Monday, July 8, 2013

Western Muslim Identity: Embracing your Niqab and your Citizenship

In recent years western perceptions of Islamic practices such as forced marriage, extremism, sexism, terrorism, and most recently, 'honour' killing, have riled up quite a bit of controversy in Western media critics. For example, one of the most recent topics that have surfaced as problematic has been the niqab. A niqab is a veil that Muslim women use to cover their faces in order to be seen as who they are and not what they look like. To some, the niqab represents the Muslim population exercising their right to follow their religion, some individuals believe it is a security issue, and to others it signifies the Muslim minorities failing to integrate with Western society. Although the niqab is perceived by the many to be a practice that is oppressive to women wearing the niqab, but the woman wearing the niqab may think differently. Not only do many perceive the niqab as oppressive without even asking the woman directly, the person practicing her right to wear niqab has her own struggle of trying to properly function in society as a niqabi woman. In truth, the niqab is another excuse among many for the post 9/11 western media to generate stress among the Muslim minority.

What is Canadian identity?

Canada is often thought of as a country with a pluralistic and diverse society; therefore one assumes that Canada ought to be a mosaic of appreciated cultures. A place where all citizens are willing to understand and maybe even appreciate each others’ different belief and value systems. Malicious practices like ‘honor’ killing are depicted as prevalent in our culture that are used as excuses in effectively separating Canadian culture from the things that Muslims are depicted of doing.

Technically speaking, it’s simply Islamophobia disguised as biased sampling data; a few choice case studies cannot represent an entire community. Almost all Muslims, including myself know that there is no honor in killing, no matter what the situation, but sadly, our views aren’t the ones that are voiced on TV and printed in the papers. This oh-so-convenient ‘misunderstanding’ of Islamic culture is what creates the friction between the Islamic and Western worlds. As a young hijabi woman growing up between both worlds, I can see that there are many similarities between each cultures’ values, and often notice that Islamic practices are well mirrored to Western ideals. Like the west, Islam is egalitarian. Equality is always upheld in Islam; for example, there is no mosque for people of a certain country, financial status, or race, all mosques are open to all people, even non-Muslims (considering they are respectful). In mosques, people from completely different backgrounds pray shoulder to shoulder and worship the same God, because God doesn’t discriminate, so why should God’s worshipers? On the other hand, there are churches for certain countries, and races, there are Bulgarian churches and churches for black people, and even Chinese churches. Now how can the west eliminate racism if there is still segregation at a place as integral to spiritual life as the place of worship?

Fighting all kinds of oppression is on the forefront of Islamic values, and we have been doing an excellent job at adhering to these ideals, and have been waiting for the west to catch up to us.

So, what is Canadian identity?

Canadian identity is and always will be, to-be-determined. Canada is a country of immigrants. Whether 2nd generation or 13th generation, we are immigrants, and therefore the cumulative culture and identity of the people will be a constantly evolving idea that will depend on who are the active members of society at that time. If Muslims want Islamic culture to be an assimilated part of Canadian culture, we can make it happen, all we need to do is stop using our skin color, hijab, and other ‘differences’ as an excuse to why our people can’t integrate with society, instead just get outside and participate. This goes for people of all cultures, not only Muslims: the key to re-defining Canadian culture and getting this country to accept our values is to volunteer, work, and engage themselves with their country.

By – Saeema Sai

The Sargasso Exhibit

The Sargasso exhibit in the 2011 Luminato festival swallowed me like I was food. It reacted to my movement and seemed to acknowledge my presence. Vials containing cooking and olive oil, vinegars, and lemon juice hanged above, collecting toxins from the surroundings to transform and neutralize into a precipitate in the vial. Discrete speakers floated among the mesh-like body, emitting a subtle yet soothing melody. Balloon-like structures slowly inflated as I came under them, almost as if my movement was the oxygen for the lungs of this organism. Scent glands picked up material in the air and gained mass over time creating a soily mixture.

The question which Phillip Beesley, the chief architect of the Sargasso installation wanted to answer was a simple one: "Can architecture exhibit a sense of life?" After going through his piece, the answer to that question is definitely positive. The Sargasso structure is part of an evolving field called responsive architecture which attempts to have structures intelligently interact with their environments and change in response to them.

Is it possible of us to see an increase in architecture of this style in the near future? Only time will tell, but who wouldn't want to transform the dullness of a regular mall, school or office building into something as alive and interactive as Sargasso? I know I certainly would.

Breif Bio of Shuko Ebhara

Shuko Ebihara has started her career as an intern at IOM Helsinki participating the Culture Orientation project. From 2007, she has worked at the Japan Foundation as project officer where she has launched "Okubo Art Project" , an Art workshop targeted to the children and youth with migrant background. The workshop involved video-making, photography and contemporary art to provide children and youth an opportunity to feel their potential within. From 2012, the "Okubo Art Project" has developed to "Shinjuku Art Project" to conduct joint project with the Shinjuku-ward. Born in Japan, grew up in Peru and London, and lives in Japan.