“We [NCCM] are not advocating for special treatment of Muslims. We are fighting for the same rights and responsibilities, as fellow Canadians.”
Many of us would balk at the idea of leading an organization representing the interests of roughly 1.1 million diverse Canadians. However, for Ihsaan Gardee, it’s just a part of the job as Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).
Beginning as a volunteer when the organization was known as CAIR-CAN, Mr. Gardee’s previous experience working with private sector start-up organizations proved valuable to the still growing organization, quickly advancing him to formal positions. Starting as the Community Relations and Operations Director in 2006, two short years lead him to his position as the fourth Executive Director of the NCCM.
Just like with any job, every day brings different challenges. But most of our challenges, unlike Mr. Gardee’s, don’t involve appearing as expert witnesses before Parliamentary and Senate committees to discuss national security legislation. For instance, Mr. Gardee and his team at the NCCM worked on the case that brought the organization to the Canadian public: the national public inquiry into the Maher Arar deportation. After achieving Arar’s exoneration of all terrorism related charges, a public apology, and financial compensation, NCCM has since continued to occupy a position on our national stage.
The NCCM has continued to be at the forefront of developments in four main areas: human rights and civil liberties work, education and outreach, media engagement, and advocacy work. The initiatives and practices target audiences young and old, Muslim and non-Muslims alike.
Specifically referring to the youth, Mr. Gardee explains that young people can have a phenomenal impact. “Even Islamic tradition shows that among the most active and engaged among the Prophet’s companions were young, and that’s just a start – then you look throughout history as well,” says Gardee. “Never discount your voice, even if the law says that you’re not legally ‘an adult’.” The key, he explains, is not to be despondent in the face of challenges, and to seek mentorship as a means of guidance.
To handle the pressures and responsibilities of the role, Mr. Gardee’s driving motivation is twofold: both the satisfaction of serving the Canadian Muslim community, and the opportunity to work with remarkable colleagues. As Mr. Gardee puts it, “[It is the] feeling that you can contribute your skills and knowledge back to the community in a meaningful way, with a visible difference in the lives of the people you serve.” Drawing inspiration from those around him also drives Mr. Gardee to continue his work with the NCCM.
There is further motivation stemming from Mr. Gardee’s personal upbringing. Canadian-born to a Swedish Lutheran mother and East Indian father who was raised in apartheid South Africa, his awareness of government systems and their impacts of citizens began early on. “They are role models and heroes of mine,” says Gardee, “and I would hope to achieve some of what they have set out for me as an example.”
Wholly dedicated to serving the Canadian community, Mr. Gardee’s work has impacted communities of all ages and faiths across Canada. Under his leadership, the work of the NCCM continues to represent the diverse voices of the Canadian-Muslim communities on national scales.