New Canadian Media
Saturday, 11 March 2017 15:34

When Bigger is Better

by Tazeen Inam

For 21-year-old Mahnoor Baig, who grew up in Mississauga, the guest list for her wedding came as a shock. It included many people she had never met before, and numbered in the hundreds. But her parents insisted they wanted to invite people from every corner of the world to their only daughter’s celebration.

Though younger Pakistanis tend to be more modest in their approach, older generations see weddings as an once-in-a-lifetime affair, to be celebrated extravagantly. Industry insiders say that community members compete to outdo each other in a bid to wow attendees, designing events to be remembered and discussed long after the couple has returned from their honeymoon.

What followed were intense negotiations between parents and daughter. “The final list had only 5 per cent [of guests] that I had not met before,” Baig says. Her husband, Farhan Khan, a physician, is also not very fond of crowded weddings, but understood why so many were invited. “It’s a social gathering that reunites people who’ve been separated for a long time. It was a new experience for me, and in the end, I didn’t mind it as I met lot of people from both sides.” 

They wound up hosting 350 guests at their reception at the Burlington Convention Centre, with some coming in from other parts of Canada, Pakistan, the U.S., and the U.K.

Compared to the average cost of a Canadian wedding — $30,717, including honeymoon — Pakistani celebrations can run between $50,000 and $200,000, according to Roxy Zapala, founder and creative director of Art of Celebrations, who has been planning weddings for 15 years.

For Baig's parents and others like them, a month-long celebration is a small investment to mark the beginning of a lifelong commitment, much like making a down payment on a house. Days are spent shopping, finalizing vendors, and dropping off invitations, while on the weekends close family and friends are invited for tea or dinner. They play the dholki — a large-skinned drum that is struck with a metal spoon — sing traditional songs extolling the bride and groom, apply henna, exchange gifts, and plan for the big day. 

Shahnaz Shah, an obstetrician and gynecologist who immigrated to Canada from the U.K. in 2000, blew her son Rehan away with a grand reception held at Toronto's Casa Loma.  “I knew that my mother [was] going to do something extra for me," Rehan says, "but I never expected it to be this grand.”

“We had bhangra [music], belly dancers, a dance floor, and piano playing too. It was a combination with exquisite decor, to keep my guests occupied with fun-filled activities," Shah recalls. "People are still talking about how well it was organized.”

Other than lavish food and entertainment, the bridal dress (typically red) and jewellry consume a lot of the budget. Yellow or white gold is embedded with diamonds, pearls, or precious stones, and usually customized to match the wedding outfit. Special dresses for the immediate family, outfits for the groom, and an exchange of presents between the families add to the costs.

Competition to provide these services is intense. “There were only a few shops in the Toronto area when I started business 20 years ago," says Erum Ahmed, owner of Erum’s Creations, and a dress designer who caters primarily to the Pakistani immigrant community. "Now there are more than 50 good designer outlets selling traditional, customized bridal dresses.”

Makeup and hairstyling add to the budget as well. Makeup artists such as Aneela Gardezi, who has many years of experience working with Pakistani-Canadian families, says completing a bride's look in the traditional style can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500. “Pakistani makeup is famous for its heaviness," she explains, "so those who opt for total transformation of complexion and features need extra material.”

Baig went for a natural look that suited her pastel outfit. But she had to pay extra for her hijab and dupatta (veil). “Everyone is not an expert on setting bridal hijab," she says. "I called someone at the makeup studio to do the job for me, and obviously I had to pay her extra.” 

All this preparation needs to be documented too. This can include drone cinematography to provide a 360-degree aerial view of the wedding, which can run between $1,500 and $4,500 per shoot, according to Zapala.

Khawaja tried it out at her choreographed Burlington Convention Centre event. “It’s like creating virtual reality for us and for those who missed parts of the wedding. The drone costs us a bit more, but it lent a new perspective and thrilled my guests.”

It's just the latest trend as a community attempts to meld tradition with modernity in a new land.


