Order of Canada for Alia HogbenWritten by Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
The profile of Muslim women in Canada received a boost with the nomination of one of their own for the Order of Canada, the country's highest award.
Alia Hogben, the Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women is among 70 Canadians who have been selected for the prize this year.
The Order of Canada, created in 1967, recognizes brilliant accomplishments that honour Canada. This will be the second time in history that a Muslim woman has received the award.
The late Lila Fahlman of Edmonton, who founded the CCMW in 1982 was the first female Muslim winner of the award.
Ms. Hogben, who is being recognised for her social work and for promoting interfaith understanding and the rights of women, sees the award as recognition of the contributions Muslim women are making to their families, community and country. She's right. The CCMW prods Muslim women to work together and with people of other faiths for social justice and similar goals. Its chapters across the country include 1,000 Muslim women. That's not much in a Muslim population of around a million. But it's a start. Muslim men have no similar national organization.
The CCMW works with educational institutions, government agencies and private groups, seeking to project Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims as "humane, egalitarian and equality-driven." The challenge is to encourage Muslim women to participate fully in society and at the same time convey to society at large that Muslims are no different from other Canadians, and that the overwhelming number of them is productive, loyal, hard-working and law-abiding.
In this the CCMW and Alia Hogben face a difficult task.
A study prepared by economist Daood Hamdani for CCMW based on the 2001 census reported that one in three Muslim women has a university degree, compared with one in five for other women. Muslim women holding master's degrees and doctorates number twice the female population proportionately. Nearly two-fifths of Muslim women specialize in highly technical, cutting-edge disciplines such as engineering and medicine. Yet the unemployment rate among Muslim women was 16.5 per cent in 2001 -- more than double the national average. Only Aboriginal women fared worse.
Another one of the disturbing findings of the study was the low political participation among Muslim women. In the 2000 federal election, only 39 per cent of Muslim women cast a ballot compared to 45 per cent of men. In 2004, 43 per cent of women voted compared to 50 per cent of Muslim men.
Ms. Hogben is troubled by this vicious circle: The more Muslims are made to feel different or unwanted, the more they withdraw. The more they segregate themselves from society, the more likely they are to be seen as outsiders. More productive contact with fellow citizens will produce better understanding, she feels.
In her own life, Ms. Hogben has been very active in inter-faith issues, resulting in an honorary PhD from Queen's University's School of Religion for her contributions.
In addition to her work at the CCMW, the Carleton University graduate writes for the Kingston Whig-Standard and previously worked for 20 years as a supervisor with the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The bestowal of honours such as the Order of Canada on Ms. Hogben and other Muslims are a double blessing. They send an unmistakable message to all Canadians, whatever their faith, that Canada welcomes everyone and cherishes its citizens and respects their diversity. The awards also produce role models for Muslim and other youth and women and inspire them to serve their community and faith with patience and determination. They also signal to other Canadians that Muslims are precious assets for Canada and deserve support.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, civil servant and refugee judge. He has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Award and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Award.
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