Europe has been in the news recently especially with the movement of migrants. I got a feel of this on my recent visits to Holland, Sweden and UK. There are huge problems facing this Continent and Europeans, both Muslim and non-Muslim are largely in denial about the issues. This was reflected in my conversations with Members of Parliament in Sweden and in The House of Lords in London.
I was invited to appear on BBC’s Hardtalk in May and based on the title of the show, it was challenging but also exhilarating and exciting as it got the adrenalin flowing and kept me on my toes. This was to discuss and debate my work with The Muslim Reform Movement. The interview aired on May 4, 2016 to mostly positive feedback and of course some critique. https://www.facebook.com/MuslimReformMovement/videos/518127338359519/
Some of the feedback is noted here:

I have just watched your interview with Stephen Sakur on BBC HARDtalk. Not only did you do a brilliant job staying calm amidst his bullying & constant interruptions (I often find him quite offensive!), you answered his questions so well, Raheel. I am proud to count myself a Canadian because of people like you who have the courage to stand up & speak out so eloquently about the hatred & racism we naively like to think do not exist here in Canada. Well done indeed! We continue to wish you the very best in all your endeavors you undertake so bravely.

Ms.Raza . I would like to congratulate you on a wonderfull inerview on BBC’S “hard talk”. As a 4th generation Canadian Christian man I was so excited to hear your stance on the issues discussed on Hard talk. You have very much ileviated my ” Islamophobia ” tendencies . Hearing your common sense opinions on sheria law , the nicab , and your stand to control the influx of Immigrants into the country at least to ensure sufficient screening was so encouraging! If only our current government would only addopt the same attitude I would have more hope in the future of canada. Please excuse the spelling errors and informal nature of this email as it is late and just wanted to contact you before heading to bed. I will be watching for you and promoting you in anyway I can. I will pray for your success in all your endeavors and most of all for your protection from those who would try to silence you. God bless.

While in London, I was invited to attend a session at The House of Lords, hosted by BASIRA and titled “Sharia Councils – Is UK Family Law Not Sufficient for British-Muslim Women?”
The event was attended by some powerful people in Parliament, along with academics, activists and lawyers mainly from the Muslim community. In the introduction to the panel, it was mentioned that access to justice for women is very important. It is in this context that the most powerful speaker on the panel was Baroness Caroline Cox, a Patron of Barnabas Fund. Baroness Cox has tabled a bill in the House of Commons to stop the UK Sharia Councils from becoming a parallel legal system. The bill, if passed, would make it a criminal offence for anyone to falsely claim to be exercising the powers of a court. In effect it would seriously curtail the spread of shari‘a courts of which it is now estimated there are at least 85 in the UK..

Sound familiar? Of course. We’ve been there in Ontario and I was able to speak to this on the panel.
What’s surprising is that while the discussion ensued about what is sharia and how this parallel system came about, there was very little open opposition to the idea despite the revelation that most Muslim marriages are not registered in the civil courts! A brilliant lawyer urged accountability for the Sharia councils but they eventually all end up being run by men with their own interpretation of Islamic law which does not benefit the women.

This is when the headlines of newspapers were full of the nominations for Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim Mayor of London. Emphasis was on his “Muslim-ness’ which to me is not the point. People can be for or against him but there needed to be an open discussion about his ideas and not his faith or ethnicity. Since then has was elected which is a major change in the landscape. However I would be interested to know his stance on reform. Is he a partner like Naser Khader of Denmark and the Mayor of Rotterdam or is he going to balance both sides and be an appeaser? Time will tell. I will celebrate the day a non-Muslim is elected Mayor in any Islamic City.

On the weekend we took a train to go and meet our newly adopted (of the heart) family. We had met a British woman of Pakistani heritage in January and heard her heart-rending story of being a victim of honor based violence. She has been targeted by her family and is in hiding. She has an 8 year old daughter who inquires about her mother’s family because she wants to know her grand-parents. So we offered to be her surrogate grand-parents and are now trying to get the family to Canada where they can live without fear.

While in London, we had an opportunity to meet with people at The Quilliam Foundation which is probably the world’s largest and most effective think tank today that is fighting Jihadist ideology from both a theological and social perspective. It was an inspiring to meet the young people who are working hard to bring about change.

I also had the pleasure of spending time with Riddhi Jha, producer of India’s Daughter, a documentary that was screened at the Honor Diaries hosted Censored Women’s Film Festival in November 2015. As an action follow up on the issues exposed in the film, they have set up an NGO called THINK EQUAL to promote a sense of equality between boys and girls from a young age.
We also had the opportunity to attend a symposium on “Let’s Talk Islamism” hosted by The Clarion Project in London. The idea is get Muslims and non-Muslims to dialogue about Islamism (political Islam) in a civil manner. In this respect, the symposium was very successful as we heard from a variety of voices, young and older. We met Mohammad Amin who is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum in UK and Sohail Ahmed, a young ex-Salafi turned reformer who exposes the pitfalls of radicalization.

