I am often asked why I chose Winnipeg to be my home. My answer is simple. In my 40 years in Winnipeg, I have not once doubted my initial impression of this city as one that has a soul. Winnipeg is my home. I have lived nowhere else this long. My roots here are connected to the fact that my son and my parents are buried here my other son and grandchildren were born here, it is here that my social justice activism was nurtured, and it is here where I discovered not only why I am a Muslim, but why I wanted to live as a Muslim Canadian.
My intellectual inquiry into my faith started here and for this I am eternally grateful. The spirituality that my grandmother and parents nurtured in me growing up in Pakistan was tested in ways that I would never have faced growing up in a Muslim majority country. I was asked why Muslims believe what they believe, I am challenged everyday in light of world events why Muslims are violent, I am ridiculed for dressing modestly, and yet I am empowered by majority of Winnipeggers who support me and my community in times of crisis and to stand with Winnipeg Muslims when hate is directed towards us.
What I have also come to love about Winnipeg is that it is much easier to build relationships that are lasting, sincere, and can withstand the test of time. My relationship with Indigenous communities, and various faith and cultural groups has shaped my world view and enhanced my commitment to the core values of my faith and those of Canada.
One of the core values of Islam is to stand up for justice and this is what I aspire and strive to do through my writings, speaking, and actions ‒ Winnipeg has provided me with an opportunity and a platform in the public sphere. I have never felt alone in my struggles because there are numerous people who are passionate for justice and peace and we have become a family in Winnipeg, which I rarely find anywhere else in Canada. Where else on moment’s notice will you find hundreds coming out to stand in solidarity with the persecuted and the oppressed?
Winnipeg has a social conscience. We may not be perfect, but we are willing to acknowledge what is wrong and unjust. We raise awareness for issues and we gather in the public square to demand justice and fair governance. The beauty is that we do it together. A problem facing one segment of Winnipeggers becomes every Winnipeggers problem. This is what a community is all about. We may help in different ways but we feel each other’s pain.
The Muslim Winnipeg community is the envy of many around the country and beyond, not because of who we are, but because of the support and friendships and relationships we have with the rest of Winnipeg.
Where else would a Muslim woman be invited to speak from the pulpit frequently at churches? Where else would people like Carl Ridd and John Harvard take the time and interest to mentor someone like me? Where else would media seek the opinion of an ordinary Muslim woman who takes them to task? Where else would staff, who are not Muslim, remind me of prayer times?
Winnipeggers believed in me and supported my efforts when I took on the task to establish the Islamic Social Services Association, as well as the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute and the Federation of Canadian Muslim Social Services and the Canadian Muslim leadership Institute. These were people from both the Winnipeg Muslim community and the larger community.
I learned from The Winnipeg Foundation how to operate a not for profit, I learned from John Longhurst, Nicholas Hirst, Terry MacLeod, and Carol Sanders on how to engage the media. My activism was strengthened by Howard Davidson, Krishna Lalbihari, and Noel DePape. Gladys Cook and Stan McKay taught me Indigenous ways and Rabbi Neal Rose encouraged me to speak about my way of life. Suenita Maharaj-Sandhu taught me management skills and Abdo Eltassi stood by me through thick and thin.
As a person of faith I know now that I did not choose Winnipeg; it was chosen for me.
If the vision of multiculturalism is being actualized in Canada, it is in Winnipeg and that is what makes Winnipeg my home ‒ a place I look forward to returning to, snow and all.