You Are What You Eat!

By: Harun Cicek

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, All Praise is due to Allah!

As Muslims, we take pride in the “purity” of our religion in both physical and spiritual sense. For instance, there is great emphasis in Quran and in the example of our Prophet (saw) on personal hygiene and eating wholesome, halal food. Many great scholars have equated the purification of heart with the purification of our body, soul and food. Therefore, aside from the ‘halal or haram’ discussion, it is important to reflect on what is ‘pure and good food’. The following beautiful and comprehensive Hadith illustrates the significance of this issue:

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “Verily Allah the Exalted is pure. He does not accept but that which is pure. Allah commands the believers with what He commanded the Messengers. Allah the Almighty has said: “O you Messengers! Eat of the good things and act righteously” [23:51-53]. And Allah the Almighty also said: “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided you with” [2:167-172].Then he (the Prophet) mentioned (the case of) the man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty and who stretches out his hands to the sky (saying): “O Lord! O Lord!” (while) his food was unlawful, his drink was unlawful, his clothing was unlawful, and he is nourished with unlawful things, so how can he be answered?” [Muslim]

There are many other Quranic verses and Hadiths, specifically dealing with pure, good and wholesome foods and their importance. These references are not necessarily talking about halal or haram foods, rather, they are explicitly referring to the purity and goodness of food. All good and pure food -within the Islamic boundaries- can be halal but not all apparently what is often called halal food is good and pure. Alhamdullilah, when it comes to technical details of slaughtering, we can differentiate between halal and haram meats but how about what happens to that animal before it is slaughtered? Here, our intention is not to define, discuss or declare what is halal or haram, but rather, the intention is that through what is presented in this commentary, Muslims resume to the vigilance of our righteous ancestors regarding what is filling their stomach. “That flesh which has grown out of Haraam food will not enter Jannah. Hell has more right to it” (Ahmad: Tirmidhi).

Before the industrial revolution food was produced in simple manner; in harmony with Allah’s creation, good and pure. Especially after the Second World War, however, agriculture has undergone a rapid transformation in the direction of mechanisation, extensive chemical dependency and biotechnology. Environmental degradation caused by such modern agriculture practices have been well documented over the years. Less researched, however, is the health implications of mass production agriculture and its offshoot, the processed food industry.

This subject may cause some confusion because most people, not involved in agriculture, are unaware of the methods employed in modern agriculture to produce food. Some may even ask; what could be impure about agriculture and food? In our minds, we still have the image of those idyllic farms with green pastures and happy animals, but the reality draws a different picture. The picture of abused animals, eroded soil, lost biodiversity, chemical residues and genetic modification. This reality, in my opinion, is far from being good and pure.

Lets briefly investigate how crops are grown in conventional agriculture. From seed to harvest, crops are constantly under the “protection” of chemicals. Some seeds are coated with fungicides, and then crops are sprayed during the season with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and on top of all these, some are sprayed again before the harvest in order to desiccate and easily harvest the crop. One should consider how much chemical residue would be left on these crops and whether they are “good and pure”.

Beside the excessive application of chemicals, many crops are also genetically modified in order to increase yields or create resistance to pests and herbicide applications. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created by taking a gene from one organism (animals or plants) and inserting it to the other species. If we don’t “create” them, they will not appear in Allah’s nature randomly. In Europe, food containing GMOs must be labelled accordingly, but in North America such food is not labelled. The chances are that if you eat any kind of processed food, you consume the GMOs in the form of by-products or directly, especially, from corn, soy beans and canola. SubhanAllah, Satan is keeping his word and working hard to make us disobey our Rabb; “I will mislead them and I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah.” (4: 119).

In the above discussion we briefly investigated how Satan ordered us to “deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah”. Now, let’s look at the meat we eat and how we are, again, following the Satan’s orders. Let’s question where the meat that we eat comes from and how were the animals for slaughter are raised. Surely, we all remember the “mad cow” disease but how many of us actually thought about it? Just because Muslims eat halal meat, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to such diseases. Unfortunately, most of the time, the source of halal and non-halal supermarket meat are the same. Today most animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), under unhealthy, and unnatural conditions. They have barcodes on labels inserted in their ears (slitting the ear? Allah hu Alim), containing all the information regarding the animal. Thousands of animals confined in these buildings are fed with feed that contains mostly soy or corn, animal by-products (fat, crushed bones, feather, intestines etc…) from all kinds of animals, antibiotics, synthetic minerals and vitamins. Allah has created these animals vegetarian and made their metabolism to handle only grasses and forages. But the modern agriculture forces them to eat things that are against their nature. That is one of the reasons that they have to be given antibiotics, because their metabolism cannot handle this diet. Remember the “mad cow” disease; a result of feeding animals with animal by-products.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of antibiotics worldwide. Recently, Silbergeld et al. (2008) reviewed the antimicrobial resistance, which they defined as the “major health crisis” because this resistance is “eroding the discovery of antimicrobials and their application to clinical medicine”. In the same article they commented that “CAFOs are comparable to poorly run hospitals, where everyone gets antibiotics, patients lie in unchanged beds, hygiene is nonexistent, infections and re-infections are rife, waste is thrown out the window, and visitors enter and leave at will. Finally, because these large numbers of animals produce large amounts of waste, which are largely untreated prior to land disposal, there are substantial environmental pathways of release and exposure.”

