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Are Islamic Cultures Really Shame-Based? Part 1

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Modern Psychology has divided cultures into two categories—shame-based and guilt-based. According to the theory, shame-based cultures (primarily tribal) are considered inferior to guilt-based (primarily Western Judeo-Christian cultures). The reasoning behind this theory is that shame-based cultures employ shame to effect behavior which in turn leads to a wounded self-worth, rather than guilt—a liberating emotion. Accordingly, guilt-based cultures carry around a global feeling that “I have done something bad” versus “I am bad” in shame-based cultures. Modern psychology places Islamic cultures, under the banner of shame-based. 

With this is perspective, some have implied that because Islamic culture is “shame-based”, its collective wounded psyche needs a scape-goat to project blame on and thus Israel and the West have become just that—scape-goats for a wounded Islamic psyche.  As a product of this wounded psyche, heinous acts of terrorism, exploitation of women and children, and other demeaning and harmful behavior becomes “normal” for Islamic societies. Since the world has done away with slavery and dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects under the protection of the Muslims) the natural outcome of this culture is therefore to turn to the current “weaker” elements of society.

Quoting a recent article on guilt vs. shame cultures, a particular “Dr. Sanity” in her blog reinforces the “superiority” of guilt cultures and contrasts it with Islamic cultures:

“The guilt culture is typically and primarily concerned with truth, justice, and the preservation of individual rights. As we noted earlier, the emotion of guilt is what keeps a person from behavior that goes against his/her own code of conduct as well as the culture’s. Excessive guilt can, of course, also be pathological. I am solely referring to a psychologically healthy appreciation of guilt.” The author further says, “In contrast, a typical shame culture (e.g., Japan as discussed by Benedict; or the present focus of this discussion: Arab/Islamic culture) what other people believe has a far more powerful impact on behavior than even what the individual believes. As noted by Gutman in his writings, the desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else is one of the primary foundations of the culture. This desire has the side-effect of giving the individual carte blanche to engage in wrong-doing as long as no-one knows about it, or knows he is involved.”

What Gutman is referring to in the excerpt is something called “ghayrah” in Arabic and “ghayrat” in Urdu. It refers to that trait which is linked with self-honor, self-respect, good-reputation, or good-name of a person, family, or tribe. It is also loosely translated as shame in English. When employed positively, ghayrah can serve as a preventative of societal evil rather than dishonoring one’s self, family, tribe, ethnic group, and even country. When employed negatively, typically by political entities with the intent to cause sectarian violence or enmity between tribes and families, it can incite honor killings, retaliation, and many other crimes that are typically committed in rural and lesser educated sectors of the Muslim world. While ghayrah serves as a preventative of evil deeds in most cases and even “perceived evils” in some, it is not a global phenomenon in the Muslim world and varies demographically.

Before delving into whether or not the Islamic culture is shame-based, it only makes sense that we define a few concepts with respect to the nafs or self that has a bearing on the development of character as described in Islamic psychology.

Guilt has always played a part as a reminder and preventative of genocide historically, and we see this in reminders of the Holocaust, the Crusades, and other such horrific events. In the theological analysis of Christianity, we find that guilt plays a vital part in Christian creed and devotion. Christianity holds responsible, among others, for the “death of Jesus” (peace be upon him) the entire humanity now, then, and forever, due to its sinfulness. By contrast, guilt has no theological or creedal implication in Islam. However, it does play a major part in the redemption of the human spirit. Nevertheless, it is not a primary motivator towards performing good deeds or devotion. In the Islamic psyche, guilt plays a part, but mainly in prevention of committing the same evil deed again.  That is because one of the conditions of seeking forgiveness of God in Islam is that the perpetrator must genuinely be remorseful of the deed by recognizing before God that an offence has been committed. The other two conditions include vowing never again to return to the action (even though a person may return to it through weakness), and by seeking God’s forgiveness (maghfirah).  If the offence is committed against a fellow human-being, the perpetrator must genuinely be remorseful of the action by recognizing before the victim that an offence has been committed in addition to God and, and if possible and reasonable, the wrong deed must be rectified.

The primary motivator of the conscience is guilt. In Middle English etymology, conscience is described as the means to be conscious, to be conscious of guilt, or to be aware of guilt. Based on the old definition, a conscientious person would have been described as one who feels guilt when a bad deed has been committed. The modern-day definition of conscience is more elaborate and diverging from its original. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good, and in another meaning, a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts. In Freudian Psychology, it is described as the part of the super-ego (the part of the psyche that plays a critical and moralizing role) that transmits commands and admonitions to the ego (the organized and realistic part of the psyche).

Coming back to guilt in the Islamic context, which part then of the Islamic psyche is guilt associated with? In Islamic psychology, the nafs ul-lawwaama (the self-reproaching self –also mentioned in the Holy Qur’an) is that part of the self (nafs) which blames or reproaches one for committing a wrong.  Imam al-Ghazali in his Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum ud-Din) described the nafs ul-lawwaama as the imperfect part of a greater and higher self called the nafs ul-mutmainnah (the calm self that is not moved by passion and that has assumed stillness, remaining satisfied). The great imam described the nafs ul-lawwaama as the imperfect part of the calm self that accuses and blames the self when divine duties are neglected. Another part of the nafs which is impulsive in its nature, is moved by passion, and incites or commands towards misdeeds and rashness is the nafs ul-ammaarah (the commanding self). This part of the self is the one blamed by the nafs ul-lawwaamah when a misdeed occurs. It is the part of the nafs that upon death dies along with the body. Thus, based on the definition of the nafs ul-lawwama we can safely say that the conscience is really part of or derived from the nafs ul-lawwama. Subsequently, while laudable if it is developed, it is not the highest form of the self, by Islamic ethical standards, since its motivation is the guilty emotion rather than self-discipline, self-restraint, righteousness, and so forth which are all products of the calm self. And so, by Islamic standards, the nafs ul-mutmainnah is in reality the highest form of the self and the goal of every sincere believer.  The point being made here is that guilt serves a purpose in the prevention of evil, but is not Islam’s goal for its collective culture. The goal of the collective psyche of Muslims is much higher and much more refined than just the collective guilty emotion.

