“Together we Triumph” – getting real and relevant.

Imam Hamid Slimi & Ontario Minister Chan presenting award to Nazim Baksh

Each year for the past five the Muslim Communities in the Greater Toronto Area hosts an Annual Appreciation Banquet.  This year it was held on 12th July 2009.  Awards and accolades are showered upon the first responders in emergency, security, medical and other service sectors that are essential to the proper functioning of the region.  Here Nazim Baksh made some pertinent remarks in his opening comments as Master of Ceremony that maybe of benefit to the Muslim Communities living in western liberal democracies.

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, esteemed guests, honorable ministers and members of the federal and provincial governments, and Imams…I greet you with the universal greeting of Islam…As Salam Wa Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuhu. ‘May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of God be upon all of you.’

If the Arabic is too much, please, feel free to use the shortened email version…’Salaam…or Peace.’  Muslims greet each other with Peace and part from each other with Peace.

I once heard that when European merchants in the heydays of commerce would bid farewell to Muslim traders, the entire community of Muslims would turn out to say goodbye with a ‘Salaam’ and European traders would likewise respond …‘Salaam.’ Over the years, Salaam got transformed into “So Long.” When I first heard it, I confess, it felt like a fairly plausible explanation of a very strange English term.

The universal elements in our languages connect us as human beings. Whether we speak Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Urdu or English we understand happiness and sadness, pain and joy, suffering and emancipation. These shared experiences come from the fact that as human beings we have many things in common.  And if this is true at a universal level it must likewise be true at the particular level.

Which brings me to why we are here this evening. We are here to award excellence in the field of education, to express our gratitude to those men and women who risk their lives for us and above all…to celebrate our shared experiences as citizens.

My friends, this is our city and our country, and excuse my evident bias, it is the best country, and if you take James Lovelock seriously, it could very well be the safest place in the world to live now and into the near future. Lovelock is the author of the “Vanishing Face of Gaia.”

Everything that happens in our city has an impact on us. When there is a fire we share the grief of those who might have lost life or property. When a teacher is found dead in the trunk of her car we demand answers. When there is a collision on our highways, and we are caught up in a traffic snarl that takes hours to clear, we assure ourselves that emergency teams are ahead trying to save lives and get dangerous drivers off the road.

Michael Jackson died more than two weeks ago and I still run into young Muslims men, even sisters in hijab, so touched by his songs, that they too are mourning his death.

That’s because we share a common space where we dream, hope, pray for peace and prosperity, for success at our jobs, and that we don’t lose them.

Deep down in our souls we know a prolonged strike by our city workers is having or will soon have an impact on all of us. We might not be sure how the Mayor and his team are handling negotiations, but we pray, as only citizens can, that it ends soon and people get back to their jobs.

That’s what a shared space means. It means working towards common goals and aspirations. It means being united by a shared destiny, whatever our cultural backgrounds might be.

We ignore this dimension of our lives at our own peril. An-Nu’man ibn Bashir, a companion of Prophet Muhammad (s), over 14-hundred years ago, narrated, that he heard the following from the Prophet, peace be upon him.

“The condition of a person who respects God’s limitations, are like passengers of a ship who drew lots to determine who gets seated on the deck and who will be lodged in the hull. When those in the hull needed drinking water they had to go up to the deck and this annoyed the group on deck. So those in the hull decided to drill a hole in their “Share” of the boat to secure their own source of water.”

After describing this scenario, the Prophet, peace upon him, said: “If the people on the deck left those in the hull to do what they intended, everyone would perish. However, if they intervened and prevented them from drilling a hole in the bottom of the boat, everyone would survive.”

From this single narration, Muslim theologians have deduced a Manifesto of Constructive Engagement;…A Social Contract, if you wish. Those who can ensure the safety of a vulnerable group are obligated to do so. Those who can rectify a wrong are likewise obliged to do so. Those who fear harm must act to prevent it and finally, if anyone fears they may create more harm by acting, they should be patient.

Integral to our shared experiences is the virtue of Gratitude…specifically to those tasked with responsibility to ensure safety, to prevent harm to life or property, to save lives, and to restore health. God reveals in the Quran, “should you be grateful, God will increase you in that which makes you even more grateful.” “Wa in shkartum la a-zee-danna-kum.”

We also wish to show our appreciation, not only to those tasked with providing security, emergency medical and fire services, but as well to those who are tasked with our education…teachers/principals, who work tirelessly to ensure our educational institutions serve the needs of our society.

The brilliant Malaysian philosopher, Syed Naquib Al-Attas, defined education as a quest for wisdom, and wisdom he said, is present when a person is doing his or her best for the happiness of others.

We are pleased to have with us this evening, a number of athletes competing for the upcoming special Olympics to be held in Windsor later this month. If you went to the games’ website, the motto is “Together we triumph.” And indeed, we do.

Nazim Baksh is an award winning senior producer at CBC,  he was a recipient of the GTA Muslim Community Award for his contribution to journalism and a son of Guyana.

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