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what it means, how it works
Open Letter from Itrath Sayed
the New Democrat candidate for the Delta - Richmond East
The following is a very powerful letter from
Itrath Sayed, the New Democrat candidate for the Delta
- Richmond East riding and active member of the StopWar.ca
Itrath stood for nomination she has been receiving a lot
of criticism from the local Muslim community. Because
of her beliefs in equality for all Canadians, she and
her elderly parents were effectively excommunicated from
the Richmond Mosque her parents helped build and that
she has been attending since her youth.
what it means, how it works
has been lots of discussion about my position on gay marriages.
I am writing this open letter to clarify my position, so that people
can understand my position before delivering khutbas [sermons] about
me and writing me hate mail.
I should first
state very clearly that this is my position, not the position of my
family, and that any discussion about these issues should not involve
them in any way.
is very clear. I support the principle that all human beings in Canada
must be equal under Canadian law and have the same rights in Canada.
Every single person.
This is a critical
principle that insures the protection of every minority community
in Canada including the Muslim community. Without this principle we
are all vulnerable to having our civil rights eroded and our safety
In the last few
years since 9/11, the Muslim community has watched, and largely stood
silent, while our civil rights have been attacked, while we have been
targeted by CSIS, while we have been demonized in the media, while
we have had our personal lives invaded, while many of us have been
arrested or detained for questioning by police. Not to mention how
one of us was kidnapped by the U.S. government with the cooperation
of our own government and sent to a torture prison. There has been
fear and silence in our community. Our overwhelming response has been
to be quiet in hopes that if we keep our head down no one will notice
us and attack us individually.
When we have spoken
up, we have done so based on the principle of equality. We have said
that we are Canadian too, that we are equal to everyone else in Canada,
that our rights must be protected and that our lives must be secure.
And those who have been more brave than our community and have organized
demonstrations and mobilized a resistance for us to protest our loss
of civil rights in Canada, have also done so on the principle of all
Canadians being equal.
Canada is a very
large and very diverse country. It is held together by the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms. This is the document that protects all of
us, every single one of us, and enables us to all live together in
Canada and to form Canadian society together.
It is the Charter
that protects our rights as Muslims and that enables our communities
to develop and prosper. It is the Charter that protects our right
to believe what we choose to believe and to organize our communities
based on those beliefs. It is the Charter that protects our right
to define marriage according to our beliefs and it is the Charter
that will always protect our right to continue to do so.
The legal decision
by Canadian courts to extend the rights of marriage to include gay
and lesbian couples does not override the Charters protection
of religious freedom. The court decision has absolutely no implication
on the Muslim community at all.
that Imams will be forced to recognize and perform gay marriages is
absolutely ridiculous and is obviously based on complete unfamiliarity
with Canadian law. The Muslim community and all religious communities
will always be able to define and conduct marriages according to their
own beliefs and traditions, with no interference from anyone.
Muslims in Canada
must be clear that we can not demand our own equality in Canada, our
own rights to be who we are, while also calling for the rights of
others to be restricted. If the principle of equality under Canadian
law is compromised, it will be compromised for all minority communities.
I am not running
for leadership of the Muslim community, I am running for a position
in Canadian government. I am not asked about my religious views, I
am asked about my views on Canadian law. These are 2 completely separate
things. As we all know because we make those distinctions every day
of our lives.
We all live as
Muslims in Canada. We know the difference between Canadian law and
our own religious law. We believe that alcohol is haram [forbidden]
yet we live in a society where it is available everywhere. Does that
mean we drink alcohol? No. Does that mean we serve it in our homes
or our Mosques? No. Does that mean we think it is halal [permissible]?
No. Do we tell our children to go out and get drunk? No.
I am a Muslim,
not because I was born in a Muslim family, not because I was raised
in a Muslim community, not because of any one else in the world. I
am a Muslim because that is what my heart and soul demand of me. I
am a Muslim because of what I know in my core to be true.
I am a Canadian
because this is my home. My Canada includes everyone in Canada. I
believe that my ability to be Muslim in my country is completely and
absolutely connected to the ability of everyone else in Canada to
live according to their own beliefs. That is how equality works, that
is how a country as wide and diverse as Canada continues to be home
for everyone in it. That is how we all can be safe here.
I would think
that this principle of equality is one that Muslims would understand
powerfully. I would think that as a targeted community we would cling
fiercely to this principle and stand up for it. But no, not so.
I would have thought
that there were many issues that Muslims would care passionately about.
I would have thought that we might be concerned about civil rights,
about equal citizenship in Canada, about the war and occupation of
Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, about the move to link Canadian foreign
policy closer to U.S. foreign policy, about the new arms race of weapons
in the sky, about losing public healthcare without which many of us
could not afford to be healthy, about racist immigration policies,
about easing the burden of Third World debt, about racial profiling
at airports and borders, about funding education in Canada so that
we dont have young people each with $30,000 of interest bearing
debt, about the destruction of our environment which we believe is
an ammanah [trust] from our Creator.
But no. I am clearly
wrong. There is only one issue that the Muslims are interested in.
There is only one issue that the community can become vocal about.
There is only one issue that can rise our emotions and our political
voice. Let the rest of the world and the rest of the country be damned.
The Muslim community can care about only one thing.
We have sat in
our homes while others took to the streets to protest wars and occupations,
and we have sat silently in our homes while others took to the streets
to protect our rights in Canada. While Palestinian towns were being
demolished, while Iraqis were being tortured, we stayed home and watched
This may be the
kind of Muslim life that the majority of our community believes is
good. But this is not what I believe in. I have always fought for
justice, and I believe I have done so with courage and integrity.
I am proud of my life as a Muslim and I am proud to be Canadian.
And indeed the
journey is always to return to Allah, who is the only One who will
judge each of us.
ps. This is an
open letter to the world - forward this as far and wide as you like.
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by Barbara Anello
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