Members of Parliament,your excellencies and fellow Canadians - on this
joyous occasion of Eid, a word that literally means joy - I bring you
the universal greeting of peace -
Asalaam Alaikum Wa Rahmat Allah Wa
- May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon you.
is a great honour and pleasure to share these hallowed halls with you -
Winston Churchill once said of the Speaker of the House of Commons,
There's one of those orators of whom it is well said before they get up
they don't know what they're going to say; when they are speaking they
don't know what they're saying; and when they sit down they don't know
what they've said!
I'm not the Speaker of the House, because I have to already contend with
some of the nasty rumours that circulate about journalists - that
journalists write because they have nothing to say and they have nothing
to say because they write!!
Talk about stereotypes - well I'm here to remove many - first few being
that I'm a Muslim woman, a journalist and I prefer to be heard even if
I'm not seen.
I was growing up in Pakistan and studying to follow a career in
journalism, we were told there are three things you never discuss in
public: the weather, religion and politics. In Canada, I've
learned just the opposite. These are the three issues most
important to Canadians and this is the glue that binds us. From
desert storm to the recent ice storm - challenges are essentially what
bring us together for a cause. So while the rest of the world may
be hostile to each other due to religion and politics, we find a way to
make this work for us towards a caring and peaceful Canada.
1997 ended and we started the new year, peace was visibly in the
air. Christmas, brought us nuances of peace and goodwill towards
all, followed closely by the echo of Shalom at Hanukkah. Hindus
celebrated the light of Diwali as Sikhs enjoyed the colours of Besakhi
and then, peace and prayer followed for Ramadhan.
Peace is the buzz word of the new Millennium. I believe many
of you must be familiar with the internet site promoting an
international day of peace in January 1, 2000. The idea is that every
warring faction, anywhere in the world, should lay down their
arms for one day, and more importantly, we should empower the media not
to air or publish any news that relates to violence or war for 24
this is an inspiring and impressive thought but I can't see the media
being motivated to comply. It doesn't exactly suit the needs of
the media to have world peace. If there is world peace, newspapers
and television stations might have to close down.
I experience this irony constantly as I'm involved in an ongoing
discussion on the air, with journalists from other faiths. Mostly
we concur on key social and human issues. We find that whether we are
Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews or
indeed have a faith at
are bound by similar values. However, our audience doesn't care
for the harmony between us because when there's no heated debate, no passionate discussion and little controversy, there's not much of a
story. So we have to agree to differ and continue the
arguments. Incidentally, there is a north American resurgence back
to faith and spirituality as mentioned in the Macleans year end poll and
in the December 7 special edition of the New York Times magazine.
is that those who wield power (and this is meant with no disrespect to
present company), would love to see us in continual conflict with each
other. I use peace as the key to our presence here today because
is not just abandoning of weapons - It's
well echoed in the Unesco Constitution which makes note that
"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men
that defense of peace must be constructed."
across the border from us, you have to be melted down in the pot to be
American otherwise you may as well be an Asian, a European or a Martian
- it's all Alien
to them. We are fortunate to become
Canadian in name since the day we land, and Canadian in spirit soon
after, when we start calling this country, home. You know what
they say of home - it's the only place that when you go there, they
to take you in. Well, this is Canada - home to the world where we
can say thanks by offering our allegiance and standing on guard, to
ensure that this amazing land remains glorious and free.
the past two decades, Muslims have increased in numbers in the West economically
and geographically we are slowly becoming an essential and
major part of the North American infrastructure with numbers close to
500,000 and growing - (not I might add, due to lack of birth control as
you may have been lead to believe, but because we place great value on
family ties). We are no
longer out there,
we have arrived
and we are here to stay. Therefore we require a new frame of
reference and need to preserve, protect and promote our heritage for the future of our most precious commodity - our future generations.
