjust system, one in which 1% take the greatest share of the pie and 99% pick up the crumbs.

Governments are baffled as to what exactly the protestors want: what are their demands? what are the list of things they want?; what do they stand for?. The protestors are described as “fuzzy and unfocused” and “their antics are infuriating people.”

However, the Occupy movement counter that they are anything but fuzzy.

Susan Ursel, the lawyer representing the Occupy Toronto, said that the protestors are “hope made visible” and are engaged in an “exercise of conscience.”

Occupy Wall Street issued a statement this week after being evicted from the New York park stating their movement is a struggle for justice and equity: “We are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people — all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power.”

What the protestors are questioning is the system that has reached its limits.

Paul Gilding, the Australian environmentalist, calls what we are witnessing the Great Disruption and he is the author of a book by the same name.

He argues that these demonstrations are a sign that the current growth-obsessed capitalist system is reaching its financial and ecological limits: “I look at the world as an integrated system, so I don’t see these protests, or the debt crisis, or inequality, or the economy, or the climate going weird, in isolation — I see our system in the painful process of breaking down.”

Canadian icon, David Suzuki, bluntly describes how the world is in the state it finds itself in today:  “My generation and the boomers who followed have lived like reckless royalty and thoughtlessly partied like there’s no tomorrow. We forgot the lessons taught to us by our parents and grandparents who came through the Great Depression: live within your means and save some for tomorrow; satisfy your needs and not your wants; help your neighbors; share and don’t be greedy; money doesn’t make you a better or more important person. Well, the party’s over. It’s time to clean up our mess and think about our children and grandchildren.”

These mass street demonstrations and occupy movements have exposed, not just the corrupt dictators in the Middle East and the obscenely rich on Wall street, but almost every other player who are stuck in the past.  It has also exposed the lack of moral leadership of the religious establishments whether they are the churches, temples or mosques.

These mass movements are asking tough moral questions.

While the Arab spring is a reminder about the importance of dignity and the aspiration for freedom by human beings, the Occupy movements are a wakeup call about the important moral virtues of justice and equity.

When justice is on the table we must take heed because justice is one of the edifices of this religion:  “God commands justice and fair dealing…” (Quran, Surah 6:90); “…Be just, for it is closest to God-consciousness…” (Quran, Surah 5:8); “Believers!  Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (Quran, Surah 4:135).

Muslims cannot ignore the voices of people who are calling for a new social contract that is more just.

This is made clear by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) who once said to his companion, Mu’adh Ibn Jabal: ‘Beware of the supplication of the unjustly treated, because there is no shelter or veil between it (the supplication of the one who is suffering injustice) and Allah’ [Hadith, Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Conclusion:

When imbalance in society takes hold, the conscience of people causes them to rebel, to say ‘enough is enough.’

The street protests and Occupy movements are asking us to ask ourselves some fundamental questions.

Equality and justice must be pursued in a totally new way — this obsession that we have today with endless wealth creation must be stopped.

The justice that we should be talking about is not a competition to redistribute wealth between the 1% and the 99%, to see who gets more stuff.; This type competition is detrimental to our humanity: “The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things), Until you visit the graves.” (Qur’an, Surah 102:1-2).

As people of Faith, we must bring to the table a discussion of justice that seeks to restore balance by offering insights into the effects of an unbridled obsession to get more material possessions.

We must promote a return to the simple lifestyle that the Prophets of God were sent to teach us – one that teaches us that having more does not make us happier and that dignity is not to be found in rampant consumerism.

We are required, as believers in Allah, to reject lifestyles that destroy ourselves and the planet.

We must ask ourselves, and these events around the world, should be asking us to interrogate ourselves. Are our current ways of living distracting us, destroying us and the planet?: “Believers! Do not let your wealth and children distract you from the remembrance of Allah. Those who do so are losers.” (Qur’an, Surah 63:9).

We have reached the breaking point.

The masses have had enough.

The environment has had enough.

The future of our societies is now being played out on the streets.

People are asking for a better world, for a cleaner world – a world that is just and equitable and one that honors the dignity of people.

Supplications:

We ask forgiveness of Allah for every stumbling on our part, and for every slip and error.

We ask His forgiveness for those of our words which have not been matched by our deeds.

We ask His forgiveness for every covenant we made within ourselves but which we then fell short of fulfilling.

