Presenting: Farzana Hassan – A Progressive Voice in Canadian Islam

7. You were the Canadian President of an organization called “Muslims
against Terrorism”. Please tell us more about that.

Muslims Against Terrorism was established in 1999 by Mr. Soharwrady. It
seeks to fight terrorism and violence at the ideological level. It has
fourteen chapters all over the US and Canada. I was the National President
until September 2005. Under my mandate, the group organized lectures and
seminars in an effort to correct Muslim and non Muslim understanding of
concepts such as Jihad, women’s rights in Islam and interfaith issues. We
also sent many press releases condemning acts of terror and violence against
civilians.

8. You are now involved in the Muslim Canadian Congress. Please tell
us more about this organization and your work with them.

The Muslim Canadian Congress is a progressive Muslim organization which
supports gay rights, equality for women and separation of church and state.
I support the general platform of the organization although we often
encounter differences over how to best achieve our objectives-all of course
in the spirit of democracy. The Muslim Canadian Congress recently won the
battle against the introduction of Shariah tribunals with the help of other
groups such as the Canadian Council of Muslim Women of which I am a member
as well.

9. Another organization you are part of is the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims.

The Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims meets at Temple Emanuel once
a month. We discuss issues of mutual concern in a friendly and respectful
manner. The group also issues joint statements protecting the rights of
Muslims and Jews living as diasporic, minority communities in Canada. The
group recently issued a powerful statement against the offensive cartoons of
the prophet Mohammed published by the Danish journal Jyllands Posten.

10. You also work with the “Credit Valley Interfaith Coalition”, please tell us more about that.

My interfaith work accords me membership in various other multi-faith
groups such as the Credit Valley Interfaith Coalition and the 905 Interfaith
groups. We share our beliefs and practices with each other, again in a
friendly and respectful manner. The idea is not to convince each other about
the” truth “of our particular faith group but to genuinely understand our
differences and develop respect for them.

11. How would you describe your world view today, as a Muslim woman living in Canada. How did you arrive at your insights?

I am a believer and a Muslim. However, I espouse a sort of a spiritual
humanism which is inclusive of all faiths, ethnic differences and
nationalities. I have come to abhor class differences or distinctions based
on religion or other things that divide people. We are all the same deep
down. The different faiths are basically expressions of the same general
philosophy common to all faiths and I see no reason why we cannot all live
in harmony and peace with each other. I see the differences as being very
superficial and the commonalities far greater.

12. You also hold lectures at different organizations. What topics do you
lecture about and at which institutions?

I have recently given talks on various topics such as women’s rights in
Islam. I have spoken at Seneca College, the University of Vermont, at UTM,
the University of Rochester, UMass, and also at various churches and
synagogues on terrorism, jihad and women’s rights in Islam.

13. You wrote a book called “Echos from the Abyss”, please tell us more about that.

My book entitled “Echoes from the Abyss” is a fictional account of child
prostitution in India. As I said the characters are all fictional but the
story is based on a very ugly reality that affects eight and nine year old
girls trapped in the degradation of sex slavery. The story is set in India
but the problem is universal. It takes place right here in Canada. The book
can be purchased from amazon.ca. It is available in some bookstores in the
US. It is also available in the Toronto Women’s bookstore.

14. You are also an accomplished musician, and you indicated that Islam
puts some limits on the type of music that is allowed. Please tell us more about that.

I should qualify that it is only orthodox Islam that puts limits on
music. As a matter of fact, Muslims have contributed tremendously to the
growth of music as an art form. Many instruments currently in vogue in the
Muslim world were invented in Muslim Spain such as the Oud. According to
some historical accounts, the current system of music notation is also
Muslim in origin.

I am a pianist and a vocalist. I have taught classical piano to students in
Canada for many years. I also perform Hindi and Urdu songs at informal
gatherings.

15. What message do you want to send to the world about Islam?

Islam is not a monolith. There are Muslims who are fighting for justice
harmony and tolerance such as some of the organizations I am member of.
Even conservative Muslims are peaceful people although I urge them to
challenge traditional interpretations of Islam. If, as they believe Islam is
universal, it cannot be practiced in a parochial, medieval or patriarchal
way.

16. What can we all do to restore and create a more positive climate between Muslims and other religions / cultures?

It is imperative for all peoples dedicated to restoring peace and harmony
to the world to examine their own religious precepts as well as those of
others in a dispassionate manner. There are many misconceptions floating
around about the religion of Islam in the West as there are about Jews among
Muslims or about the Americans in the Muslim world. All sides need to shed
their biases and prejudices. All religions exhort followers to tolerance
and love for all. There are many people working towards this cause. I would
like to see more of these messages covered in the media as well. The media
tends to exploit the differences and bigotry among people. It should focus
rather on the positive efforts being undertaken by many among all faith
traditions, including Islam.

Farana, thank you so much for taking your time to share your views and enlighten us. All of us need to come together to break down our barriers of ignorance and to open our hearts to get to know one another, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

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