Roundtable on Freedom of Religion or Belief: Global Affairs Canada, with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief: Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Author: Alia Hogben, Executive Director of CCMW

AliaGiuliana Natale, Director, Inclusion and Religious Freedom, Office of HR, Freedoms and Inclusion.

Thank you for including our organization, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, in this important discussion.

We welcome Dr Shaheed to Canada and though today we are focusing on issues abroad, I am sure you will be interested, at another date, about what is happening within our country in matters related to Religious Freedom.

Our organization, founded in 1982, has two over – arching objectives. We assist Canadian Muslim women and their families to integrate and participate fully in all aspects of living. Simultaneously, we advocate for an egalitarian, compassionate interpretation of Islam.

We try to achieve results in our projects by adhering to our guiding principles which include our commitment to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the U.N Declaration of Human Rights.

It is a matter of pride that in Canada, belief in diversity allows us to foster our individual and collective identities.

Although we may focus on Canadian Muslim women we strongly believe that diversity does not mean the development of separated communities, either by religion, ethnicity or race. That is why we collaborate with national and international organizations, within Muslim communities, and with groups which uphold human rights for both men and women.

What are the challenges your particular religious community is facing abroad?

As you know there is the concept of the “ummah” amongst Muslims, which binds Muslims all over the world into one community.  The concept has wonderful aspects but it also separates Muslims from others. It is this concept which has led to young people going abroad to fight alongside their fellow Muslims who are suffering.

As Canadian Muslims we are very worried about the racism and hatred targeting Muslims in Europe which is resulting in a lack of integration, suppression of their rights and actions which are damaging to all.

Now the American elections are allowing racism and hatred against Muslims to become a significant factor.

The consequences of the terrible wars in the Middle East are tragic for Muslims as well as for religious minorities. We can also discuss the rapid changes which are occurring with the migration and upheaval of Muslims. As you know Canada has brought in over 25,000 Syrian refugees and their adaptation is of concern to all of us.

Along with our concerns for Muslims, we are just as dismayed about religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. We cannot protect our own rights without also being concerned about the rights of others. After all we are a minority in many countries and how can we not reach out to others who are suffering because of their minority status?

It is tragic that Christians in Pakistan, atheists in Bangladesh, Yazidis in Iraq, or Baha’is in Iran are denied their human rights as citizens of their countries.

In many Muslim majority countries there is so much animosity amongst Muslims themselves with one group calling the other non-Muslim. This is so contradictory to the teachings of Islam but few leaders speak against any of these discriminatory acts.

How have you and your organization worked to address these challenges?

CCMW is a member of two international networks – MUSAWAH AND WOMEN LIVING UNDER MUSLIM LAWS. These two groups have a wide membership and we are involved in creating changes to Muslim family laws to ensure women’s rights.

As we espouse an egalitarian interpretation of Islam, we have create partnerships with scholars and disseminate this research.

How could the Gov’t of Canada and/or the U.N support you to address the challenges your community is facing abroad?

A recent example of the help provided by the Government of Canada has been in the case of Professor Homa Hoodfar. CCMW along with other groups advocated for Homa and were encouraged by the actions of our government.

There are other issues which go beyond our borders such as forced marriages, or female genital cutting or mutilation and we would like more collaboration between the government and community organizations on such issues.


Sadly, I find there is a great lack of international leadership within countries and with their relationship with others. For example, what kind of leadership can we expect from one group, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which claims to speak for 57 Muslim majority countries?


My question to you as the representative of the U.N. is how do you build partnerships so that not only religious freedom but other rights such as gender equality are protected in individual states?