Monday, November 26, 2007

Saudi rape case - response submitted by David Liepert to Globe & Mail

David, who is one of the Sunni representatives in the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Group, shared the following response with us:

In countries like Canada, a woman has one chance in four of being raped in her lifetime. There aren’t any good statistics about how high that risk is in Saudi Arabia. There’s no question it happens there too, and wherever it occurs, rape is a crime of disgusting brutality. There’s an important difference between rape in Canada and rape in Saudi Arabia though: here a woman enjoys the full protection and support of the legal system, but there sometimes the legal system brutalizes her too.

I doubt many Globe and Mail readers haven’t heard about the current Saudi rape controversy. The facts of the case seem simple. A woman went to retrieve a photograph of herself from a man she wasn’t related to and she was kidnapped and gang-raped. The men are all in prison, serving what I hope will be lengthy terms of incarceration, but the controversy is over how the victim is being treated by the Saudi judiciary. Because she was willingly out in public without a male guardian she was sentenced to a flogging, and when her lawyer complained to the Saudi media the judges more than doubled her sentence and added a prison term too!

The judges behavior is an insult to women everywhere, but to pretend their management of the matter has been “Islamic” is an insult to God Most High. It’s interesting: those who admit they hate Islam make that claim as often as those who say they love Islam more than life itself. The Quran is actually quite clear about how Muslim men are supposed to treat women. Chapter four of the Quran, An-Nisa (Women) tells us that God blessed men with greater strength so we can better fulfill our responsibility to protect and provide for the women in our families, but the rest of the book is clear we’re supposed to use our blessings for the sake of everyone else too. Radical clerics often try to pretend otherwise, and in that pursuit they receive the support of extremists (both Muslim and not) and some poorly executed translations of the text. Any scholar worth their salt will tell you what the words really mean, and if you can’t find one handy a good Arabic dictionary will suffice as well.

There’s actually a good precedent regarding how Muslims should behave when a woman is accused of sexual impropriety because she’s been “out and about” with a strange man. Once, when Muhammad’s wife Aisha was on a journey with the Prophet she went off alone to look for a missing necklace. She became lost, and when she caught a ride back to their encampment with one of the Prophet’s male companions some Muslims accused her of having an affair. Then, among the many verses of Chapter 24, called Al-Nur (The Light) God revealed 24:4:

And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses to support their allegations- flog them with eighty stripes: and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors.

Not only is a Muslim woman supposed to be protected from that sort of insulting insinuation, her accusers are supposed to be flogged instead!

There’s little question the Saudi judges have gotten it horribly wrong this time, and contributed to a woman’s suffering in a truly horrendous fashion. Over here we hear a lot about how awful Islam is and how bad Muslims are, but I hope it’s no surprise that the tales are different in other parts of the world. The world’s not a very nice place, and we’ve all got statistics and opinions on who’s most to blame. Our different faiths figure largely in all our explanations, but we all may have more in common than we sometimes think. Although we often point the finger at faiths other than our own (and those without one claim that religion itself is the problem), all our different religions might actually be the solutions we’re looking for. Jesus warned about the futility of pointing fingers in his “parable of the mote” and the Quran condemns the practice as well: when we criticize others it’s often only a justification for being worse than we’re supposed to be ourselves. I’m glad our government has asked the Saudis to reconsider their sentences, and I sincerely hope it does some good, but it doesn’t do any good to use their behavior to condemn all Muslims or Islam. Virtually all of us belong to religions because we hope they’ll help us be better than we are. They all have helpful advice, and it makes me wonder: what would happen if we all did more of the good things our religions all tell us to do?

Dr. David Liepert is a founding director of the Faith of Life network, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Calgary and author of the soon to be released book, Me and You Beyond Belief, Together: A Path to Peace All Our Faiths Can Share.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Globe & Mail - Letter To Editor - Minister slams Saudi court ruling

As a Muslim and father of two daughters, when I read such stories, I am ever grateful that they are under the protection of Canadian laws. I am appalled with this disgusting behaviour of the Saudi government which is reprehensible under any reasonable interpretation of Islam. I personally want to publicly denounce such interpretation of Islam in favour of men at the expense of women resulting in such violence acts against women. I am pleased that my government has lodged a formal complaint. I hope that such actions, now and in the future, can lead to reforms in such countries for a better future for my Muslim sisters.