The purpose of this article is to open up a window for Western reader into the development of a particular trait or virtue which in fact has an immense impact on the behavior and conduct of the Islamic culture.  This trait is not based on a culture, meaning a particular ethnic group, but is based in the religion and impacts the dynamics of the entire Muslim world.  As part of this virtue, ghayrah does play a part initially, yet to say that ghayrah and it’s consequences alone are the catalyst for collective behavioral change in a the Islamic culture is to over-simplify this complex virtue that I am about to discuss.

To begin, I will start with the stages of character development (tarbiyyah) typically employed in Islamic societies.

Stages of Tarbiyyah

As a part of enjoining good and forbidding evil, Islam lays the emphasis mainly on accountability of deeds. Accountability moves from the external (dhahir) realm to the internal (baatin). In other words, it starts with being accountable to other than the self, and it is perfected by being accountable eventually to God through a personal relationship that takes a lifetime to develop in the self. 

For the child, the object of attachment, love and trust are parents. Thus parents become the primary guide and overseers of the actions of the child.  Through this relationship, a secure boundary in created in which the child learns those things beneficial and harmful for it. This is the beginning of tarbiyyah of the child. As a result, when the child is away from the parents or alone, it seeks the accountability of its parents in doubtful matters and remembers those things that are permitted or forbidden by the parents as a guide to make the appropriate life decision. In traditional societies and most Muslim countries, traditional parents will typically inform their teens to use their parents’ opinions as a guide when they are alone or need to make choices. They are reminded to ask themselves, “What would your parents think about the deed you are about to commit?” If the answer inclines towards their disapproval or towards the youth feeling a sense of shame and dishonor of his parents were he or she to commit the deed, it serves as a signal that such an act should be avoided.

This training is the beginning of self-restraint. Far from wounding the self, when the urge to commit an impending misdeed dissipates (as a result of not doing it out of shame or ghayrah), the self is left liberated because an evil act was avoided resulting in the strengthening of self-restraint, discipline, and esteem. These virtues free the individual from the need of excessive shame (which is negative) and from even falling into guilt (which too can be wounding to the self if in excess).  Since spirituality has not yet fully developed in the young teen, healthy shame continues to play a role in his or her life until spiritual maturity sets in.

The Prophetic example and those that followed remind the youth and parents to encourage the choice of good company and to avoid the bad of it. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once said: “Man is influenced by the faith of his friends. Therefore, be careful of whom you associate with.” and “A man is upon the religion of his friend, and there is no good in friendship with one who does not see for you what he sees for himself.” Hazrat Ali (may God be pleased with him) the fourth Caliph of Islam once said “The company of bad people becomes the cause of low esteem of the good people.” Because young adults tend to trust and confide in friends as part of normal human development, friends play an important role in his or her development. The effect of bad company on the youth is not hidden from any parent who has a teen. A good friend on the other hand will guide his or her friend to that which is positive, beneficial, safe and wholesome. Friends that don’t care for other than themselves will attempt to corrupt the behavior of his or her peers to justify his or her own behavior. Good friends, how they view the world, and their opinions all thus become an important part of the tarbiyyah of the young adult as an extension of the greater Muslim community.

One of the concerns of people belonging to Eastern cultures is that in Western societies teens are prematurely offered the right to privacy, at school, at the doctor’s office, hospital, etc, resulting in a sudden disconnect after elementary school between parents and the child. Parents are not fully aware of the activities and the behavior of their teen outside the home, and these children of Eastern parents often end up living hypocritical and dual lives, one in the house and another out. One may also attribute the rude behavior that is so commonly found among the youth with respect to their teachers and lack of respect for elders in general to this disconnect. Were a well-wisher of the child to inform on the child’s deeds to the parents, he or she would often be rebuked for minding the others’ business or in the case of professionals, reported on for being unprofessional. Privacy is a touchy subject in Western societies and what is being presented here is how Islamic cultures see it. On the other hand, in Islamic cultures, this overseeing of the child takes place at the community level where elders and teachers play a role.  As a result, a youth will think twice, even thrice before publically committing an offence in the fear that someone who knows him and his parents will witness and report on his or her misdeeds, and thus dishonoring him and his family. In such societies, a healthy shame and positive ghayrah prevents evil deeds in the wider interest of the society. The point here is that, at this stage, the overseeing of the well-being of the youth moves from parents to positive role models, friends, teachers, and the community in general as well. 

Additionally, within the community, religious institutions also play a vital role in the tarbiyyah of the child and youth. Typically this starts with recitation of the Qur’an and with teaching prayer rituals, and basic Islamic ethics. While religious knowledge (Islamic law and other subjects) beyond the basics is encouraged in young adulthood, its effect still does not set in until the spiritual development of the child is also occurring, which becomes possible only when the youth comprehends and applies what he or she has learned from the religious education.  Application of spiritual and religious knowledge requires many factors towards its success. This includes positive role models, positive example and encouragement of parents, and a healthy environment to develop. Such an environment is provided by the community and parents, so that when the child moves into young adulthood (teen years) and tests the boundaries set by parents early on, the environment acts as a preventative towards extreme and immoral lifestyles and counter-cultures.

When spiritual yearning, search for the truth, and faith hopefully set in when the young adult takes on a more mature outlook, the realization of earlier lessons of tarbiyyah begin to ring true. Now the lessons learned in the past become the guide.  The realization of the kiraam ul-kaatibeen sets in. The kiraam ul-kaatibeen are angels who record deeds, good, and evil, on either sides of the shoulders of each human being. These deeds are laid open on the Day of Judgment when an accounting is performed. Now the mature religiously inclined youth is concerned with increasing his or her good deeds and avoiding evil ones. As a result he or she remains watchful over their actions so that they are not put to shame when the books and accounting are opened on the Day of Judgment in front of God and all of humanity to see. This is the effect of a religious teaching in ideal conditions and now this sense of being accountable to an Higher Authority is further strengthened, yet not complete.