Chickens are also raised in such, maybe even worse, circumstances. Chickens in these surroundings get stressed and attack other chickens, hence, for this reason, beaks of these chickens, often times, have to be cut. With the diet containing animal by-products, chickens grow so fast that in 45 days they cannot carry themselves and their weight can break their legs until they are ready for slaughter. Sheep are, so far, in better condition especially because, it is not, as yet, profitable to put them in CAFOs.

Then, there is the issue of animal welfare. We all know that our Prophet (PBUH) treated animals with care and compassion and ordered us to follow his example. Animals in CAFOs are treated against their nature. They are essentially tortured. They will ask for their rights on the day of judgement!

What should we be eating then? Before answering this question consider that it is a duty of a Muslim to investigate carefully what is going into his/her stomach. What we eat is what makes us who we are. Impure food and behaviour will make our ummah impure. We are not only responsible for our own health but also responsible for the health of this planet and all creatures therein.

Now if we choose to put effort into obtaining food that is pure then there are options for the seekers. Organic products are widely available in most grocery stores. Organic production is in line with Allah’s nature and produces wholesome pure food without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides and genetic modification. There are also local farms around Winnipeg, which are respectful of Allah’s creatures and grow pure food. You can visit these farms and buy meat and produce directly from them (see references for one of the local organizations).

Lastly, it should be recognized that, Muslims should always lead the way to righteousness. Allah says in Quran; “You are the best community raised up FOR mankind, you enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil…”(3:110) As Muslims let’s strive to choose what is pure and be exemplary in our lifestyle for the rest of mankind.

In conclusion, the simple logic of “halal =good and pure” may not hold true in today’s food systems in especially industrialized countries. If we want to be pure and clean, we must be vigilant and selective about our actions.

“Truly, what is halal is evident, and what is haram is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honor blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in haram things. Sahih Bukhari (Hadith # 50) & Muslim (Hadith # 2996)

** Br. Harun Cicek is a masters’ student at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba researching on organic farming. He is also the education coordinator for the Muslim Student Association at the University of Manitoba.


References:

Sapkota A. R., Lefferts L. Y., McKenzie S., and Walker P. 2007. What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 5.

Silbergeld E. K., Graham J., and Price L. B., 2008. Industrial Food Animal Production, Antimicrobial Resistance, and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 29: 151-169

Eco Green Tips Website available at http://ecogreentips.com/the-truth-behind-your-meat-part-i/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

The Greenpeace Canada Shoppers GMO Guide. Available at http://gmoguide.greenpeace.ca/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, available at http://www.harvestmoonfood.ca/ (Accessed on December 06, 2009)

Youth Career Choices

By: Dr. Don Trim*

With rapidly advancing technology, the number of career fields open to young people today is staggering, and many students are being asked to make career choices at younger and younger ages. Considering that a person may spend anywhere from thirty to fifty years in his or her chosen profession, it is imperative that career decisions be made with as much information as possible.

A number of university students were interviewed in attempt to determine when they made career choices and what factors were most important in the decision making process. Their experiences should serve as advice to young people about to make career choices, and also as a warning to those who have already made choices with insufficient information.

There is no particular age by which students must make a choice for their eventual career. Many students know exactly what they want to be when they enter college or university; some know the basic field in which they wish to work, but have not yet narrowed the field to a particular area; still others do not make a career choice until well into their university education. All of these are acceptable as long as the student has not prevented a particular choice of profession by taking an ill-advised high school program. Most students are well aware that certain programs of study in high school automatically eliminate them from particular fields of study in college or university, and eventually therefore, from certain professions. For example, students intending to become engineers must take certain courses, in mathematics for example, that will allow them to enter a university engineering program.

Many factors influence students in making career choices. We present some of them here in the order that we feel is most important, the most important being first.

