Muslim street preacher Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. (Terry Davidson/Toronto Sun)

So what is the media obsession with Muslims? Why is there such a need to discuss what’s under our burqas, or better yet, use ridiculous veil puns when speaking about Islam, Islamic law, Women in Islam, countries like Dubai or Iran, and of course, hijab?  From fake fatwas on phallic vegetables to the threat of creeping shari’ah coming soon to a McDonald’s near you — whatever the story, the Media is sure to get a lot of play from Muslims.

Especially if they’re able to ridicule Muslims as a community, make underhanded racist comments, depreciate Islamic religious practices or promote xenophobic fear mongering.

Take for example the recent, unfortunate remarks made by Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana. This 33-year old convert and street preacher wrote an email to the Toronto Sun suggesting that Canadian lawmakers should, “introduce laws that would make it illegal for women to dress provocatively in the streets” in order to “help prevent sexual assaults from happening in the future.” Naturally, The Sun News Network sensed a winner and constructed a handful of articles, three expert video interviews, mirror articles in Canada’s major Sun-affiliated cities, and a HuffPo spot out of some guy’s random, illogical thoughts.

Within 24 hours, the Toronto Sun had interviews with Atangana — complete with delicious sound bites of him saying that women who dress provocatively are always at risk for rape, and that the Muslim women’s dress should be used as a model for protection. Because you know, blame for rape and sexual assault lies directly with the victim, not the perpetrator. And wearing modest clothing is going to magically protect you. Right.

(more…)

Happy Friday everyone! ‘Tis the season, and since someone complimented my hijab saying that it was quite “festive,” I’ve decided to do a colourful roundup and save the heavy stuff for another time.

I mean I COULD talk about a new Immigrant guide in Quebec asking newcomers to not cook “smelly foods” or honour kill — but, that’s not only a “Muslim” thing.

And I COULD talk about Tarek Fatah’s horrific, self-hating, over-blown, incorrect, unfortunate understanding of 4:34, anti-Islamic rhetoric on honour killing — but my blood pressure would rise way too high for the health of “the little one.”

And I COULD talk about how Lowes pulled their advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim because the religious right organised a letter writing campaign saying, “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values” — or I could just boycott Lowes. *toothy grin*

In any case, colourful pictures are more fun since I’m so easily amused. Speaking of colourful pictures, do check out Mezba’s FANTASTIC  Lego translation and interpretation of the Qur’an 4:34. Lego makes everything better.

Enjoy!

1) A Muslim cleric residing in Europe has announced that men should not touch, prepare or look at Hershey’s kisses, oranges, melons, avocados, doughnuts or any other food that resemble a woman’s arwah lest they become sexually aroused — is the nutty fatwa I would love to be commenting on today.

Instead, the cleric has suggested that women should avoid carrots, cucumbers and bananas because of their… phallic resemblance. Male relatives should properly cut up the offending fruit and serve their women in order to maintain proper social decorum and to keep women pure of thought.

Thankfully, Egyptian editor Muna Khan (and others) pointed out the ridiculousness of the fatwa — saying that it’s nothing more than a publicity stunt which unfortunately causes the media to jump on absolute nonsense instead of, oh I don’t know, covering “coherent debate on women’s rights in Egypt.”

The cleric also missed listing butternut squash, tamarind and the Washington Monument. Personally, I feel he failed to grasp the absolute irony of not only asking men to do women’s work — but also asking them to literally emasculate themselves by slicing off phallic symbols. Brilliant!

Unsurprising, the whole darn thing was pretty hoaxy to begin with.

(Stop snickering and getting all bothered over the picture. It’s ONLY a grapefruit. Credit.)

2) Inspired after experiencing misdirected Islamophobia, photographer Bharat Choudhary decided to showcase Muslim life in the United States and England — capturing Muslim’s life stories “as a platform to help Muslims and non-Muslims understand each other.”

Check out his gorgeous work, The Silence of Others at TIME Lightbox.

© Bharat Choudhary / The Alexia Foundation Iythar, an Egyptian-British artist, paints at her studio in east London, July 17, 2011. One of her paintings, top-left, is titled, The Way Sarkozy Intended It. “It is an interpretation of the burga ban in France,” she said. “It shows how the ban takes away the voice and identity of Muslim women, leaving them speechless and incomplete.”

Fierce, fierce, fierce!!!

