Opinion Ottawa Citizen | Jaffer: A Canadian Ismaili-Muslim senator marks 50 years of connecting values

Being an Ismaili Muslim woman is a very important part of my identity. On numerous occasions I have risen in the chamber of the Canadian Senate, on conference stages and in media interviews and proudly spoken about my Ismaili heritage. I do this because I have an immense debt of gratitude to the community and His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims around the world. I believe I owe my success, honours, awards and milestones of my life to the values instilled in me as an Ismaili Muslim.

Recently, the Ismaili Muslim community in Canada marked the 50th anniversary of its substantial presence in Canada. In August 1972, Idi Amin announced that the 60,000 South Asians in the country were to leave Uganda within 90 days. My father, Sherali Bandali Jaffer, as a former member of Parliament, had to flee earlier as his life was in danger. The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the community, and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, came to our rescue with the aid of many countries.

Happily, along with 6,000 other South Asians from Uganda, my family and I were able to seek asylum in Canada. Despite our struggles, it was the kindness and openness of Canadians that provided us with a chance at building a new life.

I was privileged to be able to turn that adversity into success. I become the first practising female South Asian lawyer in Canada; was appointed as Queen’s (now King’s) Counsel; and was privileged to be appointed the first Muslim member of the Senate of Canada; the first African-born senator; and the first senator of South Asian descent.

But I was certainly not the last. The story of struggle, hard work and progress is that of thousands of Canadian Ismailis, and of so many, over history, who chose to call Canada their home.

But the story of generosity is not unidirectional. Over the last 50 years, Ismailis from all walks of life have worked tirelessly to give back to this country that has given them so much: former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi; anchors Omar Sachedina and Farah Nasser; novelist M.G. Vassanji; Ms Marvel’s Iman Vellani are but a few. Inspired by the guidance of the Aga Khan, thousands of Canadian Ismailis have been strong and active contributors to the civic, cultural and social lives of the communities in which they live.

Sen. Mobina Jaffer (left) greeting the Aga Khan (right) in 2018. Photo: Sen. Mobina Jaffer

The notion of giving of oneself for the betterment of others, of course, is also quintessentially Canadian — one that helps to reinforce a strong national psyche of connectedness and mutual responsibility.

Canadian actress Iman Vellani at the launch of Marvel studio original series “Ms Marvel” on June 2, 2022. Photo by Valerie Macon//AFP via Getty Images

The Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam-of-the-time (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community. As part of the mandate of his role, he has been a significant contributor to improvement in our quality of life: showcasing Muslim art and intellect through the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto; bringing together East and West at the Aga Khan Garden in Alberta and Aga Khan Park in Toronto; working to alleviate poverty through the Aga Khan Foundation Canada; and, in partnership with the federal government, building societies of mutual respect and understanding through the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.

Recently, members of the Aga Khan’s family including his brother, Prince Amyn, and his children, Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim, were in Canada for ceremonies to commemorate the Ismaili community’s 50-year anniversary and to launch initiatives for the next 50. In Toronto, the Aga Khan was conferred the key to the city for his contributions to Toronto and his global humanitarian work. In Edmonton, the Diwan pavilion at the Aga Khan Garden was inaugurated, supporting the garden’s mandate of providing a venue for dialogue and engagement. In Vancouver, an Agreement of Cooperation between the Government of British Columbia and the Ismaili Imamat solidifies a partnership with a focus on addressing issues of climate change in B.C. and around the world.

The significance of these events goes beyond just the buildings, the agreements or the accolades that will emerge from them. What is truly to be celebrated is that in a world wracked with insular and sectarian thinking, there are reassuring forces propelling us in kinder, gentler directions.

Thousands of Ugandans lost their lives or endured unspeakable trauma in the crisis wrought by Idi Amin. But what gives us hope is that what can emerge from brutality is a set of enduring values which, right now, the world needs to see, and hear.

I am lucky to be a in position where my two greatest blessings, being Canadian and Ismaili Muslim, are not only able to peacefully co-exist, but can actively interact and build upon one another. Today and every day, I am grateful for these multiple identities, and also for the acceptance and deep commitment to equal opportunity that this country continues to expound. May Canada continue to serve as a beacon of hope for all.

Sen. Mobina Jaffer represents British Columbia in the Senate of Canada. Appointed on June 13, 2001 by prime minister Jean Chrétien, she is the first Muslim senator, the first African-born senator, and the first senator of South Asian descent.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

One thought

  1. What an incredibly exciting journey ! Congratulations for such positive attitudes and determination and for sharing with us these hard learnt lessons leading to success . We are grateful for you honorable Senator Jaffer . You make us very proud and many young women are looking at you with such high hopes !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.