(descriptions for each episode below)
Read the news, turn on the TV, or tune into social media and you’ll instantly be surrounded by confusion and anger. We’ve entered an era of harsh political rhetoric fuelled by a kind of fact-free or, as some would call it, post-truth worldview. Our politics have become divisive and it’s easy to feel untethered, to feel as though there’s no solid moral ground to stand on.
Thinking about the role of faith in confronting this chaos is usually left to those who live a religious or spiritual life. But for many people, hanging on to faith-based values or spiritual lessons, whether they live a religious life or not, is one way to navigate through the noise and find a moral way forward. For this final episode of On Belief, we’ve brought together a group of people to talk about their experience of faith and how the values they draw from that background have guided them through conflict and change.
Thanks to our guests Lisa Goldman in New York, Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims in Ottawa, Umar Lee in St. Louis, and Emily Loewen in Winnipeg.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud, Bano Murtuja, and Samira Mohyeddin were all born elsewhere and have come to call Canada home. And despite widely different background, they have all grappled with the question, what does it mean to call oneself Muslim?
Music: Passage by Scott Buckley from scottbuckley.com.au
The issue comes up each school year…whether it’s the sex ed curriculum or accommodation for prayers or opting out of Halloween costume parades. A seemingly small request can turn into a public fight about values, fairness, and what it means to be Canadian.
This episode of on belief brings together two people asking similar questions but in different settings.
Suzanne Muir is an equity consultant in Ontario and has worked with public schools for the last two decades. She deals with the day-to-day task of figuring out how people sharing space in public schools can learn to get along despite their differences.Anver Emon, from the University of Toronto, is also asking this question but he wonders if the answers, perhaps, lie in a complete reimagining of that relationship. What does it mean to be religious? And what does it mean to be public?
In Canada, we have a long tradition of faith-based social and political activism. That’s not a new conversation here.
But what about faith and art?
We agree there is a role for creative expression in public life, but what does that expression look like when it comes from a faith-centred world view? What do art and music say that other forms of expression can’t or don’t?
Canadian Muslim artists and musicians are finding a growing audience for their Islamic art. For many, that audience spans the globe. When Islam meets politics, the ensuing debates and discussions can quickly become polarized. These artists say their work brings an opportunity for something different – a chance to talk about Islam’s conception of god and the role of beauty.
Unaiza Karim, illuminator
Nader Khan, devotional singer
Huma Durrani, visual artist
Music courtesy of Nader Khan.
We don’t often associate organized religion with concerns about the environment – whether it’s the Catholic Church or the mosque.
The Islamic philosopher, Seyyed Hossain Nasr, calls Islam the green religion. He says that of all the monotheistic faiths, it is the one most amenable to an environmental world view. He points to the way its sacred text – the Quran – talks about humankind and its relationship with nature.
Nasr has said, "The Qur'an addresses not only human beings, but also the cosmos. All creatures participate in Islam. It is much easier to be able to develop an environmental philosophy which will not be incongruent or artificial as if you would add an artificial tail to a donkey. It is part and parcel of the Islamic world view."
The Quran has many passages that scholars have pointed to as having environmental significance. There are myriad sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in which he exhorts his followers to take care of the resources around them…to not waste waster…to be kind to the animals.
That’s all well and good but how does one reconcile the tension between the demands of the environment and the demands of progress? To be modern has come to be equated with consumption and expansion. This is how we understand progress: to be modern is to consume nature.
Frankly, what does God have to do with it?
Amjad Tarsin is a chaplain at the University of Toronto and teaches courses at a local Islamic academy. He’s thought a lot about the environment and what a faith-based approach to environmental engagement would look like.
This episode of On Belief takes a bit of a turn from previous ones.
Previous episodes have looked at the role of religion in Canadian politics; the Black Church and its political legacy; animal rights and living a moral Muslim life.
Those episodes have focused on how our conversations and actions are shaped by our beliefs and, also, how our beliefs are shaped by the lives we live. How do people prioritize their faith obligations – is faith about worship or is it about social change? Or standing up for justice? Is any one of these things more important than the other? How do we decide? And how do we engage others in those conversations?
How do we create broader spaces for these types of engagements? Most of us rely on social networks – real and virtual – to vent, and sometimes, rage about the things that concern us. We talk, post, tweet, blog and, yes, even Snapchat about the ways in which what we believe collides with the beliefs of others. Engagement isn’t always – maybe not even usually – smooth and mutually beneficial. Often, engaging with others is fraught and acrimonious.