We ask His forgiveness for every blessing which He bestowed upon us but which we employed in disobedience to Him.

And after having asked for His pardon for all these things, we ask that He should honour us with His forgiveness and mercy, and overlook the entirety of our sins, both evident and concealed.

O Allah Forgive us, have Mercy on us, guide us, support us, protect us, provide for us and elevate us

O Allah remove from those who are sick their difficulty and cure them, You are the only One who cures.

O Allah, forgive and have mercy of those who have passed away and elevate their status in the Hereafter.

Our Lord, accept our repentance, cleanse us of our misdeeds,  answer our prayers, substantiate our pleas, guide our hearts, straighten our tongues and banish all ill-will from our breasts.

*Sermon delivered by Muneeb Nasir at Hart House Debates Room, University of Toronto, November 18 2011

##
References:

SUZUKI, David (2011). Occupy Movement Demands Fresh Thinking — For Our Grandchildren. Retrieved November 12, 2011 from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/david-suzuki/occupy-movement_b_1082730.html

GILDING, Paul. The Great Disruption. Bloomsbury US, 2011.

DOBBIN, Murray (2011). A progressive dialogue: Occupy — What can it teach the left? Retrieved November 12, 2011 from http://rabble.ca/news/2011/10/progressive-dialogue-occupy-what-can-it-teach-left

Supplications adapted from a dua that Imam Al Ghazali wrote at the end of one of his volumes of Ihya Ulum Ad Din.

Source: IQRA (http://iqra.ca/2011/street-lessons-injustices-made-visible/)

Among the nearly 6500 books Jefferson sold to the Library was a two-volume English translation of the Qur’an, the book Muslims recite, study and revere as the revealed word of God. The presence of this Qur’an, first in Jefferson’s private library and later in the Library of Congress, prompts the questions why Jefferson purchased this book, what use he made of it, and why he included it in his young nation’s repository of knowledge

 

Facing the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. stands the Jefferson Building, the main building of the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, with holdings of more than 140 million books and other printed items. The stately building, with its neoclassical exterior, copper-plated dome and marble halls, is named after Thomas Jefferson, one of the “founding fathers” of the United States, principal author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and, from 1801 to 1809, the third president of the young republic. But the name also recognizes Jefferson’s role as a founder of the Library itself. As president, he enshrined the institution in law and, in 1814, after a fire set by British troops during the Anglo-American War destroyed the Library’s 3000-volume collection, he offered all or part of his own wide-ranging book collection as a replacement for the losses, commenting that “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

Among the nearly 6500 books Jefferson sold to the Library was a two-volume English translation of the Qur’an, the book Muslims recite, study and revere as the revealed word of God. The presence of this Qur’an, first in Jefferson’s private library and later in the Library of Congress, prompts the questions why Jefferson purchased this book, what use he made of it, and why he included it in his young nation’s repository of knowledge.

These questions are all the more pertinent in light of assertions by some present- day commentators that Jefferson purchased his Qur’an in the 1780′s in response to conflict between the us and the “Barbary states” of North Africa—today Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. That was a conflict Jefferson followed closely— indeed, in 1786, he helped negotiate a treaty with Morocco, the United States’ first treaty with a foreign power. Then, it was relations with Algeria that were the most nettlesome, as its ruler demanded the payment of tribute in return for ending semiofficial piracy of American merchant shipping. Jefferson staunchly opposed tribute payment. In this context, such popular accounts claim, Jefferson was studying the Qur’an to better understand these adversaries, in keeping with the adage “know thy enemy.” However, when we look more closely at the place of this copy of the Qur’an in Jefferson’s library—and in his thinking— and when we examine the context of this particular translation, we see a different story.

O rom his youth, Thomas Jefferson read and collected a great number of books, and a wide variety of them: The collection he eventually sold to the Library of Congress comprised 6487 volumes, ranging in subject from classical philosophy to cooking. Like many collectors of the time, Jefferson not only cataloged his books but also marked them. It is his singular way of marking his books that makes it possible to establish that, among the millions of volumes in today’s Library of Congress, this one specific Qur’an did indeed belong to him.

