Concordia students are evolving religious perspectives

Concordia’s Multi-Faith Fair hosted an event for students to learn more about different religious groups on campus.

For Concordia student Chresley Bazel, practicing Christianity made all the difference in helping him stay motivated and maintain self-esteem during his struggles with his studies.

“School was kind of hard [for me], so I had to find faith toward my goal,” said Bazel. “Having faith in God and his plan really helped me finding motivation.”

Concordia University’s Multi-Faith Fair brought together approximately 50 students on Feb. 8 who were eager to learn about faith and community. The event gave students the opportunity to connect with others and contribute to a more understanding and inclusive environment.

The fair featured a variety of activity stations, including a spiritual tic-tac-toe, as well as tables where students could speak with representatives from various religious organizations, including the Sikh Student Association and the Thaqalayn Muslim Association.

“I think this kind of event is really significant and important, especially for students to know that we, as different religions, represent this diversity that Concordia has,” said Mohamad Abdallah, a 22-year-old Concordia student and a member of the Thaqalayn Muslim Association.

A 2024 Gitnux report on religious trends among Gen Z observed that this generation of students is changing the perspective on religion, making them the most ethnically and religiously diverse generation. 

Based on their findings, increased acceptance and understanding of various faiths and beliefs distinguish this generation from previous generations. This creates an approach of openness to the beliefs of others and encourages spiritual exploration and education.

Khelifi Samy, a Concordia student who also attended the fair, said that the younger generation can improve acceptance and understanding of others regardless of their differences through communication, allowing for more diverse perspectives on life and religion. Samy said that events like these allow him to connect, discuss, and learn from others in the community.

“I think on my own part because of […] events here I’m able to connect with many other people and to understand their point of view, and have discussions open to each other. ‘What do you think of this?’ ‘What do you think of different and various topics?,’’ said Samy.

Abdallah has his own perspective on generational differences in religion, pointing out that older generations tend to be more conservative while younger generations lean towards more liberal beliefs.

“I think the younger generation emphasizes more on unorthodox stuff, like untraditional stuff in religion, and maybe they want to liberalize and reform religion in some way […] which is not wrong, but older generations are more focused on conserving values and traditions, and I think we should have something in between,” said Abdallah.

Springtide Research Institute, a non-profit American organization that studies generational trends, calls this new approach to religious and spiritual practice “Faith Unbundled.” This means that younger generations are starting to follow multiple beliefs and practices that they prefer without formal commitment, overall changing the traditional approach to these practices.

With each generation, the perception of religion changes, often with a greater emphasis on spiritual exploration and diversity. As younger generations become more open-minded, their approach to religion reflects a desire to reinterpret and reform traditional values, bridging the gap between preserving traditions and embracing modern perspectives.


Personal journey: Discovering happiness through faith

Money isn’t the key to happiness.

Questions about happiness and its connection to money have often crossed my mind. What is happiness? How do we find it? Can money truly be the ultimate source of joy? These were questions that would constantly come up while pursuing what I believed would make me happy, like attending my dream university and working in a job I loved.

Throughout my childhood, happiness was always linked to materialism. Money was the predominant love language I received as a child, and it seemed to be the only source of joy in my life. I was fortunate to travel during school holidays, received constant gifts, and seemingly had everything I asked for. Outwardly, I appeared to be a content and fulfilled girl. I was called a “princess” by family and friends. However, there was always a void in my heart: I was longing for a different type of love. 

As a teenager, I battled with depression and what made it worse was not knowing the root cause of my misery. Despite possessing what many would consider to be everything, the symptoms of depression manifested. I used to cry daily and became open about my suicidal ideation. I transitioned from being a “princess” to a “spoiled child.” What I had grown up believing would bring me happiness failed to align with my reality. I was confused, and this forced me to start asking questions. 

After talking with friends and professionals about my emotional state, I gained a better understanding of my reality. I discovered that I had grown up lacking affection and love, which as a result made me struggle with low self-esteem and anger. The void within me tormented me, and I desperately sought a way to fix it without knowing how. I realized that I couldn’t turn back time to change my past. Healing my inner child became my responsibility.

One evening in July, as I scrolled through Instagram before bed, an animation reel caught my attention. It depicted Jesus reciting the Romans 8:18 verse, which reads: “The pain that you have been feeling cannot compare to the joy that is coming.” As a Muslim at the time, I didn’t believe in Jesus, nor did I care to learn about Him. However, after reading that Bible verse, the pain in my chest, which was caused by prolonged stress, suddenly stopped. For the first time in years, I slept in peace.

In the following days, I started encountering individuals who would preach the gospel to me. All of a sudden, I felt it in my heart that everything that has ever happened in my life is a call for me to be Christian. 