There is a broad concern that we’re not even very good at talking about faith or organized religion in public life. We get our backs up. We default to some notion of secularism without really trying to understand or explain what secularism means or what it looks like.
All of that is hard enough. But couple it with media coverage – which is typically our only public engagement with issues of the day -- coverage that is often narrow and without nuance and you find yourself stuck in this place where you’re trying to have conversations about big ideas but the backdrop to those conversations is shrill and chaotic.
That’s a conundrum familiar to a lot of journalists from marginalized backgrounds – ask a Black journalist about the challenges of talking race in media coverage. It’s also a problem familiar to journalists who identify as Muslim. How do you talk about Islam and Muslims with nuance when the popular conversation is all about terror and mayhem?
In this episode we talk to long time Toronto Star reporter, Noor Javed, about the challenges of being a reporter who is Muslim and why she'd rather leave writing "Muslim stories" to someone else.
In Episode 2 of On Belief, we discussed the legacy of the Black church and the role it played in allowing African Americans – and Canadians – to find a voice and a place from which to fight for justice. In this episode, we'll talk to Margari Hill about the role Islam plays in African American communities and how, for some people, it's become a way to agitate for racial justice. Hill is a co-founder of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative – Muslim ARC – which works on educating Muslims on issues of race by trying to address the problems of racism within Muslim communities.
Ziyaad Mia shares his thoughts on animal rights, Islam, and the place of social justice when we think about what to eat.
Ziyaad Mia’s day job as a Toronto-area lawyer is to work on human rights and national security. But Ziyaad also has a special interest in the welfare of animals. He teaches a course called animals, law, and society at Osgoode Hall Law School and, as a Muslim, he also has a keen interest in thinking about what role his faith plays in his relationship to the broader world. Ziyaad speaks and writes about Islamic law and ethics in relation to animals and thinks the time has come to reassess how Canadian Muslims define halal – or permissible – meat for consumption.
A look at the history of the Black Church in the United States and Canada, and what lessons that legacy offers in the 21st century.
Alton Pollard, Dean, Divinity School, Howard University, Washington D.C.
Carol Duncan, Professor of Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
Bill Blaikie, a United Church minister, served as an NDP MP from Winnipeg from 1979 to 2008. He then went on to serve a further two years as a member of Manitoba's Legislative Assembly. Bill is currently adjunct professor of Theology and Politics at the University of Winnipeg, and is a graduate of Emmanuel College (EMM 7T7).
Azeezah Kanji is a graduate of University of Toronto's Faculty of Law and the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she completed a Masters of Law specializing in Islamic Law. Azeezah is also the programming coordinator at Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto.
Haroon Siddiqui joined Canada's largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Star, in 1978 after spending a decade at the Brandon Sun in Manitoba. He went on to be national editor at the Star then, upon leaving that role, wrote a twice-weekly column looking at, among other things, faith in the public square. He retired in 2015.
If belief permeates a person’s or a religious tradition’s worldview then some element of belief enters into the work they do and the ideas they engage. How do people understand the role of belief in interactions with various publics? If most people bring some kind of faith (including faith in no faith) to our public interactions, how does this mixture of various beliefs, collectively, shape our culture?
While a slim majority of Canadians identify as Christian, the number of Canadians identifying with non-Christian beliefs is steadily growing. A significant number of Canadians say they have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Nonetheless, we see Canada as a secular country in which people have figured out how to get along with those who don’t share their own views about the divine. How has this dynamic and constantly evolving milieu affected how we talk about morals and values, about rights and responsibilities? And how has this collective conversation affected the discussions within various religious communities that take belief seriously?
On Belief will get into the weeds and explore the challenging questions about the role of religion in the 21st century and whether it can exist harmoniously alongside the modern ideals of a secular society. On Belief will grapple with these questions through discussions connecting religion with culture, with science and technology as much as with art and philosophy. Occasionally, the podcast will step onto the global stage as well to explore these questions in ways that seem to have implications for Canada and North America.
The podcast theme music was composed by sacred music professor, Lim Swee-Hong in consultation with worship professor, Bill Kervin and Emmanuel’s principal Mark Toulouse. Lim's friend, Lee Meng-Cham, music pastor of an Assembly of God congregation in Singapore, orchestrated it. The melody is crafted in compound duple time pattern, a common form across various world cultures. It also features a variety of sounds drawn from a global music palette. The matching of a simple diatonic melody with complex rhythmic patterns reflects the College’s ethos and efforts to address complex issues in a global context.
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