By Raheel Raza
I was born an activist – at least my mother said so! In Pakistan where I was born and the Middle East where I lived before coming to Canada, it was unheard of at that time for a Muslim woman to be an activist. I grew up essentially in a culture where women were supposed to be seen and not heard and I really wanted to yell out loud against injustice.
On December 10, 1988 my family and I entered Canada as landed immigrants qualifying under the point system. The thing that struck me most about Canada was the freedom to express myself regardless of gender, class, colour or ethnicity. I also embraced the values of separation of church and state; freedom of voice and freedom of choice.
In Canada I re-learnt my inherited faith tradition by questioning and understanding it, rather than following by rote and becoming dogmatic. It dawned upon me that “spiritual’ was more important than the ‘ritual’.
I have two sons who we raised in Canada introducing them to the diversity of this multi-faith mosaic we now call home. We embraced the joys of living in a society where humanity and equality were respected. Every day was a new lesson and I revelled in interfaith dialogue.
In our earlier days in Canada, I took my boys back to Pakistan every year so they could see their heritage. One year they went to pray at a Mosque in Karachi, Pakistan and asked their father a question. “Why is it that this mosque is surrounded by armed guards here when in Canada we can go and pray wherever we want without fear?” Since that day my husband decided that he will only go back to his native land when he can answer this question for his sons.
For me the answer is very clear. Freedom. I found individual freedom in Canada and once I freed myself from the shackles of ignorance, forced religiosity and patriarchy, I wanted the same for other women.
I re-energized my activism and advocacy to start writing and speaking out about women’s rights. I was amazed to discover that this is a global issue and found support in many parts of society for my mission.
The other aspect of my advocacy was to speak out against Jihadism and Terrorism –two relatively new phenomenons for Canada. After 9/11 I published my first book Their Jihad – Not My Jihad. I got deeply involved with mainstream media and set up two organizations. One for youth – Forum for Learning and the other one is global called The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.
Two years ago I got involved with the documentary Honor Dairies that deals with honor based violence. It was the first film to break the silence on this controversial issue. Since then I’ve spent my time fulfilling our mandate to expose, educate and eradicate violence against women. I also work with UNHRC in Geneva to bring about change.
The Silent Revolution (en anglais seulement)
Honor Diaries - Official Trailer (en anglais seulement)