Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Historian Does Some Probing

The Great Levantine Historian has decided to probe the minds of some of his most loyal readers. I will indulge his quest for information just this once. After all, when these historians don’t get their way, they can get ugly! So here are his questions, and my prompt and frightened answers:

1) How good is the University of Toronto, can it compare with the top U.S. Schools?

An interesting question, and something I should be thinking about since I am in the process of applying for grad school. I cannot claim to answer this objectively, for I am unaware of any studies comparing schools in North America. It is a prestigious university, top-ranked in Canada. And it is considered the “Harvard of the North”, but I’m not sure what that means. I believe the
University of Toronto is superior to many other universities based on my own standards, which I will outline below roughly in order of importance. Please keep in mind that these standards are based on my own needs and wants, so they may not be in keeping with your own.

a) Top professors in my field

I’m interested in political theory – in particular, I wish to explore the oft-contentious relationship between minority religious communities and the liberal democratic societies in which they reside. Ask me more about it if you’re interested; I won’t bore you with the details here. But my point is that there are scads of top-notch thinkers at UofT with the research background and interest in the field of study I’m passionate about – so much so that I’d have difficulty trying to decide which ones to work with. For me, the most critical thing is to have the right people around me who will understand my project and where I want to go with it. And based on my research of other universities, I’d say that in the field I’m interested in, UofT ranks among Ivy League schools for its concentration of superb scholars in Political Science.

Now, if they could only make those scholars more accessible to lowly undergrad students…I’m almost done with that phase of my life, so it shouldn’t matter anymore. But I don’t think I can ever forget the 1500 first-year students huddled together at Con Hall, watching and listening to a professor’s image on two huge screens. If he didn’t have a mike, I don’t know what we’d have done. Actually, I do. He was forced to cancel class midway through and we all clapped and cheered wildly before packing up for the trek home. It was one of the best school nights of my life.

b) Intellectually competitive collegial atmosphere

Being around students who are intelligent and willing to challenge my ideas is integral to my learning. I want to engage with others who are at the same intellectual level of myself or higher. Nothing like a little competition to make an old girl jump higher.

Besides, I just like being around smart people. It makes me feel smarter than I actually am;) Yes, we do have our Trinity folks who will don their very special robes just to eat lunch in their very privileged hall with a bunch of very old esteemed profs, but in general, even bright (to use a British term) UofT people are quite friendly and fun to be with.

c) Academically challenging courses and course material

Believe it or not, I need course material that will force me to think by continuously threatening to uproot all that I believe in. This may sound wild and wacky, but what keeps me coming back to school is that which challenges me intellectually in ways I’ve never expected. The great thing about UofT is that there are so many interesting course offerings that it’s impossible not to find something I’d be interested in. Especially in Political Science.

d) Excellent Library

I’m already missing that behemoth that’s supposed to look like a peacock. Robarts Library is hideously ugly – make that terrifying - but it has one of the largest collections in all of North America. If you ever need a book – any book – or even a tape or a newspaper or a letter or a manuscript, it’ll be there. And to think I’ll have to pay to use it when I leave:(

e) Vibrant student life

One of the weird things about me is that I never study. I’m always running around (yes, FB, that was not just a blur of black whizzing past you!) and doing one thing or another on campus. I cannot understand students who come to school, then go home and bury their heads in books for the rest of the night. I need the student clubs, the organizations, the college newspapers. The activist part of me is still strong, and I need it fulfilled. At UofT, I can choose what I want to do, but there’s lots to choose from.

f) Large campus

I can’t deny that this one’s just ridiculous. But it’s important to me because I need space. And UofT’s great for that. It’s got dozens of buildings and lots of little spots waiting to be found. Plenty of room to walk; to sit; to think. A myriad of places to disappear. So yes, I like the fact that I’m just a number, a nobody on campus. I like walking around unknown. I can go about my life, unencumbered, choosing what I will or won’t do or say. And I can find myself in the process. It’s the most empowering aspect of UofT, I think.