Following my revelation, I gave up everything and converted. I lost my old lifestyle, family members and some friends. However, what I gained is far more valuable. I transitioned from feeling unworthy and being thirsty for love to knowing that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). The peace, love, and happiness I’ve experienced since discovering religion is deeper and stronger than the short-term pleasure you get from spending a weekend at Disneyland or buying a designer bag. 

Sometimes, the inner self requires more than what can be obtained physically, and no amount of money can compensate for the void within. In my journey toward healing, seeking faith has played a crucial role. 

Faith has provided me with a sense of purpose, a supportive community, and a connection to something greater than myself. It has become a source of strength, helping me address the wounds of my inner child and navigate through life’s challenges. Healing and restoring our happiness is a life-long journey, and I believe that this journey is unique for each individual.

Arts and Culture Culture Student Life

Engaging Religion at 4th Space

Scholars and faculty of Concordia’s department of Religions and Cultures discuss the discipline.

Concordia University’s 4th Space hosted a panel discussion with participating graduate students and faculty from the department of Religions and Cultures to address what it means to choose religion as a field of study. The panellists included PhD Candidate Ellen Dobrowolski, Dr. Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Dr. Naftali Cohn, PhD student Jordan Molot, and MA graduate Katrina Kardash, and was moderated by PhD Candidate Arwa Hussain. While each participant brought a unique background and perspective to the table, they were united in their passion for a department that holds space for interdisciplinary research interests and methods. Each panellist maintained that their curiosity gradually pulled them through twists and turns toward religious studies.

The study of religion can open up opportunities to engage with difficult cross-disciplinary questions. For example, Dobrowolski’s PhD research discusses how a person’s religious identity might reinforce or undermine their ethnic identity. As a scholar with both Métis and Brazilian heritage, Dobrowolski observed that their Catholic upbringing tended to complicate the acceptance of their indigeneity, while simultaneously strengthening that of their Latin background. This experience informs their research onthe life and work of Sara Riel, the first Métis Grey Nun missionary. 

As seen through Dobrowolski’s research, the department of Religions and Cultures fosters a breadth of study that is at once deeply personal and widely relevant within secular academia.  Each project is unique. Dr. Balaswaminathan’s work investigates how a community of artisans in her home country of India struggle to honour the integrity of their traditional crafts in a world that increasingly commodifies the artistic production of the Global South. Meanwhile, Dr. Cohn examines the representation of diverse cultures and the performance of religious rituals in the media. Second year PhD student Jordan Molot, on the other hand, studies the history of Jewish settlers in Canada and their entanglements with the transatlantic slave trade. Recent MA graduate Katrina Kardash unearths the intimate lives of evangelical Christian communities in order to understand the dynamics of gender within their domestic spaces. All of these projects draw from personal experience and demonstrate how our personal trajectories can deeply inform our academic endeavours. 

After sharing their own research and experience within the department, the panellists wrapped up with some advice to prospective graduate students who may be seeking to join the program. The group was unanimous on how the study of religion opens the doors to diverse experiences with people and places you may never have otherwise encountered, and anyone who is fueled by the desire to learn new languages, travel, and discover new perspectives ought to consider religious studies. In a more practical sense, prospective students should begin to flesh out exactly what questions they would like to investigate and reach out to professors to build connections, setting them on a path toward success. 


A holiday dinner table divided

Do religion and politics have a place at the holiday dinner table?

Growing up, I was always told there are two things you never discuss with family or friends: religion and politics. I took that as, for lack of a better word, gospel, and I never engaged in those types of conversations. I was always told that these were bad conversations and that in order to keep the peace, these topics were off-limits.

Now, when I was younger that all made sense. Why wouldn’t I want to keep the peace? After all, family is the cornerstone of who we are, so why go out of my way to upset them? 

Fast forward to now, many years later, I started to think about this adage again. Has our stance toward this taboo topic changed?

Generally, from my experience, this is still one of the number one rules set up for holiday gatherings. Especially given how religiously and politically divided our society seems to be in our current reality. 

I asked myself last week, should politics and religion be off the table this year for the holidays? And for the first time in a while, I thought, no, these two topics should be welcomed at the table with family.

Last Christmas Eve the topic of the political motivation for mask mandates and vaccines came up. Typically, I would avoid the subject altogether, and I think that some of my family was trying to change the subject. I decided to take the conversation head-on. 

I firmly believe that in order to be a well-rounded person you need to engage in conversations that might make you uncomfortable. I think that sometimes our relationships with family members are treated as these precious pieces of glass that we just can’t shatter. However, I think to have a healthy family group, controversial topics must be brought up. 

Talking for the millionth time about how much the Christmas decorations cost gets boring, and there is some fun to be had with tough conversations. Also, why not know where the people closest to you stand on political issues and religious ideas? The foundation of boundaries and understanding where you stand within the family is incredibly important and religion and politics is where someone, myself included, can really find their voice. 

