Shahina Siddiqui: Islam and Islamaphobia

Heritage Group meeting of September 20, 2018.

Cover of Winnipeg Women magazine from Fall of 2012
Cover of Winnipeg Women magazine from Fall of 2012

Shahina Siddiqui co-founded the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA). She served as volunteer executive director for ISSA USA and ISSA Canada from 1999 to 2003, and continues to serve as president and volunteer executive director of ISSA Canada.  Shahina is a freelance writer, author, spiritual counselor, speaker and educator.

Shahina has received many awards. Among them, the YMCA/YWCA (Winnipeg) Peace Medal 2002 for her work since September 11 in fostering understanding between Muslims and other religious and cultural groups in Winnipeg, the 2010 Grass Roots Women of Manitoba Award in recognition of her social justice activism, the 2012 Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contributions to Canada, Daw Net’s 2014 Civic Courage Award, the 2015 Joan Melonson Award for her commitment to peace and justice, and the 2016 Canadian Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year award.

She founded the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute and is one of the founding members of Canadian Muslim Leadership institute. She sits on the National Advisory Board for the Canadian Association for Diversity as well as on the RCMP Commissioner’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, D-Division, and Manitoba. Shahina is senior board member of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. She is also Chair of Islamic History Month, Canada.

Shahina has served on numerous boards and committees in order to build bridges between groups to help preserve human rights, develop cultural competency and mutual understanding. She has been profiled and recognized in magazines, newspapers and books. Some of these are:  Courageous Crusader, Winnipeg Women, Fall 2012; Leading by Example, The Prime Times, October 28, 2010; We Chose Canada- Eleven Profiles from Manitoba’s Mosaic, Lesley Hughes; Words to Lead By, Leadership Winnipeg; and A Place to Call Home, Canada West Foundation, Sheila O’Brien and Shawn Stirrett.

(Taken from

Arabic As-Salaam-Alaikum

Leslie Walsh read Shahina Siddiqui’s extensive bio above as an introduction to our kick-off September meeting. Shahina’s response? That the only thing we needed to know about her was that she was a Grandmother. And with a greeting from Islam, “As-Salaam-Alaikum” (“peace be upon you”), she challenged our members to ask “everything they wanted to ask about Islam and were afraid to ask”.  She said she has probably heard it all and would not be offended by the questions.

Below is a summary of her talk:

  • Book Cover: Canadian Muslims: A Rich Heritage and Promising FutureIslam is an Arabic word that consists of 2 root words:  Peace and Submission.
  • There are 1.6 billion followers of Islam in the world, 1.2 million in Canada, and four to six million in the U.S.A.  Muslims in Canada come from 54 different cultures.  There is huge diversity in the community:  those who are devout, those who occasionally practice, and “Christmas or Eid (an Islamic holiday) only” type people.  This adds to the richness.
  • The binding force is the fundamental belief, “I bear witness that there is only one God which is Allah”.  Allah has no gender, is unique and can’t be described in human terms, is absolute, and has no parents, children, or human characteristics.  Allah means God in English.
  • Islam is about an individual’s relationship with the creator.  “If God is merciful then I have to know Allah through his attributes”.  The 99 attributes are described in the Quran.
  • Mohammed was the last and final messenger of Allah.  If anyone claims to be a messenger then they are a false prophet.  Abraham is the father of the faith.  Once someone believes and proclaims these things then they become a Muslim.
  • Muslims share six precepts:
    1. Belief in all the prophets; God is Allah, the first prophet was Adam and the last prophet was Mohammed.
    2. Belief that angels are the messengers of Allah
    3. Belief in the revelations of the Quran, the most important writing of the religion.
    4. The Quran is original and has been preserved, it has not been altered.
    5. Belief in the day of judgement, heaven and hell, and the mercy of the creator.
    6. Everything happens by the will of the creator; the results are in God’s hands, no ifs ands or buts. If something happens Allah knows why.  Every prophet was tried (tested).
  • The Quran lists 25 prophets by name. There are 100’s and 1000’s of others.
  • Jesus was a prophet who was a “social worker par excellence”.
  • Education of people to Islam is very important.  If people choose to hate once educated then that is their problem.  The internet promotes hatred.  The generation before us said “never again”, but it is happening again.

rudolf_langer / Pixabay

Following her 15-minute talk on Islam and being Muslim, Shahina continued to educate us by answering our questions.  Here are some highlights:

  • There are a number of similarities between Muslims and Christians.  The differences are man-made.
  • 632 AD was the birth of the prophet Mohammed.  There are many similarities between Aboriginal and Muslim tradition.  Aboriginal tradition is oral there is no book.  Muslim tradition is written in the Quran.
  • The first Muslim migration took place during Mohammed’s lifetime, with his followers fleeing from persecution to Ethiopia where the King was Christian. There is a strong relationship with Christianity. Mosques and Churches are sanctuaries.
  • When confronted with, “Go back to where you came from”, Shahina responds, “Yes, you too”, as only Aboriginal Canadians are natives.
  • Canada needs people.  Canada gives support for one year, however trauma doesn’t exhibit until the second year of immigration when there is no support. Refugees start their life in Canada with a loan. They must pay to come to Canada. Many are still paying off their loans. Canada’s support systems need to be overhauled.
  • ISSA advocates for Muslims. The system is very complicated for people who do not speak English. Integration is ideal, but can take ten years. Refugees do not choose to leave their countries.
  • In response to the suppression of women:  In Canada 30,000 women sleep in shelters; porn and sexual abuse are all suppression of women.
  • The Muslim faith is demonized.  Muslims are all lumped together.  The media have an agenda and 70% of media coverage of the faith is negative.
  • The Taliban and ISIS did not exist when Islam began.
  • “When you take the life of one person, you take all of humanity.  When you save one life, you save humanity”.
  • In response to someone who hated Americans. In Pakistan the Americans  launched a drone attack that killed fifteen members of one family.  We must look at the cause of behaviour, not the symptoms.
  • Shahina said she dresses conservatively and she is not “oppressed, suppressed or depressed”; it is her choice.
  • Muslim women are strong.  Shahina gave the example of Mary (Jesus’s mother) who dressed modestly and was a single Mom.
  • Muslims believe in salvation through deeds and the mercy of the creator.  People are forgiven by God but only if they have hurt someone and have sought forgiveness. Some are “too proud to seek forgiveness and too stingy to give it.”
  • When Muslims leave someone, they will say, “Please forgive me for whatever I have said or done to hurt you”.
  • Mohammed by definition was a feminist.  Husbands had no claim on a woman’s inheritance.  They were no man’s property and didn’t have to take their husband’s name.  Colonization was what changed this.
  • ISSA strives to dispels myths about Islam. 22 guides have been written and made available. e.g. Islam and Muslims: What Police Officers Need to Know; Guidelines for Health Care Workers – Muslim Patients.
  • October is Islamic History month.  People can go and learn at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre on October 14th. There will be 20 tea kiosks at and a documentary on the first Mosque in Manitoba. There is a $12 entry fee.
  • Works by authors Karen Armstrong and John Esposito were recommended, as were PBS videos on Mohammed and Islam.

Categories: All, Guest Speakers

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