SUNDAY JUNE 09, 2013; Toronto ON



Farzana Hassan is a political activist, and like many political activists, she challenges many social, cultural and religious traditions of her times. Since she belongs to the Muslim community, she challenges not only political Islam but also many Muslim organizations and institutions that she considers extremist and fundamentalist. She expresses herself honestly, candidly and passionately. No wonder she receives passionate and angry responses from fundamentalist and extremist Muslims. But those reactions do not stop her efforts as she has a strong commitment to her dream, her goal, her ambition and her mission. She wants to reform Muslims all over the world, especially those who are living in the Western world, as she considers herself a “reformist Muslim”.

Farzana’s career as a Muslim reformer started after the tragedy of 9/11. Like many other Muslim scholars with heightened social and political conscience, the 9/11 tragedy forced her to review her understanding of the Islam and Muslim psyche, terrorism and religion, as well as jihad and peace. Her passionate dialogues, discussions and debates with ordinary Muslims and Muslim leaders made her realize that there were two groups of Muslims. The majority of Muslims were the moderate peace loving Muslims who were dead against terrorism, violence and jihad declared by Osama bin laden and Al-qaeda. She writes, “Was terrorism Islamic? Many proclaimed no, such an outrage was a clear deviation from Islamic principles. The Quran was clear that no innocent life was to be taken, that jihad was to be declared only by governments, that Islam is a religion of peace.” [p5]

But there was also a minority of extremist and fundamentalist Muslims who supported Osama bin Laden because “…he accused America of looting the Muslim world by establishing military bases, by digging for oil, by supporting Israel and by killing innocent Palestinians.” [p5]

Farzana, being a peace loving Muslim, joined the moderate majority and started working with the groups named Muslims against Terrorism and Islamic Supreme Council of Canada [p29] to prove to the world that most Muslims were peace loving people and Islam was a religion of peace.

            Farzana was more concerned about those Muslims who were living in North America as she did not want them to be discriminated and marginalized by main stream Canadians and Americans. But then she was surprised to find out that there were some Muslims for whom Islam was not just a personal religion, it was rather a political ideology and they had a dream of spreading Islam all over the world. She quotes one in these words, “One Muslim said in an ongoing internet debate, ‘We are not leaving the US, we are here to spread Islam all over the US and North America. Thanks to Allah that we already have bought many Christian churches and millions of Christians have already embraced Islam.’” [p 8]

            When Farzana joined the moderates to promote a peaceful Islam, challenged the extremists and opposed the fundamentalists, she received angry and abusive reactions. She writes, “ Apart from being branded an apostate, I have been accused of being a sell-out, a Zionist conspirator, a self-hating Muslim, a ‘whore’ for opposing the burka, a shrew who flouts all domestic virtues and a libertine who promotes “immoral secular values”.

            When people challenge her faith, question her belief system and her loyalty to Islam, she responds by stating that, in spite of her strong objections to many Islamic traditions, she still considers herself a dedicated Muslim who would like to reform the Muslim world. She writes, “I am still a committed Muslim, but I cannot endorse orthodox Islam’s institutions, its perceptions for women, its punitive systems, its discriminatory sharia provisions or its treatment of minorities”. When people wonder that if she has so many objections to so many Islamic traditions then in what way she considers herself a Muslim, she responds, “I uphold the unity of God, which is Islam’s central doctrine. I am also an observant Muslim, who prays and gives alms to the poor. Additionally, I subscribe to Islam’s ethics, in that I do not lie, steal or cheat.” [p 31]

            While reading her book, Unveiled  it becomes very clear that being a Muslim woman, Farzana has been trying to resolve her personal, political and philosophical conflicts with patriarchal systems and mono-theistic religions, especially Islam. She is particularly critical of those institutions that treat girls and women as second class citizens. She is critical of ISNA Islamic schools for their ‘retrogressive views’ and ‘discrimination of Muslim girls’. [p 26] No wonder she chose to enroll her daughter in public school where ‘her diversity was prized, at ISNA it was shunned” [27]  Farzana believes Muslim girls need to have equal rights and privileges as Muslim boys as she is against gender discrimination and segregation. Because of her progressive upbringing her daughter grew up to be an enlightened and open minded young lady. Farzana writes, “She began asking all sorts of questions about Islam. She once asked me how I know Islam was the one true religion.” Farzana is also critical of female theologians like Farhat Hashmi who told her that “the ultimate authority is that of the husband’s and no matter what the differences, his views must prevail over hers.” [p 61]

            Being a political activist, Farzana not only challenged ISNA Islamic school, she also challenged Canadian Council of Muslim Women on the issue of honor killings.  After getting disillusioned by Muslims against Terrorism, Farzana joined Muslim Canadian Congress [MCC] and became its President. She shares the organization’s mission statement in these words, “As Muslims we believe in a progressive, liberal, pluralistic, democratic and secular society where everyone has a freedom of religion. We want our communities to be equal and active contributors and participants in the development of a just, democratic and equitable society in Canada.” [p 125] While Farzana is proud of MCC’s role among Canadian Muslims, she is also aware that many other Muslim organizations have strong ideological and religious differences with MCC’s philosophy and politics. She writes, “In stark contrast to its [MCC’s] position are the numerous other Muslim organizations that take a more traditional religious view of issues confronting Muslims in Canada. Notable among these are the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, NAMF and Cair-Can [p125]. Cair-Can is a media watchdog for perceived Islamophobia or anti-Muslim content p 128 ***

In the last decade I have seen Frazana grow as a writer and a political activist. She has been fighting religious and political wars on different frontiers. She is one of the most controversial female Muslim writers of our time and one of those Secular Muslims who are criticized from the right as well as the left. But she faces those criticisms boldly and confidently. She reminds me of a couplet

Zahid-e-tang nazar ne mujhay kafir jana

Aur kafir ye samajhta hay musalman hoon main

Family of the Heart [FOTH] has invited Farzana Hassan many times before to share her ideas and ideals as we believe in engaging in a passionate dialogue with our members. Dialogue is the tradition of Socrates that helps us learn from each other. On behalf of FOTH, I congratulate Farzana Hassan on publishing her book, Unveiled  which will inspire many Muslims and non Muslims to review their views about Islam, jihad, fundamentalism, honour killings and human rights. Farzana Hassan is a reformer who dreams of such a just and peaceful world where women will not be second class citizens and minorities will have equal rights and privileges.

                        Words 1262                                                    May 7th, 2013