Now, I understand the fear behind it, because I have been scared for a long time. I know that some might feel it is not worth risking whatever arguments or tensions may arise. I can see the argument that the holidays are supposed to be a peaceful time, and a time to enjoy being with family. I can see the fear of being shunned from the family, or feeling attacked if your views differ from those around you. However, when we hide behind difficult conversations we are not doing anyone any favours. 

When I chose to not hide behind a difficult conversation, it ultimately ended in an argument. Other people around us perhaps felt uncomfortable, but it still felt really good to not shy away from such a topic. 

Now, would I recommend going about the conversation in the way I did? No. However, I still stand by the idea that politics and religion absolutely have a place at the holiday table.


The kids are not alright: why we need existential crises

How spirituality and mental health intertwine

We’ve heard Premier François Legault say it enough times: implementing secularism in our province’s legal framework was an “important moment” that “doesn’t go against the freedom of religion.”

Whether a state’s democracy rests on its relationship with religion is a debate as old as time. Throughout history, people have gone to war because of the power of religion over the state and over other religions.

This is a contentious issue that no one has an answer to, but one of the expected consequences of secularizing a state is that of having a society that doesn’t think of religion as having an integral role to play in the way our country is run.

Our secular society tells us that it’s unbecoming to talk and think of religion as anything other than a private, individual matter, and that other social aspects of politics should take precedence over it. Legault wasn’t wrong in saying his Bill 21, which banned religious symbols for public workers and mandated that one’s face must not be covered in order to receive some public services, was an “important moment” in Quebec.

Instead of making it a norm to see people practice their religions, we’re pushing people to foster their own religious beliefs within their own homes, on their own, away from their community, which is the complete opposite perspective to how most religions have been structured.

Young people are raised not to think about questions central to religion with as much seriousness as past generations. For some time now, the percentage of the population who are religiously committed has been declining, while the proportion of Canadians who are “spiritually uncertain” or who simply reject spirituality have been escalating. Even those who have faith in religion don’t practice it nearly as much anymore.

On the other hand, our country is going through a mental health crisis, and one which disproportionately affects young people.

We can’t dismiss the downward trend in adherence to faith as being completely disconnected from the rise in mental health issues in the country. The cosmogonic theories and ideologies that religion is so good at starting conversations about, and that science so often leaves open-ended, are quintessential to the human experience.

It’s not a coincidence that every single civilization that has existed has created a system of beliefs to explain where things come from and what the universe is. Since we’ve become sentient and self-aware beings, it’s been a natural instinct of ours to look for answers and to rationalize the world we live in beyond sensory perception.

It’s also no coincidence that all religions have traditions and habits that centre around bringing people together: we know that community is a basic human need. Living beings don’t do well with loneliness; it’s instinctual to want to build relationships with those around us.

It’s not surprising to see the attempts by a government to reduce religions down to something we can leave at home ends up making its population more depressed and less grounded. Our leaders have such a key role to play on culture, and they’re now building one where fraternity and existentialism are considered peripheral to self-reliance and science.

Maybe what we need isn’t a more secularized state but a more spiritual and inclusive one. Human beings weren’t made to let go of their desire to understand the unknowns of the universe.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Can I believe in science and magic?

A little faith in magic, maybe spirituality, is a great way to connect with yourself, and explore the mysteries of this universe.

Are science and faith at odds?

Some would say that science and faith are polar opposites, others say that science is a form of faith.

This idea stumped me. Is magic (anything in the realm of mystical, religious, or faith-based that we can’t verify with evidence) at odds with what we know about the natural world (scientific discovery)? While magic and faith share characteristics, they’re not quite the same.

Faith is an ingredient in magic. Faith is also an ingredient in science. 

Magic and science, in these terms, are not directly connected, but share a relationship through continuity. Faith touches both magic and science, which got me thinking, do they share any other traits in common?

Let’s examine.

Curiosity of the unknown has driven many great minds to the craft of theorizing, experimenting, and documenting. This is, loosely, the world of science. The scientific method, in all its practicality, is a honed ritual.

Curiosities that can’t be captured and examined in our experiments, but persist in theory, have found their place in spiritual and religious methods, namely, the documenting and ritualizing of magic moments and experiences.

Evidence is the basis of all scientific purpose and discovery. Experiments must be unbiased and uninfluenced, and scientists go through great pains to accomplish this task. Scientists look for empirical evidence, that is, whatever they can observe with their five senses, to answer questions and confirm theories. Within the scientific world, there are some who rely on logic alone, skeptical of anything perceived through the senses. The principle is, if you can verify that 1 + 1 = 2 with basic deductive reasoning, not firsthand experience, then maybe you can verify other things without having to experience them too.