As one grows from religiousness to spirituality and love for the Prophet of God, the guide of humanity (peace be upon him), sets deep inside the spiritual Muslim, the possibility of being dishonored before the Beloved Prophet of God (peace be upon him) when his or her deeds are presented to him daily, as mentioned in the Prophetic traditions, becomes a preventative, not just out of fear but out of love for the Prophet of God (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). This ultimately ends with love for God rather than just the fear of God, and culminates in true God-consciousness. This is the state of Ihsaan where one worships God as if he sees Him and if he does not, he realizes that God is watching him and that no secret lies hidden from the Creator of the Universe, Most Exalted. When this sense of accountability becomes ingrained and faith is complete, one ultimately remains concerned only with that which is pleasing or displeasing to God. For that individual, all other opinions of societal players where shame or ghayrah plays a part fade away. Yet their status in society as parents, adults, teachers, role models is not lost. All of these players must be given due respect for the role they have played in the development of this value called taqwa in Islam. What remains is the taqwa of God and accountability ultimately to the Knower of the Unseen (‘Aalim al-Ghayb).

Thus the tarbiyyah of the Muslim individual starts with parent-consciousness, family-consciousness, community-consciousness, angel-consciousness, prophet-consciousness, and eventually ends with the highest form of consciousness, which is a form of God-consciousness called taqwa. Its development is not solely at the hands of parents, but as a complete working system in the greater interest of society.

Taqwa therefore doesn’t merely mean to have a conscience since guilt is not the primary motivator. As discussed, it doesn’t even come close to describing the inner meanings of this word because of the western cultural background associated with the word conscience.  So when Islamic societies have become characterized by psychologists as being shame-based as opposed to guilt-based, it only makes sense that we question how much of that is true.  Based on what we have learned about the Islamic character development, it would be more accurate to describe the Islamic culture as a “Taqwa-based” culture as opposed to just  “shame-based”. This will more accurately describe the Islamic culture as Islam’s method is one of moderation, a middle way, which avoids and discourages extremism in action and in character. Subsequently extreme shame and extreme guilt both are looked down upon in Islam.

How far, then, from the truth can one be by implying that wrong-doing is acceptable to those who belong to “Islamic cultures” as long as no one knows? And to label the Islamic culture as shame-based only is an over-simplification of a culture that is hugely diverse and widespread that not only spans the Muslim world but also has vast numbers of adherents who have been born and raised in Western countries. Theories such as these, when expounded by those with an agenda or ill-intent, can be very dangerous as it leads to the systematic dehumanization of a people, not unlike those who use ghayrah negatively.  Are we then not any different than those we are trying to implicate?

…Continued in Part 2 and Part 3

Part 2 and 3 to include:

– Definition of Taqwa
– Natural Outcomes of Taqwa
– Motivators of Taqwa
– The Effect of Fasting in Ramadan on Taqwa
– Levels of Taqwa

Sharaaz Khan
Sharaaz Khan is Managing Director of the Islamic Education and Cultural Research Center (IECRC) and the IECRC Academy for Youth and Children, Sacramento where he teaches Islamic subjects to children and youth and provides Islamic counseling, mediation, and healing to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He is a Curriculum Developer, Instructional Designer & Learning Operations professional.

Being a Shepherd of Your Family in Modern Times

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In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate

Countless blessing and greetings upon the Best of Creation, His Blessed Prophet (sallallahu alyhe wasallam).
Allah Subhana wa  Ta’aala has commanded us in the Holy Qur’an that we should save our children from a fire whose fuel is human beings and stones (man-made idols).