3) I’ve talked about her before, but fencing queen Ibtihaj Muhammad is always welcome on my blog. ESPN has a great little video interview with her mommy — discussing Ibti’s desire to be the first American Muslim female Olympian in her sport.

Here’s what Mama Muhammad had to say about girls and sports:

I want (my girls) to be self-confident. I raised Ibti to be very self-assured. With sports, when you’re good at something, people are drawn to you — they want to be around you, you’re like a magnet. Ibti has made her identity as a fencer and an athlete. People respond to that, and it’s given her confidence.

You can read more of the transcript here (ESPN! Fix your video!)

4) Finally, who can resist auto-tuned nasheeds? Not me! Certainly not when the cute sister-brother team of Dima and Muhammad Bashar are singing away. Making both Eryn and myself get up and dance. Ya haraam!

I was listening  to Ryan Doyle on NewsTalk 1010 this evening and caught a bit of his segment “What the Fatah” — where he gets the uber progressive Muslim talk show host, Tarek Fatah to weigh in on current events.

Tonight’s topic was the recent ruling made by the Ontario Court of Appeal that the niqaab must be removed by witnesses if a fair trial is to be had.  This issue was first brought to light when a victim of sexual assault refused to remove her veil in front of her attacker during the trial.  The courts have determined that removal of veils will only be necessary if the judge or jury feel that the trial or the rights of the accused are being hindered:

“If, in the specific circumstances, the accused’s fair trial right can be honoured only by requiring the witness to remove the niqab, the niqab must be removed if the witness is to testify,” the Court said.

What I got to hear tonight was a complete mockery of the niqaab and a misplaced criticism of the Canadian judicial system. Fatah and Raheel Raza, Board Member of the Muslim Canadian Congress got on the air and lambasted the Canadian judicial system as being defunct and completely incapable. What the courts should have ruled, they argued, is to ban the niqaab all together.

Because a sexual assault case is the proper venue to debate niqaab in Canada.

And when they weren’t describing the niqaab as “face masks” (what is this Halloween?), Raza was calling women in niqaab, “sacks of potatoes.”

Nice.

I never liked the idea that someone accused of sexual assault has a right to see their accuser, the alleged victim, in court. “Innocent until proven guilty” Sure. “Balanced justice.” Sure. Whatever. I just don’t like it.  At base, the law itself can be sexist in application and education, and while there ARE a few cases of mistaken identity and false accusations, there is ALSO a history of using the court system to scare sexual assault victims into dropping charges.

So I cannot fathom the horror and fear that ANY sexual assault victim has to go through when she must face the person who beat her, hurt her, raped her, hugged her, tickled her, violated her, diseased her, choked her, terrorized her, incest her, touched her, threatened her, ripped her, knifed her, shot her… ESPECIALLY WHEN SHE HAS TO SIT IN COURT and RELATE EVERY HORRIFIC DETAIL to strangers.  In the hopes that someone believes her enough to put the person away for, what, 4-12 years?  If that.

So what do you do when the religious rights of a woman and the legal rights of a defendant clash?

In 2007, a woman known as N.S. (now aged 32) told police that her cousin and uncle sexually abused her repeatedly while she was between the ages of 6 and 10.  During the preliminary hearing to see if there was enough evidence to go to trial, the judge ordered her to remove her niqaab, face veil, based on his assessment that she was wearing it for comfort and not religious reasons.  The Toronto Star reported:

In October (2008), Ontario Court Justice Norris Weisman reached his “admittedly difficult decision” to force the complainant to testify with her face bared after finding her “religious belief is not that strong … and that it is, as she says, a matter of comfort,” he wrote in his ruling.

When the complainant indicated last fall she wanted to wear her veil while testifying at the preliminary hearing, defence counsel told the judge that assessing her demeanour was of “critical importance” when tailoring questioning.

Weisman asked the woman to explain her objections.

“It’s a respect issue, one of modesty and one of … in Islam, we call honour,” she replied. “It’s also about the religious reason is to not show your face to men that you are able to marry. … I would feel a lot more comfortable if I didn’t have to, you know, reveal my face.”

The case then went to the Superior Court and this week is now being considered by the Appeals Court.  At the moment, the case has nothing to do with the sexual assault.  The niqaab issue has completely railroaded this woman’s accusations and her chances at having her abusers go to trial (at least, this is how some Media sources are portraying it).  And it’s not like she’s fighting it.  She’s open to removing her face veil for identification purposes (her veil-less passport and driver’s license is being used as evidence against her), and has simply REQUESTED to keep her veil on during the trial.  And not because she doesn’t wish to be seen by her abusers.  Because she does not wish her face to be seen BY ANY MAN who is not a part of her immediate family.

