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the Message Continues ... 11/90

 

 

Newsletter for February 2009

 

 

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12

 

 

LETTER FROM THE NEW PRESIDENT OF CANADIAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS

By Sr. Wahida Valiante

courtesy:CIC Friday Magazine

 

I was just a child when Pakistan and India underwent their tumultuous "partition" in 1948.

 

A couple of years later I arrived in England as an orphan -- my father having fallen while hunting in Kashmirís mountains years earlier and my mother having only recently died of a burst brain aneurysm. With my two older sisters and brother I lived in England for another 11 years until restless, and having heard glowing reports of a young nation bursting with energy and vitality, I left for Canada in 1961.

 

There are many references in the Qurían about how oneís path unfolds as a matter of the choices one makes. And while I like to think that it was of my own will that I came to Canada, it was a choice that I must concede was one that was a matter of Barakah or divine blessing.

 

I am truly blessed to be a Muslim and more specifically to be a Canadian Muslim.

 

When I came to Canada Muslims were few but the opportunities were limitless. If one was to put oneís mind and effort into all that Canada had to offer one could not only prosper economically but spiritually.

 

Canada was not simply a land of universal opportunities and a strong education system. It was a nation that was much more than the individual components of the dictum of "peace, order and good government" would have suggested.

 

Canada was a network of strong, self-reliant communities that were for the most part open and inclusive - a nation where it didnít matter much where you were from as long as you really wanted to be here and really wanted to contribute. Already a nation of two languages and with long history of immigration, Canadaís rich cultural fabric seemed always ready for new strands of ethnic thread.

 

Above all Canada had a history of untiring optimism - that no matter how trying or daunting a situation, with a little perseverance and patience it would all work out.

 

And so with that optimism - and (what one can venture to say) in what is a typically atypical Canadian story - I married an Italian immigrant (himself a Muslim Canadian) and raised two sons who now respectively contribute to the health and environmental well-being of the nation that has given them so much.

 

So as I assume the role of President of the CIC I do so not only as an advocate on behalf of Muslim Canadians but as an advocate of Canada itself

- of its history, of its values, of the things that have made it the only place I would ever consider calling home.

 

Of my 48 years in Canada the last ten have seen Canadaís essence as a nation of quiet optimism challenged by the politics of fear.

 

The events following 9/11 tested Canada and they surely tested me.

 

It was shortly after 9/11 that I had an "us" versus "them" experience that was unknown to me in my previous 40 years in Canada. True, like any other new immigrant, I too experienced incidents of racism and bigotry, but never where I was clearly identified as an enemy - or one of "them." Appearing at an event on behalf of the CIC I was asked whether I would formally denounce the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.

 

This question struck me as if it were a bullet. Here I was being asked to denounce "them" in order to verify that I was really with "us". Yet, the "them" I was being asked to denounce were as alien to me as they were to any other Canadian. My initial reaction of shock turned to anger and then momentarily to fear: could it be that as a Canadian citizen of 40 years I could be denounced on the basis of actions of individuals as culturally and ethnically removed from me as are the Swedes? Was the ostensible sharing of a common religion between the terrorists and me enough to indict me in the eyes of my fellow Canadians? Was this not an inquisition of sorts?

 

The following years saw a steady torrent of experts who expounded upon the "Muslim threat", the inevitable transmogrification of Europe to Eurabia:

"...not all Muslims are terrorists -- though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle."

 

With the image of atrocity fresh in everyoneís minds and hot propaganda raising the specter of more, it was not surprising that Canadaís commitment to constitutional liberalism - freedoms borne by the Canadian constitution and system of laws - was severely challenged. The proposed and subsequently enacted anti-terrorism laws challenged Canadians with the question of what rights they were willing to relinquish and what intrusions they would allow the state in the name of "security."

 

Even less surprising was the sense of growing alienation within the Muslim community in Canada. For many Muslim Canadians, Canada had changed.

 

And it was in this growing political malaise that CIC responded and continues its work. Since then CIC has played a major role in advocating on behalf of Muslim Canadians by addressing the anti-Islam rhetoric and gross misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims in the media. Concurrently it has actively assisted Muslim Canadians in projecting themselves onto the Canadian political landscape in order to avoid the resentment and isolation that comes along with political disenfranchisement.

 

I believe there is no better way to build a strong Canada and a strong Muslim community in Canada than by engaging in Canadaís most cherished institution - participatory democracy.

 

To date the CIC has had a number of significant achievements in its efforts to engage Muslim Canadians in the national political dialogue. These range from groundbreaking studies of anti-Islam media bias, to encouraging Muslims to engage in the political arena by providing assessments of what their elected officials are saying and doing.

 

The CIC is helping young Canadians to be their best by setting up student scholarships in politics, social work, law and journalism.  The CIC endeavours to inform and educate all Canadians on important national and international issues that the mainstream media regularly ignores through our Friday Magazine.

 

Perhaps the CICís greatest achievement to date is the establishment of Islamic History Month Canada, which has been well received by a broad range of Canadians.

 

There is much that Canadians do not know about Islamís role in shaping Western civilization - that the most harmonious relations between cultures and religions occurred when there was a common objective of seeking scientific knowledge and improving the commonwealth of all humankind and that this confluence of interests occurred at a time when Muslim scientific scholarship was at its zenith.

 

Discussing this Islamís history promotes mutual respect and understanding, and peaceful co-existence.

 

In this regard Islamic History Month in Canada offers one of the more effective ways to promote dialogue between the Muslim Canadians and mainstream society.  In order to develop it further, it will require resources, both financial and human, and the full participation of Muslim Canadians across Canada.

 

I would like now to return briefly to my mandate as President of the CIC.

 

Having travelled abroad it has been my observation that when a Canadian speaks of issues of social justice, of economic policy, of environmental concern or a myriad of other complex policy and political issues the world listens. They listen because of our history - a history where rationality and reason have permeated our most difficult debates and where on balance we have more often than not found a way to make more Canadians better off and few worse off as a result of those debates. We do make mistakes but almost uniquely we do also seem to learn from them.

 

We live in interesting times. Economic turmoil, environmental concern and new domestic and global political dynamics pose immense opportunities for Canada.

 

These opportunities arise because Canada is a country not driven by fear but by both the optimism I discussed at the outset of this address and a rational process for finding our way as a nation.

 

And so as I stated earlier, while I am certainly an advocate on behalf of Muslim Canadians I am also an advocate on behalf of Canada itself.

 

Thus the CIC must be more than an ethnic entity with narrow vision and self-serving interest. It must be a mainstream organization with a strong Muslim Canadian voice for social, economic and environmental justice, peace, and harmony both at home and abroad.  While bold in addressing injustice and violence against all human beings, it must temper that boldness with reason and measured action.

 

In this regard the CIC is well equipped.

 

We have an excellent team that includes Dr. Zijad Delic who is a Ph. D and Imam, the national executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, who brings a fresh approach to our political, social and educational issues with a broad understanding of what it means to be a Muslim in contemporary society.

 

A big "THANK YOU" goes to our volunteers, be they CIC members or not. These individuals undergird the CIC and it is upon them we rely to guide us, support us, and translate words into action.

 

Lastly but certainly not least, I would like to thank my family for their unconditional support that I (and CIC) have received from each one of them while serving my Canadian Muslim community and my country -- Canada.

 

The CICís continued success is contingent on continued support.  With it I know that, Insha Allah, we together can make a contribution to our well- being as Canadian Muslims and to Canada as our home.

 

Wahida Valiante is the new President of Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC)

 

 

 

 

 

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