On March 24th, Canada's Muslim community held its first ever awards gala to recognize the professional, educational and charitable achievements of Muslims in Canada. The inaugural Max Gala celebration showcased the immense talent and positive energy in this growing, diverse and dynamic community.
I was honored to present the Max Gala/KSM Law Friend of the Community Award.
A number of people were nominated by community members across the country and the Max Gala judges narrowed the list to four finalists. These extremely accomplished and well-deserving finalists were:
1) Annette Wilde who is an entrepreneur and owner of a small software company in Toronto who spearheaded efforts to sponsor fifteen Syrian families as refugees;
2) Rev. Dr. Brian Arthur Brown of Niagara Falls is a United Church minister and prolific Canadian author. He is best known for his book Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran, the scriptures of Abraham's family, and introducing the Quran to North American culture as the "final testament."
3) Dennis Edney legally represents Omar Khadr, referred to by media as "Guantanamo's Child." He has represented him in all levels of Canadian courts including three successful appearances in the Supreme Court of Canada.
4) Lorne Waldman is an expert in the area of immigration and refugee law, and has challenged anti-Muslim bias in a number of cases. He has represented Zunera Ishaq who successfully challenged a niqab ban in Canadian citizenship ceremonies, Maher Arar at the public inquiry into his illegal deportation to Syria, and Hassan Almrei, who successfully defended himself against a security certificate based on wrongful allegations that he was a member of Al Qaeda.
The winner, Dennis Edney, was determined through an open voting process.
What follows are my remarks delivered in presenting the award to the winner on behalf of Max Gala and KSM Law, the sponsor of the award:
Assalamu Alaikum (Peace be with you)
I feel like I am at the Muslim Oscars!
Though if I may suggest something to the organizers: Next year you may want to put some clothes on the statute in the videos.
This is a wonderful gathering. Each one of you is a winner for being part of this event.
Not to put a damper on all the positive energy around us today, but we must not forget the reality around us. Islamophobia is on the rise. As one of our keynotes, Zaib Shaikh, noted, one of the ways to challenge and combat anti-Muslim hate is to become part of popular culture. We need to mainstream Islam and Muslims.
Another thing we must do is to build relationships with others and form alliances. We must not be concerned only with our causes but those of others. We have failed in making meaningful connections. As an example, in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, CAIR-CAN (now known as the NCCM) and other groups organized an open house at the Jami Mosque in Toronto. Many of the neighbors informed us at the time that this was the first real engagement (other than around parking disputes) between them and an institution that had been in existence from the late 1960s!
We all have much work to do.
From the very beginning Muslims have relied on friends and allies from the non-Muslim community.
In fact, the non-Muslim uncle of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) Abu Talib is considered one of the best friends and first supporters of the early community.
We are also familiar with the story of the Muslims who fled persecution in Mecca and sought refuge in the Christian Kingdom of Aksum, present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea (formerly known as Abyssinia). The Aksumite King who gave them asylum is known in Islamic sources as the Negus (Arabic: نجاشي najāšī).
The MAX Friend of the Community Award recognize a non-Muslim individual who has demonstrated outstanding service to the Canadian Muslim community. This friend has assisted in the achievement of certain significant goals in areas of importance to the community.
I had the privilege of speaking on the same panel with this year's winner back in 2008. At that time I had thanked him on behalf of the community for standing up for Canadian and Islamic values of justice and basic human rights. Today I am honoured to formally thank him on behalf of the community.
This year, the winner of the MAX friend of the community award is Dennis Edney.
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