Meanwhile, in magic, evidence is understood in anecdote and intuition, rather than objective data collection. You cannot control, predict, or measure the setting wherein someone encounters God, or feels déjà-vu. This can lead to skepticism. But if we choose to limit ourselves only to that which we can verify with our senses, or with our logic, we’re left wholly unequipped to examine the mysteries that reach outside of the short net we cast into the abyss.

There are so many animals that enjoy a completely different experience of living in the world that we share, just because they have different senses to experience the world, and different brains that process those experiences. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to experience echolocation like bats, or send and receive empathic social messages like sperm whales.

When I think about it, our experiences are gathered from our five measly senses, and processed by our wee little three-pound brain —  that’s pittens! 

Take this example. I have seen swear-on-my-life, unexplainable, consistent magic with my own eyes. Truly. I experience it on a near-daily basis. It all comes from a book I own, “The Tao of Leadership,” which interprets the spiritual teachings of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and marries them with modern psychology, thanks to the author, John Heider.

The 95-page book compiles the philosophies of the eastern religion Taoism that’s centered on the principle that Tao is a way of being. When you move in tandem with this principle, you move in harmony and are at one with the universe. “The Tao of Leadership” takes the principles of Tao and applies them to practical situations that a leader faces in group dynamics, the self, and the world at large.

When I look to the book for direction, I take it and ask a question that is plaguing me, like one does  when reading tarot cards. I sit with the question for a moment. In the mindfulness practice, they call this a mindful pause. I open the book, and advice pours out. The words on the page are like the advice of a wise grandmother or a consoling friend — the kind of direction I’m in need of at that moment. It has yet to confuse or disappoint me.

Discovering this book has deepened my faith, curiosity, and calmed my skepticism of anything that doesn’t produce concrete evidence. 

A point of reflection: have you ever had an experience, thought or feeling that deepened your appreciation for anecdotal evidence, and the experiences of other people, or even the experiences of animals, who perceive the world through different senses and different brains? Was this catalyst something you can explain or study through science?

It’s delicious to stoke a boundless curiosity usually reserved for children, and it’s been good for my health. The box has four walls. On the other side of the wall, there’s conversations with books, conversations with plants and animals, who knows what else?

Sharing this western culture that celebrates evidence, it’s likely that you, like me, believe in science. But my question to you is, do you believe in magic?


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

A very COVID Rosh Hashanah

Jewish holidays are fundamentally communal activities, but with COVID, they’ve become a time to reflect on what traditions are most important to us

As the summer started to wane and the pandemic didn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, I started to wonder how Jewish people around the world would celebrate the High Holidays.

The High Holidays are the most important weeks of the Jewish calendar. Starting with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it’s a time to welcome a new year by reflecting on the past year’s transgressions and asking for forgiveness from those in your life and then, ultimately, from God.

Growing up, Rosh Hashanah meant taking the day off of school, getting dressed up, and attending synagogue with my parents. The services were long and mostly felt pretty boring at the time, minus the sprinkling of cantorial songs that would make the synagogue swell with harmonizing voices. After three long hours, the congregation would be dismissed and all the families would wish each other a “שָׁנָה טוֹבָה” (shana tova, i.e. happy new year) as they slowly made their way out of the sanctuary.

To me, the High Holidays were a fundamentally communal experience. Growing up in a small southern synagogue, it was the time for the Jewish community to connect through Torah study, Tashlich and Yom Kippur break-fast potlucks that served to, well, break our fasts. But, for obvious reasons, these traditions are more difficult this year. Even if I wasn’t separated from my childhood synagogue by over 1,000 kilometres, Rosh Hashanah would still be a fairly isolated activity — but I knew I wanted to celebrate the new year in some way.

The idea of not being able to celebrate the holidays due to COVID left me feeling helpless. Sure, there would be Zoom services, but watching Torah readings on the holiest days of the year through a laptop screen just felt a tad dystopian. Plus, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that old Jewish people and technology don’t go together well.

So the question became: how can I celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a way that is COVID-safe and fulfills my needs for spirituality and community? I thought about this for a while until one night when I had dinner with my roommate, who was discussing making her mother’s empanadas recipe for Chilean Independence Day. I loved her idea of taking a traditional food in her family and sharing it with us, her Montreal family. That’s when I decided to repay the favour, and make a Rosh Hashanah meal for our friends.

Sharing food is a big deal in Jewish culture. Between the many laws governing food preparation (Kashrut), the commandment to feed the hungry and the several holidays and festivals that rotate around a meal, Jews are very concerned with what and how we eat. Rosh Hashanah is no exception to this rule. While it isn’t as food centric as Passover and Tu BiShvat, there are still specific foods that you’re commanded to eat, such as apples and honey to ring in a “sweet” new year.

