What makes Canada so great? It’s that everyone is welcome! As Muslims, we’ve been welcome here before Canada was even a country! It turns out that the first Muslims in soon to be Canada were recorded in the 1854 census. Since then, we’ve been contributing to every aspect of Canadian life, from science to the arts, from business to government, and everything in between.
Throughout July, we’ve been sharing quotes from Muslim-Canadians who inspire us, but we wanted to take a second look at them, so we could share not only the great things they say, but give a little more background on the great things they’ve done.
So here are some words of wisdom from five Muslim-Canadians you really need to know about:
Dr. Fuad Sahin is a medical doctor who came to Canada from Turkey in 1958. He spent most of his career in Niagara Falls as a urologist at the Greater Niagara General Hospital. Despite his lengthy medical career, Dr. Sahin is best known as a leader in Ontario’s Muslim community, and it’s his community work that makes him so inspiring to us. He was involved in Toronto’s first mosque and is founder of the International Development and Relief Foundation, a Canadian charity that provides humanitarian aid and sustainable development programs. The IDRF’s mission is to provide aid to the most vulnerable communities, without discrimination, and was built based on the Islamic principles of human dignity, self-reliance, and social justice. Dr. Sahin has been recognized for his charitable work and community service with both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani human rights activist who is best known for championing girls’ right to education worldwide and one of only six people to be given honourary Canadian citizenship. Her story inspires us because it clearly shows you’re never too young to make a big difference. Yousafzai’s school (run by her father) was closed in 2008 when she was 11 years old, after the Taliban seized control of her hometown in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Even at her young age, Yousafzai spoke out, believing that girls like her had just as much right to go to school as everyone else. One of the biggest reasons Yousafzai inspires us is that she took a life-changing tragedy and turned it into something with the power to change millions of lives for the better. In 2012, at just 15 years old, Yousafzai’s activism made her a target for violence when she was shot on her way home from school. But after months of surgery and rehabilitation, she made a full recovery, and she and her family moved to the UK, where she established the Malala Fund, which fights to get access to education for the 130 million girls currently not in school. Because of this work, in 2014 Yousafzai became the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson is a leading writer and teacher on Islam around the world. She developed the first accredited graduate program for Muslim chaplains in America and was the first woman to serve as president of the Islamic Society of North America. Dr. Mattson is currently the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at Western University. She writes about Qur’an interpretation, Islamic theological ethics and interfaith relations and is often consulted by the media and serves as an expert witness on Islamic issues.
Naheed Nenshi became the first Muslim-Canadian mayor (as well as the first Muslim mayor of any major North American city) when he was elected mayor of Calgary in 2010. In 2013, he was named the second-most influential person in Canada (after the Prime Minister) by Maclean’s and 2014, he was named best mayor in the world by the City Mayors Foundation. He was re-elected to his third term in 2017. Before entering politics, Mayor Nenshi was Canada’s first tenured professor in the field of nonprofit management.
Zarqa Nawaz has been called “one very Funny Lady,” “the Sultana of the Sardonic” and (our personal favourite) “the Imamma of the Ironic” by the Toronto Star. She created Little Mosque on the Prairie, the first sitcom about a Muslim community. She also wrote the best-selling memoir Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, where she talks about growing up Muslim in Canada and flirting with the Walmart meat manager in order to try and get halal chicken the day before Eid. (Zarqa: next time, call us, we’ll help you out!)
It was really hard to narrow down the list to just five, since there are so many Muslim-Canadians doing amazing things in all sorts of different fields. Tell us about the Muslim-Canadians that inspire you in the comments. Maybe next time we’ll do a top ten list!