Tazeen Inam is a freelance journalist with New Canadian Media and Muslim Link based in Mississauga, Ontario.

This story is the product of a partnership between TVO.org and New Canadian Media.

Published in Arts & Culture

Commentary by Phil Gurski 

There have been many times in history where statements made publicly have turned out to be somewhat less than true. Remember the famous "Dewey defeats Truman" headline in the 1948 US Presidential election?  What about then CIA Director George Tenet's claim that intelligence pointing to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk"?

Then we have German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's 19th century boast 'God is dead', meaning that He no longer represented a source of morality or inspiration for humans. Time magazine repeated the statement in question form on its cover in 1966. In light of the wave of terrorism motivated in part by religion (largely, but not exclusively, Islam) over the past 40 years I think we can safely conclude  that this belief is about as accurate as that made by the Chairman of IBM in 1943 when he confidently said that "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers".

God, in whatever form people conceive him, continues to give billions of people hope, guidance and joy. Yes, religion has led some to incredible heights of creativity and art (listen to a Bach mass and tell me you're not moved) but it as also driven us to the lowest depths of horror and slaughter. There are far too many examples to list here. In any event, it appears highly likely that God and religion are here to stay.

Insulting a faith

An interesting question is raised, however, over what we as societies and governments should do to protect the right of all to worship in whatever way they so choose. A lot of Western states have this right enshrined in their constitutions and a few go on to say that the State shall neither choose an 'official' religion nor favour one over another. This is all well and good but to what extent should the government go with respect to perceived (or blatant) insults to one particular faith?

I am referring here to blasphemy laws. Most, if not all societies, had active blasphemy legislation or practice for centuries, although it is rare for any Western country to lay charges in this area these days. In other parts of the world, the practice  is still in place and large segments of the population take blasphemy seriously. Very seriously. 

The Indonesian governor of the state of Jakarta has been charged with insulting Islam (he is ethnic Chinese) and large crowds have called for his ouster – and worse. 

And in Pakistan, a Punjab governor was assassinated by one of his bodyguards (who was subsequently treated as a hero) for his criticism of the country's blasphemy laws. Don't forget the late Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for the death of UK author Salman Rushdie over his alleged religious faux pas in his book The Satanic Verses back in 1989.

The other day the Danish government  laid blasphemy charges against a 42-year-old man who filmed himself burning a copy of the Quran in his backyard.  The move recalls a very different decision not to take similar action against the Danish newspaper that published infamous 'Muhammad cartoons' back in 2006, an act that led to several terrorist attacks.

Does it make any sense to charge a citizen with blasphemy today? In a word, no.

Antidote for ignorance

I have often criticized those that willfully and ignorantly make fun of religion – like the American woman who placed pieces of bacon between the pages of the Quran – not because I think they should be punished but because their actions strike me as childish and little more than attention seeking. I have seen little to suggest that the majority of those who pull these stunts are making any serious point about freedom of anything beyond the freedom to be stupid. 

If they want to put themselves out there and incur both the wrath of true believers, as well as the attention of terrorist groups, they should be free to do so.  But I'd like us to stop using the power of the State to regulate this form of expression and I'd like religious groups to ignore the morons and not react so predictably to each attempt at insult and infuriate, let alone serious scholarship that challenges deeply-held convictions.

Charging someone with blasphemy achieves little. It only provides more media and more publicity for the attention seekers and is almost always counter-productive. I recall the Catholic protests over Monty Python's Life of Brian which only made the film more popular.  There is no room in the West in 2017 for this kind of legislation.  We have hate laws, which are controversial enough and hard to prove as I noted in a recent blog, and we should use that tool where warranted (which I think is rare). I would also suggest that no country needs these laws, but am neither in a position to advise nor influence what happens in Pakistan or Indonesia.

