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Muslims of Canada (MoC) is an initiative started by AMPAC which evolved from our initial chapter called Muslims of Alberta (MoA). MoC showcases Muslim talent from all walks of life and features people who have had a positive impact upon the greater community we live in.
“My name is Mergim Binakaj. It’s an Albanian name. Binakaj means ‘of twins’ so basically some ancestor of mine must have been a twin! My first name is Mergim. ‘Mergim’, translates as ‘to be outside your homeland’. It was because my parents had escaped to Germany as refugees in 1993. My mother was pregnant with me and she had to sneak across the Czech border to family-friends waiting on the other side in Germany. What does that mean to me? Oh man, I’m just really thankful that I have this name, because to me it just seems so oddly fitting with who I am becoming, and have become, thus far. To me that always becomes an opportunity to bring up who I am, bring up my culture, bring up my faith. It’s a position of privilege, and I think to me actually, I treat it like a responsibility. It’s come to a point now where it’s important for me to be overt with my Islam. There are folks who have a narrow perception of what other Muslims are like.” 1/2 Mergim Binakaj is an Edmonton-based human rights activist, proud mipster (Muslim/hipster, although he’d never admit it), and a medical student at the University of Alberta.
“My name is Sheriza. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, born and raised. I am a full-time nurse and a single mom to a three-year-old. Something I struggle with about being a single mom would be trying to coordinate a routine to work for both when she’s with myself and when she’s with her dad. It’s tough trying to keep her on the same path and helping her grow developmentally, reaching those certain milestones. To some might not be the biggest thing, but to a mom, it is the greatest thing on the earth when she reaches each new step. The best thing I find with being a single mom is knowing that I can provide for my daughter, knowing that I can be strong and work hard for us. By the grace of Allah, I’m able to do what I need to do so that I can guide her and put her on the right path. To teach her about Islam. Another big thing that I absolutely love about being a mom, is the help that I get from those that have been part of my life. I would definitely not be where I am today without my own parents, they have given me everything that I could possibly ask for and my only wish is that I’m able to do the same for my daughter.” Sheriza Hussein resides in Edmonton Sheriza is a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a pediatric nurse. She is currently working to further her nursing education.
Huthayfah Penney “My parents weren’t doing well when I first started training at this gym. They weren’t able to pay the gym fees, so I started paying for them with my own job. My coach started noticing that. First he wanted to see if I was willing to pay. I said ‘Yeah, don’t worry about it, it will be okay. I’ll pay in like, portions.’ He saw me working hard in training and he said ‘You know what, if at the end of every training session you mop up the mats and everything you don’t have to worry about paying me anymore, just clean up the mats right after the training session and we’re even.’ Now it has grown to the point where he is paying me to teach at his gym.” Huthayfah Penney- World Champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Sogand Zakerhaghighi “My name is Sogand Zakarhaghighi. I am an Iranian, Canadian. I am 28 years old, almost 29. I have been living in Edmonton since 2008. That’s a long time. And this is home to me. I was born in Iran, lived there until I was 6, then I moved to Toronto until when I was 11, then I moved to the states and lived there until I was 13, then I have been here since. When I moved from Iran to Toronto, I got bullied pretty awfully because I couldn’t speak English. I tried to make friends everywhere I went, but I couldn’t speak, so they used that as ammo to bully me. It was hard, but the ESL system here is great and you learn English here within months, so it didn’t last long. But it was indeed a problem. When people move to Canada, despite a proficiency in English, accents can become barriers. We moved to America after 9/11. Because I wasn’t an identifiable Muslim. We were in Phoenix, Arizona, and there wasn’t really a large Muslim population there anyways, so we just fit in with the Hispanic population. I am trying to change people’s perception of Islam, seriously. I think that I am not a cookie-cutter Muslim and I like it that way so when people meet me, they have no one to compare it to. For me, I try to embody Islam in the things that I do, and I am really a big fan of showing the manners, the mercy and the compassion. I think that is so important and that is what attracted people to the message of Rasulullah (SAWW) in the first place and that’s the angle I try to take it and I love doing things and I am a hijabi and people are like, ‘Oh.’ I love to feed on that. In a way, I am in a lane by myself. People stare a lot. I don’t really know what to say but given that I am trying to be a positive person, I just think they like the way I look. Perhaps they’re confused but not in a bad way. My grandma always used to say, ‘If you go into a garden, you look at the flowers.’ [Flowers] are an attractant and you look at them. People know hijabis exist and I know that I look different so its attractive to them, either positively or negatively. We live in a secular country and I have chosen to cover, so I already know people are going to stare. Sometimes, when I am having a bad day, it gets on my nerves, but then I always think, ‘Sogand, you’re having a bad day, and you’re attracting negative energy from the universe, so change it.’ I always try to look at it positively, because it is what it is. I chose to be this way. Nobody forced me to wear a hijab. I decided back in high school that I wanted to wear a hijab. I live in a country where people are going to ask because they lack knowledge on the hijab, and I actually like that. It’s a good place to start. Instead of them making their own assumptions or going on Google, they are trying to get my perspective, so yes, people do ask but I take that as an opportunity to educate them. I am choosing to be this way. Perhaps if I were in an Islamic country, I wouldn’t have to explain myself and those opportunities would be missed. Because not everyone who wears it knows why they wear it and not everyone who wore it chose to wear it. I have that privilege and I speak on it. I have never seen the warmth like I have experienced in Edmonton. I didn’t really feel the warmth of community like I have felt in Edmonton. I feel like it’s in our principles, it is in the way we interact. Like just look at the elections that happened and how tight knit we were and how close-knit we were here in Edmonton. And you see that cops have coffee with civilians and politicians will meet with you literally anywhere to talk about your problems. [Edmonton] has a mayor who is readily available, and you can talk to whenever you feel like it. You have MPs that you can just call their office for anything and these are accessibilities that I have not found in all the other parts of the world I have lived in and I feel like the people use their power and their privilege for the most part well, and they are aware of it, rather than being in positions of power and not doing anything about it. And so, Edmonton, when I talk about that warmth, its that inclusion and if say, ‘Hey, I want to make a change,” the resources to do so are accessible to me.” Sogand Zakerhaghighi is a 28 year old Iranian Canadian Shi’a Muslim. She’s an advocate for mental health and wellness and holds a Master’s degree in Counselling. She is pursuing an Online Therapy certificate in order to deliver therapeutic services to those who are unable to access traditional forms of therapy. She’s an ally for access to resources for all persons and resides in Edmonton.
“My name is Moe Rahall. I was born in Lebanon, came here at the age of two, and then we lived in Cassiar, BC for four years. My dad worked in the Asbestos Mines and then we moved here in 1992 and have been here since then, on the north-side of Edmonton. I’m the co-owner of Shadified Salon and Spa, a family business. My brother Shadi runs it. I am a family man. I have three kids, two boys, one girl, and my wife. I love to spend time with the kids. Now that I’ve got the kids into hockey as well. So, I’ve been taking them to hockey quite a bit! Doing my hairstyles and obviously barbering is my expertise. Now though, I’m more in the managing and business side of the salon than cutting hair. I started off actually as a hairstylist first then moved away from that and went into barbering. And then [Shadified Salon and Spa] started expanding from one location to, as of now, we have five locations and operate with over 60 employees.
Mim Fatmi “Before I went into medicine, I kind of had this idea that yes, I wanted to ‘help’ people and be in this noble profession. I didn’t really have much of an idea beyond that. In my undergrad I did a lot of neuroscience and psychology related courses and I just fell in love with those, so it was just lucky that I got into medicine and I found psychiatry as a discipline that combines those two fields. My favourite aspect of psychiatry is the advocacy for people who are generally marginalized and generally stigmatized. Anybody with a mental illness automatically has stigma against them, but in addition to that, there are substance users who are completely misunderstood, and addictions are completely misunderstood.” Mim Fatmi, Psychiatry Resident at the University of Calgary
Zaharadeen Jimoh “Zaharadeen means “Flower of Islam.” For me it means being that fragrance that people miss after the flower wilts. I understand that a flower has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, there’s a fragrance that is there that will kind of disappear. So, I am Nigerian. I am a mix of Yoruba and Estako (Edo), so I am kind of a weird one. Most Nigerians in the city, especially Muslims, are of one descent, so Yoruba. Whereas, I’m of two.I was born in Nigeria, and then, I moved to Kuwait for about two years, and then I moved to Medicine Hat, way down in the south of Alberta until 2013, so nine years there. I have been there ever since. Medicine Hat is an interesting place in the sense that there’s not a lot of Muslims. There’s only one mosque in the entire city of 70,000. It’s a really small city. Most of the Muslim kids, everyone knows each other… well when I was there everyone knew each other. It is kind of bigger now. It was a really tight-knit community. If there’s a problem with one family, everyone knows about it and everyone goes to help that family. Or if someone is having a new baby, everyone in the city knows and goes to celebrate. Zaharadeen Jimoh is an Edmonton-based youth and an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta. Zaharadeen is the current Vice-President of the Al-Rashid Youth Club and current Chair of the MAC Youth Club and member of Momintum.