O ye who believe! save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded. [Quran 66:6]
The word “responsibility” in the Merriam-Webster English dictionary is defined as the quality or state of being responsible: as a : moral, legal, or mental accountability.”
There a several ahadith of the Beloved Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) that explain responsibility.  The most well-known of them are:
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.” and
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”
In Arabic, the word used for the one responsible is mas-oulun. The root of this word is S-A-L and derived from it are words such as sa-ala (to ask or he asked), su-ila (to be asked or to be questioned) and su-aalun (a question).  Thus mas-oulun in reality is the one who will be questioned about that which, or the ones who, he was responsible over.  The ahadith delineates who is responsible for what and the questioning about these responsibilities will be on the Day of Judgement.
A shepherd is someone who is watchful over his herd.  He rests with one eye open mindful of the fact that lurking in the bush are wild predators who are too ever-diligent.  He tends to his flock when they are hurt or ill, and separates the sick animals from the herd for the better of the others until they are well again.  He cares for their diet and cleanliness to prevent malnutrition and infection.  Why should parenting be any different?
Thus as parents, we have a set of responsibilities in the household.  The father must provide food, clothing, shelter, and a sound education to his children. With respect to education, he is mas-oulun of (will be questioned ) specifically about whether or not he had taught his children the Quran and taught the them what is right and what is wrong.  He is to marry a pious woman who has good moral values so that she can practically raise the child with good character.  If the mother and father don’t have the knowledge of the Quran and how to pray and so forth, they should hire someone to do it.  Nevertheless, they are not free from this responsibility. Thus, you (parents) and no one else are responsible for your children’s upbringing and education.
Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala is the Giver of Knowledge, but the nature of learning involves a process, one mostly requiring sacrifice of time, effort, and wisdom.  Learning does not happen if you do not make an effort and provide a means and environment for your children to flourish. You must encourage them to seek knowledge, to gain it, to apply it, then to pass it on to the next generation. After all, is it or not in your interest to save your spiritual nasl (lineage) and not just your family lineage? Is it or not in your interest that after you leave this world that they pray for you? Is it or not your interest that they have the emotional and spiritual tools to navigate through the difficult trails and tribulations of life so that they do not become a liability on you and society in your old age?  A sound Islamic education has countless benefits. Those mentioned here are but a few.
When I ask parents why is it they do not send their children for classes or why are they not showing up for class, the answer usually is “They don’t want to come during such and such time” or “They have too much homework” or some other reason.  Muslim parents, today’s children and teenagers have countless pressures, excessive homework, school, friends and peers and to add to these, they have way too many distractions with the coming of the electronic age. Its easy for parents to feel that their children are already burdened and overwhelmed, so why add more “education” on their plate? My answer to that question is another question. “How many children would actually say “I want to learn Islam. I am interested in learning more, I want to seek and gain knowledge,” if we don’t encourage them towards this end?” If parents were to leave their children’s education in the hands of their children, do you think they will incline towards it without question? Thus, parents, its you who must encourage them towards this end whether they like it or not.   You must engage with then by asking them what they know about their religion and when they are at it, what they have learned. You must also attend the Islamic classes they take so that you too can understand its importance, and by having them revise and by asking and assessing their progress.  Who said parenting was easy let alone raising wise, and moral children?
Then when they have started on that path, you must encourage them to stay with the program and not to become the Islamic school dropout. Our elders used to say that when you start something, finish it.  Traditional scholars tell a story that describes this value well.  Two young men set out to find water.  One digs two feet and doesn’t find water, moves on to another spot in the field and after finding  nothing after two feet again moves on until he digs hundreds of holes without ever striking water. The second youth digs and doesn’t stop digging until he strikes water at 25 feet. Who worked harder? Who worked smarter? Who reached his goal?  We must support them to work hard but also to work smart. 
This parable tells a great deal about the youth, who, mind you, are our future. It reflects the impatience expressed when it comes to Islamic learning.  This generation especially has changed so much in such a short period of time in contrast to their parents and grandparents, who 10-30 years ago were in their shoes, yet are galaxies apart. An age where electronic media is everything and where learning of the religion is also becoming limited to Television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Hadith by way of texting, if you are lucky to have them incline towards the Deen.  The remote and flashing images on screens, fast-moving games that are constantly changing,  has changed something deep inside our children forever. They want learning to be fun and to be short and sweet otherwise it is “boring”. And if it doesn’t meet that standard, they may always change the channel on the teacher or abandon their Islamic studies.  We can only hope that the reality is not so grim, but what if it is? The statistics surely reflect that.
USA Today recently reported that the Millenium Generation is not interested in “organized” religion. That if this trend is not turned, churches will close in the same way that GM car factories and showrooms have all around the country.  Do you think that Muslims will not be affected by this trend? If we are living in the US, our children are bound to take on similar attributes as those who live here no matter how much you try to prevent it.  We are not any different.  The Prophet (sallallahu alyhe wasallam) once said:
Man qaama bi qaumin arba’eena yawman fa huwa minhum
He who stays with a nation for forty days, he is one of them.
Think about your teenager 5-10 years from today, when they will have their own children.  If now is not the time for them to get an Islamic education, when is?  When they are parents do you think they will have the time to get an Islamic education in that stage of your life? Are you able to? Then is it fair to them to think that they will find the time? 
The In-and-Out syndrome or the two-feet syndrome is a sign of our times because committment is hard to find but it’s also laziness both on the parents’ and children’s behalf.  And laziness is disliked in this religion of yours as one is encouraged to flee it or to seek refuge from it:
The following dua has been related from the Messenger (upon whom be peace) for protection against laziness among other problems:

Allahumma inni aaudhu bika minal-ajzi wal-kasli wal-jubni wal-harami wal-bukhli, wa a’udhbika min adhabil qabri, wa a’udhubika fitnatil mahya walmamat.

O Allah, I seek refuge in You from weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, anxiety and sorrow, and I seek refuge in You from the torments of grave, and I seek refuge in You from the trials and tribulations of life and death.

Now here is an exercise that I advise every parent to do. Without your children noticing, listen to the conversations of your children.  Listen to the language they use among themselves, how do they talk to each other or write on the Internet.  Join Facebook and MySpace and have them become your friend. Then observe what they are saying to each other.  Catch up on the slang they use to communicate with each other.  If you are not giving them exposure to positive social interaction with other Muslim role models and providing enrichment outlets for them, you will probably be shocked. Don’t lose an opportunity when it comes knocking on your door. 
Parents, while it is important to give them an education that gets them through this economy, for Muslims, it’s even more important that they gain an education, apply it, then teach it to their offspring and those around them so that they are among the Muflihun (those who prospered, the successful ones) and not  those who become fuel for the fire on that Difficult Day of Reckoning.  And the standard of success with respect to Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala and His Prophet (sallallahu alayhe wasallam) is not only this World.
There are Islamic centers all around the US and the world for this purpose. We are in the electronic age.  Classes are available remotely and via the Internet.  Seek them out.  You will find them. Now do you have an excuse?
The Islamic Educational & Cultural Research Center provides some opportunities for your children to gain an Islamic education.  Here is what is currently available: 
Call us, we’re here for you.  We are spending our late nights to keep these Centers alive. Don’t you think it’s time for you to do your part?
Contact us at this email or, or visit our Web Site at
Sharaaz Khan
Sharaaz Khan is Managing Director of the Islamic Education and Cultural Research Center (IECRC) and the IECRC Academy for Youth and Children, Sacramento where he teaches Islamic subjects to children and youth and provides Islamic counseling, mediation, and healing to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He is a Curriculum Developer, Instructional Designer & Learning Operations professional.

Written by Sharaaz Khan

July 1, 2010 at 12:07 am

The Purest of Lineage: A Convert’s Story of Honor and Degree (Part I of II)

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February 1, 2004 / Dhul Hijjah 1424

Volume 1, Issue 4

The following is a story of a convert to Islam who is soon to find that her purpose in life is more than just being married in a noble family.  With all the trials that inter-cultural marriages create,  this mother is to face  the greatest trial of her life.  This is a story of sacrifice and honor – a story that highlights the fact that not only those born in Islam can be raised to the highest of degrees and honor, rather Allah Almighty bestows these attributes upon whomever He chooses.  This story highlights the importance of embracing those who come into the fold of Islam by those already in it.

