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Dear Urban Diplomat: what’s the proper dinner-guest etiquette for Ramadan?

Dear Urban Diplomat: what's the proper dinner-guest etiquette for Ramadan?

(Image: Rebecca Winzenried/Flickr)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
My wife and I were asked to a dinner party by some neighbours. The invite said 7 p.m., but it will be during Ramadan, when we can’t eat or have a drink until after sunset—so around 9 p.m. I mentioned this, and they said to just come along and they’ll serve dinner late. We don’t want to be the recipients of sideways glances from famished, clock-watching guests all evening. Should we decline, go over after 9 p.m., or what?

—Unfashionably Late, Upper Beach

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The Informer

Politics

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Ontario Catholic teachers to march in the Pride parade, proving not all Catholic school board officials are jerks

(Image: Neal Jennings)

(Image: Neal Jennings)

School participation in Toronto’s Pride parade has become weirdly controversial lately, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of people like TDSB trustee Sam Sotiropoulos, who seems to think that the sight of a stray dong could scar an innocent high-schooler for life. And so it’s somewhat surprising that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association is planning to march in this year’s parade.

According to the Post, the OECTA, a Catholic teachers’ union, voted a few months ago to participate in this year’s World Pride extravaganza. James Ryan, the union’s president, told the Post that the OECTA’s gesture is meant as a show of support for LGBT colleagues and students, and not as a protest of the church’s teachings on chastity.

And yet, not everyone involved in the province’s notoriously conservative Catholic education system (it was only a couple years ago that Catholic schools were forced to allow students to form gay-straight alliances) is on board the metaphorical rainbow-hued parade float. Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins issued a statement accusing the union’s members and leadership of having “an inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith,” and a parents group called Parents as First Educators is lamenting the fact that students may get the idea that “dissent can and should be openly practised.” Because, of course, children and teenagers never openly disagreed with their elders before the gays got involved. Right.

The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: should I stop my atheist roommate from joining a Christian talent agency?

Dear Urban Diplomat: Jesus Would Freak

(Image: David Clow)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I’m sure you’ve seen the billboards around town for the Christian talent agency AMTC (Actors, Models and Talent for Christ). My roommate, a struggling theatre grad and devout atheist, auditioned because he’s desperate for work. He even prepared a speech about being a “follower of the Lord all his life.” I’m appalled and think he’ll get outed. What do you recommend I do?

—Jesus Would Freak, Corktown

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The Dish

Random Stuff

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QUOTED: The Toronto guy who’s drinking only beer for Lent, on resisting temptation

(Image: left, Chris Schryer/Facebook; right, Justin Marty/Flickr)

(Image: left, Chris Schryer/Facebook; right, Justin Marty/Flickr)

“I haven’t broken fast yet, but it’s been tough. I was coming home one night with some buddies and they didn’t even want a falafel, but I made them go in. I was like: ‘No, you’re fucking eating a falafel because it’s delicious!’”

Chris Schryer, a web designer and blogger from Toronto, in a recent interview with Vice about his spiritually motivated decision to replace all solid food with beer for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Schryer wrote about the quasi-fast on his local beer site, TorontoBeerBlog.com, and the story has since been picked up by media outlets like the National Post and TIME. (Seth Meyers even talked about it in his opening monologue on Monday night’s episode of Late Night.) Currently 23 days into the program, Schryer has been subsisting on 2000 daily calories’ worth of coffee, tea, juice, water and doppelbock, a syrupy Bavarian-style beer brewed especially for him by Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewing Company.

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The Informer

Columns

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Memoir: I came out to my Muslim family after a decade of silence—and the fallout was brutal

Memoir: I came out to my Muslim family after a decade of silence—and the fallout was brutal

Coming out is like cliff jumping. The longer you wait to take the plunge, the more time you have to envision your guts rising to your throat, the burn of a belly flop, your head smacking a rock.

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The Informer

People

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Q&A: Amjad Tarsin, U of T’s new Islamic chaplain, on Gaddafi, TIFF and moving to Toronto

Amjad Tarsin, a 28-year-old law school dropout with a fondness for fantasy lit, is the new Islamic chaplain at U of T

Q&A: Amjad Tarsin

U of T’s Muslim Chaplaincy hired you in September after a lengthy search process. What will your role be?
I’m essentially a counsellor who has a religious background. The concept of the chaplain was originally a Christian idea, but nowadays you have all kinds of chaplains—Jewish,
Buddhist, Muslim.

You’re 28. Was youth something the search committee was looking for?
I’m not sure. I have a master’s degree in Islamic studies, and I worked for a year as chaplain at Fairfield University in Connec­ticut, but it also wasn’t that long ago that I was at university myself, so I can relate to the students. My focus in undergrad was English, Arabic and Islamic studies, and then I did two years of law school at the University of Michigan.

