Keynote Address by Goldy Hyder delivered at the
20th Annual Parliament Hill Eid-ul-Adha Celebrations 2014
I am Muslim.
My faith is a central part of my life, and it pains me to see it maligned by those who profess to share it.
With each passing day, we are inundated with stories about Muslim extremists who have committed acts of terror supposedly in the name of Allah.
Yet, the hateful views they espouse – and the horrific acts they commit – are entirely foreign to the teachings and tenets of the Quran as I know them.
The true Muslim faith is based on the values of peace, equality, respect and understanding – but that is not the message being shared with Canadians.
There may have been a time when we could take comfort in the fact that oceans separated us from the religious extremism that we saw on the evening news.
Indeed, millions of families have traveled across those same oceans to escape the intolerance and persecution that infected their homelands.
For my family and countless others, Canada was a country free from religious strife where people of all faiths could worship according to their own beliefs.
But the same forces of globalization which have brought nations closer together – from increased trade to instantaneous communication – have also made it easier for extremists to spread their views and act upon them.
We live in a world where historical national borders and traditional barriers to communication are no longer as rigid or as limiting as they once were.
Those who have a vested interest in promoting conflict and inciting hatred have proven to be very effective at spreading their message of misinformation.
They have mastered the online and social media tools that allow them to broadcast their propaganda from the sands of the Middle East to the suburbs of Western countries.
While Canada continues to be a model of tolerance in many respects, we have been shaken by reports that young Canadian Muslims have been successfully recruited by extremists.
When I first read that young men from Calgary were fighting and dying for the Jihadist cause in Iraq – I was stunned.
I was born in India, but raised in Calgary – and, so, I know firsthand what life can be like as a Muslim teenager and part of a minority religious community.
Looking back, I’m sure I experienced prejudice – even if I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time.
I also encountered ignorance – where others believed that because I was Muslim I must have certain archaic views about the differences between religion, race or gender.
Yet despite those experiences, I still cannot fathom how those feelings of teenage angst and anger could be corrupted so completely by lies and false faith.
As a father and uncle of Muslim teenagers, I have struggled with that question.
I have struggled with how to explain the inexplicable.
I have even prayed for answers.
In the end, I concluded that part of the problem is that we in the Muslim community are not doing enough to paint a positive picture of our faith – either through our words or our actions.
The distorted image we see on television is not the one which Muslims see when they look in the mirror – and we must do everything within our power to dispel it.
That may not be an unexpected answer from someone who leads a public relations firm; but, to be clear, this isn’t about spin or branding – it’s about education.
In the course of human history, education has always been the single greatest weapon in the fight against ignorance and prejudice – and it is a sword we have kept in its sheath.
I recognize that communications is just one of many fronts in the fight against extremism, but we must all recognize that it is the front on which the other side is winning.
Worse, it is a front on which we have yet to engage.
I am reminded of Edmund Burke who warned, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
There is nothing easier than turning a blind eye, keeping our heads down and not speaking out.
Over the past decade, there have been many occasions where I was embarrassed and ashamed by what I saw in the news – Muslims fighting Muslims, fighting Jews and fighting Christians.
I said nothing, and justified my silence with the logic of Cain Genesis (4:9): “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Was it my place to defend, condemn or explain the actions of a random Muslim a world away who spouted an extreme view or bastardized the Quran’s teachings?
Moreover, what could I do? What could any of us do?
I felt powerless – and used that powerlessness as an excuse.
In my heart, though, I knew it wasn’t right.
Why should I, or you, feel that way?
Why should any of us feel guilt for something that we abhor and with which we have no association?
Why should we remain idle when there are those who are trying to destroy everything that we believe – everything that we love?
The answer, of course, is we shouldn’t.
We must do more.
We should start by reading the lessons of the Quran.
Surah Ar-Ra’d (13:11) tells us: “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”
In essence, the power to change is found within all of us – both as individuals and as a community.
If we truly want to effect change in the world, each of us must start by leading change here at home.
Surah Ali Imran (3:103), in turn, says: “Hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.”