All around, I wanted to use Rosh Hashanah as a way to connect not just to my spiritual Judaism, but to my cultural Judaism as well. So, I decided to go all out with the greatest hits of Ashkenazi cuisine. Propelled by what I can only attribute to some sort of generational feminine spirit, in the span of one day I prepared matzo ball soup, potato kugel, tzimmes, a challah and honey cake. Your bubbe could never.

A few wine-toting friends arrived around 7 p.m. Surprisingly, all my dishes turned out even better than planned (which never happens to me). I recited the prayers over the candles and challah, then we sat around my small apartment table and ate, drank and talked for hours. Even though only one of my friends came from a Jewish background, that didn’t matter. To me, ringing in the new year is more about connecting with your Judaism, whatever that may look like, and surrounding yourself with those who can help you be your best self for the upcoming year.

Sharing my culture with those I care about outside of my family like I did this year wasn’t something I would have even thought to do before COVID. Yet, as annoying as so   cial distancing has been, I’m grateful that it forced me to look inward for my Judaism and take my religious practice into my own hands.

Hopefully, next year social distancing won’t factor so heavily into all of our actions, but at this point, there’s no way to know. What I do know now is that it’s okay if my traditions change. Change doesn’t necessarily have to mean a downgrade, just a rethinking of what is most important to me.


Photo by Aviva Majerczyk


Let the girl run

I’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about others wearing their religious clothing and/or accessories. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone, and we live in a country where our fundamental rights include the freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

So imagine how shocked I was when I read an article last week about a Muslim athlete being disqualified from a district level race in Ohio because of her hijab. Can you imagine?

Noor Abukaram, a 16-year-old Muslim athlete was disqualified from a race because she wore a hijab. And that’s not the worst part. According to an article on BBC, the officials who inspected her team never said anything about her hijab before the race. They waited until she was finished running to inform her that she was disqualified because her coach didn’t file for a religious waiver, and her hijab was considered unfit for the dress code.

Why is it that people are so focused on what someone wears, rather than focusing on that person’s personality and abilities? This girl worked hard to be a part of her team and to participate in that race, so why are people penalizing her for wearing a hijab instead of recognizing her athletic ability? It’s not as if her hijab is going to make her faster than everyone else or give her any advantage.

It’s unfortunate, but I feel that sometimes when you wear a religious symbol or religious clothing, some people don’t see you as the person you are, but they see you as your religion and sometimes, the stereotypes that go with that religion. I’m not saying everyone sees it that way, but I know that some do, and they’re missing out on getting to know someone that could be the nicest and kindest person they’ll ever meet.

It’s sad, really. Instead of encouraging and supporting our youth, people are getting in their way and hindering them. We should be pushing them to reach their full potential instead of fussing over their religious clothing.

I understand that there are rules and regulations, but there should be some degree of understanding seeing as how there is nothing in the rulebook that says anything specifically about hijabs. There is a rule saying that if you have any religious clothing you must wear, a waiver must be filed with the association. However, according to a spokesman for the Ohio Highschool Athletic Association (OHSAA), runners aren’t supposed to wear headwear, but they don’t always enforce it, allowing runners to wear hats when it’s cold out. So why can’t Abukaram wear her hijab?

I think Abukaram handled the situation like a champ. She showed that she understands the need for this to go public, because if it doesn’t, it’ll keep happening time and time again. She isn’t giving up.

This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Last year, a basketball player was asked to leave a game because she was wearing a hijab. In 2016, 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar was disqualified from the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships because she wore a hijab and refused to take it off. These are only some among many other similar instances in the past couple of years.

“They don’t need to alter the course for me specifically. I’m running just like everyone else, I’m starting on the same start line and finishing on the same finish line,” Abukaram told the BBC.

I agree with her. She doesn’t need any special treatment or advantages. What she needs is to be treated the same as everyone else, to be allowed to participate regardless of her religion and the clothing that goes with it.

I think it’s time to re-examine the rulebooks and guidelines and make some changes. The current rules don’t take into consideration that women wearing hijabs would be involved in these sports. It’s time to make them more inclusive.

Graphic by Victoria Blair.


Religion and sexuality in the workplace

Ideally, a person’s qualification for any job would be limited to their aptitude and general attitude towards the workload. In a perfect world, the only thing an employer should consider before hiring you is your ability to do the job.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and we are not perfect people. Against our better judgment, we rely on appearances, religious beliefs, sexuality, and overall social norms to determine a person’s character. As we progress, however, the best of us choose to educate ourselves and overcome social biases. The best of us grow out of superficial moulds and strive to judge by a person’s actions if they should be trusted or not. But that is not the case for most of us.

A few months ago, some would say discriminatory actions were taken in Quebec when the government passed Bill 21; a law reprimanding people for their religious garments in the workplace, under the pretext that it is respecting the province’s laicity.

As if to join hands with their Canadian neighbours, a HuffPost article reports that the Trump Administration is imploring the Supreme Court to legalize firing someone based on their sexual orientation.