I was born in England but my soul was lost.  My culture, my surroundings, day and night, everything was a stranger to me.  I was not sure what I wanted.  From a very young age, I used to wait for a handsome Arab prince who would sweep me off my feet and take me away on his horse to a distant land in a castle where no one could see me except him.  Yes, I was living in Newcastle, England waiting for some stranger.  Then, one day, a friend took me to a party where people from all cultures were invited.  It was there that I met Asif, a young man from Punjab, Pakistan.  He belonged to a huge closely-knit, feudal and deeply religious Syed family (descendents of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)).  One day, Asif proposed.  In complete awe I thought to myself, “Perhaps God has gifted me for my modesty.”  We married without delay and I was called Maryam thereafter.

After I recited the Kalima Shahadah (the oath that a convert takes before entering the faith of Islam), I faced tremendous opposition.  After a few months we discovered that a baby was on its way.  It was the happiest time of my life.  Allah blessed us with a beautiful girl.  Asif named her Sana (which means ‘to glorify’) and said, “My daughter was born to glorify Allah.”  We had three sons after Sana.  We were living our lives according to the ways prescribed by Allah and His Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him).  Our life was an example of Paradise on Earth. 

One day Asif’s mother suffered a stroke and he needed to return to Pakistan immediately.  His father was a true Muslim who sacrificed his years for Islam.  It was this that gave me the encouragement that his family would accept me as their daughter-in-law.  It was about the same time that the truth of Islam penetrated my heart and I accepted Allah and His Beloved Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) from my innermost core.  In these days Asif felt increasingly helpless and sorrowful.  I thought to myself, “If we were true to our belief, then why was it that we had to hide our marriage?”  Maybe Asif didn’t want to lose his family.  One day Asif’s elder brother Zahid came to take us back.  He said that they were aware of the marriage and that now we should go back because Asif’s mom was ill and she wanted to see the all kids.  So we moved to Pakistan.  Sana started wearing the Chadar (a long shawl that is wrapped in a manner to cover the body and hair) and started learning to read the Qur’an from a Maulana (a religious scholar).  When my father-in-law sat with Sana and talked about the Qur’an, many questions arose in my heart: Had Allah chosen me for this task?  What is the purpose of my life?  I started reading many books and my father-in-law taught me about the Qur’an, Fiqh (Jurisprudence) and Islam.  He was a complete book in his being.  One day, my mother-in-law died from a heart attack and after a few days my father-in-law also died and this beautiful chapter of my life was closed forever.

My kids, especially Sana was the most learned about Islam.  She was true to her belief and would be praised by everyone who met her.  Our life was peaceful, but I was living a lie.  The truth was that, despite all my hard work, I was not able to adapt to the culture and traditions.  My God-given freedom was snatched from me.  Sometimes I used to wish that I had wings to fly back to my own country.  Asif felt this in me and promised that as soon as the time was right, he would send me to England.  I knew that he was true to his word.  I was not sure of the reason, but every time we intended to go back something would happen and we couldn’t go.

Sana had grown into a young lady by now.  I wished from the bottom of my heart that someone in my in-laws would ask for her hand in marriage.  All of their sons were mature and stood on their own two feet, but why was it that none of them could see Sana?  Asif wanted his daughter to be the pride of this family but this was Pakistan, and not England where I could have looked for a husband for my daughter or she could have found one herself.  England was a non-Muslim country, but this was Asif’s own country.  Then why was he so worried?  In this country, every other home had girls who would go out with boys, dating and shopping and free to enjoy.  But all of this was unlawful for a daughter of a converted mother from England.  My husband was much concerned about her well being, but no one else cared.  All that the in-laws wanted was to find the opportunity to catch my daughter or myself doing something wrong.  That would give them a chance to reject us.  This worried me day and night. I started reading my father-in-law’s books, which he wrote and that gave me comfort.

It was a cold winter night when my sister-in-law’s daughter got married.  There was a strange racket in the house.  When I came outside into the porch, I started watching Sana and the other girls applying Henna.  Standing next to the window, I overheard a discussion.  A lady was asking my sister-in-law about her son, who was old enough to marry and if she had anyone in mind for him.  She replied, “Not yet, I don’t know what has happened to all the good, modest girls.  It seems that all the television girls have stepped into our homes.  They all look like models.”  The women asked, “Why Baji? What about Sana? She is beautiful, modest, homely, and knows all the responsibilities? I wish I had a son…” “Stop it!” said my sister-in-law, “I’m warning you that if you ever took Sana’s name… Sana for my daughter-in-law! God forbid!”  The lady then said, “Why Baji, she is our family girl…” “I told you to be quiet!  Don’t you know that her mother is an Englishwomen!  She doesn’t even know the difference between pure and impure.  That I will have English blood in my lineage, God forbid, No Way!!!” said my sister-in-law.  “But Baji, Sana is your own blood!” exclaimed the woman.  “Please put an end to this topic right here and now and remember that this discussion should never enter the ears of Abid.  He already talks about Sana all the time” said my sister-in-law.  “Baji, I only brought this up because I felt that there isn’t any better girl than Sana.  She is a family girl and she will stay within the family and I know that Asif doesn’t want her to marry out of the family.  He asked me to find out what was the opinion of his sisters about Sana.” “OK, OK, why don’t you marry her with your own brother?” said my sister-in-law.  “If only my brother was up to the mark, he is not even close to her in character,” said this lady.  “Yeah I know, these are just excuses.  Is she the only one left for us? If you cared so much about her then why don’t you look for someone for her so our honor can remain in tact,” answered my sister-in-law.