  • The most important factor is to talk to people already in the profession; determine what they do on a day-to-day basis. Ask them what they like about their job; what don’t they like about it; knowing what they now know about the profession, would they still pursue it if they could start over; are there new and related professions that are more appealing.
  • Secondly, search the web for information about the profession. The web is an inexhaustible source for anything and everything.
  • Talk to your teachers and/or guidance counselor. Ask them if they have, or can find, any information on the field of study that you wish to pursue.
  • Gauge whether a certain profession is appropriate to you based on your academic strengths and leanings. For example, if you have a definite weakness in, and dislike for, mathematics, it may be unwise to consider a career in engineering, physics, or astronomy. On the other hand, with a flare for drawing, perhaps a career in fine arts, architecture, or interior design might be appropriate.
  • Although none of the students interviewed had done so, there are professional companies that perform tests to determine professions that are most likely to fit your personality.

Noticeably absent from this list is perhaps advice from parents, siblings, and friends. We realize this group, especially parents, can sometimes exert considerable pressure on you to enter certain professions. While we can understand their concern for your future, and you should appreciate the fact that they do want the best for you, we must emphasize that unless they are in, or have first-hand knowledge of a profession, they are not in the best position to judge whether a particular profession is suitable for you.

In summary, we suggest that you take all the information that you can find regarding a profession, especially from the sources suggested above, digest it, discuss it with your family and friends, and then come to a decision whether it is something that you want to do for most of your life. Good luck in your CHOICE.

* Dr. Don Trim is a Professor at the Mathematic Department, University of Manitoba and a member of the editorial board of Manitoba Muslim Magazine.

Presentation Matters

By: Ghaith Kasas

As an immediate object of cognition, perception or memory, presentation in such context includes dress, language, taste, habits, conduct and behavior. Appealing to the general society must not be solely limited to the context of a slick suit and a silky tie. One must not confine presentation to a kufi and thawb or a shalwar and qamis; rather, presentation is through communication, choice of attire, and even preference in music. There are numerous factors that collectively define a person or a group in the public eye, but the scope of this article will only cover the importance of good presentation.

It is not an exaggeration to say that we, practicing Muslims in the west, suffer from a severe, self-inflicted presentation crisis. To the larger community, we look out of place, sound awkward, behave suspiciously, and rarely smile, thereby affirming the image portrayed by big segments in the media and other anti-Islam groups. Unlike other Islamophobic propaganda, this one is 99.9% accurate and most genuinely made by Muslims. Good presentation matters because it is a divine order and a prophetic tradition. It attracts friends and demands respect from foes, and it is a mandatory prerequisite for successful integration into Canadian society.

In surat alAaraaf (the Heights) we read: “O Children of Adam! Don your zeenah at every place of worship” (7:31). Some Arabs before Islam used to circumambulate the Ka’bah with little or no clothes on. This ayah puts an end to nakedness at the time of every prayer and particularly upon performing tawaf. Elaborating on its meaning, Sheikh Ibn Baz notes that the interpretation should not be limited to covering the private parts during worship. The word zeenah can best be translated as adornment, and this is a more comprehensive definition than simply a cover or clothes. This verse is a clear order from God to all of us to beautify our appearance at every place and time of worship. The concept of worship in Islam is broader than its definition in the secular dictionary. To Muslims, every lawful act with a sincere intention is indeed an act of worship. To park you car at Jumuah time, to watch a movie with your spouse, to perform your duties at work, or to engage the media, can all be rewarded by Allah if only His sake is sought. Therefore, it is safe to extrapolate from this revelation an extended message recommending appealing apparel for every opportunity to please Allah.

In the Sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH), we learn that he always looked good, maintained humbleness, and avoided excessiveness. His wife, Aisha, reported that he used to comb his hair before meeting delegations. While it is true that the Prophet never dressed like the kings of his time, his moderate clothes were always clean, he wore perfume, his hair was perfect, his tongue was immaculate and eloquent, he was forbearing and generous, and the list goes on. It is vital to note that Muhammad’s outfit was the common style of his people and that his daily customs and etiquettes were the same as the rest of society, with exception to those that were un-Islamic. The last messenger of Allah did not fabricate new fashion for his followers. One could not distinguish between Omar ibn alKhattab and Amr ibn Hisham (Abu Jahl) by the turban each was wearing or the gown each had on his shoulders. Omar and Amr’s outer shields were alike, but their essences set them apart. Those who freely choose to live in the west and yet insist on looking like fresh arrivals from a time machine have misunderstood what Islam is all about. There is no Islamic fashion and no Islamic hairstyle. Islam is a religion, not a culture. It is humorous to read in the Jumuah announcements that “Islamic frames are on sale.” Islam did not come down with any kind of frames; Muslims in different parts of the world made frames. It is an absolute necessity to maximize the contrast between Islam and culture in every Muslim’s soul. There is no Islamic culture, only Muslim cultures. And yes, we as Canadian Muslims have the right and duty to develop our own culture. New Muslims are often encouraged to convert their names to Arabic ones and trade their jeans for white dresses as if “the call to Islam is a call to Arabian customs” [Read Islam Outside its Boundaries by Muhammad alGhazali].