“In an amicus brief filed Friday, the US Justice Department argued that a trio of cases set to appear before the Supreme Court this fall should be used to limit Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of sex,” the article read.

The Justice Department’s reading of Title VII recalls that “sex,” as written in the Civil Rights Act, is not intended to allude to one’s sexual orientation which, in their book, means that the law shouldn’t be used to protect LGBTQ+ workers.

“The original bill didn’t define “sex” as a term, and the Trump administration is now using that ambiguity to argue that lawmakers’ original intent focused solely on protecting women’s rights,” wrote the HuffPost.

In Quebec, the Montreal Gazette reported that teachers are struggling the most with Bill 21 and are having a hard time transitioning from a tolerant environment to a limited one. It is stated that no articles of faith – kippahs, turbans, or hijabs – are allowed during the hiring process, and those already hired are allegedly not granted higher positions.

Nadia Naqvi, a science teacher at St. Thomas High School in the West Island, recounted to the Gazette how her five-year plan to move into administration now seems like a distant dream.

“I know I have a lot of leadership qualities,” said Naqvi.“I know I have a lot to offer my school board… but I’m stuck. If that’s not the definition of a second-class citizen, I don’t know what is.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember anybody’s sexuality, let alone religion get in the way of anyone’s job. In my personal experience, I have seen practicing Muslims during Ramadan work twice as hard as usual; and one could barely feel when they would take a small break for their daily prayers. And since when does being part of the LGBTQ+ community inhibit one from doing their job correctly?

But I can see how loving the same sex, or choosing your own gender could deter you from your workload. Can you imagine how much time, effort, and patience it would take to justify your sexual preferences to other people? And let us not even get into the time-consuming act of debating Islam with people who have taken one sentence from the Quran out of context and made it their weapon of choice when arguing.

But I can totally see how loving the same sex or choosing your own gender deters you from your workload. I mean, can you imagine how much time and effort it would take to justify it to other people, because it’s their business, too? And let us not even get into the time-consuming debate on Islam, at the workplace, with people who have taken one sentence out of the Quran, out of context, and made it their choice of weapon when arguing. Yes, these are most definitely valid reasons.

The way I see it, the only time religion or sexuality disrupts working environments is when other people aren’t minding their own business.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Student Life

A non-believer embraces faith

Secular students find value in wisdom and practices of faith traditions

An atheist looking for guidance among religious people may seem ironic at first. Some students that frequent Concordia’s Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre (MFSC), like Nicolas Chevalier, identify as non-believers but still derive benefits from being involved.

Chevalier admits that he had some reservations about Christianity and other religions, but was still curious about them. “At the same time, faith can be something that brings people together, and that is something that is clearly lacking in our society,” he said.

Chevalier met Ashely Crouch, the interfaith facilitator at the MFSC, through a mutual friend. Chevalier often attends events put on by Sustainable Concordia, and since it shares the same building as the MFSC, he ended up participating in a few events there as well. Chevalier considers himself an atheist, yet his involvement with environmental activism complicates that perspective. “With my environmental background, I do believe everything is connected. We’re not just here in a cold existence to reap everything from the earth,” he said.

In all his intersectional organizing and activism efforts, Chevalier tries not to take a “finger pointing” perspective. He said he is drawn to similarities in how interfaith communities create respectful dialogue, even when they disagree.

Chevalier’s family is Christian, but they rarely went to church during his childhood. So while he didn’t know much about religion growing up, Chevalier was never anti-religious, and was always respectful of people’s faith.

A turning point came when his mother passed away from lung cancer about four years ago. It so happened that his family’s neighbour was a priest. “He would come in and he would talk about nothing and everything, in a way that was very comforting. That was definitely something that helped change my view about people who have faith,” Chevalier said.

The role of the campus chaplain at Concordia has been constantly evolving to reflect the changing religious beliefs of the student body, said Ellie Hummel, the chaplain and coordinator at the MFSC.

The chapel at Loyola College became an ecumenical place of worship when Loyola joined with Sir George William College to form Concordia in 1974. The chaplaincy gradually grew to embrace the increasing number of non-Christian students coming to Concordia, becoming multi-faith.

In the last 19 years, since Hummel has been at Concordia, spiritual yet non-religious people have also been welcomed. “We are adjusting our language more,” Hummel said. “We realized there are people who name themselves as secular and humanist, and we want them to know they are included.”

“People could have their typical view of ‘oh, it’s a preacher person just coming here to push their religion’ and that’s not at all what I get from either Ellie or Ashely,” Chevalier said. “They invite people in to come as they are, whether they have faith or not.”

Chevalier thinks the main issue with organized religion is that concentrating power in an institution eventually leads to the people running it being corrupted by that power.

