This July 1 on Canada Day it will be 31 years since we came to Canada. We have lived longer in Canada than any other country including Pakistan which is my land of birth so there is no denying “this is home”.
This is also where the heart is and as I think back, these are some exclusive Canadian qualities that stand out for me.
• The way Canadians stop their cars if geese or ducks are crossing the road
• Canadians are usually reserved, but if you are lost and ask for the way, they will drop everything to guide you and most probably take you to your destination
• How in rural Canada, if you ask the way someone will say “you are here – now you need to get over there” (happened to us in Prince Edward Island and melted my heart)
• Fact that Canadians say “zed” and not “zee”
• Start a line and Canadians will line up behind you. Once there was a long line and only after waiting for a long time, when I went up to the front did I realise that there was nothing there. Someone had just stood there and everyone lined up behind him thinking this was the exit 
• Start a cause and Canadians will rally behind you. I have found Canadians to be the most giving and philanthropic people I have ever met and I am proud to be one
• The way they wear their poppies with pride and remember their Veterans
• They way Canadians don’t like conflict. This has sometimes been a challenge in our work but I love the fact that they mostly believe everyone is good until proven otherwise.
• Their love of reading……I used to watch in fascination on public transit, in parks, waiting rooms, lines – everyone has a book
• Fact that Canadians depend upon a rodent to decide when Spring will come.
• I’m not a super fan of sports but was totally joyous to see the fervour transform from ice hockey to basketball – GO RAPTORS!
• Although complaining is a national pastime, Canadians make the best of all weather conditions.
• Despite vigorous and sometimes hot debates about National identity, one thing Canadians are sure about – THEY ARE NOT AMERICAN!
• Canadians are food junkies and have accepted the transformation from hotdogs to samosas eh.
• Part of the Canadian National Anthem I love best – “We stand on guard for Thee”
I do with all my heart and soul. HAPPY CANADA DAY

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In a diverse country like Canada where myriads of faiths and culture live together, we work hard at co-existence and keeping communities together. This needs mutual respect and tolerance plus a total condemnation of hate, wherever it’s coming from.
There is one day that embarrasses me as a Muslim because it’s all about hate. This is the Al Quds day parade, a hate fest (in an already increasing atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism) that takes place every year in public. Imagine a parade being organized against Muslims; what part of “Islamophobia” will that fall under and what would be the government’s reaction?
We have spoken out against this before, and will say it again. There is no place for hate!
As Canadians should we follow the agenda of Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRGC using ordinary Muslims as pawns or should we focus on our relations with each other which needs a lot of work?
Why do we even allow such hate to be paraded on our streets.
We say NO to Al Quds day.

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When I was in school, there was always the one kid who constantly ratted on others and called them names. When challenged, he hid behind the teachers skirt and curried favours from them. He became the teachers ‘pet’ and no one could touch him. Would you be surprised, if one day, found alone that kid could be roughed up?
A similar scenario seems to be playing out in North America.
Thanks to the ‘victim ideology’ promoted by the likes of CAIR and their darling Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, some Islamist individuals and organizations seem to be getting away with hate mongering at a dangerous level. Omar has left no stone unturned in her vicious anti-Semitism. At the same time she’s lobbying for release of a Muslim Brotherhood operative and worse, she spoke about 9/11 as “some people who did something”. Does she think people are stupid? Omar’s ongoing diatribes not only expose her hatred but like the kid who irritated other kids and got away with it, Omar also lashes out with the confidence that she can get away with saying whatever she likes and nothing will happen.
The hate perpetuated by Omar is very dangerous. As we know from the new documentary Kids Chasing Paradise by Clarion Project, hate leads to radicalization which leads to violence. Omar is from Somalia and should be focused on Somali youth who are at risk of being radicalized, instead of fanning the flames of hate and division.
North of the border, in Canada the same drama is being played out where Islamists wrap themselves in a cloak of protection by Motion 103 (which is that basically critiquing Muslims or Islam makes you an Islamophobe). While indulging in deflection, wilful ignorance and offensive remarks, they are being handled with cotton gloves by political and religious leaders so they feel they can blame everyone else but continue to be hateful themselves. As soon as they are called out, they yell ‘Islamophobia’.
There is a strong sentiment by ordinary Canadians that Islamist organizations are being pandered to and getting special handling despite some of the subversive activities they are involved in.
On April 6, an event was held at the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto titled: Dalit & Muslim Persecution in India: History and Current Politics; Noor claims to be a ‘progressive’ Islamic center. But the ideology of the administration at Noor, is troubling.
According to a report in The New Delhi Times which was forwarded to me by an irate and frustrated Hindu friend, at this event Muslim speakers called the Hindu Gods, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu rapists. As well at the discussion, a Muslim speaker accused the ‘Hindu Right’ of being in cahoots with American White Supremacists and then demanded Prime Minister Modi be sent to prison for abandoning his wife. According to one eye witness, there were uniformed guards at the event so no one could object or speak out and the audience was informed as much
Such blatant hate has never been seen in Toronto. One wonders if this was their own initiative or are they playing out the agenda of India’s enemies?
Some years ago when we had the Toronto launch of Honor Diaries, the same mother-daughter team that run the Noor Center came and threw a temper tantrum and then proceeded to write a piece lambasting the film. However, they could not pinpoint any factual inconsistencies.
First the Jews, then the Hindus – who next? Obviously these Muslims do not understand the concept of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
At this tenuous time when the gulf between people of faith is increasing, how are Islamist organizations and institutions that deal in ‘fake’ interfaith dialog (and blame their own shortcomings on white supremists) any different?

