Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Power of Voice

Take a look at this picture.
For many of you, this might not be such a big deal. Here's a food booth at a cafeteria and they have halal meat. So common here in Toronto.

But this is not Toronto. This is a city way up in the north of Ontario. Now let met tell you the story of the power of the voice that leads to this picture.

When I moved here in Canada, not only were halal stores far and few in between, but food and religious services in campuses across Canada were not very minority-friendly. In the late 1990s, a major Quebec university actually went to court to prevent the Muslim students from booking a room and using it as a prayer space. And there was a scandal as one of the universities were serving "vegetarian" food but the gravy was beef based, which incensed the Hindu students.

Now there had been Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) and Hindu Student Associations (HSAs) in Canada for a long time, but they had often been neutral in student elections, existing merely to organize some cultural events. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, that started to change. Both the MSAs and the HSAs started to actively participate in student elections. They would field candidates and promote candidates. Often many of these organizations would collaborate and coordinate to create a voice. After all, it's nice to have a student president who is friendly to Muslims (or Hindus), but only a Muslim or a Hindu student would know the importance of dietary restrictions and ensure school functions would either cater properly to a diverse student body or at least label their food properly. In addition to prayer spaces. After all, in a Toronto university, a Hindu pooja function set off the fire alarm. Letters of request written to the university had no effect.

Suddenly, these candidates started to win. And ALL of a sudden, you could see the affect. UTSC first got a permanent prayer space in 2001. Suddenly other universities followed suit. Halal became widely available across student cafeterias, as did proper vegetarian, vegan and other options. Prayer space fire detection system at the University of Toronto Multifaith Building now cater for pooja that will have incense and fire, etc.

These are not just mere stories or the achievements not just mere trivial issues. They are important to those who take their religion and their lifestyle seriously. MANY of the things we take for GRANTED today came about because SOME people ahead of us chose to UNITE, ORGANIZE, and create a VOICE.

The first step is of course to vote.

The second step is to run.

Be a Candidate.

Get involved in the political parties here. Know the issues. Knowledge is power.

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