The initials "T.J." were Thomas Jefferson's device for marking his books: On this page, the "T." is the printer's mark to help the binder keep each 16-page "gathering" in sequence, and the "J." was added personally by Jefferson.
The initials “T.J.” were Thomas Jefferson’s device for marking his books: On this page, the “T.” is the printer’s mark to help the binder keep each 16-page “gathering” in sequence, and the “J.” was added personally by Jefferson.

 

In the 18th century, the production of books was still an essentially manual process. By means of a hand press, large sheets of paper were printed on both sides with multiple pages before being folded. They were folded once to produce four pages for the folio size, twice to produce eight pages for the quarto or four times to produce the 16-page octavo. These folded sheets, known as “gatherings,” were then sewn together along their inner edges before being attached to the binding. To ensure that the bookbinders would stitch the gatherings together in the correct sequence, each was marked with a different letter of the alphabet on what, after folding, would become that gathering’s first page.

Thus, in an octavo volume like Jefferson’s Qur’an, there is a small printed letter in the bottom right-hand corner of every 16th page. It was Jefferson’s habit to take advantage of these preexisting marks to discreetly inscribe each of his books. On each book’s 10th gathering, in front of the printer’s mark J he wrote a letter T, and on the 20th gathering, to the printed T he added a J, thereby in each case producing his initials. This subtle yet unmistakable signature appears clearly on the two leather-bound volumes in the Library of Congress.

Jefferson’s system of cataloging his library sheds light on the place the Qur’an held in his thinking. Jefferson’s 44-category classification scheme was much informed by the work of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), whose professional trajectory from lawyer to statesman to philosopher roughly prefigures Jefferson’s own career. According to Bacon, the human mind comprises three faculties: memory, reason and imagination. This trinity is reflected in Jefferson’s library, which he organized into history, philosophy and fine arts. Each of these contained subcategories: philosophy, for instance, was divided into moral and mathematical; continuing along the former branch leads to the subdivision of ethics and jurisprudence, which itself was further segmented into the categories of religious, municipal and “oeconomical.”

Jefferson’s system for organizing his library has often been described as a “blueprint of his own mind.” Jefferson kept his Qur’an in the section on religion, located between a book on the myths and gods of antiquity and a copy of the Old Testament. It is illuminating to note that Jefferson did not class religious works with books on history or ethics—as might perhaps be expected—but that he regarded their proper place to be within jurisprudence.

Jefferson organized his own library, and he shelved religious books, including his English version of the Qur'an, with other works under "Jurisprudence," which  under "Moral Philosophy."
Jefferson organized his own library, and he shelved religious books, including his English version of the Qur’an, with other works under “Jurisprudence,” which fell under “Moral Philosophy.”

The story of Jefferson’s purchase of the Qur’an helps to explain this classification. Sifting through the records of the Virginia Gazette, through which Jefferson ordered many of his books, the scholar Frank Dewey discovered that Jefferson bought this copy of the Qur’an around 1765, when he was still a student of law at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. This quickly refutes the notion that Jefferson’s interest in Islam came in response to the Barbary threat to shipping. Instead, it situates his interest in the Qur’an in the context of his legal studies—a conclusion that is consistent with his shelving of it in the section on jurisprudence.

Jefferson’s legal interest in the Qur’an was not without precedent. There is of course the entire Islamic juridical tradition of religious law (Shari’ah) based on Qur’anic exegesis, but Jefferson had an example at hand that was closer to his own tradition: The standard work on comparative law during his time was Of the Law of Nature and Nations, written by the German scholar Samuel von Pufendorf and first published in 1672. As Dewey shows, Jefferson studied Pufendorf’s treatise intensively and, in his own legal writings, cited it more frequently than any other text. Pufendorf’s book contains numerous references to Islam and to the Qur’an. Although many of these were disparaging—typical for European works of the period—on other occasions Pufendorf cited Qur’anic legal precedents approvingly, including the Qur’an’s emphasis on promoting moral behavior, its proscription of games of chance and its admonition to make peace between warring countries. As Kevin Hayes, another eminent Jefferson scholar, writes: “Wanting to broaden his legal studies as much as possible, Jefferson found the Qur’an well worth his attention.”

” We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their
civil capacities.”

