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An exclusive interview, for Bosniaks.net, with Nazee Popal
CELEBRATING RAMADAN IN CANADA
Bosniaks.net: From Central Asia, to Europe, to North America. Would you please describe to our readers your origins, religious customs, language and history?
Nazee Popal: I come from Afghanistan which is a predominantly Muslim country. We have very strict religious customs to follow, e.g. men and women do not mingle in gatherings, women do not go out without proper attire and head covers. Men usually work out side and are the providers and women take care of their children and home. I speak two local languages, Pushto and Farsi, and two foreign languages i.e. Urdo and English. Afghanistan has a very troubled history. We have been through many wars and conflicts. Most recently, in the past thirty years, Afghans fought Russian invasion in the 1980’s, went through a civil war in the 1990’s, and in this decade the country is fighting hard for freedom and independence. Generally Afghans, like most other people in the world, love freedom and despise invasion and occupation of their land.
Bosniaks.net: You come from a large family of Muslims, which is spread across the nominally considered Christian world. What are your challenges, as an individual, and as a family, in that regard?
Nazee Popal: Islam accepts Christianity as a Divine religion and Qur’an (Muslims’ Holy Book) teaches us to have mutual respect for every human being. However we do face challenges when it comes to individual beliefs. For example, celebrations of our holy days like Eid-ul Fitr. We are supposed to celebrate with family and friends, but since there is no recognized holiday, we have to go to work or school and wait until the weekend comes.
Bosniaks.net: How do you find your life and work in Canada, given that you are easily identified as a Muslim due to your head cover?
Nazee Popal: I have never had any problem with being recognized for who I am. I appreciate that I have been respected for my religious views.
Sometimes, I do face questions regarding my head cover such as “why women’s head should be covered why don’t we show our hair to people”. Sometimes, little cute thoughts of the children who are under my care just amaze me.
For example one of my students wanted to buy me a gift and her mother suggested her to buy me a hairclip but she told her mom that she would not buy me a hair clip because I do not have hair. Instead she bought me a pair of earrings. The next day her mom requested me that if I could show my hair to her 4 years old daughter in order for her to know that I do have hair but I have reasons to cover my head as result of my religious belief. I really appreciated that she wanted to explain to her daughter what the real reason was behind my head scarf.
In a diverse culture of the children, families and co-workers that I am in touch with, I have never had any problems with being identified for who I am.
People might have different prospect about people who cover their head. When I first moved to Canada I heard from friends and people whom I was in touch with that covering my head might cause me trouble when it would come to finding a good job.
But I have always had same answer to them that I will be as active and a member of the same society as they are with my head covered and my religious views in such a diverse country where every body has the freedom of speech and religion.
Parents, families and co-workers that I am in touch with have always been very open minded about my covered head. In fact, I have pictures of children that their parents brought me who have copied my image at home covering their head trying to look like Nazee.
And as I see today I was right about what I have thought and I am very proud to be recognized as a Muslim Canadian who has the same rights as every other member of this society.
Bosniaks.net: In your place of work, you are responsible for the care of children who come from diverse religious backgrounds. There are children of various Christian denominations, there are Muslims, there are Jews... Do their religious and cultural differences have any impact in your work with them and in their playing, learning and growing up together?
Nazee Popal: Canada is a multi cultural country; people of different culture and religious views live together. None of the above has had any impact in my work with them or their families and their playing, learning or growing. Being a practicing Muslim, my student's religion and culture does not have any impact on the way I treat them.
I respect every individual for who they are, not for what religious views, or culture they come from.
The diverse cultures have a positive impact in my work. That enables me to learn about different views and I get the chance to explain the other cultures to the children while celebrating the important days of different cultures through different activities.
And once again, I think another positive impact of having these children grow together is bringing a sense of community to them. As they grow they learn about other members of the same society they are living with and understand how to respect each other regardless of their religion and culture. I would say my job is to care for children and to make sure we are providing a safe, healthy and active environment for them, to interact with each other; to learn proper manners and mutual respect. It does not matter what religion, nationality, or race they belong to. At times, because of such differences, I may come across issues that require extra care and communication that can be a challenge. I like such challenges and I believe it helps me learn and grow just as the children do.
