“Ask yourself – in addition to your activism and contributions, how are you helping to build long-lasting institutions that will carry on the work we need to ensure that our communities are treated fairly, and with dignity, and are able to fully contribute to the political, social, cultural, and economic life of our country?”
Increasingly in the wake of current events, Muslims can feel little more representation than talking points, headlines, and controversies. Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims is familiar with this reality, explaining that, “it’s unfortunate that all this attention on Canadian Muslims makes it seem like Muslims are this particular and strange group of people that are always in the middle of contested political, legal, social, cultural spaces.” Her work as the Communications Director brings her close to many of these contested spaces, voicing what seems obvious to many of us: “Canadian Muslims are just like everyone else – working hard as students, professionals, caregivers, and simply wanting to live wholesome, peaceful lives where they can have a positive impact on their communities.”
“We need to understand that change does take time and that education is a precursor to meaningful change.”
Her extensive experience – world travels, studies in journalism and law at Carleton, writing as a journalist in Cairo, Toronto, and Ottawa followed by years of freelancing, teaching, and more – serves her well in her work with NCCM. With the incredible knowledge and skills she brings to the organization, she also derives lessons from it: “This work has taught me a lot – in the area of human rights, media engagement, public advocacy, and outreach. I continue to learn every day from various experts, but even more interestingly, from people working to make positive change within their own communities in their own ways.” Of course, it comes with challenges, such as communicating the typically slow pace of institutional change to grassroots movements that look for more immediate results.
“Remaining tapped into grassroots conversations and movements is critical in informing the institutional work.”
This connection to the community leads to insights on the conversations we need to have as Muslims. “Like any community, there are issues of socio-economic bias, racial and ethnic bias, gender bias, etc. There is often what seems to be a disconnect between our young people and our elders – including our scholars.” This year’s Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention was just one example she points out — it is evident there are many unanswered questions concerning who best leads these discussions, how they can take place, and many of the other common challenges seen within spheres of social activism and effecting change.
“They may manifest in different ways, but at the end of the day, we are talking about oppressions, inequalities, discrimination, hatred.”
Properly answering these questions often cannot be done alone: “The key principle is to build solidarity and allyship with various communities. Our struggles for social justice should be seen through a key lens . . . We must come together to challenge the systemic roots of all these elements.” The call for intersectionality within advocacy work is a common one, and it remains equally crucial for Muslim communities. “Yes, some Muslims are at the forefront of social justice issues –and see that as part and parcel of their faith identity – but that it isn’t necessarily unusual to want to participate actively in our democracy to help make things better and more equal for all people.”
“It has been challenging at times to maintain the excitement and engagement, but nonetheless very inspiring to find so many community members who are keen to civically engage for the betterment not just of Canadian Muslim communities, but of all communities.”
Based on these same principles, NCCM launched the Stronger Together campaign at the end of 2015 as an effort to ensure the group was reaching out to communities and building local capacity for their work. Building up these grassroots movements ultimately contributes to NCCM’s capacity to reflect needed changes on an institutional level; a project Amira notes has felt humbling.
“I truly believe that we must invest in organizations like the NCCM because if we don’t, we will not be able to carry on this critical work in a professional, sustainable way.”
Amira’s passion for and investment in this work comes out clearly in her reflections on NCCM. “We hope that NCCM will continue this work, long after we’re gone – and maybe, by then, we’ll have been so successful, we will be fully able to support other communities in their own similar struggles.” With NCCM leading a myriad of efforts to provide platforms for individuals to report discrimination, voicing a response to ignorance on an institutional level, working to educate Muslim and other communities – it falls upon our communities to support them in this work and contribute to achieving the same visions in our own spaces.
“This is what our faith teaches us: to stand firmly for justice – for all.”