— From the Virginia Statute for
Religious Freedom, ratified 1786;
drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777

In his reading of the Qur’an as a law book, Jefferson was aided by a relatively new English translation that was not only technically superior to earlier attempts, but also produced with a sensitivity that was not unlike Jefferson’s own emerging attitudes. Entitled The Koran; commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed, it was prepared by the Englishman George Sale and published in 1734 in London. A second edition was printed in 1764, and it was this edition that Jefferson bought. Like Jefferson, Sale was a lawyer, although his heart lay in oriental scholarship. In the preface to his translation, he lamented that the work “was carried on at leisure time only, and amidst the necessary avocations of a troublesome profession.” This preface also informed the reader of Sale’s motives: “If the religious and civil Institutions of foreign nations are worth our knowledge, those of Mohammed, the lawgiver of the Arabians, and founder of an empire which in less than a century spread itself over a greater part of the world than the Romans were ever masters of, must needs be so.” Like Pufendorf, Sale stressed Muhammad’s role as a “lawgiver” and the Qur’an as an example of a distinct legal tradition.

This is not to say that Sale’s translation is free of the kind of prejudices against Muslims that characterize most European works on Islam of this period. However, Sale did not stoop to the kinds of affronts that tend to fill the pages of earlier such attempts at translation. To the contrary, Sale felt himself obliged to treat “with common decency, and even to approve such particulars as seemed to me to deserve approbation.” In keeping with this commitment, Sale described the Prophet of Islam as “richly furnished with personal endowments, beautiful in person, of a subtle wit, agreeable behaviour, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to every one, fortitude against his enemies, and, above all, a high reverence for the name of God.” This portrayal is markedly different from those of earlier translators, whose primary motive was to assert the superiority of Christianity.

In addition to the relative liberality of Sale’s approach, he also surpassed earlier writers in the quality of his translation. Previous English versions of the Qur’an were not based on the original Arabic, but rather on Latin or French versions, a process that layered fresh mistakes upon the errors of their sources. Sale, by contrast, worked from the Arabic text. It was not true, as Voltaire claimed in his famous Dictionnaire philosophique of 1764, that le savant Sale had acquired his Arabic skills by having lived for 25 years among Arabs; rather, Sale had learnt the language through his involvement in preparing an Arabic translation of the New Testament to be used by Syrian Christians, a project that was underwritten by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in London. Studying alongside Arab scholars who had come to London to assist in this work, he acquired within a few years such good command of the language that he was able to serve as a proofreader of the Arabic text.

"Translation" or "Interpretation"?“In this Qur’an, We have put forward all kinds of illustrations for people, so that they may take heed—an Arabic Qur’an, free from any distortion.”

That quotation from Surah 39, Verses 27-28, of the Qur’an was rendered into English by Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem, Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. It emphasizes a basic yet far-reaching fact about the holy book of Islam: It was received and recorded in the Arabic language. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is inseparable from the language in which it was revealed, and for this reason, all Muslims worldwide recite it in Arabic, even though today the vast majority of Muslims are neither Arabs nor native speakers of Arabic. Many Muslims also regard the eloquence of the Qur’an as evidence of its divine provenance. A popular story recounts how, in the time of Muhammad, the most famous poet of Makkah converted to Islam after reading one of its verses, convinced that no human could ever produce a work of such beauty.

This makes any attempt to render the Qur’an into another language a daunting task, and explains why Muslims prefer to call non-Arabic versions of the Qur’an “interpretations.” The difficulties are compounded further by the interpretive problems inherent in all translations, that is, the word-by-word demand for decisions about the intended meaning of the original and the most suitable equivalent in the target language. These issues the Qur’an itself seems to anticipate: “Some of its verses are definite in meaning—these are the cornerstone of the scripture—and others are ambiguous. The perverse at heart eagerly pursue the ambiguities in their attempt to make trouble and to pin down a specific meaning of their own: only God knows the true meaning.” (Surah 3, Verse 7, Abdel Haleem version)

Most modern-day “translators” of the Qur’an explicitly engage these issues and explain their particular approach and decisions. While there will never be a definitive Qur’an in any language other than Arabic, these days English readers are able to choose from among a wide selection of careful “interpretations.”

It is thus not so surprising that Sale turned from translating the holy text of Christians into Arabic to rendering the holy text of Muslims into his native English. Noting the absence of a reliable English translation, he aimed to provide a “more genuine idea of the original.” Lest his readers be unduly daunted, he justified his choice of fidelity to the original by stating that “we must not expect to read a version of so extraordinary a book with the same ease and pleasure as a modern composition.” Indeed, even though Sale’s English may appear overwrought today, there is no denying that he strove to convey some of the beauty and poetry of the original Arabic.