Bosniaks.net: Please describe, briefly, your typical work day.
Nazee Popal: I love my field and I enjoy my every moment at work. I work 8.5 hours a day, I start my day with greeting children and their families.
We get together for a snack in the morning and a free-play time. We set up some planned activities and some free time. This way I get the chance to interact with children individually and in groups.
We play outdoors depending on the weather. We have circle time which is the favorite part of my day. After having a healthy lunch together with children, children go to sleep and I get my break. It’s a great time that I get the chance to talk with co-workers and discuss and share ideas.
In the afternoon we take the children outside for play-time. We have afternoon snack together, and children get time for free and some structured play time and activities. I end up my day with sharing small anecdotes about each child with their families. As mentioned above, I work 8.5 hours day but some days it seems like I have been at work for 2 hours and I believe when you are having good time it passes really fast.
Bosniaks.net: “Aladin Childcare Services” recognizes holy days of all religions which are represented in the daycare centre. How do children react to religious holidays of others?
Nazee Popal: We explain different holidays and cultures to the children through different activities. We live in a multi cultural society and we want the children to accept and respect others for who they are.
I do talk to the children about which family celebrates which holidays and we even ask the families to bring some things that can represent their culture.
Children get really interested in knowing what each child does with his or her family on their holidays. I appreciate that families are willing to tell us about their views and their cultures. And in my opinion I find it a mutual learning process, while I explain to the children who celebrate which holidays, I get to learn as well.
Bosniaks.net: We are still in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. You are fasting, yet feeding children a breakfast, lunch and an evening snack. How do they look at you? Do you have to explain to them why you are not eating with them?
Nazee Popal: Yes, I do explain to them what Ramadan is, or why I cannot eat if they ask. I try to answer them based on the level of their understanding. Most of the time while I am busy serving them they do not even notice that I am not eating. Like I said it is a learning process for all of us.
Bosniaks.net: How do you find working in a largely Christian society and still keeping your religious traditions as a Muslim?
Nazee Popal: It definitely is a challenge. I believe it all depends on an individual’s faith and how strong it is. If people know that you are serious about your religion and tradition they respect that.
Living in a Christian society has no impact on my religious beliefs and the way I practice it. Canada is a free country and we all have the freedom to practice any religion we want. Therefore, I have equal opportunity as every other religion. I attend the mosque, perform religious rituals, and mingle with the rest of the society without any prejudice
Bosniaks.net: While in your place of work there are staff of diverse religions and nationalities, you are the only Muslim. Does it have any bearing upon your acceptance of them and their acceptance of you?
Nazee Popal: Again, if you are honest and sincere about your religion and respect other people’s religious beliefs then it creates an environment of mutual respect; if not then work can become difficult. I believe we respect each other.
I should give an example of their acceptance of me: I am the only Muslim at my work place, I have restrictions when it comes to certain food which is always respected by my colleagues and I appreciate the fact that they always make sure to provide me the food that I am allowed to eat.
Bosniaks.net: At the beginning of the month of Ramadan you travelled to visit with your family in England. Are there any obvious differences in celebrating the month of Ramadan between London and Ottawa?
Nazee Popal: The only difference I noticed was that there are a lot more Muslims living in London, compared to Ottawa. This gives a much more “at home” kind of feeling for British Muslims. Almost every British, Muslim and non Muslim, knows what Ramadan is and what it entails.
Bosniaks.net: The only mosque of architectural prominence in Ottawa is The Main Mosque. Are there other mosques and places of worship for Muslims in Ottawa?
Nazee Popal: Ottawa mosque is not the only worship place for Muslims. There are many other mosques and Muslim community centers where people get together to worship and pray such as:
the Islamic Society of Cumberland
Jami Omar Islamic Funeral Arrangements
The Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque
The Outaouais Islamic Centre - Centre islamique de l’Outaouais (CIO)
Bosniaks.net: How will you and your family end the holy month of Ramadan?
Nazee Popal: We will end the holy moth of Ramadan by celebrating Eid-Ul-Fitr. This normally is being celebrated for three days in all Muslim countries as a holiday. With a major celebration, prayers and feast, exchanging gifts.