Jeewan Chanicka has a long history of activism inside and outside of the Muslim community. He received his BA in Conflict Resolution and Culturally Appropriate Forms of Mediation and a Masters Degree in Education, collaborated with the United Nations University of Peace to help develop a curriculum framework on Peace Education in the Islamic context. He is the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee award for his work in education and community service, where he has worked as a teacher, principal, and is now, what is thought to be Canada’s first ever Superintendent of Equity, Anti-Racism & Anti-Oppression for the Toronto District School Board.
Jeewan has also been a public speaker in North America and Europe on a variety of issues around equity, inclusion, anti-oppression, youth, risk and resiliency, Anti-Indigenous/Anti-Black racism and racism in general. In the Muslim community, he was one of the members who helped with the start of CAIR Canada, now the National Council of Canadian Muslims. He has also worked with Islamic Relief Canada, Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline, MYNA, and MAC, as well as supporting the annual ISNA conference in Canada and the United States.
Lanterns had the honour of speaking to Jeewan about a variety of issues, from education, to youth challenges, to inclusivity in the Muslim community. On education, he recalls, “the path…wasn’t direct. It wasn’t like I knew from childhood that I would be a teacher.” Through his volunteer work and his work as a program counsellor with students who were not being successful in school, he came to education. He found himself working with children “who were typically the ones getting themselves in trouble.” Due to his passion for youth work, he was encouraged to pursue teaching, an idea that he didn’t really think was his calling.
“I told them (friends/mentors) okay, I’ll apply to one faculty and if I get in, then I’ll go.” Needless to say, he got in, and the rest was history.
Jeewan’s involvement in the Muslim community started when he converted at the age of 11. When he moved to Toronto in the early 1990s, he found himself involved in a number of budding organizations that are now prominent in our community. He found the same passion for youth work in the Muslim community that had led him to entering education, leading him to focus on groups like the Muslim Youth of North America, and the youth branches of organizations such as MAC. Unsurprisingly, when I asked him for one area in the community he most wanted to support, it was youth empowerment he singled out.
No work is without challenges, and Jeewan has come across many barriers in his community work, sometimes even from the Muslim community.
“All oppression is interconnected, and human rights is also interconnected…sometimes people only want to talk about some forms of oppression but we will not be free unless we are all free. Our duty as Muslims is to speak on behalf of the rights of ALL people.”
While activism to combat Islamophobia is undoubtedly important, it cannot be separated from activism for Indigenous rights, or against Anti-Black racism.
His last words for Muslim youth? “I want to say that, with all the challenges we currently face, I SEE them. I see them in all the ways that they do amazing things, in all the struggles they are facing and the courage that they step forward with. And I want them to know that sometimes as hard as things may feel, whether it’s in our own institutions, mosques or in society, that their voices are deeply important in shaping what happens. They should never doubt themselves, be defined by other people, instead step into their power and know that this is their home and they have the ability to make change for the better. Ours is a great responsibility from Allah to stand up for justice and against oppression. To serve and be a mercy for all of humanity and creation. Our young people are #WarriorsofLight