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It was a great honor for Canada to welcome Baroness Caroline Cox of the UK House of Lords last week.

How to describe this indomitable person? A headline of The Daily Telegraph reads:

“The feisty baroness defending ‘voiceless’ Muslim women: Baroness Cox of Queensbury is fighting to stop sharia ‘seeping’ into enforcing divorce settlements.”

Cox has increasingly become involved in endeavors to be a “voice for the voiceless” in the UK, where she has been working on behalf of Muslim women suffering from gender discrimination inherent in the application of sharia law.

She introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Lords to highlight the issues and address some of the problems. This has strong support from members of all parties in both chambers as well as Muslim women’s organisations. The website provides updates on this and related initiatives.

That’s not all Baroness Cox does. She is an advocate for and mentors victims of UK grooming gangs. She is also the founder and CEO of an organization called Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) through which she has campaigned for humanitarian causes, particularly relating to disabilities.

Through HART, she travels to remote parts of the world to personally meet victims of oppression and persecution including those in northern Uganda afflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); the people of Timor Leste, who are still affected by the Indonesian occupation (with a particular focus on child malnutrition); and Dalits in India, including Devadasi women entrapped in the enforced prostitution of the centuries-old tradition of “temple service.”

She is a voice for persecuted Christians in areas of the world where there is little media coverage and where traditional humanitarian aid does not reach.

Of course, Islamists in Canada were irked by the presence of Baroness Cox, as they are with other activists who speak on Muslim matters. They are afraid the truth may expose their own falsehoods in the communities they have succeeded in fooling.

So the Islamists set out to derail her appearance in Ottawa. Individual Islamists with anti-Semitic views and Islamist organizations closely affiliated with a terrorist entity went to media and cried “Islamophobia” (as Islamists are wont to do so that their own shortcomings can be deflected).

They tried to turn the baroness’s visit into a smear campaign leveling unfounded accusations against her. One of the accusations was that she invited Geert Wilders to speak in UK.

To her credit, Cox responded with frankness to all the allegations made against her and even offered to speak to her detractors but, of course, they did not respond.

She said:

“1. I work with, and have very affectionate relationships, with Muslim women’s groups in the UK helping them with problems caused by gender discrimination inherent in the application of Sharia Law in the UK. If interested, please see an article in the Daily Telegraph with the heading ‘They would love to call me Islamophobic – but I love Muslim women.’

“Please see our website for evidence of work to help Muslims in the UK. Anyone can be in touch with Muslim women’s organisations mentioned on that website to counter allegations of Islamophobic sentiments.

“Also, in my humanitarian work, we risk our lives to help Muslims suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes – such as the Muslims in Blue Nile State, Sudan. We visited them last year; met 9,000 IDPs who had fled from civil war and were at risk of dying from starvation – and raised funds to save their lives. So I will robustly challenge any attempts to call me ‘Islamophobic’ or to the claim that I spread ‘fear and division’. You should have seen the warmth and appreciation – and love – expressed by many Sudanese Muslims at a meeting I chaired in Parliament last week. They (and many Muslim women) will readily come to my defence if any slurs are published about me being ‘Islamophobic!