Baker, a New York Times journalist points out that North America no
longer boasts only Judeo-Christian majority - North Americans should now
be correctly referred to as people following a
This is specially true in Canada and
can become one
of the key factors in building the Canada of our dreams - the
peacemaking Canada that the world talks about.
said this, a key thought comes to mind. What can Muslims do to
improve their chances for peaceful co-existence in the West? Larry
Poston, a Christian scholar writes in the American Journal of Islamic
Social Science, that there are some key actions crucial to the well
being of Islam and Muslims in North America. Briefly, we need to
develop and indigenous North American Islamic leadership, we need proper
use of the media with avoidance of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish
polemics; more co-operation among Muslims as one community, one faith
and an increase in Muslim social welfare activities.
think this is a fair assumption but I would like to take the liberty of
adding two more requirements, essential in ;my mind - loads of tolerance
and a large dose of humour, then we are well on our way towards a
harmonious future in Canada.
we attend occasions like this one today, it's proof of positive
participation. It's at venues like this that we learn
and are educated
each other. When Mark Twain said
East is East, West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet",
obviously had no idea
what Canada will be about.
places great stress on promoting peace, harmony and caring for each
other. There is a prophetic statement that if we wake in the
morning without being aware that our neighbour is hungry, then we are
fulfilling our duty as caring human beings and as Muslims. This
awareness comes when we respect each other, minimizing and accepting
differences because we believe that we are all from the same source and
that Canadian values are at par with our key values.
believe in Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus just as surely and truly as
they believe in Prophet Mohammed as the Last Messenger - may peace be
upon all of them. We understand that the
humanity is the same and this beautiful anti-racist sentiment is echoed
in the Qur'an more than 25 times when it refers to "humankind"
and not specifically to one race, nation or people.
is an interesting parable in our faith in relation to Moses who we
believe, had the miraculous ability to converse with God. This
parable reflects the human nature of man. Moses
asked God to grant him only one wish of ensuring that after he is gone, people will not talk about him negatively.
"Oh Moses, how can I grant you something
that I have no guarantee of myself?"
Islam, dialogue is given great importance. The Prophet of Islam
(pbuh) encouraged intelligent
discourse and discussion specially between Muslims and non-Muslims
as a way of education. it's unfortunate that there are some Muslim countries where - due to authoritarian regimes supported by vested
interests, such a
dialogue would not be possible today. in Canada however, we enjoy
liberty, equality and freedom of speech at it's best.
know that many of you have been here before and have heard distinguished speakers in the years before me as they talked
about the history of Muslims, how and when they came to Canada, about
their assimilation, trials
and tribulations and more importantly, their contributions. This exercise is key to our survival,
because it removes the myths and mystery from our existence. It tells
we come from and
our agenda is for the future.
immigrant undergoes duress in
settling into a new land. We Muslims are only one community in a long
line of immigrants that have experienced discrimination and racism and
we too, will survive it and come out stronger for having weathered it
because we can learn from our peers and those that paved the way for us.
are a bit sensitive, because, after the collapse of communism, we
are the newest and latest targets of media hype and negative
propaganda. However, when we share our experiences with each
other, we gain strength in solidarity. So the tales of our
travails are an essential link in the process of assimilation and
settlement which involves every member of society.
There is one important
sphere in the history of Muslim settlement into Canada, that the public
may not aware of. This is the contribution of Muslim women. Progress and
harmony is only achieved when everyone is equally involved in the
process of growth and development. I know Canada prides itself on being gender inclusive, so it=s important to
understand how our women have in the past, and continue presently,
to contribute positively to the assimilation of the community
into mainstream Canadian life
obviously can' depend on western media to remove the specter of negative stereotyping that surrounds the
existence of Muslim women. The
media can't seem to remove their veil of ignorance - literally.
They don't seem to comprehend that a head covering doesn't make
anyone brain damaged and that Muslim women aren't the only ones covering
their heads out of respect for their faith.
are many reasons for the exclusion of women from mainstream media.
One explanation given at an international Unesco symposium on
women and the media held in Canada, was that
"the causes are
deeply rooted in social, economic and political structures, as well as
in culturally determined attitudes.."