From London, I flew to Pakistan to see my brother who was not well. I always feel stressed and nervous while entering Pakistan which is sad as it’s my land of birth. I also remain very much under the radar. It’s like living in a bubble. However I had a great time because I never faced or saw reality and no one wished to discuss the real issues facing Pakistan so the conversation was light, the shopping was great, food was yummy, I met friends and family and felt spoilt and surreal as we all lived in an elitist bubble.

An acquaintance who is a General in the army came to visit. He showed interest in my work in interfaith dialogue, asking me if I ever ask Christians where Jesus is buried? He then went on to prove that while Muslims know where their spiritual leader is buried, Christians do not. My first reflex was to say that as soon as they stop killing and persecuting Christians in Pakistan and other Muslim lands, perhaps we can pose this question to them? But I refrained out of respect because that’s the way respect is practiced – you never question.
Reality hit when my BBC Hardtalk interview was aired on my last day. I gathered my family was glad I was leaving that day because I had taken the liberty of critiquing the Saudis and Wahhabism for ruining our faith. I was told there would be a backlash against this because every family has Wahabbis and Saudis hold the financial jugular vein of Pakistan ! We can’t shake the status quo can we? In a way I was also glad to be leaving because how long can one live with our heads in the sand?

And what happens when you speak out? You can talk about anything and get away with any crime in Pakistan, except the most crucial issue which is the plight of the people of Baluchistan. Sabeen Mahmud was shot and killed for bringing this issue to the forefront and now the brutal murder of Khurram Zaki, a human rights activist, a blogger and a religious scholar reminded me that living in a bubble is not justice or truth. When there is no respect for human life, then nothing else matters. In a column in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Suleman Akhtar writes “He dedicated his life to keeping these voices resounding. He would light a candle, post a Facebook status, take up the megaphone at some square and appeal to us, arrange a sit-in, hold up a mirror to the authorities, etc. In any other country, a person taking part in these kind of activities would be called an activist. In Pakistan, a person doing the same would be courting death.”

On a positive note, highlight of my Karachi trip was to see my nephews who run their father’s advertising agency Adcom Leo Burnett sweep the PAS 2016 awards with nine awards for excellence. I am so proud of them. http://www.adcompk.com

Meanwhile back home in Canada, the news of forest fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta is front line news and breaks our hearts. However as true Canadians, everyone has come to the forefront to help. We hold the people who have lost their homes, in our hearts and prayers and rally to help out.

It was great to read an expose on Haroon Siddiqui by Tarek Fatah in his Sun column. He writes “Instead of falsely accusing others [Toronto Sun and PostMedia newspapers] of Islamophobia, perhaps [Haroon] Siddiqui should reflect on his own lack of contribution in fighting the forces of international jihadism. Perhaps the [Toronto] Star should as well, given its editorial policy of giving a voice to some of Canada’s most radical Islamist groups. Because at every opportunity Siddiqui and the Star have had to do so, including the reporting of his recent lecture in the Star, they have chosen the wrong side.” http://tarekfatah.com/the-toronto-sun-vs-the-toronto-star/

I am glad to be back home to continue the good fight!



  • dipti says:

    I just finished watching your Hardtalk interview. It left me angry, to put it mildly. You grew up in martial law Pakistan where society was dictated by patriarchal values. You were an adult when the Pakistani army committed the 20th century’s worst genocide –in the now Bangladesh. More than 300,000 women of your age were raped by your dandy generals. Thanks to the backing of the Nixon administration, they got away (poor Milosovic paid for much less). Yet you had the gall to say that you grew up in a liberal Pakistan!!!!! You, madam, have no credibility and are a hireling of Islamic hardliners who want to occupy the opposition space. Not once did you speak in your interview of the terrific victories of the Bangladeshis against Islamic zealots. The reason for that is the secret jealousy you harbour against true liberals.

    • Arla says:

      Maybe that’s not what Ms. Raza meant? Maybe she meant that her parents were liberal, not that her entire birth country was? She was accused of having been raised CATHOLIC, by the Hardtalk interviewer: it surprised me that she didn’t argue, on that one! She DID let him walk/talk all over her, I felt. She could have argued-back aggressively on many occasions, instead of let him be a drawling, self-important ass. But she says above, in her article, that she was taught that respect is akin to “not questioning”. That is a hard thing to carry around, when you have a conscience like hers: and when you are an activist. You HAVE to “talk back”! I have no idea what you mean, by saying Raheel is a “hireling of Islamic hardliners who want to occupy the opposition space”. Would you elaborate on that? It sounds like you took one misunderstanding, and created a bigger problem in your mind, with it. And the idea of a “true liberal” will fluctuate, based on experience, upbringing, etc.

  • sofia says:

    “You can talk about anything and get away with any crime in Pakistan, except the most crucial issue which is the plight of the people of Baluchistan. Sabeen Mahmud was shot and killed for bringing this issue to the forefront and now the brutal murder of Khurram Zaki, a human rights activist, a blogger and a religious scholar reminded me that living in a bubble is not justice or truth.”

    Though, I do not disagree with your point, Sabeen Mahmud’s murderer has confessed and claimed he did it for her liberalism and not for her stance on Baluchistan.