Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Canada Day, Ramadan and "jihad"

The Canadian Council of Imams (CCI) recently issued an official statement against the radicalization of Muslim youths in Canada. In their press release, the CCI warned young Muslims from traveling to join the “jihad” overseas.

This warning has particular significance in light of Canada Day celebrations which happen to coincide with the start of Ramadan, the most important month in the Muslim calendar.
Besides refraining from food, drink and various vices, Ramadan also calls for increased gratitude for our blessings and remembrance of the less fortunate, such as those suffering from natural disasters, famine, poverty and war.

As someone with ties to multiple “homes” (Canada, Malaysia, the Muslim ummah), being grateful for the blessings of life in Canada is easy but I always find it hard to fully immerse myself in Canada Day festivities. Between asserting my value in my new country of abode and claiming rightful membership to being Malaysian and Muslim, there is rarely a happy middle.

This is especially difficult given the ongoing conflicts where Muslims are directly affected such as in Burma, China, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria, and Canada’s direct or indirect role in those conflicts. On the home turf, there are still huge rooms for improvement in terms of the country’s relationship with minority, immigrant and Aboriginal communities.

How, then, can one be thankful while still acknowledging these faults?

In a short documentary by VICE, a young Briton named Amer Degahyes travels to Syria with his two brothers to fight with the Free Syrian Army. His father disapproves of the move and one of his brothers has been killed during a firefight. Nevertheless, Degahyes was calm and clearheaded in expressing his belief that it was his duty as a Muslim to join the fight.

Degahyes’s father, Abubaker agreed with his sons that they had an obligation to help their Muslim brothers, but he thinks they should have taken a different approach.

There are multiple channels through which the international community can be – and have been – helping those suffering through war, famine, or natural disasters. There are many charitable organizations – local, international, Islamic or secular – that have a long track record of delivering aid to the heart of conflict zones. They are always in need of funding and man power, and would always welcome our contribution.

There are also multiple channels through which we can express our concerns for what’s happening overseas and pressure the government into altering its policies and taking action. Contact your local MPs and make your concerns heard. Join the marches and peaceful protests to raise awareness about what’s happening in these seemingly faraway places. Sign and circulate petitions.

As the CCI explained, the Muslims who are suffering under oppressing have the right to self defense. Those living outside those countries do not have the same right to fight. What we do have, however, is the right to use the resources available to us towards helping those in need.

We’ve benefited tremendously from Canada’s systems of governance, welfare, social security and education. A show of gratitude for these benefits doesn’t mean silent and unquestioned acceptance of Canada’s policies, be they good or otherwise.

Being grateful for Canada means I have to speak up when injustice occurs, be it at home or abroad, and encouraging the government to support aid relief efforts. Being grateful also means channelling my energy and ideas towards making Canada better, in whatever way I can.

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