The MFSC’s approach to cultivating a faith-based community is more informal and non-hierarchical. Crouch became the interfaith facilitator at the MFSC a little over a year ago. She said that a lot of new students, when they come to the MFSC for the first time, ask about how they can join. “You don’t have to join, you just belong, you’re just here,” Crouch said. “It’s very intentionally kept that way.

Ultimately, compared to what capitalism and consumer culture offer in terms of living a fulfilled life, Chevalier said he sees a lot of good things coming out of the multifaith chaplaincy. However, he doesn’t necessarily see his participation as political.

“In the traditional politics type of sense, I don’t see it like that, I just see it as people sharing ideas” Chevalier said. “[But] some of my friends who are stronghold atheists would go ‘why are you even talking with these people?’”

While the MFSC offers varied programing, from drumming circles to meditation groups, Hummel said the most important thing they offer is simply the space—a place where people can just drop in and talk to religious people.

“[It] helps you […] realize that you can live with people who don’t necessarily agree and to have a respect around those sorts of things,” Crouch said. “Everybody can grow from that.”

Feature image by Kenneth Gibson

Student Life

My religion: My Muslim faith

One Concordian’s honest portrait of what his faith means to him

As a Canadian-born Muslim, I’ve learned to live and grow in this country during one of the most trying times for Muslims around the world. Faith seriously entered my life when I was eight years old. My father had just been diagnosed with lymphoma and leukaemia, and his situation was quite dire.

We had been a relatively religious family up until this point, going to the mosque most Fridays and spending time within the Muslim community. However, my father’s sickness deepened our faith. We heavily relied on God and on our knowledge of the Islamic faith to get through that hard time.

Warraich’s father and brother

At the worst point of his sickness, it seemed not much more could be done, so my father planned a visit to the holy city of Mecca. There, he performed the Islamic hajj pilgrimage—a must for any Muslim before they die. After his pilgrimage, my father had a miraculous recovery, which further solidified his faith, and our family’s faith.

Religion is all around us. For thousands of years, it has been a driving force behind civilizations and understanding societies and the people who fill this planet. Sadly, it has also been the cause of many acts of war, genocide and persecution—whether it is a group of people using religion as a front to further their own political motives and agendas, or a group being persecuted for following a particular religion.

It seems to me that, these days, people increasingly dislike the concept of religion. Many cite it as outdated and the cause of the barbaric acts of violence we have all seen throughout the world.

I have found it difficult to refute these ideas in discussions with nonreligious or atheist people. Many who don’t practice any religion know very little about religion. As such, I believe when people see images and videos of people carrying out acts of violence in the name of religion, they paint a picture of that religion based solely on the brutality—ignoring all the positive sides of religion.

Islam is based on five pillars all Muslims should adhere to. The first pillar is “ shahada,” a declaration that there is only one God, and the Prophet Muhammad is the last of his messengers.  The second pillar is “salat,” a prayer Muslims perform five times a day. The third pillar is “zakat,” which means giving charity to the poor and to those in need. The fourth pillar is “sawm,” which is the act of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The final pillar is “hajj,” the pilgrimage to Mecca.

These pillars represent the basis on which Islam was created. Growing up, my parents really emphasized the importance of kindness and generosity.

“This should be the focus of your time here on earth,” they’d say.  Islam’s pillars reinforce kindness. This is why faith plays such a big part in my life. Many people say: “What if it’s all fake? And you’ve lived your life trying to be good all for nothing?” Yet, that is the point of Islam and many other religions in the first place—to sacrifice, and live your life for others, having faith that this is your purpose.

Warraich’s father (top left), with his siblings and other relatives

For me, regardless of whether it’s all fake or not, religion has taught me these key principles. To be kind, generous, empathetic, honest and to help people, regardless of their faith. Living with these ideals and trying to uphold them regularly is, in my opinion, a good way to live your life—this is regardless of what you feel happens after we die. This is why I find religion so powerful.

On Jan. 29, in la grande mosquée de Québec in Quebec city, six men, four of whom were fathers to young children, were massacred as they stood for evening prayer. The term I want to introduce here is “shahid.” This word is used to denote a martyr, a person who has died fulfilling a religious commandment.

Though people will say these men were not fighting for Islam in the typical way we think of today, these men are the brightest and most valued of Muslims—innocent, humble and hardworking fathers who were taken from this world and from their children too early. We must not forget what happened almost 10 days ago, we must not forget the names of these men, and we must always remember what they and their families were forced to go through in order to shed light on the problems our society faces. May they find their way into eternal paradise and may their families be lessened of the burden they now face.


Calling for modernity in religion

Concordia student writes letter to archbishop who condemns the use of condoms

Concordia student Jorge Briceno, an activist fighting against HIV/AIDS, promotes safe sex as a means to prevent infection. However, Briceno is frustrated with the public condemning of condoms by religious figures, which he sees as a great risk factor to infection.

