Date: Jan 9th, 2009 - Muharram 12, 1430, Volume: 12 Issue: 2
MY NEW YEAR’S WISH: OPENNESS AMONG ALL RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
by Imam Dr. Zijad Delic - Special for CIC Friday Magazine
Loving your God and loving your neighbor; these basic and enduring principles are at the heart of the world’s great religious faiths. And as we embark upon another New Year, I am struck by the realization that at no other time in history have we been more deeply and urgently challenged to live these two principles fully -- not only within our distinctive faith communities, but just as importantly, to live them in relation to those with whom we differ.
Spiritual and intellectual leaders of the Muslim world are not alone these days in urging that sincere and renewed efforts be made to achieve mutual understanding and openness among all faiths, for the benefit of the entire human family. As members of that global family, all Canadians share an obligation to work for the common good, to do justice, act in solidarity, and - sometimes the hardest of all - to forgive one another’s failings.
In fact, all of the foundational scriptures of world religion stress those four obligations as essential to our collective well-being. And today, we are especially challenged by the obligation of forgiveness which, as Pope John Paul II suggested, is a vital component of our present and future relationships. But rather than asking us merely to forget the sins and tragedies of the past, the late Pontiff developed and interwove the core themes of peace, justice and forgiveness in his memorable 2002 message for the World Day of Peace. His theme was prophetic in its scope: No Peace without Justice, no Justice without Forgiveness.
In the spirit of John Paul II and other enlightened peace-messengers of our era, I fully believe that our respective religious traditions do have the necessary resources and collective will to overcome past and present misunderstandings and foster true mutual friendship and understanding among all peoples. In fact, our challenge goes far beyond the cliché of "forgive and forget"; we are doubly challenged to forgive and remember, so that we will not repeat our past failures and injustices. Our religious traditions - their prophets, scriptures, and teachers -- are all clear on this. The prophets of God stirred human memories to guide our conscience, not our vengeance. But are we clear as we stand here? It is up to us now to translate these traditions into substance.
This new opportunity of forgiving, overcoming, and collaborating does not imply giving up, suppressing, or diluting our distinct religious identities; far from it. Rather, we should embrace our future as a shared journey toward new discoveries, growth and common respect.
Through collaboration we can learn a deeper understanding and respect for one another as members of the global human family and appreciate the values that bind us together in spite of our differences. As God Almighty declared in the Qur'an: "O [human]kind! We created you from a single (pair) ... male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Truly, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous [among] you ... God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [Qur'an 49:13]
So, what are the principles that guide me in relating to my brothers and sisters from other religious traditions? In a talk long ago in Cairo, Bishop Kenneth Cragg stressed the importance of openness with "others": an open door, an open hand, an open heart, an open mind and, yes, an open creed. I could not agree more fully with his insight.
The open door, for me, represents hospitality -- something I have experienced from the very first day I set foot in Canada amid the mosaic of all our differences. An open door suggests that meaningful interfaith dialogue can happen when each partner feels secure and trusted enough to freely extend, and receive, the other’s hospitality. That spirit of security and trust comes from the experience of self-knowledge, strong identity, and confidence in one's own faith and principles.
On the other hand, when one’s sense of security and identity is lost, the doors to genuine dialogue close. So I am convinced that the more at-home and confident I am in the principles of my own faith -- that is, the more deeply I understand and am rooted in my formative Islamic beliefs -- the more open and hospitable I can be to my brothers and sisters of other religious traditions. Conversely, the less securely I am rooted in my formative Islamic principles (or the less I know and can act upon them), the less open and hospitable I will be to others. The same logic applies to your faith.
When hands are open in greeting, others are immediately put at ease. For me, open hands symbolize honest intentions, a gesture to show you that I have no hidden agendas; no desire to trick you, harm you, or hurt you. My open hands also show that I am not afraid to be vulnerable; to give myself over to you in a moment of trust. What greater test of faith can there be?
