Honourable Peter Milliken’s Speech at the Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada’s
16th Annual Eid-ul-Fitr Dinner held at Parliament Hill on September 22, 2010
Thank you, Kevin for that kind introduction.
Fellow parliamentarians, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et messieurs, it gives me great pleasure to be with you here this evening and accept this special award. Assalaamu Alaykum! And a special hello to my fellow Kingstonians in the room.
It is indeed an honour to address you on what is sure to be a pleasant evening together.
I am told that the first official Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations were held on Parliament Hill in May 1996. Parliament being a place for dialogue among citizens from different ethnic backgrounds, as well as different parts of Canada, and the world, it is the perfect setting for such an event. It is therefore most fitting that we are gathered here again tonight, to celebrate “the festival of Fast-Breaking” and feast together.
For many of you, the month of Ramadan is a special time to purify the spirit through fasting, charity and extra prayers. It is a time to express gratitude for the many blessings we often take for granted throughout the year.
The mandate of both the Ontario and Canada Progressive Muslims organisations, that of promoting understanding and mutual respect among all faith groups and bring people from all backgrounds together to live in peace and harmony is an appropriate place for me to begin my remarks this evening.
I am grateful that such organisations exist in Canada, as they prepare young people to get involved in the Canadian political process at Municipal, Provincial and Federal levels, In addition, they undertake social, educational and economic projects for the uplift of Muslims in Canada and encourage the young to actively participate in community affairs.
Your efforts have already borne fruit right here on Parliament Hill. In 1997, at the age of 25 Rahim Jaffer became the first Muslim to be elected to the House of Commons. Today, we have one sitting MP who is Muslim, Ms. Yasmin Ratansi.
Islamic culture has given the world magnificent architecture; timeless poetry, beautiful music and elegant calligraphy.
As the President of the United States , Barack Obama reminded us during his first official visit to Egypt : “Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
At no point can Canada afford to lose sight of that tolerance. Islam has long been a part of Canada’s story. Through our policy of multiculturalism, Islamic culture has flourished across Canada since the immigration of large numbers of Muslims in the mid-1960s. According to the 2001 census, there are roughly 600 thousand Muslims living in Canada who consider themselves as Muslim-Canadians. Today that number is closer to 900 thousand.
This growing community has contributed greatly to the makeup of Canada as well as our success as a country, whether in the fields of entertainment, academia or politics. Canada ’s unique multicultural society has enabled Muslim-Canadians to start businesses, teach at our Universities, and excel in our sports arenas. Let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of Canada .
Through dialogue Canadians have had the opportunity to get to know their fellow citizens and form their own opinions based on mutual respect. Dialogue has always been a Canadian characteristic. Our commitment to dialogue, justice and compassion can go a long way to help Canadians of all faiths overcome their challenges.
Although Canada has come a long way to make Muslims feel at home in our country, we must work harder to maintain a dialogue, through frank, yet respectful discussions. There must be a continuous effort to listen to one other; to learn from one other; to respect one another, and to seek common ground.
The CBC ’s situation comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie is an attempt to build these bridges of understanding. This comedy, familiar to many of you, depicts Muslims as ordinary Canadians interacting with other ordinary Canadians.
A survey of adult Muslims conducted across Canada in December 2006 asked questions about their experiences living in Canada. At the time, 94% of those surveyed were proud to be Canadian, citing as reasons the policies of democracy, multiculturalism, peace, and humanitarianism. When asked what they liked the least, the majority replied – not unlike many ordinary Canadians: “weather and taxes”.
You should be proud of who you are and proud of your history, in order to become leaders in our country.
In the words of Canadian author Sheema Khan, “Just as the Wizard of Oz characters discovered their own heart, intelligence, and courage, Muslims, too, need to uncover their own potential.”
Given the Koran’s overarching messages – to strive towards improving conditions for all of humanity, and that the essence of human dignity is fundamental to Islam, human rights are a natural starting point for a common understanding between Canada and Muslims worldwide. Furthermore, given the great emphasis Islam places on education, charity and justice, there are ample opportunities for Canadian Muslims to work with their fellow citizens and build a better Canada. Over time, Muslims living in Canada have been doing just that and Canada is a better country for it. We can, and in my opinion, we must continue to learn from the Muslim approach.
You have much to offer our country and many of you have already been contributing to our nation. I applaud the accomplishments of Ms. Tyseer Aboulnasr, recipient of the Order of Ontario and dean of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri, President and Vice-Chancellor of York University, and Imam Dr. Zijad Delic, who works to build bridges between the Canadian Muslim community and mainstream Canadian society. Other prominent Muslims in the Canadian community, such as Ms. Monia Mazigh, and Mr. Haroon Siddiqui have not only contributed to the fabric of our country but they have also led us to reflect on our fundamental Canadian values. They, like so many others, have been examples to their fellow Canadian citizens and proof that they too can become instruments of change.
In my career as Speaker, one of the most rewarding parts of my role has been the opportunity to meet with other parliamentarians, both in Canada and around the world and discuss issues of common concern.
As Presiding Officer of the House of Commons, I often receive foreign visitors on Parliament Hill, from Ambassadors to heads of state and government to fellow speakers, as well as parliamentary delegations from foreign parliaments. In addition, I regularly lead delegations composed of Members to parliaments in other countries, in order to meet with our international counterparts. I have led a number of these all-party parliamentary delegations since becoming Speaker, some of them to the Muslim world, and I have found them all very enriching learning experiences.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate how pleasant it is to be here this evening with friends and colleagues from different backgrounds to celebrate “the festival of Fast-Breaking” together. I would also like to once again thank the Association of Progressive Muslims in Canada for honouring me this year with the APMC Parliament Hill Award. Thank you for your attention, I look forward to conversing with many of you over the course of the evening.