As in most things, as I have stated before, the best antidote to ignorance is knowledge. Those who get their kicks poking fun at or viciously attacking religious beliefs should be argued with, not censured.  And for those that end up getting killed by terrorists who claim to be acting in the name of their deity, while I cannot ever condone that action, neither can I feel sorry for the victims.  Sometimes stupidity masking itself poorly as social commentary has its terrible consequences.

We cannot make being an ass illegal. If we were to do so, we'd have to build a lot more prisons. We need to address the lack of knowledge with knowledge, not State sanction.


Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 01 October 2016 17:01

Pakistan Parliament Clears Hindu Marriage Bill

  The first-ever national law was passed yesterday after the draft was presented in the lower house or National Assembly by minister for human rights Kamran Micheal. The Nation newspaper reported that the [...]

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New Delhi (IANS): Indian Army’s “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control has sent a message to Pakistan to not take India for granted, security experts said on Thursday, and noted that there may not be escalation in the situation as Islamabad has denied there was any such military action. The […]

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Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21

Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective

by Ramna Safeer in Kingston

The hate towards immigrants that has risen exponentially after the Brexit vote is sending chills down my spine an ocean away.  

According to the BBC, several mosques in London were sent a suspicious white powder with “Paki filth” scrawled on the envelopes. Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 500 per cent rise in hate crime incidents just before and after the referendum.

As a daughter of two proud immigrants, who planted their Pakistani roots in Canada a few years after their marriage, I can’t help but feel targeted.

While dozens of post-Brexit comments on my social media attempted to steer attention away from the anti-immigrant focus of Campaign Leave, I couldn’t help but wonder what the “take back control of our borders” rhetoric and its violent aftermath must look like to Britain’s many immigrants. 

Racial prejudice

Taha Khan is a university student and Youtuber living in a town just outside Cambridge. His Pakistani parents moved to the United Kingdom 13 years ago from Saudi Arabia, where they were also immigrants. 

The post-Brexit atmosphere is definitely a racially charged one, Khan said, with underlying tensions bubbling to the surface.

“When I go to the villages and towns around Cambridge, where I live, they predominantly voted Leave,” he told The Journal over the phone. “That changes your preconceptions about people when you know that they might have voted on racially prejudiced lines, you’re a lot more wary.”

Khan, who is Muslim, said he and his family might be reacting subconsciously to the exponential rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“The sharp increase in confidence of racists has led to the sharp decrease in confidence of minorities to be visible,” he said. 

The end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is called Eid. Celebrated by billions of Muslims across the globe, Eid is a chance to spend time with family and wear cultural clothing such as shalwar khameez — a cultural outfit often worn by Pakistanis on special occasions. 

Due to the upsurge in attacks against Muslims, Khan said Muslims may be feeling increasingly hesitant about wearing such clothing in public and in general, not being “outwardly Muslim”. 

“On Eid, I wore trousers and a shirt. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall it being a conscious choice, but I didn’t wear a shalwar khameez, maybe because it’s such a white area. We kind of live invisibly in this predominantly white city.” 

"Independence Day"

According to The Independent, British Muslims are experiencing a rampant rise of faith-based attacks, particularly people who outwardly identify as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab — even though British Muslims aren’t exactly few and far between. As of 2011, over two million Muslims called Britain home. 

As the referendum result was finalized on the night of the vote, leader of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage claimed that June 23 would go down in history as the country’s “Independence Day”.  

As a colonial and imperial superpower that once exercised an often violent control over what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and given the backlash against these same people following the referendum — Farage’s “Independence Day” isn’t just ironic. It’s downright mockery. 

Without the benefits and resources that Britain reaped from these colonies, there would be no “great” in Great Britain. But with one word, five letters, “Leave”, Britain has turned its back on the millions of immigrants whose lives are woven into the country’s history, while halfway around the world, I still feel the violent consequences of the referendum. 

This comment first appeared in the Queen's Journal. Safeer is the Journal's editorials editor.

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21

Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective

by Ramna Safeer in Kingston

The hate towards immigrants that has risen exponentially after the Brexit vote is sending chills down my spine an ocean away.  