And what about the open heart? When I attend interfaith meetings or talk to Canadians of other faith traditions, even to those who do not adhere to any faith, I work hard on building trust by being as honest and transparent as I can. I become very uncomfortable with those who say one thing in our meetings as colleagues, but another in different company, among different friends. Such duplicity, or fragmented identity, generates only suspicion; it can only impede the progress of our dialogue and intentions toward the betterment of this great country, Canada.
Then there is the continual struggle to maintain an open mind. In life, we must learn not only what to think, but how to think. And for this to happen we need more than mere knowledge or data about our faith and beliefs; we need true wisdom. We need leaders who are dedicated to "walking the talk," according to the core teachings of their respective scriptural texts. In Bosnia we used to say: "Before cutting, measure three times!" Similarly, I would earnestly suggest to our leaders: "Before saying anything, think three times!"
Finally, a few words about having an open creed. The broader and deeper our understanding of faith becomes, the better and more open human beings we can be. Faith opens our eyes and clears our vision; we see others through a more empathic lens, from a more attuned spiritual perspective -- which is in complete accord with what the will of God Almighty desires for us.
Ignorance and misunderstanding about our respective faiths closes the doors of dialogue, co-operation and ethics. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught something very similar to the Christian "golden rule" when he said: "Love for others what you love for yourselves and you would attain the status of the best believer; be good to your neighbor, and you will be the best Muslim."
In our present era of rapid globalization and the ever-expanding information highway, one powerful tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) guides my daily thoughts and actions: "The best among God's people are those who are the most useful to others; and the worst are those who bring harm to their fellow humans."
In Canada, we have a far greater opportunity and potential for achieving genuine openness and of doing "good" to others than in perhaps any other place on earth today. What could be more challenging and hopeful as we stand at the dawn of a new year? If anyone on the face of the earth, at this difficult time, deserves this "goodness" it would be the people of Gaza. It could start with us - with Canadians.
(Imam Dr. Zijad Delic is the National Executive Director of CIC in Ottawa. This article was edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine)
ISRAEL’S "VICTORIES" IN GAZA COME AT FAR TOO STEEP A PRICE
by Sara Roy - The Christian Science Monitor -- January 2, 2009
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- I hear the voices of my friends in Gaza as clearly as if we were still on the phone; their agony echoes inside me. They weep and moan over the death of their children, some -- little girls like mine -- their bodies burned and destroyed so senselessly.
One Palestinian friend asked me, "Why did Israel attack when the children were leaving school and the women were in the markets?" There are reports that some parents cannot find their dead children and are desperately roaming overflowing hospitals.
As Jews celebrated the last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating our resurgence as a people, I asked myself: How am I to celebrate my Jewishness while Palestinians are being killed?
The religious scholar Marc Ellis challenges us further by asking whether the Jewish covenant with God is present or absent in the face of Jewish oppression of Palestinians. Is the Jewish ethical tradition still available to us? Is the promise of holiness - so central to our existence - now beyond our ability to reclaim?
The lucky ones in Gaza are locked in their homes living lives that have long been suspended - hungry, thirsty and without light -- but their children are alive.
Since Nov. 4, when Israel effectively broke the truce with Hamas by attacking Gaza on a scale then unprecedented - a fact now buried with Gaza's dead - the violence has escalated as Hamas responded by sending hundreds of rockets into Israel to kill Israeli civilians. It is reported that Israel's strategy is to hit Hamas military targets, but explain that difference to my Palestinian friends who must bury their children.
On Nov. 5, Israel sealed all crossing points into Gaza, vastly reducing and at times denying food supplies, medicines, fuel, cooking gas, and parts for water and sanitation systems. A colleague of mine in Jerusalem said; "This siege is in a league of its own. The Israelis have not done something like this before."
During November, an average of 4.6 trucks of food per day entered Gaza from Israel compared with an average of 123 trucks per day in October. Spare parts for the repair and maintenance of water-related equipment have been denied entry for over a year. The World Health Organization just reported that half of Gaza's ambulances are now out of order.