An inscription inside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. quotes Jefferson's 1777 statute on religious pluralism that inspired the constitutional right that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."
An inscription inside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. quotes Jefferson’s 1777 statute on religious pluralism that inspired the constitutional right that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust.”

Sale’s aspiration to provide an accurate rendition of the Qur’an was matched by his desire also to provide his readers with a more honest introduction to Islam. This “Preliminary Discourse,” as he entitled it, runs to more than 200 pages in the edition Jefferson purchased. Fairly presented and conscientiously documented, it contains a section on Islamic civil law that repeatedly points out parallels to Jewish legal precepts in regard to marriage, divorce, inheritance, lawful retaliation and the rules of warfare. In this substantial discussion, Sale displays the same quality of dispassionate interest in comparative law that later moved Jefferson.

O ut did reading the Qur’an influence Thomas Jefferson? That question is difficult to answer, because the few scattered references he made to it in his writings do not reveal his views. Though it may have sparked in him a desire to learn the Arabic language (during the 1770′s Jefferson purchased a number of Arabic grammars), it is far more significant that it may have reinforced his commitment to religious freedom. Two examples support this idea.

In 1777, the year after he drafted the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was tasked with excising colonial legacies from Virginia’s legal code. As part of this undertaking, he drafted a bill for the establishment of religious freedom, which was enacted in 1786. In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted his strong desire that the bill not only should extend to Christians of all denominations but should also include “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

This all-encompassing attitude to religious pluralism was by no means universally shared by Jefferson’s contemporaries. As the historian Robert Allison documents, many American writers and statesmen in the late 18th century made reference to Islam for less salutary aims. Armed with tendentious translations and often grossly distorted accounts, they portrayed Islam as embodying the very dangers of tyranny and despotism that the young republic had just overcome. Allison argues that many American politicians who used “the Muslim world as a reference point for their own society were not concerned with historical truth or with an accurate description of Islam, but rather with this description’s political convenience.”

“The style of the Korân is generally beautiful and fluent, especially where it imitates the prophetic manner, and scripture phrases. It is concise, and often obscure, adorned with bold figures after the eastern taste, enlivened with florid and sententious expressions, and in many places, especially where the majesty and attributes of God are described, sublime and magnificent; of which the reader cannot but observe several instances, though he must not imagine the translation comes up to the original, notwithstanding my endeavours to do it justice.”

— from “A Preliminary Discourse”
by George Sale

These attitudes again came into conflict with Jefferson’s vision in 1788, when the states voted to ratify the United States Constitution. One of the matters at issue was the provision—now Article vi, Section 3—that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Some Anti-Federalists singled out and opposed this ban on religious discrimination by painting a hypothetical scenario in which a Muslim could become president. On the other side of the argument, despite their frequent opposition to Jefferson on other matters, the Federalists praised and drew on Jefferson’s vision of religious tolerance in supporting uncircumscribed rights both to faith and to elected office for all citizens. As the historian Denise Spellberg shows in her examination of this dispute among delegates in North Carolina, in the course of these constitutional debates “Muslims became symbolically embroiled in the definition of what it meant to be American citizens.”

It is intriguing to think that Jefferson’s study of the Qur’an may have inoculated him—to a degree that today we can only surmise— ainst such popular prejudices about Islam, and it may have informed his conviction that Muslims, no less and no more than any other religious group, were entitled to all the legal rights his new nation could offer. And although Jefferson was an early and vocal proponent of going to war against the Barbary states over their attacks on us shipping, he never framed his arguments for doing so in religious terms, sticking firmly to a position of political principle. Far from reading the Qur’an to better understand the mindset of his adversaries, it is likely that his earlier knowledge of it confirmed his analysis that the roots of the Barbary conflict were economic, not religious.

Sale’s Koran remained the best available English version of the Qur’an for another 150 years. Today, along with the original copy of Jefferson’s Qur’an, the Library of Congress holds nearly one million printed items relating to Islam—a vast collection of knowledge for every new generation of lawmakers and citizens, with its roots in the law student’s leather-bound volumes.

