TORONTO – A Canadian Muslim women group has found a new resolve to fight discrimination in the community as Muslims celebrated its 35th anniversary a few days after the adoption of Quebec’s burqa ban.
“We know that we are in a very special time and we’re playing a special role,” Nina Karachi-Khaled, spokesperson of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW), told CBC News on Sunday, October 22.
“We understand it’s a big responsibility to be a voice for Muslim women in Canada.”
On Sunday, the CCMW wrapped up its weekend-long celebration in Toronto with the Women Who Inspire Awards, which will honor eight Muslim women from across the country in a variety of fields.
“It really does highlight the work that Muslim women are doing out there,” said Tahmena Bokhari, a Toronto-based social worker who is among the winners.
“We’re touching the lives of so many people in the various professions and fields that we’re in.”
The event came a few days in the wake of Quebec’s recently-passed religious neutrality legislation.
The legislation, known as Bill 62, effectively bans public servants and those who receive public services from wearing a face covering, including Muslim women who wear the niqab (face veil).
The ban will be in force across municipal services, such as public transit.
Karachi-Khaled’s mother was a CCMW member when the organization was founded in 1982, and she’s watched the challenges faced by Muslim women evolve over the past 35 years.
Today, Canadian Muslim women are facing more challenges, being the prime target of hate attacks.
“There are bigger problems and much more heartache and hardship in our community,” Karachi-Khaled said.
“I think definitely as a Muslim community we are in a struggle,” Bokhari added.
“We’re fighting to be recognized, we’re fighting to be heard, we’re fighting for equity.”
In addition to honoring Bokhari’s accomplishments in social justice and anti-racism, the awards also honored an Ottawa Police officer, a doctor, and activists, all of them Muslim women.
“I think it’s showing the diversity of what it means to be Muslim,” Bokhari said.
For Mississauga, Ont., artist Hana Shafi, 24, another of the award winners, the group represents only a tiny fraction of the Muslim women making important contributions across Canada.
“I’m not an exception or an outlier to my community,” Shafi said
“It shouldn’t necessarily be framed like a successful Muslim woman is this rare story.”
After Quebec’s burqa ban, the group role in the community has maximized.
“When you’re able to spend positive time celebrating with your community, it helps you deal with the burnout of the fights that you feel like you’ve lost,” Shafi said.
Bokhari agrees and says she expects to leave the event with a much-needed positive boost to her outlook.
“I think when we are connected to one another we are always more hopeful,” she said.