According to the Associated Press, the three-day death toll rose to at least 370 by Tuesday morning, with some 1,400 wounded. [Current statistics now run closer to 550 dead. - Editor] The UN said at least 62 of the dead were civilians. A Palestinian health official said that at least 22 children under age 16 were killed and more than 235 children have been wounded.
In nearly 25 years of involvement with Gaza and Palestinians, I have not had to confront the horrific image of burned children - until today.
Yet for Palestinians it is more than an image, it is a reality; and because of that I fear something profound has changed that will not easily be undone. For how, in the context of Gaza today, does one speak of reconciliation as a path to liberation, of sympathy as a source of understanding? Where does one find or even begin to create "a common field of human undertaking" -- to borrow from the late, acclaimed Palestinian scholar, Edward Said -- so essential to coexistence?
It is one thing to take an individual's land, his home, his livelihood, to denigrate his claims, or ignore his emotions. It is another to destroy his child. What happens to a society where renewal is denied and all possibility of hope has ended?
And what will happen to Jews as a people whether we live in Israel or not? Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone.
Our rejection of "the other" will undo us. We must incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history, because they are a part of that history. We must question our own narrative and the one we have given others, rather than continue to cherish beliefs and sentiments that betray the Jewish ethical tradition.
Jewish intellectuals oppose racism, repression, and injustice almost everywhere in the world and yet it is still unacceptable - indeed, for some, it's an act of heresy - to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor. This double standard must end.
Israel's victories are pyrrhic and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people -- our inability to live a life without barriers. Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust?
As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane? How do we move beyond fear to envision something different, even if uncertain?
The answers will determine who we are and what, in the end, we become.
(Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, and the author of "Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict." This article was edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine)
SILENT RALLY REFLECTS ANGER OVER CANADA’S SILENCE ON GAZA
by April Robinson - Waterloo Region Record -- January 5, 2009
Organizers urged restraint as more than 100 Palestinian supporters marched silently along King Street in Kitchener last Saturday afternoon.
"No chanting. Please. Keep calm," called Mohamed Bendame through a megaphone, as people hoisting placards, along with women pushing strollers and children with tiny Palestinian flags walked slowly from Frederick Street to Kitchener City Hall.
The group was led by people carrying a banner which read: "Stop the genocide in Gaza." Another read "Israel, stop killing Palestinian children."
Some held giant Palestinian or Canadian flags. Others held signs with photos depicting the bloodshed.
It was the second rally for Gaza held in Kitchener in two days; nearly 300 people gathered in front of City Hall to protest the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.
"I empathize with your frustration and your rage," Dr. Abdur-Rahman Lawendy told the crowd. "You stand here and you wonder why you shouldn't scream." But he said the silent march represents the silence of the Canadian government. "The fear is we stand in complacency because our government does nothing about it."
The rally, organized by the Muslim communities of Kitchener and Waterloo, came as Israeli tanks and infantry entered Gaza after nightfall on Saturday, launching a massive ground offensive after a week of air attacks on Hamas targets. More than 550 Palestinians have died. Four Israelis have been reported killed by Hamas-fired rockets.
"We feel hopeless with all the suffering and violence and carnage in Gaza," said Idrisa Pandit, of Waterloo, who attended the rally with her children. She said she wanted to show her support for Palestinians and wants Canadian political leaders to condemn the Israeli offensive. Silently attending the rally "doesn't do much for them," said Pandit, who was born in Kashmir. "But what can we do?"
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig, of Kitchener's Beth Jacob synagogue, says his congregation is praying for peace. But he thinks people should remember Israel is protecting itself against Hamas.
"The sovereign nation is being bombed on a daily basis by hundreds of rockets, and when that nation retaliates, they're considered the aggressors," he said in a phone interview. "There's a huge double standard here."
Saturday's crowd was urged not to cheer in Arabic.