My God!  These words entered my ears like hot lava.  Unaware of this conversation, Sana looked at me, smiled and called, “Come on mama, let me put Henna on your hands”.  I wanted to burn the whole house and break everything.  What did I not do for this family’s honor?  What was deficient in Sana that she couldn’t be the daughter-in-law of this family?  My whole body was shaking like an earthquake.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt as if I was a boat, which was about to reach the shore but was suddenly pulled back in by a whirlpool.  In this state I complained to Allah “O Allah, You know what’s hidden in our hearts, You are my witness that I believed and followed You from the depth of my heart at a time when I was brought up in a non-Muslim surrounding, but still had complete belief in You.  I believed that You created every human being for some purpose.  If my purpose was to remove a noble Syed away from base and lowly activities while he had everything, to marry him and protect him from a sinful life, then what is the purpose of my life now?  I am in Pakistan and his family is not accepting his kids because I was an Englishwomen? Now what is it that’s stopping me from returning to my country?  O Allah, show me the right way.”   I felt as if I was surrounded by thick fog and I lost every sense of existence and sanity.  I was not sure what to call this state.   My life had changed forever and little was I to know about the trials that my family was about to face and the honor that Allah, by the rank of his Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him), had in store for me!                                  

(To be continued …)

 The above story, authored by Ms. Farida Abbass was extracted from Pakeezah Magazine (Pakistan) and translated from Urdu by Fatima Sharaaz Qadri, a founding member of IECRC Sacramento and mother of four young children.

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June 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

A Path Towards Harmony

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February 1, 2004 / Dhul Hijjah 1424

Volume 1, Issue 4

The basic concept of mysticism in Islam is to know oneself and to know one’s Creator as the Hadith says:

“Whoever knows himself,

knows his Lord.”

It is through this process that one discovers the unity in man. Selflessness is the substance of Tasawwuf (Sufism or Islamic Mysticism). Self-discipline is used to raise oneself above the self and identify oneself with the Divine Self. Man has to establish a harmony between his body and soul to reach the Divine Light that Allah Almighty has placed in him. The proper method to reach the Divine is to go through the following stages: Shari’ah (Islamic Outer Law), Tariqah (Islamic Inner Path), and Haqiqah (Ultimate Reality). There is no dichotomy between Tariqah and Shari’ah. Shari’ah refers to the laws that govern man and society.

Tasawwuf can be translated in English as metaphysics. However metaphysics may not explain the full meaning of Tasawwuf. Nevertheless, this is how it is typically translated. People of Tasawwuf are called Sufi (one of the meanings of which reflects the simple, woolen garments worn by the earliest Sufis). In Tasawwuf the first stage is to follow the path led by a Shaykh or Murshid (spiritual guide) on the journey to the soul.  This is done through Bai’ah, or spiritual contract where the seeker promises for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him), giving his word that he or she will try to never commit a sin or do anything against the Shari’ah. In Tasawwuf, taking Bai’ah or giving one’s hand in the hands of one’s Murshid is in reality giving one’s hand in the Hand of Allah Almighty through one’s Murshid who is connected eventually to the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) through his spiritual guides in a chain of transmission that connects heart to heart. In Tasawwuf the orders and  commands of the spiritual guide must be followed. It is imperative to submit oneself to the Shaykh without any doubts because he is the Ameer (leader). Regarding this, Hazrat Shaykh Ali Hajweri (may Allah Almighty have mercy on him) refers  the Quranic ayah:

O People who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Noble Messenger, and those amongst you who are in authority.”

[Al-Qur’an 4:59].

Follow Allah Almighty’s orders, and the Noble Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) orders and “ulil amr” means spiritual guides.

A Sufi who chooses the path of Tasawuuf may finally reach the level of a Wali, i.e. a Friend of Allah. The Awliya Kiram (Noble Friends of Allah) and the Ulema Kiram (Noble Scholars of Islam) should not traverse different paths in different directions, but they should meet on the straight path, i.e. the Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem and hand in hand create in the human being the consciousness of the soul and the body. Hazrat Shaykh Ali Hajweri (may Allah Almighty have mercy on him) clearly defines in his book about the importance of the Shar’iah and that the people of Shar’iah could be excellent preachers of Islam through Tasuwwuf.  Allah Almighty has said:

“There are servants of God who

walk humbly on earth and when

an  ignorant one converses them,

they pray for his welfare.”


As the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said:

“Those who hear the prayers of a Sufi and do not say Ameen, come in the list of the negligent, in the eyes of Allah Almighty.”

The stated Hadeeth (saying of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)) clearly refers to Sufism and presents a comprehensive knowledge about acceptance in the eyes of Allah Almighty. The Hadeeth proves that Sufism was practiced in the blessed time of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

The people striving to attain and reach the Divine Light are those who curb their worldly requirements and selfishness and submit oneself to the willingness of Allah Almighty and His Beloved Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him).  In a Hadeeth, the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said:

“Die before your death.“

When a Sufi attains to Allah Almighty, he never loses Him, and when he loses himself i.e. through the negation of his ego and super ego, he never regains it. This means that when he involves himself in the Dhikr i.e., remembrance of Allah Almighty, he never regains his own personality. According to Hazrat Abul Hasan Husri (may Allah have mercy on him): ”a Sufi is he whose existence has no nonexistence and whose nonexistence has no existence.” Meaning that whatever he attains, he never loses and whatever he loses he never regains.

In short, it can be said that Sufism is a comprehensive applied syllabus of cosmic law (Shari’ah). Mostly, people are confused with their social, political, economical and ethical viewpoints due to lack of knowledge of the Shari’ah which emphasizes human relations, forgiveness, and the most important aspect of society, i.e. tolerance. Tasawwuf is a knowledge of peace and justice, harmony among different cultural groups and supremacy of humanity. Contemporary social order requires comprehensive principles of Tasawwuf to be applied in the different societal institutions for the betterment of state, politics, public administration, international relations with reference to peace and justice in the world.