The Muslim community has become divided and I fear that too many of us have waited for some form of divine intervention to solve our problems.
We will neither achieve our full potential, nor reverse the progress being made by extremists, unless we can unite in common cause.
And, we cannot wait for leaders to emerge and to organize us – it is a critical task that we must undertake ourselves.
From Kiev to Cairo, from Halfaya to Hong Kong, we have seen disparate groups of people come together and create movements.
They harnessed the power of social media, and through force of will challenged the status quo.
The Muslim community, both here in Canada and abroad, must do the same.
There is strength in numbers, and we know that the vast majority of Muslims share our commitment to peace, equality, justice, respect and understanding.
That is our common cause, to unite around the true teachings of the Quran; to leverage our numbers and the talent of our people.
We must do so proudly and publicly.
I know that faith can be a very personal, and very private, part of one’s life.
We are unaccustomed to, and uncomfortable with, showing our faith outside of our homes and our Mosques – but these are extraordinary times.
The Muslim community has flourished in Canada – there are Muslim business leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, academics, artists, athletes and actors.
Many are open about their faith, but too many others are not – we all need to come forward and stand together.
Over two millennia ago, the Chinese philosopher Laozi wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Imagine the force we could unleash if prominent and accomplished Canadians of all walks of life took the single step of saying “I am Muslim.”
Imagine the impact of giving our faith a public face – one that is respected and admired not feared or despised.
Imagine how that force and impact would be multiplied if every Muslim across Canada each took a single step forward.
That step could be volunteering in their community.
It could be writing a blog, or teaching a child.
It could be running for public office.
It could be a random act of kindness to someone in need.
Like a single thread in a tapestry, those steps could bind together to create something strong and beautiful.
But those first steps must be part of a longer journey, and the Muslim community’s efforts must be part of a larger movement.
Being proud Muslims does not mean that we must act alone – we must do a better job of reaching out to the people of other faiths who share our values.
Religious and ethnic communities who are at war in other parts of the world live together in peace here in Canada.
We know there are now those who are trying to import their conflicts to Canada – those who are trying to bring their fights to our cities.
It is not enough for us to stop them here; we must export our example.
Every day, Canadian Muslims live, work and raise their families alongside friends and neighbours of different faiths.
Living in harmony as we do in Canada, despite our different religious beliefs, is living proof that it is possible anywhere else in the world.
Even with respect to our differing religious beliefs, I am always struck by the basic tenets that the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths share in common.
As the Canadian story tells us, there is more that unites us than divides us. Our job is to highlight the similarities, and to discount the differences.
To do so, we must begin by addressing the myths and misinformation about our religious beliefs.
When I was first told that the Association of Progressive Muslims wanted to honour me tonight, I had two thoughts.
First, I was deeply humbled – but questioned whether I was deserving of this recognition.
My family and I have been very blessed, and we have tried to share our blessings with those less fortunate.
We try to give back to our community, not for the credit, but because it is part of being good Canadians and good Muslims.
The service is the reward.
My second thought was about the name of the organization itself.
As many of you know, I first came to Ottawa to work with the Right Honourable Joe Clark – the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
To some of my Reform Party friends back in Alberta, the terms ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ were irreconcilable.
To my Liberal friends, the term “Progressive Conservative” was an oxymoron.
When we merged with the Canadian Alliance in 2004, there was a debate within PC Party ranks about whether dropping the term ‘Progressive’ would signal to voters that we had become right-wing fanatics.
My own view, then as it is now, is that the overwhelming majority of conservatives are inherently progressive.
I mention this because this event and this honour are the work of the Association of Progressive Muslims.
I am a great admirer of the association, and am deeply committed to its mandate – but I hope for the day when it can simply be the Association of Muslims.
I hope for a day when it is accepted that Muslims are inherently progressive, and that it is the extremists who are the exception.
Eid Mubarak to you all and thank you to Mobeen, Anees, the Board and Advisory Board of APMC and to each of you for attending – I am deeply humbled.
Let me end where I began, my name is Goldy Hyder.
I am Muslim.