Mahmood Bachh “I am of, predominantly, east-Asian heritage. My parents are from Kashmir which, though I hate to say it, has been a disputed territory. See, the history of Kashmir actually is very similar to the history of Palestine. It is occupied. It was once an independent land before the British came, but it was torn into three pieces. When the British withdrew from the land, they left the state in chaos. There has been a blatant disregard to the Kashmiri people’s human rights and basic human dignity. Kashmir is currently experiencing the consequences of the dispute and my family personally has suffered a lot in this fight of controlling resources, of my state, of my land. I was born in Saudi Arabia, to parents who are from Kashmir, and I grew up in Canada. When it comes to matters of identity, I became lost and confused as a child. Saudi Arabia didn’t accept me as a person…as a citizen. I have never really seen enough of Kashmir, except for the stories and songs and poems, which I grew to love. It ate me up inside, because I didn’t know what that culture is all about. Canada never really accepted me; I didn’t fully identify with that culture. It has been very hard for me to kind of settle on a thought of my identity. I came to Canada, when I was about 12 years old, which was about 11 years ago now. I have come to think of Canada as a salad bowl, with all its dressing and, lettuce, and carrots, and cucumbers; everyone that’s in Canada has their own story…their own flavor. Growing up in Canada was challenging. One of my first experiences of Canada came as a result of the classroom, through being a student. I came in the middle of the semester and the first thing I saw after the airport and our home, was the school. It was winter, so everyone was covered up and it was cold. It wasn’t quite ‘dead winter’ so there wasn’t snow around, but it was getting there. Getting adjusted to the classroom was the biggest shock for me. Most people would assume it is the weather, right? Saudi Arabia is hot and Canada is cold, but, in my case, it was really the culture of the classroom. Growing up in our community, back home, our communities are tighter. In Saudi Arabia, I wasn’t recognized as a citizen. Our communities tended to congregate in homogenized, east-Asian, or Indian communities. When I came here, I lost that connection. One neighbor doesn’t know another neighbor and we would be right across from each other but it would be months before we talked to each other, so that was another shock, that made me feel that I could do better, and so when the winter came and I realized that shoveling snow for money is a thing here, it became one of the things that I did too. I went to my neighbours house and said “Hey, hi, can I shovel your driveway,” and you know, we built a relationship from that, and we’re still in touch right now, even though that was in Calgary and we are in Edmonton now, but we still maintain contact just because I somehow had the guts to be like I don’t want to lose the connection to the people around me and I took that step. I am proud to be Canadian, one hundred percent. I am actually really glad that we settled in Alberta, just because of the economic and cultural diversity that we have here. We have a big health industry as well as a big oil and gas industry, although we did previously rely heavily on oil, we are starting to realize that is putting all the eggs in one basket. We are diversifying our province. I see a lot more opportunities here, so I’m glad that I came to Alberta, but you know what? Alberta is much more than its economic benefit to me. My core value of volunteering is really put to the test in Alberta. The diversity in Alberta is amazing, and that just increases opportunity for me to drive up that benefit for the people around me. I feel that I have the potential to create so much benefit in this world. And it’s not something that I am mentioning out of pride, it’s just if I have that capacity and if I don’t reach that potential or fulfill that capacity… I would feel as if it were an insult to my ability, my God-given ability to do exactly that, to create benefit for others where there is none, or where there is very little, so volunteering is something that I take very close to my heart.” Mahmood is an educator, mentor, teacher, and currently a business student whose focus is on learning entrepreneurship and community-building. He is the Vice-Chair of the MAC Youth Club Men’s Committee. — with Mahmood Bachh at MAC Islamic Center.
