Culture and Religion

When you are too close to something, someone, you are not the best analyst. Your feelings get in the way. You reveal more about who you are than who or what you love/hate. But you can see better from afar. That sums up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who, despite accurately predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union, and being instrumental in achieving that, was deeply flawed in his understanding of his nemesis, provided really bad advice on how to extricate the huge Eurasian, multinational entity from its many crises, and contributed to the suffering of, in the first place, his beloved Russians. Hardly the most Christian act for the devout soul he claimed to be.

This is a draft of Canada's Muslims in Critical Muslim|36 2021

Humanity has always been on the move since we descended from the trees, stood up and started heading for the horizon. We have always been at war with each other too, and as we developed more technology, our wars become more and more lethal. Enter imperialism. Voila Canada today.

US-Canada were settler colonies, unlike the Asian subcontinent, which was merely raped and pillaged, with no real intent for Britons to settle and replace the natives. So while colonial Muslims began appearing in the ‘mother’ country as sailors, servants, students, soldiers as early as the 17th century, there were few Muslims crossing the Atlantic.

It was not till the 19th century that a few brave souls popped up in Canada, the legendary wandering Lebanese, who spread out across both North and South America, and Albanian revolutionaries (Toronto's oldest Muslim community). Once the native Canadians were pushed aside, ‘Canadians’ were de facto (mostly) British and Irish white immigrants. The flow of Muslim immigrants into Canada was almost nonexistent till after WWII.

Immigration is like a tornado. It begins far away and grows till it touches down, disordering lives and rearranging hopes, depositing the detritus of new identities, writes Ziauddin Sardar in Balti Britain: A provocative journey through Asian Britain (2008). Learning to cope with multiple selves became the quest of Sardar’s adult life.

Asian Britons are all the direct product of the British empire, which steamrolled around the world, razing whatever got in its way, leaving a lot of detritus, creating new identities (for better or worse) for hundreds of millions, with a legacy that keeps giving today (for better or worse).

As a Muslim Canadian, I enjoyed Sardar’s dissection of the British Muslim experience, which has some parallels with US-Canada, but a big difference.

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation, Yale University Press, 2001.

(George Steiner: Real presences (1989) notes here)


Plato maxim: in all things natural and human, the origin is the most excellent. To begin is to act essentially. But our perception now is afternoon, twilight. Century of progress liberalism -> ‘long summer of 1914’. Collapse of humaneness not from distant steppe, nazism, fascism, stalinism from within the context of civilization.

Shoah (wind out of blackness) not ‘holocaust, a technical greek designation for religious sacrifice.

Future tense came relatively late into human speech. Ability to discuss possible events on the day after one’s funeral or in stellar space in a million years. Every use of ‘to be’ is negation of mortality. Every ‘if’ sentence tells of a refusal of the brute inevitability, the despotism, of the fact. Hope and fear are supreme fictions empowered by syntax. Fear has mustard seed of hope. Hope encloses fear of unfulfilment. ‘Hope to god’.

Gregg Levoy, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Three Rivers Press Random House, 1997.

-in many traditions, calling (sounds) precede prayer, rites of initiation, major life events. summon adherents away from routines to new level of awareness, into sacred frame of mind, communion with what is bigger than themselves. what is calling? 'life's longing for itself' (Gibran). 'living means being addressed' (Buber).

-we can't see the force, but we can see what it does. a return call, a response, creates a dialogue. our own unfolding requires that we be in constant dialogue with whatever is calling us. call-response central metaphor for spiritual life. listening = following in Latin.

'No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' (Donne 1624) brings on the fear that frightens away sleep. no guarantee change for better.

-re-ligion = re-connect, re-member our selves, the deep life within us where religious impulse resides. William James: religion as 'the attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things'. 'hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.' -we don't know enough to despair. Despair is hidden arrogance. i have seen the future and it doesn't work. hope is rooted in trust in the unknown. work, wait, and hope. that is enough. (Sam Keen)

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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