According to the BBC, several mosques in London were sent a suspicious white powder with “Paki filth” scrawled on the envelopes. Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 500 per cent rise in hate crime incidents just before and after the referendum.

As a daughter of two proud immigrants, who planted their Pakistani roots in Canada a few years after their marriage, I can’t help but feel targeted.

While dozens of post-Brexit comments on my social media attempted to steer attention away from the anti-immigrant focus of Campaign Leave, I couldn’t help but wonder what the “take back control of our borders” rhetoric and its violent aftermath must look like to Britain’s many immigrants. 

Taha Khan is a university student and Youtuber living in a town just outside Cambridge. His Pakistani parents moved to the United Kingdom 13 years ago from Saudi Arabia, where they were also immigrants. 

The post-Brexit atmosphere is definitely a racially charged one, Khan said, with underlying tensions bubbling to the surface.

“When I go to the villages and towns around Cambridge, where I live, they predominantly voted Leave,” he told The Journal over the phone. “That changes your preconceptions about people when you know that they might have voted on racially prejudiced lines, you’re a lot more wary.”

Khan, who is Muslim, said he and his family might be reacting subconsciously to the exponential rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“The sharp increase in confidence of racists has led to the sharp decrease in confidence of minorities to be visible,” he said. 

The end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is called Eid. Celebrated by billions of Muslims across the globe, Eid is a chance to spend time with family and wear cultural clothing such as shalwar khameez — a cultural outfit often worn by Pakistanis on special occasions. 

Due to the upsurge in attacks against Muslims, Khan said Muslims may be feeling increasingly hesitant about wearing such clothing in public and in general, not being “outwardly Muslim”. 

“On Eid, I wore trousers and a shirt. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall it being a conscious choice, but I didn’t wear a shalwar khameez, maybe because it’s such a white area. We kind of live invisibly in this predominantly white city.” 

According to The Independent, British Muslims are experiencing a rampant rise of faith-based attacks, particularly people who outwardly identify as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab — even though British Muslims aren’t exactly few and far between. As of 2011, over two million Muslims called Britain home. 

As the referendum result was finalized on the night of the vote, leader of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage claimed that June 23 would go down in history as the country’s “Independence Day”.  

As a colonial and imperial superpower that once exercised an often violent control over what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and given the backlash against these same people following the referendum — Farage’s “Independence Day” isn’t just ironic. It’s downright mockery. 

Without the benefits and resources that Britain reaped from these colonies, there would be no “great” in Great Britain. But with one word, five letters, “Leave”, Britain has turned its back on the millions of immigrants whose lives are woven into the country’s history, while halfway around the world, I still feel the violent consequences of the referendum. 

Published in Commentary

Islamabad (IANS): Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain on Wednesday said there was no military solution to the problem in Afghanistan and emphasized the need for political dialogue to resolve the issue. His comments at the opening of parliament session came amid increased violence in Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to join the peace talks and launched […]

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Islamabad (IANS): A top Pakistani foreign affairs advisor on Monday regretted that the US was not duly appreciating the country’s struggle against the militants. Syed Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, conveyed the complaint to a two-member professional staff delegation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress in […]

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by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals. 

“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.” 

After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates. 

She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different.”

Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers. 

A world view on farming 

While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy. 

In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.” 

She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals. 

“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”  

Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system.”

She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.” 

By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast. 

“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.” 

She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals. 

The many downsides to factory farming

Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development. 

“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says. 

“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.” 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”

Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways. 

“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.” 

A disproportionate impact on immigrants   

She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain. 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.” 

The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says. 

She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses. 

“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.” 

Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture. 

She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Health

 

Islamabad (IANS): A Pakistani Taliban group on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the killing of seven policemen who were guarding polio vaccination teams in the country’ s commercial hub of Karachi. The attacks highlighted the risk for the vaccination teams and their police guards in Pakistan which is among the three countries where the polio virus […]

 

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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