Sebastian R. Prange Sebastian R. Prange (s.prange@gmail.com) holds a doctorate in history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He studies the organization of Muslim trade networks in the pre-modern Indian Ocean, with a regional focus on South India.
Aasil Ahmad Aasil Ahmad (www.aasilahmad.net) is a freelance photographer and photo editor for Islamic Monthly magazine. He recently completed a project in Kashmir teaching photography to children impacted by the 2005 earthquake. His photos of the Hajj were featured in a series called “A Minox in Mecca” at the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto. He lives in Washington, D.C.

This article appeared on pages 2-7 of the July/August 2011 print edition of Saudi Aramco World

There are certain coincidences that look like much more than coincidence. Though the events we witness daily in the world around us are by no means necessarily connected, it seems clear enough that the way they are perceived—and disseminated—lends them a curious likeness. Consider briefly the following items.

A recently published report by the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) surveyed Canadian perceptions of group and inter-group relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious minorities. According to Director Jack Jedwab, “when it comes to the groups we selected, it is Muslims that are viewed most negatively by Canadians, and thereafter Atheists and Aboriginals.” The study concluded: “relations between Muslims and non-Muslims represent the population’s dominant concern.”

Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME) not only took note of the survey, but pointed out, in a press release issued the same day, that “in 2009-2010, the government gave $450,000 funding to an independent study on anti-Semitism conducted by the Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA).” The organization went on to add that “it is unclear why the government prioritized anti-Semitism, which is not a problem in Canada, and that the government has failed to commission similar studies on any other form of discrimination.”

As these statements were being released, officials of the conservative government reacted sharply to a tweet attributed to Linda Sobeh Ali, the representative of the Palestinian Authority in Ottawa. Ms Ali is said to have transmitted a video of a touching recitation, by a young Palestinian woman, of a poem entitled “I am Palestinian.” At the end of the poem, the English translation speaks of a war being fought “to kill the soul of Zionism,” which Stephen Harper’s sharp-eyed scouts were quick to interpret as “anti-Semitism,” which, in their re-formulation, amounted to a call to “destroy the Jews.” Right or wrong, the outcome was the same: the diplomat was withdrawn from Canada, either for being unaware of the words actually spoken in the offending poem, or for deliberately equating Judaism and Zionism, concepts that are clearly not interchangeable. So it is that in the land of politicized principles, the error that is said to have been committed is the error to be punished.

Strikingly, these stories appeared the same day that 477 Palestinian prisoners were exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In her report, Radio-Canada’s Ginette Lamarche, reporting from Jerusalem, “on the Israeli side” and in the presence of “mothers moved to tears” said: “He’s the son of every Israeli family. A boy who did his military service just like his school-mates…” A young future conscript then adds: “He’s all Israel’s son. He served our country. It’s a great day for all of us.” Radio-Canada’s correspondent continues: “Many Israelis feel that they have paid a high price to repatriate soldier Shalit. In the streets of Jerusalem people are saying, “too many Palestinians have blood on their hands.” To sum up: on the one hand, we have a “boy” (repeated three times) who played at being a soldier during school recess “with his classmates,” and on the other, the “Palestinians who have blood on their hands.” Innocence and its opposite: difficult to be more Manichean than that.

So, two weeks after the self-isolation of Israel, the United States and Canada against most of the rest of the world over the Palestinian demand for full membership in the United Nations, and despite the media advantage enjoyed by the former over the latter, the story continues to be told according to the time-honored formula: the weak are always wrong. Even though the anti-Semitism protocol signed by Foreign Minister John Baird and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on September 19, 2011, stops short of criminalizing criticism of Israel, it appears that everything is being done to ensure that such criticism is unthinkable, and that every effort must be made to represent the Palestinians in the least favorable and most alienating way possible in the eyes of Canadian citizens.

Our impressionable eyes and hears see and hear what the spotlights and microphones tell them to.

Salah Basalamah is Assistant Professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa. He holds an M.A. in intellectual property law from Pierce Law School in New Hampshire, and a PhD in traductology from the Université de Montréal. Dr. Basalamah is also the author of many articles on the philosophy of translation and copyright. His most recent book is: Le Droit de Traduire/Une Politique Culturelle pour la Mondialisation.