"Remember who you're trying to reach," Ed Corrigan, a London, Ont. immigration lawyer and respected multicultural affairs writer, told the crowd. "Your target audience is the Canadian people."
Bilal Ahmed, 23, said the aim was to show Canadians you don't have to burn tires and act aggressively to get your message across.
But undertones of anger were apparent in those attending the rally. "What's the difference between Hitler and Israel?" challenged Bashar Hamdan, 16, wearing a black and white-checked scarf to symbolize freedom for the Palestinian people. Hamdan, of Kitchener, said he was born in Jordan.
Kitchener resident Mark Corbiere, 23, waved a Mohawk war flag among the sea of Palestinian colours. "There's a definite parallel between Palestinian and Native oppression," he said. "And land is the main struggle."
(Retrieved from: http://news.therecord.com/News/Local/article/467146 April Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was edited and updated for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)
VANCOUVER RALLY AMONG MANY HELD TO PROTEST GAZA INVASION
by Luay Kawasme - Special to the CIC Friday Magazine - January 5, 2009
Defying one of this winter’s hardest snowstorms, Vancouverites rallied on Jan. 3 to protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza eight days earlier. About 800 gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Political ideologies and banners vanished as protesters united in calling for an immediate end to the devastating humanitarian crisis in Palestine. Rally organizers reported that the event drew Palestinians, Anti-Zionist Jews, indigenous elders, trade unionists, leaders within the BC Muslim community, community organizers, and students, all of whom condemned Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestine, as well as the U.S. and Canadian government's unconditional support of Israel’s current siege on Gaza.
As Muslims, Jews and Christians stood together in condemning Israel’s inhumane attacks on Gaza, Christian Palestinian activist Hanna Kawas said; "We are heartened by all the support, especially the Jewish people’s support.
At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza had passed 500. Additionally, several thousands were injured by the air strikes and ground invasions. The bombings even included a hospital in Gaza. According to a BBC report; "there are piles of bodies in the main hospital."
Israel’s history is full of massacres similar to the one unfolding so horribly in Gaza. In 1948, Menachem Begin - a former Israeli prime minister - led a campaign against Deir Yasin village in which more than 100 were killed. History repeated itself in the Six-Day War of 1967, followed by massacres in Jenin (2002), Beirut (2006), and in many smaller but just as deadly incidents.
Vancouver’s rally was just one of many taking place across the world. In Morocco, tens of thousands took to the streets, while Egypt, Jordan, Britain, United States and other countries witnessed similar pro- Palestinian demonstrations. In Canada, more than 10,000 protested in Toronto and other major cities...
The Vancouver rally was followed by a march along Robson Street. Several chants were heard, such as; "Canada you decide, Justice or Genocide," and "Occupation is a crime from Iraq to Palestine."
To take action and make your voice heard online go to: http://www.cjpme.ca/action_gaza_2008_12.shtml
and fill in a form that can be sent electronically to Canadian political leaders.
(Br. Luay Kawasme is a CIC Regional Director for the Vancouver BC area. This article was edited and abridged for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)
ORDER OF CANADA GIVEN TO A VERY DESERVING CANADIAN MUSLIM
by CIC Ottawa staff - Special to the CIC Friday Magazine - January 5, 2009
On behalf of Canadian Islamic Congress and Canadian Muslims, we congratulate Br. MOHAMMED AZHAR ALI KHAN on being awarded a richly deserved Order of Canada.
It was encouraging and humbling in the waning days of December 2008 to look toward a new year knowing that there is one brother and his family here in Ottawa who has done so much for our society that Canada - the best country in the world - has acknowledged his contributions and commitment with the nation’s highest civil honour.
I am talking about Br. Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, a proud Canadian Muslim, born in India. He brought to Canada his strong Islamic values of honesty, integrity, love for humanity, justice, hard work, patience and perseverance.