Why did you leave law school?
I enrolled for the wrong reasons. In undergrad, I’d get into arguments about all kinds of things, and at some point I thought I should be a lawyer. But Islamic studies were where my
heart was.

How would you describe your upbringing?
My parents are very religious. They emigrated to the U.S. from Libya in the early 1970s to escape political persecution under Gaddafi. They were very involved in speaking out against
his dictatorship.

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The Informer

Features

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The Cult of Pastor Song: a religious sex scandal in Toronto’s Korean community

The sex scandal consuming Toronto’s Korean community began when six international students said they were repeatedly gang-raped by members of their small church. The accused allege that their eccentric pastor brainwashed the women to deflect attention from his own transgressions

The Cult of Pastor Song

Holy orders: Jae Kap Song, the founder and pastor of Jesus First, encouraged his flock to wear church uniforms and live together in six shared apartments

One July day in 2007, an 18-year-old woman checked into her Toronto-bound flight at South Korea’s Incheon Airport. She was travelling light—she had with her one suitcase containing clothes for a range of seasons, some books and a favourite brand of face cream. She had been living with her grandparents in South Korea and was joining her mother, who had split with her father and moved to Toronto to study acupuncture three years earlier.

A court-ordered publication ban prevents me from identifying the woman, but I’ll call her Yeri. Her plan was to learn English at one of Toronto’s hagwons, Korean-run cram schools that cater to the thousands of young men and women who come to Canada on student visas each year. With command of the language, she would get into a better college in South Korea and ultimately, her family hoped, receive coveted job offers at multinationals.

From the airport, Yeri headed to a Bloor and Islington apartment building where her mother lived in one of six units leased by members of Jesus First, a Korean Presbyterian church run by a pastor named Jae Kap Song. Her mother belonged to the church and expected her to join, too. They’d share one of the apartment’s bedrooms. A second bedroom was shared by two male members of Jesus First.

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The Informer

Features

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Allah in the Cafeteria: Inside the school prayer scandal at Valley Park Middle School

When the principal at Valley Park Middle School allowed 400 Muslim students to pray in the lunchroom, he thought he was being progressive. What he got was a scandal—over the preaching of conservative Islam and the separation of girls from boys—that’s testing the TDSB’s policy of religious accomodation

Allah in the Cafeteria

(Image: John Goddard)

Valley Park Middle School, at Don Mills and Overlea, is much like any other TDSB facility in the inner suburbs—an unremarkable rectangle of grey, concrete blocks, plus 11 portables in the back field. It’s also one of Canada’s largest and most ethnically diverse middle schools, with approximately 1,200 students in grades 6 to 8, whose native languages include Urdu, Pashto, Dari, Bengali and Punjabi. The neighbouring streets consist mostly of strip malls and huge apartment complexes that accommodate many of the Muslim immigrants from South Asia who arrived in Toronto in large numbers in the 1990s.

A kilometre and a half away, amid the fast-food chains and electronics repair shops, is the neighbourhood’s mosque—the Darus Salaam. If you were walking by it in a hurry, you might not even realize it’s a mosque. There’s no minaret, nothing distinctive about the building; it’s just another non­descript box that disappears into the industrial landscape. The mosque is orthodox Sunni and adheres to a strict, conservative interpretation of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. It is also a madrassa—a religious place of learning—for many of the children who attend Valley Park.

The majority of the students at Valley Park—more than 800 kids—are Muslims. Until 2008, several hundred of the students would leave school every Friday to attend midday prayers at the mosque. The prayer itself took only 15 to 20 minutes, but the kids wouldn’t return to school for two or three hours, if they bothered to at all. Some simply headed to a shopping mall or home to play video games. The school’s administration needed a solution.

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The Informer

People

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Justin Bieber reveals a massive tattoo of a person more famous than he is (we know, it’s hard to believe)

Jesus: “Oh, brother.” (Image: Tony Unruh)

We went six whole days into 2012 without a big Justin Bieber scandal or accomplishment—but Beliebers can rest easy now because the pop star just revealed his newest tattoo: a picture of Jesus’s face adorning his left calf. This brings his tattoo count to three; he’s already got a dove on his left hip and the Hebrew word for “Jesus” on his torso (which he and his dad got together—aw, bless). Fans and Internet trolls have consumed themselves in a debate over whether Christians should have tattoos (no matter how on-brand), but we’re wondering if the holy ink washes away the vestiges of his week as an alleged baby daddy and bathroom-stall-tryster. Lord, grant Biebz the serenity to accept the [tattoos] he cannot change.

The Informer

Features

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Four users on the GTA’s largest South Asian dating website—Shaadi.com—share the secrets of ethnically loaded matchmaking

Shades of Brown

For members of traditional South Asian communities, marriage—in Hindi and Urdu, shaadi—is the single most important event in life. To help unmarried South Asians find a suitable partner, Anupam Mittal, a Mumbai entrepreneur, launched the dating website shaadi.com, and it became so popular in the GTA that the company chose to open a satellite office in Mississauga last year.