“2. Yes, I did support Geert Wilders’ visit to UK. I believe in freedom of speech; he was a democratically elected member of a European Parliament; and I do not agree with all he says, but one cannot have a dialogue to discuss different views if you promote censorship.”

Much to the surprise and chagrin of Islamists, and despite their pushback, Baroness Cox’s appearances in Toronto and Ottawa were a huge success, especially in relation to women and youth. In Toronto at a seminal event, she stood and spoke alongside courageous women from the Muslim world and was awarded a medal of courage.

This is the difference between Islam and Islamism. Moderate Muslims support those who work towards human rights and the integrity of women, rejecting those norms against humanity incorporated in some aspects of sharia.

Islamists, on the other hand, want to politicize an activist’s visit to shut down all discussion and debate.

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March is when we celebrate women. Although March 8 is International Women’s Day, activities take place throughout the month. Some people question as to why we need a “Women Day”? Well we need this to create awareness that women are still not recognized for their complete human rights in many parts of the world.

It’s in this essence that I travelled halfway across the world to participate in the The 49% Film Festival held in Jerusalem from March 6 – 8, 2019.

What exactly is The 49% Film Festival? This is the brainchild of Paula Kweskin, a Human Rights lawyer whose first film Honor Diaries went on to become an award-winning documentary about honor based violence. Why is this festival different? She invited films, film makers and activists to openly address issues that are considered taboo or too controversial to be included in regular festivals, but are the burning issues for women of today e.g. FGM, sexual harassment, religious space for women and forced marriage. The line-up was diverse and international. The participants to the festival included filmmakers and activists from Canada, Egypt, Israel, the US, and the UK.

In creating the Festival she explains:

“Women are disruptors of their societies and the agents of social change. While women are 49% of the population they are only:
* 32% of national parliamentarians worldwide
* 4.8% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies
* less than 30% of researchers worldwide
* 24% of protagonists in Hollywood films

We believe that women must tell their stories in order for the status quo to change. That’s why we are launching The 49% Film Festival. The 49% Film Festival will feature films from underrepresented female (and male) filmmakers from around the world whose films focus on women’s stories and struggles.”

So it is with a sense of anticipation that I attended the opening night on March 6 with the Canadian Ambassador to Israel as the keynote speaker. This was followed by a screening of In Her Footsteps at the Cinematheque, a film by Rana Abu Fraiha. The film documents an entire family torn between fulfilling the mother’s last wish and social codes that cannot be ignored. During the process of separation from the mother, the film reveals the family intimacy, secrets and dilemmas, raises serious questions about women’s identity, nationality and the meaning of home.

There was also a screening of The Cruel Cut which a film about Female Genital Mutilation. Every 11 seconds, a girl undergoes female genital mutilation (FGM). Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Leyla works as a psychotherapist in the UK and addresses the prevalence of FGM around the world. As Leyla reminds us, FGM is a practice of oppressing women and controlling women’s sexuality. It is not an African issue, it is not an Asian issue; it is a global issue that requires a global investment in women.

Other films that were screened were The Youngest and His Cucumber by Sharine Atif. Each film was followed by a panel discussion in which the audience participated.

On March 7, there was the first ever screening of a Pakistani film in Israel. Dukhtar was screened at Cinematheque with English and Hebrew subtitles and I spoke on a panel after the screening. Accompanying me was a Haredi Jewish activist, Fainy Sukenik who runs an organization called Basher Telchi (which roughly translates as “wherever you go”. It was mind boggling to hear her speak of some of the issues faced by Orthodox Jewish women with regards to divorce and child custody. It also made me realise that we have similar issues and it’s so important for women of different backgrounds to come together to discuss and debate these problem. This is why I found this festival so inspiring, innovative and exciting.

Subsequent festivals will be held in various locations throughout the world with a goal toward empowering and emboldening women’s voices globally.
My trip was made even more poignant when upon landing back in Toronto, I was standing at the baggage carousel at the airport, and a stranger came up to me, shook my hand and said “Thank you for the work you do. Please don’t ever stop”….