When I looked over his resume, I realized how difficult it would be to write just a page on this great but humble personality; but I hope that what I am presenting will be inspiring and enriching to all Canadian Muslims.
Br. Azhar is an excellent role model and example of a Muslim in the true sense of Islamic formative principles and logic. He lives Islam daily as a faith-in-action.
He has worked as a journalist in the Philippines, United States, Pakistan and Canada. In each of these countries, he earned both personal and professional respect. Former Ottawa Citizen editor Christopher Young lauded his "terrific contribution" to the newspaper. Another former Citizen editor, Keith Spicer, appreciated his "courage in taking unpopular stands in signed articles ... Such integrity and moral fibre are almost the definition of a great journalist."
Br. Azhar is also a dedicated local community leader, who founded the Muslim Coordinating Council of the National Capital Region and has served as its President. This organization represents several area Muslim groups and works with Canadians of other faiths to fight bigotry and racism and promote justice, human dignity and equality. He has also been President, Vice-president, and Secretary of the Ottawa Muslim Association and editor of its newsletter.
Br. Azhar was also a judge, appointed by Parliament through the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and a very well-respected personality among lawyers in the community, who valued his fairness, integrity and knowledge of refugee law. Although based in Ottawa, he was often sent to conduct refugee hearings in Montreal, Halifax, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and other cities due to his extensive knowledge and understanding.
As a strong believer in team-building, Br. Azhar suggested to Muslim organizations in the National Capital region that by working together they could serve the Canadian multicultural and multifaith community more effectively, especially when it came to fighting racism, bigotry and injustice, and promoting human dignity for all Canadians.
While serving as President of the Ottawa Muslim Association, Br. Azhar led the association in jointly sponsoring a Tent of Meeting with Christian and Jewish groups with the blessings of the Government of Canada. This was the first time in Canada that a Muslim organization had worked with Christian and Jewish groups to develop better understanding among people of diverse religious backgrounds - especially followers of the three faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) who share a common heritage as descendants of the Prophet Abraham.
Now Br. Azhar has been inducted into the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award, for his tireless volunteer dedication in promoting better understanding among Canadians of different backgrounds and faiths, as well as for his professional work as both journalist and judge.
His previous awards include the Order of Ontario, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee award, the Government of Canada’s volunteer award, the Province of Ontario volunteerism award, and a certificate of appreciation from the City of Ottawa.
Other distinctions include citations form the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Ottawa Muslim Association, the Ottawa Muslim Women’s Association, the Muslim Professional Network and the Muslim Community Circle have honoured him for his work in journalism and the community.
May Allah reward Br. Azhar and his family with all blessings of this world (Duniya) and the Akhirah and help us - Canadian Muslims - to see the possibilities that open up before us when we are committed to ethics, justice and helping humanity.
Canadian Muslims and Canadians of all cultural and religious backgrounds can be very proud of Br. Azhar and his numerous achievements, for which he richly deserves his latest and highest award - the Order of Canada.
(This article was edited and abridged for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)
TWO LETTERS IN RESPONSE TO THE SIEGE OF GAZA
1. AN OPEN LETTER FROM ANTI-ZIONIST JEWISH YOUTH IN CANADA
January 5, 2009
Like much of the world, we have spent the last week watching in shock and disgust as Israel continues its assault on the Gaza Strip. With the body count rising and a new tragedy in full bloom, we feel that it is important to speak out as Jewish youth in Canada and to denounce what Israel is doing in our name.
The Jewish diaspora is diverse and divided in its positions on the state of Israel's policies. At this juncture in history -- as Israel has committed its worst massacre in Gaza since it began its illegal occupation in 1967 -- we feel it is crucial that Jews speak out and denounce Israel's actions that amount to no less than war crimes committed by an apartheid state.
As Jewish youth, we are diverse, but we are unified in our solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza. Some of us are students. We are outraged by the bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza city, as well as other civilian infrastructure targets, such as hospitals and mosques.