Like Lavalife, match.com and other dating sites, Shaadi contains pages and pages of users’ profile pictures, interests and hobbies. But Shaadi bills itself as a site for people who want to marry, not a hangout for promiscuous daters, and it requires that its members indicate skin complexion and religion and caste—decidedly old-fashioned ideas that have created something of an image problem. Many of its members deny they use it out of embarrassment. And yet that hasn’t diminished the site’s popularity; 24,000 of the GTA’s 684,000 South Asians now use Shaadi’s services, including parents who set up profiles for their eligible children—a computer­-age variation on the arranged marriage.

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The Informer

Features

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Dear Urban Diplomat: should I report my colleague’s religious email signatures to HR?

(Image: Anslatadams)

(Image: Anslatadams)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
One of my co-workers signs all her emails “God Bless.” I find it irritating and think it’s unprofessional to push one’s religion at work. Should I report her to HR?
—God Forbid, DON MILLS

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The Goods

Weddings

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Weddings Week 2011: Reverend Michael Marshall’s behind the scenes look at holy matrimony

Reverend Michael Marshall, parish priest at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake on Ward’s Island, has been joining couples in holy matrimony for 20 years. Before you pick your officiant, consider the view from his side of the altar

(Image: Vanessa Heins)

Best part of the job: I like spending time with the bride and groom prior to the big day. I talk to them about their hopes, the meaning of marriage, and then also a lot of practical stuff, like finances, if they plan to have children, what role they want friends to play in their relationship.

And the worst: There is no “worst,” but there are challenges, like maintaining Anglican traditions while allowing couples to express their individuality. I recently officiated for a couple who, in addition to their vows, wanted to pinky swear. I was hesitant but ultimately decided that it wasn’t harming anyone.

What every couple should know: Where to get married and whether or not to have a religious ceremony is a big decision. People get very wrapped up in the reception and other things. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but religion is an important consideration.

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The Informer

Features

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She who cures all: Q&A with Dhun Noria

For over 30 years as a doctor, Dhun Noria has battled disease. As the newest citizen member of the police board, she’s turning her attention to fighting crime

(Image: Adam Rankin)

You’re the chief of laboratory medicine at the Scarborough Hospital. What do you do, exactly?
Almost every patient who comes into our hospital has an encounter with the lab. Eighty per cent of treatment decisions are made on the basis of lab tests. My specialty is cancer diagnosis.

You studied at U of T?
Yes. I came to Canada from Hyderabad, India, in 1968 to do my fellowship in anatomic pathology.

And you raised a family here, too.
My husband, Farokh, studied nuclear physics but now makes fashion jewellery. We have a manufacturing plant in India, and my son, Zubin, helps with the business. My daughter, Sabrena, is a surgeon in Columbus, Ohio.

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The Informer

Features

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Reason to Love Toronto: we’re a safe haven for an anti-terrorist

Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a former Pakis­tan National Assembly member, is an international phenomenon among progressive Muslim scholars.

Qadri heads up the Minhaj-ul-Quran, a peace-and-tolerance-promoting Islamic education and charity organization with outposts in  over 90 countries and millions of young Muslim followers. Seeking a safe and pluralist home base for his activism, Qadri moved to the GTA five years ago (he won’t disclose his location to protect his wife and five kids) and has spent the ensuing time working on his magnum opus, a 600-page doorstop of an injunction against radical Islam. Last March, before a phalanx of international media, he released his fatwa on terrorism—the most unequivocal, comprehensive condemnation of the tactics used by al Qaeda and the Tali­ban ever written. And Qadri did it using the very religious conventions that extremist imams have exploited so successfully to violent ends.

Qadri has studied Islamic law for more than 35 years and perfected the art of the fatwa, parsing the Koran and the hadiths to show that suicide bombing is an explicit rejection of the Islamic faith. He’s a man waging what he calls “intellectual jihad” against fundamentalists who would use his religion as a cudgel.

“Peaceful people are always silent,” he complained recently. If Toronto has a role to play in offering safe haven to voices of peace, that’s something to shout about.

The Informer

Random Stuff

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Saluting the sin: Christians speak out against the “evils” of yoga

To hell with you: can earthly peacefulness lead to eternal damnation? (Image: Tim Samoff)

The craze for stretching, breathing and buying Lululemon gear has hit Toronto as hard as anywhere else in North America. But as they try to empty their minds of daily troubles, are local yoga fans putting their immortal souls in jeopardy? Yes, say certain spoilsports who recently spoke to Religion Dispatches. They think yoga is Lucifer’s own gateway drug.

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