Almoonir Dewji
Calgary, Alberta

Original Globe & Mail Article

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

YMCA Calgary 2007 Peace Medals

YMCA Calgary 2007 Peace Medals

If you have ever wanted to make a difference but felt overwhelmed, thought it was impossible or didn’t know where to start, let yourself be inspired by YMCA Calgary’s 2007 Peace Medal winners.

Every year, YMCA Calgary recognizes eight deserving people or groups who have played a role in advancing peace around the world or right here at home. Our nominees and winners have used their talents, experiences and abilities to enhance the lives of others and proven that everybody can be a peacemaker in one way or another.

This year’s winners have promoted peace through helping the homeless, advocating for the exploited and vulnerable, providing hope for people in Africa and improving the climate at school.

Creating peace is not an easy task, but it has to start somewhere. Why not with you?

Almoonir Dewji – Humanitarian

…For raising awareness and helping victims of abuse, poverty, mental illness, and violence.

Further info

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Can we all just get along?

David Liepert
For The Calgary Herald
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Are there times when free speech should give way to the common good? Canada is a great place to live. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the things that sets us apart, but how Canadians behave toward each other has always been another.

Until recently, there's been an almost universal acknowledgment of limits regarding how we exercise our rights in a polite society. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but we all know how uncomfortable it can be when a child points a finger at someone who's larger, smaller, lighter, darker, or more or less physically endowed than the rest. One of the great things about Canada is how we've acknowledged that in the end, we're probably less different than we are the same.

The recent rhetoric attacking Muslim women and how they choose to dress makes it look as though that's not true anymore. Despite the fact that few Muslim women choose to wear veils over their faces, and despite the fact that those who do have always been willing to remove them when necessary, we've been treated to visions of Muslims hijacking the democratic process, masquerading as people they're not.

Despite a hijab having less influence on peripheral vision than a pair of eyeglasses, we've been treated to speculation on whether scarf-wearing Muslims can be trusted to drive. Despite Canada's long-term commitment to polite accommodation of all our different approaches to living, and despite Muslim Canadians' obvious and ongoing commitment to accommodating to life in Canada ourselves, we've seen a debate on "reasonable accommodation" touched off that seems aimed squarely at Muslims and our right to live in Canada politely, as we choose. At times, it's not been very polite at all.

Canada is home to many different religions, and people who choose to believe in one, many or none at all. To repeat Rodney King's plaintive cry: "Can we all just get along?" It's obvious that when people with different religions choose to live together, there's going to be some friction. Believers generally think they're "right."

Those who don't believe anything are often the most dogmatic of all. Does that mean we have to tell people when we think they're wrong? Belonging to different religions can make our differences easy to see and maybe even sometimes hard to reconcile, but shouldn't we at least try?

We're never all going to be able to agree about everything. Most Muslims and Christians think it's going to stay that way until Jesus comes back, but until then the Qur'an and the Bible are both clear that we should be trying to outdo each other in righteousness, not rhetoric.

I think most rabbis would agree which is more important, and so does virtually every other religion or ideology we've ever had. Given that, do we really want Canada to become a place where we all just sit and pick at each other? It doesn't matter what our religion is -- or whether we even have one -- every one of us knows we should be trying to make the world a better place.

We all know we don't have much choice but to learn how to get along. That's going to require a dialogue based on mutual respect, and eventually, we'll have to go back to promoting all the things we have in common over the few things that hold us apart.

If we work together doing the good all our gods and philosophies recommend, Canada will become a happy, safe home for everyone, no matter who's right or who's wrong. Wouldn't that be better for everyone?