Some of us are Arab-Jews and people of colour. We stand against Israel's racism, which has been enshrined in Israeli law, and privileges its Jewish citizens over its non-Jewish ones. This apartheid state views Palestinians as an expendable people, no more than collateral damage.
Some of us are queer (gay and lesbian). We reject Israel's branding of itself as the only safe place for queer people in the Middle-East while it targets gay and lesbian Palestinians and renders life unsafe for millions of others.
Some of us are Israelis living in Canada. We are calling for a solidarity that stretches beyond borders and nationalities. Israel's violent actions will only serve to further isolate the state and its citizens from the rest of the world. By calling itself a Jewish state and committing war crimes in the name of Jews everywhere, Israel makes the world even less safe for Jews, leading to an increase in animosity towards Jewish people.
Even though there have been approximately 100 Palestinian deaths for every one Israeli killed by rocket fire, we recognize that Israeli Apartheid also leads to Israeli casualties. The blame for these deaths lies with Israel; if there were no occupation and no apartheid, there would be no rocket fire. If Israel, the world's fourth largest military power, is concerned about its citizens, it should abandon its apartheid policies and seek justice for the Palestinian people.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society put out a clear call for international support through a non-violent campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) similar to that carried out against the former apartheid regime of South Africa. Now, with the people of Gaza being crushed by Israeli bombs -- manufactured in the USA and launched with Canada's blessing -- it is more important than ever for Jewish communities throughout the world to take up this BDS campaign in order to end Israel's apartheid system, which makes life unsafe for millions of Jews and Palestinians alike.
Let us not be silent bystanders while humanity suffers. Let us raise our voices, as Jewish youth, and demand a single democratic state, with equal rights for everyone in Israel/Palestine.
Ours is a generation that is committed to ending Middle-East violence by opposing all forms of discrimination, calling for a just peace within the entire region, and condemning Zionism to the dustbin of history.
Free Gaza, Free Palestine,
If you would like to sign on to this letter, send an email to email@example.com
with your name and city.
(Retrieved from: http://aaron.resist.ca/node/235 Slightly edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)
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2. LETTER TO LIBERAL PARTY LEADER MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
Dear Mr. Ignatieff:
When you became leader of the Liberal Party I was excited at the prospect of having a strong leader who could speak to issues of social justice, peace and international law. After only a few short weeks, it appears that this will not be the case.
The only way that the Liberals can defeat the Tories is to show that they are different and do not pander to those who choose war over peace, or corporations and globalization over middle-class Canadians and the environment.
Mr. Ignatieff, you have the intellect and leadership skills that could potentially bring the Liberal Party back to the days of Trudeau, when it could win elections with the ideals of social justice that awoke passion in people, rather than by default because the other party is worse or less organized. The opportunity is there if you have the courage to seize it.
The position taken by the Liberal Party and thus attributable to you on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, is a disgrace to the party’s proud history. A neutral position that called for an immediate ceasefire, without blaming either side could have been taken and would have been in line with the traditional diplomatic and fair methods of the Liberal party of the past. Instead, all the blame was placed on the Palestinians. The statement on the Liberal website could have easily been written by Stephen Harper, Irwin Cotler or even Ehud Olmert. Voters who look at the Liberal and Conservative positions will see no difference.
In fact it could well have been written by Irwin Cotler, the Human Rights critic ... who goes around the world beating the drums of war on Iran. Does anyone in the Liberal party have the courage to say "Irwin Cotler does not represent my views on foreign policy?"
Mr. Ignatieff, I have been told that your riding is home to many Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs. You are now the leader of the party. If you want to remain a Member of Parliament as well, I suggest that you choose between Rae, Cotler and the lobbyists -- or your constituents. You need to meet with this deeply distraught community and tell them and all Canadians of conscience that you will offer an alternative to Harper and condemn Israel's deadly aggression, human rights violations and the ongoing theft of land in Gaza and the West Bank.
Linda Belanger Ottawa, On Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Slightly edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)