Articles » lena hassan

Articles » lena hassan

Articles » lena hassan

Writings of Ottawa MAC Youth WorkersFri, 15 Jul 2011 13:57:13 +0000enhourly1Muslims shoulder double standards, 23 Oct 2010 20:25:00 +0000MAC Youth Lena Hassan

This past September marked the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11. Like everyone else, emotions flooded back as I reflected on the years since the disaster.

After 9/11, the world was told not to let the terrorists “win” by living in fear. Nine years later a Time magazine poll found 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against non-believers. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise since 62% of respondents said they didn’t know a Muslim.

In the years following 9/11, Islam was accused of being an insular religion, with critics saying Muslim leaders should fight extremism by supporting transparent, moderate gathering places for the youth. Yet Park 51, the proposed Muslim community centre in central New York – a project aimed at fighting radicalism and promoting moderation – is being opposed by 61% of Americans.

With recent topics such as Islamic Family Arbitration, the niqab and now Park 51, it’s clear the media finds it entirely too easy to take anything attached to Islam or Muslims and shroud it in controversy.

Hence Park 51 is being termed Ground Zero Mosque when it’s not being built on Ground Zero and it isn’t a mosque. It’s a community centre and it is four blocks from Ground Zero.

You can’t see Ground Zero from the community centre, but people still think four blocks is too close. What’s far enough when designating a Muslim-free zone?

Many claim this is simply one case where Muslims are being asked to exercise sensitivity; however, anyone with even a superficial understanding of the discourse knows better.

Case in point, the increasingly mainstream opinion that the Christian president of the United States is a secret Muslim. We are living in a scary time when labelling someone as Muslim is slander.

It’s difficult to wade through the discourse on Park 51 as it is riddled with double standards. One striking example of this double standard is how Muslims are being told, even by the most resistant to the idea of Park 51, that they have every right to build a community centre, yet they are simultaneously being demonized for exercising that right.

Muslims are being told they aren’t welcome and to exercise sensitivity towards those who have an issue with the location. Where is the sensitivity for a community that is being told they aren’t wanted?

We’re all sold the American dream in which freedom includes the promise of prosperity and success for all, yet in our climate it is a dream an undervalued Muslim population finds hard to believe.

The debate on Park 51 has been termed by people on both sides as a “teachable moment.” The debate has been dressed up as a lot of things, but what it really comes down to is freedom, and freedom cannot survive without respect and justice for all. History has shown us that no matter how you dress it up, bigotry is still bigotry. We need to hold a mirror up to ourselves and ask the hard questions: Are we going to be ruled by our passions or our principles? Will we be a people who simply believe in rights or who also practise rights? And will we uphold them for one another despite our personal leanings?

I hope we won’t have to wait another nine years to find out.

Lena Hassan, a former Londoner, is a writer in Ottawa.


]]> Muslims not newsworthy, 19 Dec 2009 22:13:13 +0000MAC Youth Lena Hassan

Whether you call it Islamophobia or just plain reporting, Muslims are in the news and except for 20-second sound-bites from a local Eid celebration, it’s not good.

There’s the persistent and popular debate on the hijab and Muslim women in general. There are wars waged or threatened in Muslim countries such as Iraq and Iran and, most importantly, there are stories reporting atrocities committed by nominal Muslims.

When this last happens, Muslims, like everyone else, cry for the victims, feel anger toward the ones who committed the act and pray for justice to be served.

The voice of opposition to extremism is a roar within the Muslim community yet it’s oddly translated to a whisper by the media.

Because of this lack of reporting, many ask, “Where are the moderate Muslims and why aren’t they denouncing these crimes?” The answer to this frequently asked question is, we’re right here.

We’re standing beside you at the bus stop, we’re administering your flu shot, we’re assisting you at the mall, we’re giving you medical advice, we’re eating at the table across from you in the restaurant; we’re everywhere and we’re living moderately.

So why must Muslims take on the task of town crier when a crime is committed in the name of Islam? To do so would be to give legitimacy to the act and the person committing it when the fact is, when someone kills in the name of Islam or Allah, Muslims, in line with the general public, think, “I don’t know that person and I don’t know that religion,” because we don’t.

We don’t follow a religion that says it’s OK to kill or commit suicide. We don’t follow a religion that tells us to hate Christians and Jews. We don’t follow a religion that is evil. We are not evil and should not be told to apologize for something we didn’t do.

There are those who are looking for religious leaders to speak out, not individual Muslims. They have spoken out and continue to do so, though you have to search high and low to find this information.