David Liepert is a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Calgary, a founding director of the Faith of Life Network, and author of the soon to be released book Me and You Beyond Belief, Together: A Path to Peace All Our Faiths Can Share.

© The Calgary Herald 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holocaust survivor helps build understanding

Holocaust survivor helps build understanding

Graeme Morton
Calgary Herald

Saturday, November 10, 2007

With Remembrance Day falling on a Sunday this year, religious services to commemorate the bravery, sacrifice and human toll of wars past and present take on special meaning across Calgary.

One Christian church, Deer Park United, 77 Deerpoint Rd. S.E., has invited Jewish Holocaust survivor Sidney Cyngiser to speak during the Sunday morning worship.

"Deer Park has a history of interfaith partnerships. We felt having someone who experienced the horrors of war first-hand speak to us would be a very powerful experience," said Rev. Tom Melvin.

"Faith communities are people of stories and I believe the story of the Holocaust survivors is unique in human history," Melvin added. "This is one small act of us standing with people who have been hurt beyond imagining."

Cyngiser, 83, and his wife Bronia, both concentration camp survivors, have become eloquent speakers about the Holocaust and respected human rights advocates. They often talk to young people, both at the grade school and post-secondary level.

"It has (speaking engagements) become something of a religion to me," said Cyngiser. "I want tomorrow's citizens to know how fortunate we are in this country, that freedom can be fleeting and must be treasured."

Cyngiser said he weighed little more than 66 pounds when he was liberated from the Vaihingen camp near Stuttgart by French troops on April 7, 1945. The rest of his family, which hailed from Poland, died at the hands of the Nazis.

He says he and other survivors were able to eventually rebuild their physical bodies and lives, but the horror they experienced is never far below the surface.

"It's always there in the back of our minds," said Cyngiser. "But I don't believe in hate, because hatred, bitterness and anger are self-consuming. By having retained my humanity, I can claim victory regardless of my terrible losses."

Melvin says as hard as it is to comprehend the madness that swept Germany under Adolf Hitler, today's neo-Nazi sympathizers are equally difficult to stomach.

"Given all the information we have now about what happened during the Holocaust, today's hate-mongers are almost worse," said Melvin.

"Nazis believed in an angry, vengeful God. That's not the God I believe in and worship."

Cyngiser, who plans to attend Remembrance Day services at his synagogue today, says it's important to honour both soldiers and civilians who risked their lives to comfort, and eventually liberate, the oppressed.

"I don't claim to understand God, but I understand the concept of Godliness -- the compassion and love between human beings that should be our highest ideal," said Cyngiser.

© The Calgary Herald 2007


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Upcoming InterFaith Network of Calgary Event - Celebrating Guru Nanak Dev Ji Birthday

Date: Sunday, November 25
Venue: Sikh Gurudwara (Old Banff Coach Rd & 81st St SW)

11:30 - Main Durbar presentation
11:45-12:15 - Langar participation
12:15-1:00 - Group discussions

InterFaith Network of Calgary (IFNC) is an informal and grassroots group of Calgarians, belonging to several faith traditions, who have come together to promote goodwill and mutual understanding.

We believe that this objective is best achieved by interaction and dialogue among the followers of different faiths.

This belief is based on our conviction that while the general tendency is to highlight the differences among different faiths, a deeper study would reveal that we have more in common than is generally believed.

We hope that through these gatherings, we will encourage mutual respect and peace in our community.

We meet once a month to discuss questions related to our personal spirituality and religious practice.

The venues of the gatherings rotate among the places of worship.

Our theme for this year is: “Sharing Each Other’s Festivals”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Launch - A World of Faith: Introducing Spiritual Traditions to Teens

"A World of Faith: Introducing Spiritual Traditions to Teens" is written by a local author, Carolyn Pogue.

It includes a foreword by His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan.

Date: Friday November 9, 2007 at 7:30 pm
Venue: Scarboro United Church, 134 Scarboro Avenue S.W.

An online preview of this book, including the foreword, can be found at Google Books