What the Appeals court is deciding upon, is whether or not they have the right to judge her level of faith and piety. N.S. has even agreed that it’s OK for a court to question her on her adherence to Islam and dedication to wearing the veil:

A Muslim sexual-assault complainant has conceded that trial judges ought to be able to question the degree of a woman’s faith before allowing her to testify in a niqab.

“Speaking for my client, I do not have a problem with a couple of respectful questions,” lawyer David Butt told the Ontario Court of Appeal on Wednesday. “A little bit of understanding can go a long way.”

The major arguments against her wearing the veil at trial are that: a) the accused has a right to see the accuser’s face and b) subtle cues from facial expressions will be lost upon the court if she covers her face.

Because SHE MIGHT BE LYING.

N.S., young Canadian grown girl is apparently sexually assaulted by close relatives for four years of her life. At some point, she decided to take on the Islamic practice of veiling.  Supposedly, she’s weighed the pros and cons of the practice and feels that she is more comfortable living her life with her face covered.  A decade after the abuse has ended, she has the strength and (hopefully family support) to report it to the police. She is possibly going up against cultural and community stigmas and in my opinion, must be incredibly strong to report the abuse in the first place.

It’s not like she put the veil on during the trial. And even if she did, so what? Why is her level of piety being called into question?  Because this is a sexual assault case.  If she were a witness to a crime, would this be an issue?  Probably not — but because her uncle and cousin have a right to see their accuser, it seems like this case is becoming a battleground for the niqaab in Ontario.

I’m not the only one frustrated:

At one point, Mr. Justice David Doherty expressed frustration that the issue ever boiled into a major legal debate at all. “These agendas people bring make everything so complicated,” he said. “Why can’t it just be: ‘Why are you wearing a veil?’ ‘It’s my religious practice.’ ‘Then, let’s go on.’ ”

It’s become an issue because people fear the veil.  It’s calls up to mind distrust, oppression… bank robbers.  It’s a hotly debated issue within the Muslim community as well.  Is it pre-Islamic apparel that was practiced by the wealthy?  Did the prophet’s wives actually veil, or was that metaphor?  If it’s required, why is it specifically NOT allowed during the Hajj, the religious pilgrimage every able Muslim must perform in their lifetime?  Because of this ambiguity, people hold tight to the idea that it is oppressive — forced upon women. Indeed it is.  But there are many thousands of women, for centuries, who have willingly put it on because they feel it brings them closer to God.

It’s the agenda of people like Tarek Fatah who want to ban the niqaab outright (and hijab if we’d let him) that has helped in this railroading.  I’d like to safely say that he hates Muslims, at least, Muslims like me. (he blatantly refused to speak with me at a press conference, he has refused to speak with my female colleagues before debating them on Michel Coren Live)  In his mind, if you wear the hijab, you are incapable of critical thinking.  Why else would you be following the archaic laws of a misogynist religion.  And he’s supposed to be a voice for Muslim feminism.  How can he be when he hates women in hijab, and is arguing for this victim to remove her veil because it is a “political symbol of oppression of women.”

Right. Let’s ask the woman who has been sexually abused to remove her clothing.

A specific piece of clothing that she feels comfortable in.  That gives her Divinely inspired strength.  No, instead, let’s question her faith.  Because she can’t possibly be wearing it for religious purposes. Nope. She’s a trouble maker.  Even though she’s shown her face for identification purposes, and is willing to show her face during trial… no. Let’s blow everything out of proportion and tie up the SECULAR court system with a RELIGIOUS issue.  Under the guise of protecting the rights of her abusers.

And this is just makes me sad:

Whatever is decided about the niqab, if N.S. testifies at the preliminary inquiry, it is still unclear what would happen at trial.

The lower court judge said evidence given by N.S. while wearing her niqab could be excluded if it was found that it denied the accused their rights to full cross-examination.

That puts the woman in a terrible position, the Ontario Human Rights Commission says. Either she can wear her niqab and risk her testimony being excluded and the charges being dropped, or she can violate her own religious beliefs and remove the niqab to ensure her testimony is allowed.

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