Aisha Ali “Aisha Ali is a twenty three year old Registered Respiratory Therapist and mother to a three-and-a-half year old boy. “My father passed away in July 2018, then I experienced this urge to write. So, I started writing again. My first poems were for him and it really became a means of release for me. A means for me to express how I was feeling and especially after having a son and after having somebody in your life pass away and having all these responsibilities-it’s hard to stop and take time to actually breathe. To me, my writing was a means for me to breathe, in a very private manner that nobody else would really like judge me for, I would say it started. My poetry- I’m putting it out there so that- it’s a means of healing for me and I hope that somebody can see themselves through my pain. Also, it could be a means of healing for someone else. So, once I put it out there, it’s out there. Whatever they think of you is not you, you shouldn’t want their affirmation or their validation, you should have that within yourself.”
Wedad Amiri “I name every hijab design after a strong Muslim woman, but for my last line I named them after strong Indigenous women. Just like Muslim women, I feel Indigenous women share a similar stereotype. No one talks about the incredible things they do, and often, they just focus on negativity.” Wedad Amiri, Edmonton based entrepreneur – Owner of Afflatus Hijab
Anam Kazim MLA Anam Kazim is one of the youngest provincially elected Muslim women in Canada’s history: “…There been many events promoting interfaith harmony among different groups in Calgary and I have been working very closely with the Calgary Interfaith Council. Every time I’m interacting with the Calgary Jewish community, by going to their events, visiting their facilities, or working with their community leaders and religious leaders… it has been tremendous. It has been productive, very fruitful. All of the decisions are all about making our communities stronger, making sure people are connected with each other. It’s all about connections, community building, community strengthening. In the Alberta legislative assembly, I was able to present a motion to declare the first week of February as the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week and that motion was passed in the house unanimously.”
Adam Zainul “As a person who is born and raised in Canada, you learn about hockey at a very young age and it’s something that you really identify with. During the playoffs in 2016-2017 everybody wore an Oilers jersey or a shirt or tried to represent the team. It’s for the love of this game. I’m proud to call myself a Canadian and if people don’t agree with that because of the colour of my skin, then I’ll have to disagree with them in kind. The game of hockey; it’s part of Canada. For me personally, it’s almost like meditation, it rehabilitative, to be honest. I’m a goalie and it’s fifty percent physical and fifty percent mental. It’s all about getting into the right headspace, just leaving all your problems outside and focusing on the game. I feel that with minorities in sports, people like me feel that we’re inspiring a whole new group of kids to play. Like for example, there is an [Edmonton] Eskimo, Adarius Bowman. Bowman became Muslim recently. At first when he went to the mosque people didn’t know who he was.Then, they got to know him and suddenly elders, full grown men with beards and wearing [cultural clothing] were asking about the CFL. Checking out the Eskimos, right? Honestly, I think it’s awesome when I go to the Mosque because I always wear a jersey for every Oilers game. People think I’m crazy, but that’s just what I do. I wear a jersey every game day regardless of what’s happening, unless it is a wedding. Sometimes I go to the Mosque and then an [Elder] will come up to me and say, ‘So what do you think of a McDavid’s game last night?’ The first time, it caught me off guard, but that’s the beauty of hockey. We all bond together over hockey; we don’t care about your age or where you’re from. We don’t care about differences, we don’t care about the colour of your skin. We just care that you’re rooting for the same team. It’s a unifying thing. Hockey is a game that has made a lot of friends for me over the years. I want kids in hockey to persevere. I want them to try their hardest; and if anyone says anything to you, I want to motivate you to work harder to try to break those barriers because we need more Muslims and ethnic minorities in sports.” Adam Zainul was born and raised in Alberta. He is psych aide by profession with a passion for all things hockey! — in Edmonton, Alberta.