by Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan
Bismillah. I begin in the name of Allah.
Siblings in faith, and siblings in humanity, I’d like to begin with the Islamic greeting which translates – Peace and Blessing be upon you all – As Salaam Alaykum…
It was indeed an honour to be asked to speak with you all this evening and as I think thinking about what I could say to positively contribute to the discussion about Muhammad, my sister in law gave me the idea of sharing with you – what Muhammad means to me. Before I begin, I want to share my understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. When I asked Dr. Google for the meaning of the word Muslim, it told me that the word comes from the root word Salaam, meaning peace. So to be Muslim means to live in peace with ourselves and to live in peace within our communities. For me, this is the very essence of what it means to be Muslim.
The Muhammad I know, is the one who aligned himself with the most marginalized in his community. The Muhammad I know, would stand in solidarity with the indigenous communities of Canada and remind us all to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on this evening. The Muhammad I know, would ensure that we pay our respects to our indigenous Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.
The Muhammad I know, is the one who stood up every time his daughter(s) entered a room as a sign of respect for her status not only as his daughter, but as woman in his society. The Muhammad I know, would be a passionate advocate in the fight against violence against women in all our societies. The Muhammad that I know, would be outraged at those men who abuse their wives and daughters citing a perverted sense of honour and religious authority. The Muhammad I know, would be leading campaigns to ensure that we end violence against women in our families, in our communities and in our societies.
The Muhammad I know, was a person of principle who stood up against racism and ableism. The Muhammad I know, appointed Bilal, a man of African heritage with a speech disability, to lead in the call for prayer despite the climate of racism and ableism that prevailed.
The Muhammad I know, concerned himself with the affairs of those living in poverty and advocated for a more equitable distribution of wealth and an eradication of classism. The Muhammad that I know, would be active in campaigns to eradicate poverty at McMaster (because it does exist), poverty in Hamilton, across Canada and the world. The Muhammad that I know would acknowledge that poverty is indeed created by us, perpetuated by us and maintained by us.
The Muhammad that I know, taught us that the biggest jihad is not to take up arms, but to struggle with our own consciousness and desires of greed, wealth, power and control. The Muhammad that I know, would not rest easy knowing that one of his siblings in faith or in humanity was suffering because of war, poverty, injustice, violence, or any type of oppression for that matter. The Muhammad I know, would encourage us to think deeply about our purpose in life, our commitment to the principles he lived by and the commands of our Creator.
The Muhammad I know often retreated to Mount Hira to contemplate and reflect. The Muhammad I know thought carefully about the implications of his words and actions, and lived by the principle that often, silence is gold, and speech is silver and that the pen in mightier than the sword. The Muhammad I know, would be ashamed to witness those who claim to follow in his footsteps using violence to defend his honour. Rather, the Muhammad that I know, would encourage us to consider and reflect on the response of Balpreet Kaur, a young Sikh sister who was publicly ridiculed on Facebook and Twitter for adhering to the tenants of her faith. The Muhammad that I know would commend this young sister for her thoughtful and principled response and would urge us all to follow in her footsteps*.
The Muhammad that I know had good relations with his siblings in humanity. The Muhammad that I know, earned the titles trustworthy, and truthful through the demonstration of his actions and not his words. The Muhammad that I know, would encourage us all to work collaboratively as siblings in faith and in humanity for goals and principles that are universal and beneficial to all.
The Muhammad that I know, stood up against all the social ills that I have mentioned, and more, in a time and age where perhaps the language of discrimination, racism, sexism, ableism, classism, colonialism to name but a few, where not named in this way. But, the Muhammad that I know, lived, breathed and worked hard to create a foundation and a community where these words would or should have no meaning.
To my siblings in faith – let us reflect over our obligations as those who claim to follow in the footsteps of this great Muhammad and may this reflection lead us to a path of social consciousness, activism and leadership.
To my siblings in humanity – if the Muhammad that I speak of today, is not the Muhammad you know, I encourage you to look him up and see for yourself.
*This is a case that I urge you all to Google and read up about. This young women is a baptized Sikh women who defies the stereotype of femininity and looks different from most women. Her response to those who secretly took her picture and put it on Facebook, is jaw dropping, and inspiring to say the least. By staying true to the principles that her faith teaches her, the bullies in this case actually put out a public apology to Balpreet as her response to the incident, made them ashamed of their action.
Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan (niece of Building Bridges in WNY participant Dr. Fuad Sheriff)
Office of Human Rights & Equity Services
MUSC, Room 212
1280 Main Street West | Hamilton, ON L8S 4S4