Troy Davis was black and poor. In the current American legal system, if you happen to be arrested, these two features point directly to your guilt. “Reasonable doubt” works mainly for white men and women, such as Casey Anthony, rich citizens and famous, people like O.J. Simpson or Dominique Strauss Kahn. In Barack Obama’s America, injustice for poor African-American citizens seems to be rooted in the system itself.

Turning his face towards the victim’s relatives, he repeated with calm determination : “May God forgive you because I did not kill him.”

Troy Davis had been waiting on death row for more than twenty years, all the while proclaiming his innocence.

These were his last words to those in charge of the American judiciary system and to society as a whole : “May God forgive you, you are legally killing an innocent man.”

Numerous appeals for a stay of execution in order to reassess the guilty verdict were not enough. Troy Davis, an African-American, was executed, murdered by lethal injection. A shameful day.

He was the “perfect” murderer of a white police officer in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989. The dead officer’s family—as well as the judiciary system itself—remained blind to compelling evidence of Davis’s innocence. Over the years, many witnesses recanted their testimony (explaining how they had been pressured by the police) ; no real proof against the accused was ever presented. International campaigns were launched, but nothing could change the court’s decision.

Innocent or not, it was too late : Davies had to die. Not even the timing was an accident : prior to elections politicians, and the system, like to prove they are tough on crime.

Electoral concerns drive the death penalty business. Another convict was killed the same night, with three others to be executed very soon. What a cynical, undignified and shameful farce. And they call it a democratic system ?

Troy Davis was black and poor. In the current American legal system, if you happen to be arrested, these two features point directly to your guilt. “Reasonable doubt” works mainly for white men and women, such as Casey Anthony, rich citizens and famous, people like O.J. Simpson or Dominique Strauss Kahn. In Barack Obama’s America, injustice for poor African-American citizens seems to be rooted in the system itself.

Yet, beyond these well-known facts, and the unbearable lack of justice and fairness, the ongoing implementation of the death penalty is in itself shocking.

Our current judicial systems, in both East and West, are so imperfect, so lacking in equity and transparency, that one wonders how citizens and civilized people can accept that human beings be executed in their name, be they innocent and even guilty. We have so much to reform, so much to improve, that our shortcomings should always benefit the accused. Far better to err in her or his favor than to kill by mistake.

Last summer we witnessed one such a case. Ten days after September 11, 2011, Mark Stroman attacked three people he thought were Muslims (one of them was not), killing two of them.

The third, an American Muslim of Bangladeshi background, Rais Bhuiyan, pretended to be dead and survived the attack. Stroman was arrested and eventually sentenced to death.

He remained nearly ten years on death row ; during these ten years his would-be victim, Rais, tried to save him, offering his forgiveness and requesting that the judiciary halt its infernal machinery and save him. Despite Rais’ personal commitment, Stroman was executed on July 21, 2011 in Texas.

In those years, Mark Stroman had profoundly apologized and had become another man when he left this world. Rais Bhuiyan has become the true face of dignity and compassion and, indeed, the personification of how Islamic values and spirituality can transform an open heart.

This is a far more profound and true example of what Islam stands for than the recent executions in Saudi Arabia by beheading of a so-called exorcist or in Iran by hanging a man from a crane (as happened few weeks ago). Both sentences were issued by opaque judicial systems where neither the accused nor her/his lawyer (assuming an accused even has the right to an independent lawyer) could defend themselves properly, only compounding the shame.

In the United Stated, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran or anywhere else, capital punishment should be abandoned. Our judicial systems are too imperfect, too influenced by politics and money, and far too exposed to procedural mistakes. The accused should enjoy the benefit of the doubt ; our societies should remain dignified.

In 2005, I launched a call for a moratorium on the death penalty, corporal punishments and stoning. I emphasized that in the very name of Islam, Muslim majority societies should stop treating people in such a way, that so often targets women and the poor.

It is in the very name of our common values that we need to take a stand today against capital punishment. Troy Davis is dead ; so is Mark Stroman : the former was surely innocent and was hoping for us to be forgiven, the latter was guilty, and begged for our forgiveness.

As we look at ourselves in a mirror let us hope that, with or without compassion, we may at least show some dignity. If we remain silent, the shame is ours.

← Previous PageNext Page →

We thank the following people