Long quiet on political issues, Canadian Muslims are speaking out in a rare display of public activism to help Nazia Quazi, who has been detained in Saudi Arabia since 2007 due to a controversial family law.
It is Saturday morning in a downtown restaurant, and Shahla Khan Salter sits with three other local Muslims. They’ve been brought together by a 24-year-old Indo-Canadian who has been trapped in Saudi Arabia since 2007 due to a practice that requires women to have a male guardian's permission to travel. Ms. Khan Salter has assembled the group to brainstorm ways to help the young woman, Nazia Quazi, return to Canada.
While Ms. Quazi’s case is unusual, what it may reflect about changes within Western Muslim communities is equally noteworthy. Historically, Western Muslims have been apathetic when it comes to civic engagement, but increasingly Islamic communities in the West, like those helping Quazi, are beginning to buck this trend.
“I definitely think that there is increased civic engagement,” says Nadia Roumani, director of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, which helps Muslim leaders and non-profit organizations develop the skills to get involved in anything from politics and education to interfaith work. “It’s not pervasive, but there is a critical mass.”
For years, the Muslim community has remained silent about many political issues. In 2003, for example, when Maher Arar, a Muslim-Canadian, revealed his story of rendition and torture in Syria, Canadians were outraged. They watched his press conference by the millions, the media wrote about his case almost daily, and the government eventually awarded him $10 million in compensation for his suffering. But the Muslim community’s response throughout his ordeal was mostly muted.
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