g) Generous awards and scholarships

This is one thing that really bugs me about UofT. It is incredibly stingy. It doesn’t award excellence in any significant way, so there’s little incentive to do well. Nevertheless, I do believe UofT pours money into graduate work and research, so that’s something to look forward to. Fortunately, UofT has one last thing going for it, and that is…

h) Exceptional reputation

Yes, believe it or not, UofT has a great reputation. That has to count for something. Some may say, so what? Maybe UofT earned that rep long time ago, and now it no longer jives with reality. I wouldn’t argue with that. But most universities go by reputation. Even the Ivy League schools. Reputation’s everything in the academic world, and UofT has it. ‘Nuff said.

2) Do Muslims believe in conspiracy theories about Jews, are they justified, and why?

answered this question before, and I won’t go into further details for fear of being considered a Jewish spy seeking to infiltrate the Muslim community. If that alone doesn’t answer your question, I’ll add one more thing: the Protocols of the Learned Leaders of Zion is a best-seller in the Arab world.

3) Is Toronto Muslim-friendly, and how much so compared to other U.S./Canadian cities?

Ironic – I was just having a conversation with someone about this very thing last night. Toronto is Muslim-friendly because it’s incredibly multicultural. There’s just a convergence of colours and languages and foods, and people are extremely tolerant towards each other. It’s easy to gripe about one incident or the other, but a couple of hours’ drive to Kingston, Ontario is enough to make anyone fully appreciate just how multicultural Toronto is. The lack of colour diversity in some parts of Canada is glaringly obvious, and while that in and of itself is not a negative thing, those who are not “white” are made to feel disturbingly conspicuous. There is a sense of not belonging that comes with the inadvertent staring and the hushed whispers and the head turning, even though it’s not usually meant in a negative way. In fact, I’ve spoken with families living in Kingston, and they’ve heaped praise upon their non-Muslim friends and neighbours for being wonderfully kind and supportive.

Keep in mind, though, that the Muslim community is quite new in Canada. Many people my age were born outside Canada. So the community’s not as well established as that in Britain. Fortunately, the relationship’s just improving with time. But Toronto…nothing to worry about here. Great place to raise your kids. Lots and lots of Muslims cropping up everywhere. And they’re quite visible too. It would almost be scary if I wasn’t a Muslim myself;)

As for government policy, we have it much better than Muslims in America. Aside from a few worrying cases after 9/11, Canadians are going the careful, steady way they always have. I think we’ve learned from past mistakes. If you want details, ask more questions, but this post is already getting too lengthy for my liking.

4) My wife and I would like to travel from Halifax to Toronto on one of those large groovy trains you have. Should we do this and would we like it?

I normally recommend walking, but not in this case;) There was a man who tried to walk from America to Canada in the winter to get to his lover – his fingers turned black along the way! Try VIA Rail. If your question’s pertaining to the train’s close resemblance to the public transit, no worries there. The seats are comfy and clean, the environment’s friendly…it’s almost like a plane. Actually, I’m not really fond of planes. Foot space is a problem. And the food is horribly bland in a cardboard sort of way. How do I know? I ate some when I was a kid. Tasted horribly bland…in an airplane food sorta way.

5) How important, and why, is it to have Muslims in academic posts in the Arts?

This is a really complicated question, and I’d like to answer it at length in a post all by itself. Can’t do it now. It’s been a long day. But prompt me if you have to wait too long for the answer, because I’ll likely have forgotten at some point. That’s all for now. Hope you discovered some treasure-troves of information along the way.


  • At 3/12/2005 04:03:00 p.m., Blogger izzymo said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 3/12/2005 04:04:00 p.m., Blogger izzymo said…

    Hello and salaam alaikum, you have been drafted for an interview from Izzy Mo. Hee-hee. Questions will be posted very shortly. Oh, if you donate to Ginny's fund, I will send you two pieces of small Arabic calligraphy.


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