References: Taken from articles and speeches of Prof. Dr. Manzoor-ud-Din Ahmed, a distinguished professor of Columbia University, USA and Prof. Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Qadri, Founding Director of IECRC in CA, USA.

Sohail Rana Qadri & Aniqa Rana Qadri

Mr. & Mrs. Rana Qadri are active members of IECRC Canada and contributors to the IECRC Newsletter.

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May 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Respecting Cultural Values – A Criterion for World Peace

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Issue # 13
May 25, 2008 / Jamadul Awwal 1429

Culture is the identity of every nation. It is the sum total of the shared values, emotions, and expressions of a people. Our global world today is a rich collection of ancient and modern cultures.

According to the Islamic tradition, the cultural diversity that comprises the world today is a blessing and by Divine Design. Its purpose is to interact and acquaint ourselves with one another. This interaction allows for increased understanding and subsequent enrichment which in turn contributes towards the promotion of peaceful relations between various communities.

It is the mandate of every religion to protect culture and promote cultural norms. Islam stresses co-existence. The Holy Quran clearly exhorts Muslims to protect the Christian church, the Jewish synagogue, and places of worship of all other peoples as much as they defend their own mosques. This is clear evidence of the emphasis that Islam has laid on tolerance and co-existence with other religions and civilizations. Islam also commands its followers to ensure the protection of all educational, charitable and cultural centers of other civilizations. It may be deduced that the non-profit organizations working in the field of education, health and social welfare all fall into this category. One can also refer to the word Sawamiah used in verse 40 of Chapter Al-Hajj of the Holy Quran, which stipulates that all establishments of other civilizations must be protected.

Whenever Christian scholars came to visit with the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) for a dialog, he (peace be upon him) arranged their stay in Masjid-e-Nabawi (the blessed mosque of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, in the holy city of Medina). On such occasions, the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) not only held talks there, but also allowed the Christians to perform their religious rituals within the mosque.

However, one of the greatest problems in the world today is that we have stopped respecting cultures. We have adopted an “us versus them” approach. The modern world is facing serious challenges due to this single reason leading to class wars and unrest in the world.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) respected every culture. While he established an Islamic state in the Holy city of Madinah, he (peace be upon him) did not denigrate the cultural identities of any religion. On the contrary, he promoted the various Arab tribes. He protected synagogues and churches and directed his followers to pay respect to them. Whenever the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) went out of the Holy City of Madinah with his noble companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), he did not trespass on the lands that belonged to the Jews and Christians. He (peace be upon him) did not allow the horses to even step foot on those lands that had agricultural crops on them. But he (peace be upon him) commanded his noble companions to protect these lands. In this way he laid the foundations for international law and peace. It is chilling to see that behaviors today are so antithetical to the teachings of this great final Prophet of God who is a Prophet for all of humanity. Peace Be Upon Him.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) practically proved the motto of the Peace Culture which is to “Live and let others live.”  “Peace for all” was not just a slogan but he proved it with his pristine teachings, stellar example and kind and forgiving nature that made everyone around him fall in love with his personality, and even his enemies were in awe of him (peace be upon him).

In the society that he created he adopted many techniques to transfer his knowledge to the people. He sent out delegations of His Companions who reflected the culture of peace and respect they had learnt from him. When the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) met people, he would stand up out of respect for them.

He created an Administration Culture which centered on truth and honesty. Honesty is the best policy for the government, the legislature, and judiciary. The culture of Islam is that of balance of power and it negates any authoritarian school of thought and promotes a culture of tolerance and peace. In this culture, contrary to popular belief, Allah Almighty and the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) have given tremendous amount of respect to women and children in the context of human rights. In this culture the use of force is prohibited. “Might is right” is not a component. The teaching of Islam is that everyone is equal. Modern culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, norms, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies and symbols. Islam has incorporated these into its fold. Islamic principles teach to take what is good and leave out that which is not good. It is a dynamic body with its foundation anchored on a core firm set of values—the crucial recipe for any religion, culture, institution or individual to survive— the ability to adapt and include.

Today’s IECRC Conference is a bridge between the West and the East, a bridge among nations. The valuable research articles and presentations being made here will be  a source of learning and eliminating many stereotypes. Conferences such as this are instrumental in the transformation of international cultural norms.

It is time we let go of the  wars of the battlefield and psycho warfare and make working for humanity the aim of our lives. For social and world change it is imperative that the differences between the major world cultures and religions are put on the backburner and the similarities are highlighted. The world is our home and we are all brothers and sisters. All Prophets of God (peace be upon them all) have brought the same message of forgiveness, purification, tolerance, peace, and love. It behooves us to increase our intercultural communication and understanding so that we can make the world a better place for our children.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Ahmed Qadri

Dr. Qadri is the Founding Director of the IECRC. He is the recipient of many international awards such as the prestigious “Ambassador for Peace” Award presented by the Universal Peace Foundation and Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace in Canada. Please see the section on Speaker Biographies for more details. He can be reached at

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March 17, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Redefining Multiculturalism: From Tolerance to Understanding

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Issue # 13

May 25, 2008 / Jamadul Awwal 1429

For many, communication with persons from diverse cultures can be challenging. One of the challenges is learning new customs and traditions and second important challenge is identifying fears, prejudices, and stereotypes that not only guide our social interactions and contribute to misinformation about members of various cultural groups, but also help to perpetuate various social inequities. Cultural views are like rivers—they may be nourishing and they may be poisonous. It is nourishing when its general principles are of such a nature, as productivity, that even after centuries of its existence we can still derive from it the imperatives for our actions, and the principles for understanding the world. Thus, potent cultural views continually help us to explain the world and to live in it satisfactorily. Under the auspices of empiricism and other similar philosophies, we have created, in the past, a deficient matrix for interacting with other beings. The time has come to create a new philosophy, which corrects these deficiencies and provides a framework for unity and symbiosis. We cannot stereotype others based on our own acculturation, values, traditions and religious beliefs. For our times we do require a philosophy which would be global and universal, holistic and healing, generous and humane, morally responsible and intellectually coherent.

