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
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
"...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
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
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
In this regard Islamic History Month
in Canada offers one of the more effective ways to
promote dialogue between the Muslim Canadians and
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
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
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
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
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)