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Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
Dalai Lama
“Let yourself be empty so you can learn”. These are the wise words with which Sri Sri Ravishanker started his 3-day program called “Unveiling Infinity” at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto and which I was fortunate to attend thanks to a good friend.
I had met Sri Sri Ravishanker many years ago when we were on a panel together in Jerusalem. I reminded him about our connection and despite meeting millions of people in his travels, he remembered. I was quite intrigued by the Guru and the fact that he combines knowledge of science, medicine and other faiths in his talks. So when I was invited his sessions in Toronto, I took the opportunity to refresh the spirit. In a world beset by trauma and materialism, I knew that taking time to meditate is important and sometimes we just need reinforcement.
What I learned is worth sharing and maybe some of those who could not attend, might be able to also learn.
When Sri Sri came on stage, he just stood there with a sublime smile on his face and said nothing for a while. Then he explained that waiting is form of meditation. He then started by asking us if we still experienced ‘wonder’ at the world around us. So he helped us recreate ‘wonderment’ – that aaaah moment when we realise that the world is full of wonder.
He then took us through some exercises on breath. Being a follower of Sufism, I know that breath is life and learning to control breathing is an important part of meditation. He showed us how to breathe deep and also how to stop breath for 5 to 10 seconds a few times a day which refreshes the brain. It was ‘breath-taking’ to see thousands of people breath in and out in sync.
Sri Sri has a great sense of humour and tends to giggle at his own jokes. Dressed entirely in white, he presents a gentle soul who is at peace with himself and the world around him.
He spoke about how most people suffer from Depression-Aggression and this can be overcome with focus on mind over body and spirituality. He explained that mediation is about expansion of the consciousness.
His next exercise was to make us aware of the ‘chakras’ in our body and he helped us breath in a way that we were conscious of the chakras. He explained that breath starts 12 inches below the nose and goes up to 12 inches above our head where the final chakra ends.
Then he led us all in silent meditation for 40 minutes and all you could hear in a huge hall full of people was the sound of breath in and out. It was exhilarating.
He told us that trying to do the impossible is a form of meditation. He spoke about chanting and shared studies that show people who chant have larger brains. He focused on the importance of sound and we chanted for a while.
He spoke about relationships and said that we tend to be readily angry but should use the 15 second challenge before responding to anything and anyone. Stop for 15 seconds before a knee-jerk response and it could change the response. (he teaches this to corporations in terms of response to emails, contracts etc and has been very effective). Instead of challenging others with an angry “why did you do that?”, he suggests that we change the sentence to a gentler “I wonder why/how you could do that?”
We saw a demonstration of the work Sri Sri does with youth in teaching them intuition. This program will be offered in schools very soon.
The next meditation we did was to the sound of water. He told us that since the body is 70% water, the spirit is connected to water so listening to water, rain, are all forms of meditation. We meditated for 30 minutes to the gentle sound of running water. It was also very inspiring.
Overall it was a very inspiring event and it helped focus on the inner self which is something we forget in our daily lives. I am very grateful for this opportunity and hope others will take time to learn as well.

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
Margaret Fuller

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On May 24, 2018 a violent mob of over 500 hate-filled extremists attacked and demolished a Mosque in the City of Sialkot in Pakistan. The Mosque belonged to the minority Ahmadi community.
Ahmadis make a tiny minority of the Muslim-majority Pakistan and are often targeted by Sunni militants who consider them heretics.
Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974, and since then, the hate by the religious extremists has only grown with time. Former president General Zia-ul-Haq had made it a punishable offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims or to refer to their faith as Islam.
The community is also banned from preaching as well as from travelling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. They are also not allowed to publish any material propagating their faith.
This violent act of destruction took place in the month of Ramadan in which fighting and violence are forbidden. Yet the hate-filled Sunni extremists who perpetrated this horrendous act disregarded an important tenet of their own faith. Reports say that local police and Municipal authorities were present at this attack but did not take any action against the violent mob.
The attackers argued that the Ahmadis cannot have a minaret on their Mosques which is why they destroyed it. Ironically these Muslim extremists do not know their own history. A minaret is not an essential part of a Mosque and was only added to the structure by the Omayyad’s.
The founder of Pakistan Mohammad Jinnah had declared at the inception of the country, that minorities would have full rights. Today we see that minorities are at risk of their lives.
I hope that all Pakistanis will come out on the streets and strongly condemn this appalling act of hate and violence in the name of the faith they profess to follow.

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