Recently Briceno, who studies sociology and human relations, was angered by the Catholic Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina—who publicly condemned the use of condoms. Aguer published his opinions in a column, titled “La Fornicación,” in the La Plata daily newspaper, El Día. In his article, Aguer characterized casual sex as animal-like, stating fornication as a sign of dehumanization. He condemned the use of condoms, and made particular references to their use by athletes at the 2016 Olympic games.

Sociology and human relations student Jorge Briceno captured in Concordia’s greenhouse. Photo by Savanna Craig.

The Guardian estimated a use of 42 condoms per athlete during the Rio Olympics. Briceno said Arguer was furious that the Brazilian government was handing out condoms to athletes upon their arrival in Rio, claiming it was promoting promiscuity. Briceno added that Aguer said using condoms is a promiscuous act.

Briceno said Aguer’s condemnation of condoms is very dangerous and can compromise the safety of anyone who follows the archbishop’s words. As a sociologist, Briceno believes a lot of people end up following the words of those of who they look up to—whether it’s a religious figure or a politician.

Part-time Concordia faculty member and religion professor Steven Lapidus from the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies said religious figures have a direct influence on their followers, and they can influence societies through the government and educational systems.

He said abstinence has proven not to work, those in abstinence programs and pledges may still have sex, but are not learning the proper education to reduce sexually transmitted infections. “Simply banishing condoms is never proven to be helpful or successful in the abstinence program,” said Lapidus. “They’re advocating something that is not working from a medical standpoint—clearly it’s dangerous.”

Briceno said, for him, Aguer’s column is a matter of life and death. “I’ve had enough of religious leaders who impose on others their ways of thinking,” said Briceno. This motivated him to write a letter to Aguer, opposing and discussing the flaws in “La Fornication.” He said people who have the privilege to address the crowds do not measure the amount of damage that can be done.

Concordia religion professor Alexander Nachaj said the archbishop’s comments towards condemning condoms are not what he would call radical, as he is towing the party line of where the Catholic Church stands on reproductive rights and sexual health—which Nachaj said is outdated and not modern at all.

Nachaj drew on the example in recent Catholic history of the second vatican council, which was a major council in the 1970s where they tried to modernize the church. “They essentially had this great opportunity to embrace contraceptives and put more emphasis on women’s health, even HIV—but the way the council unfolded, they had all these modern ideas but reproductive rights and sexual safety just fell to the wayside.”

He although added not a lot of bishops and archbishops may comment as Aguer has, this is the official stance of the Catholic Church. “Just as a human standpoint I think it’s a major issue to be discouraging the use of contraceptives” he said.

“Until the Pope himself changes things, no Catholic [figure] is officially going to be [promoting contraceptives],” he said, adding that many Catholics use contraception regardless of the Church’s stance. However, he said due to it being the official stance this is why we see practices such as condemning the use and distribution of condoms. “It most likely does lead to the spread of HIV, unwanted pregnancies and other complications.”

Briceno believes condoms are one of the great barriers against infection. According to Aidsmap, if condoms are used 100 per cent of the time, with the typical rates of slippage and breakage taken into account, condoms provide protection against HIV/AIDS up to 80 to 85 per cent of the time.

Instances where religious figures preach against homosexuality and condemn the use of birth control, is not limited to South America—it can be seen in our own community.

On Oct. 7, a religious activist was preaching anti-gayness, anti-abortion and anti-sex statements on Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. He was accompanied by two others who were holding signs depicting acts that will send people to hell, such as homosexuality and premarital sex.

Activist Jaggi Singh (photographed on the right) describes he was protesting against to bigotry of this preachers speech, however not against Christians. Photo by Savanna Craig.

While the preacher chanted about actions he deemed unholy into a microphone, a crowd of Concordia students gathered around him. A few students obtained a megaphone and chanted back “don’t hate, masturbate,” to protest the religious activist’s stance against masturbation.

A crowd of approximately 35 students emerged to watch some Concordia students and the religious activists on campus clashing with one another, as students were not in protest of their religion, but against preaching discrimination toward sexual freedom and homophobia. Along with continuous chanting, one student began handing out condoms to promote safe sexual freedom. After just over an hour, the protest diffused and the religious activists left campus.

“Morals are not defined, morals are biased, morals are not inclusive,” said Briceno. “Therefore, when arguments emerge from religious standpoints, there is conflict and not everyone feels welcome.” He said radical religious beliefs undermine the ability for followers to think for themselves.

Briceno said education is essential for knowing how to reduce risk of HIV/AIDS. He drew on two organizations in Montreal that inform people about sexual practices, being REZO-Santé and for Ready for Action. You can visit both of their websites online and find more information regarding safe sex and contact information for more help.

If you want to read Briceno’s letter to Archbishop Aguer—click here.

Graphic by Florence Yee

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