The Prophet (PBUH) taught us that Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty. However, people’s qualities and tastes are as dynamic as the dimensions of time and space. A Muslim woman in modest elegant attire with a graceful silky scarf wrapped around her head is calling to Islam with every step she takes to school or work. The same woman could wear hijab as some do in the east and she would be scaring people off. God made a religion that is compatible in all human societies. Man, on the other hand, made culture that is only suitable in the place it was made for. A religious authority that bans women from driving in Riyadh must not be asked for his opinion on a Muslim girl riding a bike in Winnipeg. Some might argue for the right of new immigrants to retain their old traditions in the new land. Most Canadians are indeed respectful of other cultures and different colors. However, to us, it is not an issue of mere rights and conveniences. We are on a mission to bring Islam closer to the hearts of our fellow Canadians, and if that requires us to revisit issues such as interfaith relations, new arrivals in leadership positions, covering the face of Muslim women, or even untrimmed beards, we should be prepared to do so. No fundamental principle is to be compromised for a better representation of Islam and Muslims in Canada, but everything else is up for grabs. It is time to say enough to fatwas that prohibit converts from joining their families on Thanksgiving, to say hush to speakers with broken English, and to say no to a woman demanding a driver’s license photo with a veiled face in the name of Islam. Canadian Muslims are all in the same ship, and the stupidity of one is proven harmful to everyone. With such unprecedented attention placed on all of us, no individual issue is any longer individual. We, all Muslims, are in an everlasting illustration of the religion of Islam. It is a job that we did not choose to accept and thus we simply cannot quit. The time and place we are in, especially in the George Bush and Bin Ladin era, puts each one of us in a constant activity of projecting the monotheistic faith in public. The focus is now, like never before, on us. Intentionally and unintentionally, we are being carefully observed and analyzed. This is why it is now more consequential for our community to wear a genuine smile and for our leaders and speakers to take a lesson or two in public relations and join Toastmasters.

It is reported in alIqd alFareed (the Precious Necklace) by Ibn A’bd Rabbih, that during the Muslims’ conquest of Syria and Palestine, Omar and a companion of his, rode two donkeys from Medina to visit the newly conquered lands. Upon reaching the borders, Muawiyah, the ruler of Sham, wearing splendid clothes received the caliph in a majestic convoy. Omar condemned his governor and verbalized his displeasure of what he considered to be excessive overindulgence. Muawiyah reasoned that such a monumental manifestation was inevitable to instill fearfulness in the enemy’s spies. Such wisdom is what the Muslim community today is lacking. The human nature is almost universal in making judgments. First impressions are often everlasting. People tend to pay attention intuitively to a well-spoken person and snore during Friday sermons. The majority of us would hesitate to shake a filthy hand with long nails covering dark greenish smut. It is usually safe to assume good in what looks good and vice-versa. Whether in favor of Islam, against it or neutral, people automatically associate the religion with its followers. Society cannot be expected to uphold a level of intellectual maturity that allows it to judge an ideology free of its adherents. It is fair to expect such justice from an intellectual elite, but our job is to appeal to all Canadians.

In the human society, those of common interests associate in the same group. Some deliberately choose to be outcasts for reasons that vary from religious philosophy to psychological complications. Muslims in the west can no longer afford any more alienation. In the eyes of many, we are more of a big polygamist cult than a respected religious community. Many factors have contributed to such a distorted image, but the most significant one is the way we have been conducting ourselves for decades. For instance, people have frequented the St. Vital mosque for more than 30 years, yet not a single household from that neighborhood has joined the congregation. If Islam, not Muslims, were residing in the St. Vital area for 30 years, the result would have definitely been different. Islam attracts others, but Muslims park in their driveways.

Shortly after the September attacks in 2001, young students from a neighboring Sunday church school sent a giant greeting card to the masjid on Hazelwood. The card expressed solidarity with Muslims during hard times. When the card was revealed after Friday prayer, some “pious”, long-bearded, outraged Muslims, yelled in the face of the presenter and expressed disgust and total disapproval of the initiative. This handful of Muslims had the audacity to speak on our behalf because they were regulars of the first line and knew more Arabic. They rejected it, so the card did not find its way to the walls of the masjid. It was just another gross demonstration of extremism that went undetected, but the Muslim community in Winnipeg will remain accountable for not standing up to those radicals. Had the media been there, how would Islam look on the 6 o’clock news?