If you’re not reading the Taipei Times regularly you may have missed an article reporting on imams denouncing bombing attacks.

If you’re not watching New York’s 24-hour newscast, you may not know that a coalition of more than 200 imams has formed to confront the dangers of extremism.

And if you’re not visiting CAIR-CAN (Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations) online, you may have missed the statement by 120 Canadian imams on extremism, in which they state, “. . . Any one who claims to be a Muslim and participates in any way in the taking of an innocent life is betraying the very spirit and letter of Islam. We categorically and unequivocally reject such acts. We will confront and challenge the extremist mindset that produces this perversion of our faith . . .” These imams also agreed to help CSIS and the RCMP in a collective fight against terrorism.

So where are the moderate Muslims, you ask? I’m here to challenge that question and to have us all come together and collectively ask, “Where is the moderate coverage?”

Lena Hassan is a London writer.


]]> responsibilities, small acts of faith, 16 Nov 2009 13:57:10 +0000MAC Youth Lena Hassan

I’ve never been one for sound bites. These little excerpts, intended to widen our worldview in a matter of seconds, actually narrow our outlooks and frames of reference.

As a Muslim, I feel inundated by sound bites from both sides of the fence. Islam is “the fastest growing religion” and a “religion of peace.” Alternatively, I hear the terms “Islamofascist,” “East vs. West” — the list goes on and on.

In recent years, the media’s fixation on Muslims and Islam has made me feel a greater sense of responsibility. Thus, in my mind, our 1.1 billion-strong community has been whittled down to just one: me.

As what some may call a “visible minority,” I believe my interactions with individuals are more than mere exchanges. Like it or not, when I turn away after a communication with somebody, they may subconsciously judge all Muslims by what I have said or done, or how I acted.

Was I quiet? Well, all Muslim women are passive. Was I rude? She must be an ungrateful immigrant. Did you see me walking behind a man? It must be her overbearing husband.

It’s not about doing Islamic damage control or putting on a face to the world. Instead, it’s about understanding that my appearance represents “the other” to some.

This isn’t a guess or paranoia on my part — it comes from years of being asked the same recurring question: “Where are you from?”

Many are surprised to find out that I am indeed Canadian and have no accent. Even though I find the question a strange one, given our enthusiasm for multiculturalism, I’m always happy to answer and happy we live in a society where we feel comfortable to ask.

This is the responsibility the physical and tangible Islam (wearing the hijab) brings to my life.

However, the more important responsibility is one that no one can see: the spiritual. This brings me to another sound bite — “Islam is a way of life.”

I sometimes wonder if people really understand what this means. Yes, Muslims pray five times a day, but the way of life is everything you do in between those five prayers.

For example, did I pray and then earn a living doing a dishonourable service? Did I pray and then lie to my mom? Did I pray and then lose my patience with a sales associate? Did I pray and then show up late to an event?

The average person has no idea how detailed the religion of Islam is. This may be why it’s so difficult to discuss Islam as it relates to different parts of your life.

The fact is Islam doesn’t just influence your life — it is your life.

I think a lot of people view Islam as something rigid. However, my experience has been that it is quite fluid. When I see someone volunteering at the food bank, that’s an Islamic act. When I see someone helping another on the bus, that’s an Islamic act. When I see friends who love and protect one other, that’s an Islamic act.

The Five Pillars of Islam — believing in one God, praying, paying alms, fasting and pilgrimage — are the foundation of the religion. But as with the foundation of a house, it’s how you accessorize it that makes it yours.

So how have I personalized my religion? I guess I can sum it up in one sentence: I try to love things that God loves and stay away from things He dislikes.

In my personal life, I look for friends who live Islamically. This does not necessitate that they be Muslim, just that they add decency to my life and the world around them.

In my professional life, I look for jobs that allow me to interact with a variety of individuals and feed me with conscience, not a fat paycheque because it’s much more important for me to be a contributor than a consumer.

For me, these are all important steps I take to avoid waking up one morning and asking myself: where did my faith go?

I can tell you first-hand that being yelled at — “Go back home!” — while walking on the street, or being told the same by an anonymous caller who has found your home number, can really shake you up.

But instead of falling to my knees and looking to the sky, I’m able to look to my left and to my right and see my faith smiling back at me in all directions and in all forms.

Because, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced in life, very rarely is it the loudest who has the most valuable thing to say. I’ve found the same to be true for myself as a Muslim — it’s the small consistent acts that keep my faith strong.

Lena Hassan is a third-generation Canadian who was born in London, Ont., and currently lives in Ottawa. She completed three years at the University of Western Ontario in political science.