This doesn't come as a surprise because my gender has had the
distinct honor of being at
the blunt end of media bashing many times. It's unfortunate that the achievements of many Muslim
women today are buried under an avalanche of misinformation
by media in projecting them as third class citizens or non contributing
members of society.
and gentlemen, I don't have to remind you how the media dominates our
lives and what clout it wields. We
are in the midst of the Clinton scandal and in the end, it will be the
media who will make or break the story. This debacle only reinforces
what a powerful a tool the media is
was in the 1940's that Harold Innes, a Canadian pioneer in communication
theory spoke of the bias of communication. His
idea was that the medium biases the message. The Muslim community and especially Muslim women have been
battle of the bias
If we tend to criticize the media, we have a valid point. However,
Nihad Awad of the council
on American Islamic relations, advises, and I agree, that
criticize, we must educate.
education which Awad refers to is a simple matter of eliminating ignorance and learning to be culturally
sensitive to others. In case of the Muslims I'll just pick up a
widely misused and misunderstood term, one that you must all be familiar
- made synonymous with Muslims, terror,
war. Western media has
wrongly translated the word jihad to mean holy war a concept that is truly at odds with itself. How can war ever be holy?
Jihad, the Arabic word does not translate, either
literally, or by suggestion to mean holy war. I've heard of holy cow, holy moly and holy macaroni - I believe
there is a forest in California called holy - wood but despite what you
may read or hear,
war is never holy."
and gentlemen, Jihad literally means
"to strive for." Our presence here today is jihad as we strive to clear
misunderstandings; our lives are a constant Jihad as we strive for good
the kind of coverage or more correctly,
of coverage that Muslim
women get internationally, is appalling. Our women are an integral force behind Muslim society. In their
varying roles as mothers, wives and daughters, they are revered and
respected. In Islam we believe a woman is the nucleus around which all
life centers. She is the
centrifugal force of life and when she is firmly anchored, everything
around her remains focused and steadfast. When the woman is put
out of sync, all of society suffers. We put great stress on the
nurturing and care giving abilities of women
believing that if you educate one woman, you actually educate an entire
rights to voting, pre-nuptial agreements and inheritance many centuries
ago, our women have paved the way for women's rights. While they can participate in battle, and keep their maiden name,
in contrast I believe it was only in the 1900's that Canadian women were
is not meant as a comparison, but to point out the injustice of a very
over North America Muslim women are making a mark - today, our women
proudly take part in everything that is Canadian. Women like dr. Nafees
Sadek, executive director of the united nations population fund; Huma
Hilary Clinton's office manager; dr. Huda al Maraghwi, dean of engineering
at Windsor university; madam Fatima Houda Pepin, member of the Quebec
assembly are just a few. They
are others working in finance, law, medicine, education and even
politics. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of our young
ladies was part of the Canadian armed forces during the gulf war. These
women are fortunate that they are able to follow their passions and
achieve personal satisfaction whereas there are millions of Muslim women
right now, who live in
abject poverty and terror.
These women are the forgotten legacy of
are the mothers in Bosnia who watched their daughters being brutally
raped; they are the daughters in Kashmir who see their entire family
slaughtered; they are the wives and children in Iraq living with
internal strife and external sanctions against medicine and daily
amenities; they are the daughters of Palestine striving for peaceful
co-existence and they are women
of Africa who are slowly watching their tribes die of starvation and
don't hear about these women because they aren't newsmakers. Let me share some mind boggling statistics with you. According to
undp human development figures, today
there are 37 million people who have been forced from their home, of
these approximately 28 million are Muslims and of these 28 million, 22
million are women and children. Majority
of Muslims live in countries where poverty is at its highest. The Muslim women of these countries have their hands full trying
to dodge bullets or finding one square meal and clean drinking water.
They don=t make world news, so it's up to those of us who enjoy freedom
and peace in a democratic country, to give them some thought and
come back to the crux of our co-existence in Canada - peace and I beg
your tolerance for one more moment. I don't want to leave you with heavy
thoughts, so let me share with you an anecdote I just read.
once said that politicians are the same all over - they promise to build
bridges even where there is no river. While he may have said this in
jest, I believe in all seriousness, that tonight we prove this to be
ladies and gentlemen, thanks to the efforts of Dan mcTeague, your
distinguished guests and our esteemed audience,
such a bridge has
been built. I
have erased some misconceptions and you have gained some
knowledge about this amazing Canadian community you see before you who
Steady as a bloc
conservative in nature
in their dealings
leave you in peace - thank you and wasalaam.