We ought to make an effort before any expectation. The general attitude towards Muslims in Canada will shift in our direction if we try a little harder to improve our image. Islam gives enough room to cope with new settings and circumstances. For example, Hijab as a concept is always constant but the practice is variable. No man or woman is allowed to show certain body parts in public, but God allowed us to choose the most suitable cover. As asserted above, this is not a call to jeopardize any prophetic doctrine; it is rather a heavy reminder to act like Muhammad (PBUH) did. Since Canada is my home and Islam is my way of life, I will generously tip for good service, I will keep working on my English, I will accompany my wife on a bike ride, I will make more non-Muslim friends, I will free my clothes from any food odor, I will have birthday parties for my kids, I will donate blood, I will pray in the park and I will accept Christmas greetings and give out Eid gifts.

Muslim Youth Girl with a Western Society Thrown into the Mix

By: Sr. Raja El-Mazini*

It is often said that one of the most difficult and important times in a person’s life is when one makes the transition from a child to an adult-also known as the teenage years. This transitional stage in a person’s life is crucial because in it one must define him/herself, and struggle to establish one’s identity while trying to be accepted by friends. It is hard enough being a teenager, but being a Muslim teenager in a Western society proves to be increasingly challenging.

Many teens struggle with fitting in while holding on to their cultural and religious values. Some deem it impossible but the girls from the Muslim Girls Youth Halaqa make it clear that it is not. “It’s possible but really, really hard”, says 18 year old Yesim Ozarahman, a member of this halaqa. When asked about which aspect of their lives makes it harder to fit into society the majority of the girls answered that it was the hijab. Any Muslim girl can sympathize with this whether she wears hijbab or not. “ When people look at you, the first thing they notice is your hijab, not your face,” said 12 year old Zenab Moustarzak. “ It’s not a bad thing of course, but like once they see the hijab they think you’re some extremist or oppressed girl,” she added. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality that is often experienced by most Muslim women living in societies in which opinions and judgements are formed on the basis of people’s appearances. The positive aspect to this is that this is a form of Dawaa, as the hijab serves as a great conversational topic and sparks interest in the religion. However, it is hard to walk down the halls of school or in the mall knowing that the terms “oppressed” and “terrorist” are floating in people’s minds.

Among the challenges that Muslim girls encounter, identity crisis is very popular. Many girls separate their Muslim identity from their personal one; at home these teenagers can be devout Muslims but out of the home these girls adopt a more Western identity. While some girls work hard to disassociate both identities, some just want both to be recognized. “Sometimes I want to be known as that smart, sweet, talented Muslim girl instead of just that Muslim girl,” stated Yesim Ozkahrahman. These girls admit that these identities should not be separated as they can be incorporated. Obviously, being Muslim transcends all national, cultural and personal identities, but it is possible to blend them all. Rather than just being known as “that Muslim girl”, one can be “that smart/intelligent/etc. Muslim girl”. These identities do not have to be independent from each other; instead our morals and values should be derived from our religion.

Girls should not feel the need to bury the “Muslim” aspect of their lives and all the morals that come with it and instead portray an identity that is more accepted. As long as one realizes that being Muslim comes before any other label, then they should be satisfied that they possess a personality that is more than worthy enough of respect and value.

“The next hardest thing would probably be trying to maintain your culture while also slightly adapting to the Western culture,” says Amal Labib, another faithful member of this halaqa group. “It’s normal for girls to have go to dances or have opposite gender relationships, and if you don’t you’re considered old fashioned,” she adds. While not all Westerners attend dances or have these relationships, it is often the norm for one to be saturated with these types of teenage experiences. The girls made it clear that they know that these things are prohibited in Islam and understand the dangers that are associated with them, but find it hard to explain this to their peers and classmates. Explanations always have to be offered and despite their logic, understanding is not always reciprocated.

It is evident that all the challenges that the youth sisters face stem from being accepted and being comfortable in society. Girls do not want to necessarily blend into their surroundings or “fit in”, but rather be given respect and equal opportunity. The hijab and certain rules and regulations are forms of guidance rather than obstacles. Living in the Western society, these aspects of our religion may seem like obstacles only because of how they are perceived by the people around us and the culture that they are engulfed in. These aspects do certainly make life a little harder, but in the end we will see that they give structure to our lives and lead us down a path that has only the best destination.

* Sr. Raja El-Mazini is a high school student and a member of the editorial board of Manitoba Muslim Magazine.