‘Multiculturalism’ is a word most Americans use freely – often very proudly – when describing their country. We have achieved multiculturalism: we are a nation of nations – home to virtually every people on earth. We fulfill the definition of pluralism: we have numerous distinct ethnic, religious and cultural groups. Americans generally believe such a condition is desirable and socially beneficial. This, however, will only take us so far. Already – it’s proving not to be enough. To make our experiment of multiculturalism succeed, we must redefine it so that our primary descriptor is not ‘tolerance’ but understanding and harmony. This understanding will happen in part through interfaith dialogues like at IECRC Conference on intercultural communication, and most importantly, like the ones in homes, community centers and places of worship. The objective of genuine dialogue is not necessarily to find agreement, but more importantly mutual respect and understanding. Let us hope that the 21st century becomes one where people of all faiths realize that we have much in common and that by working together we can be a major-if not unstoppable force for peace, non-violence and world harmony.

Dr. Syeda Saiqa Zubeda

Dr. Syeda is the CEO of the Canadian Women Counselling Center (CWCC) in Surrey, British Columbia, and the Canada Chairperson of the IECRC Women’s Wing. She is a gold medalist from Karachi University, Pakistan in the discipline of Political Science. She has authored several books and research papers and currently gives lectures at honorable academic Canadian institutions and organizations. Her passion is to work on intercultural, interfaith and women’s issues. She can be reached at

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March 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

Balancing Personal Religious Practice With the Intercultural Awareness Of Others

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Issue # 13
May 25, 2008 / Jamadul Awwal 1429

As a trainer and facilitator in the intercultural field, a common way that I engage the interest of audience members is by asking for their own examples and stories that are relevant to the topic at hand.  At a recent group facilitation session I was leading, a female supervisor had shared a situation where she had found another female from a culture different from hers, praying in the stairwell of her company’s back hallway.  Concerned for her employee’s safety since she was in a darkly lit back exit area, and unaware at the time of the implications of her suggestion at the time, the supervisor kindly asked her to move into another room, offering her own office space, as an accommodation.  The employee agreed, but the next day – was found in the same place, performing her prayers.  Why did this happen?

For people who may be aware of this particular culture’s customs – seeing someone pray in a public, open space would be perfectly acceptable. But, for this supervisor – and for many individuals in leadership roles – exposure to such traditions different from their own, causes a misunderstanding of the situation.  Unfortunately, these misunderstandings can add up, possibly causing a strained relationship, and perhaps even graver consequences.  So, what can we do in these situations? 

Recently, there was an unfortunate and serious case in my community of a lawsuit that occurred from a company leader who did not understand the indirect communication style of his Asian employees.  My initial reaction to this scenario was sadness – knowing that this outcome could have been prevented by having cultural awareness through a basic understanding of the cultures and approaches of those in your daily life.

As a person who has been brought up with understandings of faith, I am in the humble yet critical position of being able to explain the concepts of religious practice from my own personal experience to my workshop attendees.  The benefit of my role as facilitator is that I am able to safely introduce ideas and understandings that may possibly conflict with others, and yet – I am still seen in an expert role.  Despite all of this, a challenge I face that is common with many others who follow a spiritual path is to be able to express, explain – and even justify, in some cases – to others, my choice of behaviors and beliefs on an everyday basis.  Many a time, the less difficult approach to take would be to avoid the topic all together.  But then – how much understanding can come from a lack of dialogue and attention?

Discussing matters of faith is no easy feat – public school systems in many countries ensure that teachers avoid the topic of religion in order not to offend the parents and children within their institutions.  The disadvantage of this approach is that rather than having an equal, even forum for research and discussion in a classroom – children are exposed to biased and incomplete versions of commentary on faith-based behavior and practice.  Growing up, these misguided opinions may turn into anxiety, prejudices, and avoidance of the “other”.  All in all, the potential of the person and anyone whom she or he comes in contact with, would be at a loss.

To address the issues and questions above, here are some recommendations for increasing intercultural awareness about your own religious practice:

Recognize the intention of the person asking questions.  Many times – what may be perceived as offensive or ignorant questions are actually earnest attempts to understand you and your practice of faith.  Of course, be aware that the approaches of others can be negative, but – be a detective and discern these individuals from those who have good intent.

Be open to expressing your understanding of faith through analogy.  Faith-based experiences can sometimes best be explained through analogy to others’ experiences, commonly-known stories, and the other person’s vocabulary and expressions.  Rather than trying to find difference, establish similarities amongst the approaches and how each is effective.

Choose the appropriate time to explain.  Sometimes, reacting within a highly emotional situation may only cause more difficulty. However, not facing a said misconception of your faith by another person may make it difficult for you to prevent misunderstanding later.  Rather than either of these options, it would be wise to choose an appropriate time and be purposeful in discussing your point of view, to clarify the misconception and have a “teachable moment.”

Share.  Many a time, our colleagues and friends are curious and would like to learn more, but are polite and may not want to feel they are intruding by asking.  Instead, begin the conversation yourself about a community event, family gathering, or experiences that you had, and you will then be able to share more ideas develop understanding of your faith, with them.

Realize the cost or benefit within a situation.  In some instances – it is simply better not to engage in a discussion about matters of faith, especially if you know it may harm you, your family, or your working relationship.  Seek guidance from others as to how to approach the issue, and decide if you want to remain in that situation or take yourself out from it.  Know that this is a reasonable course of action and that there will be other opportunities for others’ learning later on.

It is my hope that by bringing forth this discussion about personal religious practice and practical methods of how to help create awareness, that community members will be able to safely, confidently, and peacefully achieve the understanding of faith by others in their lives.

Farzana Nayani

Ms. Farzana Nayani is Education and Training Consultant for the University of British Columbia Center for Intercultural Communication. She is reachable at

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March 17, 2010 at 6:11 am