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Equality – what it means, how it works

An Open Letter from Itrath Sayed
the New Democrat candidate for the Delta - Richmond East

June 16, 2004

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 antiwar coalition.

Since 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.


Equality – what it means, how it works

Assalamu alaikum everyone,

Itrath Syed, NDP candidate for the Delta - Richmond There 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.

My position 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 threatened.

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 Charter’s protection of religious freedom. The court decision has absolutely no implication on the Muslim community at all.

The allegation 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 don’t 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 the news.

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.


Itrath Syed

ps. This is an open letter to the world - forward this as far and wide as you like.

A Voter Education & Awareness Campaign  for Women's Equality Rights in Canada

June 16, 2004


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