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Ambassador of United Arab Emirates -UAE  

Delivered at Ottawa City Hall on May 16, 2019 at the 8th Annual Iftar Dinner  

Your Excellencies, Honourable Parliamentarians, Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas, President Mobeen Khaja & Distinguished Guests:

It is an honour to be here this evening, and I extend my warm appreciation to Mr. Mobeen Khaja, President of the Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada, for giving me this special opportunity to speak to you tonight.

I wish to offer Mr. Khaja my warmest congratulations on spear-heading the Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada twenty-one years ago, and hosting eight successful years of sharing iftar dinners with those of different faiths, high-level dignitaries, and the community at large.

It is an honour to have guests of different faiths attending the iftar tonight, and I thought given this special scenario that I would share some words about the spirit of Ramadan and iftars.

As you may know, Ramadan is the Holy Month ~ the most sacred month during the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast during the daylight hours, which includes not only fasting from food, but also abstaining from drinking any liquids, praying to become closer to God, staying away from pleasures, and giving to the poor or disadvantaged.

However, I would also like to emphasize that Ramadan is not only about self-sacrifice and discipline, but it is also a joyous time for families and friends to gather and celebrate each evening [when the sun has gone down] – and also a time for us to bring joy to others around us.

It could also be said that there is not only a joyous feeling associated with Ramadan and iftars ~ but I could even go as far to say that there is a special bond created between those who share in an iftar – in breaking the fast together. For those of you who have so graciously joined us here tonight, your attendance creates a special connection between us all in sharing in this iftar together.

During this special month, it is also a time of personal reflection when we are reminded of what is most important to us in life ~ to be mindful of our priorities ~ contemplate what we could be doing differently - or perhaps better said, what we could be doing better in our own lives, and for those around us.

This same spirit resonates for me through the concept of tolerance. This year, the UAE Government has designated 2019 as Year of Tolerance, where we proudly renew and celebrate our country’s commitment to diversity.

Our UAE Minister of Tolerance, His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan has said that diversity is a key driver of prosperity and comprehensive development across various social, economic, educational, cultural and other fields.  Said in a slightly different way, but with the same sentiments, the UAE is committed to the principal that diversity is a strength ~ through tolerance and diversity we become a stronger nation ~ we build a stronger society. We seek to build our success through embracing different abilities, genders, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and faiths. During this Year of Tolerance, we were extremely privileged to have the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis in February, which marked the first time an esteemed Pope visited the Arabian Peninsula.

During his visit, Pope Francis held a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque, regarded as one of the foremost institutes in the Muslim World for the studies of Islamic religion and law, and His Holiness also held an open air mass, with more than 135,000 people attending.

The Pope graciously remarked that the UAE is “a land that seeks to be a model of coexistence, human brotherhood, and an encounter between different civilizations and cultures”.

On this same topic of respect and engagement between different faiths, I think it is appropriate to mention a valuable initiative that Mr. Khaja took on last October, when he took male and female Muslim youth to visit the Vatican, which I understand was made possible through the strong support of His Excellency Luigi Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio of the Embassy of the Holy See, who we have here with us this evening as well.

Not only did this group of Muslim youth have the opportunity to visit the Vatican, but thanks to Mr. Mobeen Khaja and His Excellency Luigi Bonazzi’s efforts they had the opportunity to meet His Holiness Pope Francis directly, who warmly received them, and spoke to them individually.

On the second day of this same delegation’s visit to the Vatican, they visited the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), which is an academic and research institute that hosts non-Muslim students from around the world to learn classical Arabic, in order to gain a better understanding of the Quran. Interestingly, this institute was originally established [in Tunisia] as a way for traveling priests to gain a better understanding of Islam, and learn how to live harmoniously together with an Islamic culture.

This story is quite poignant for me, because it is not only a story of one faith searching to build relations with the other, but a story of two faiths equally seeking out understanding and cooperation with each other, based upon peace and respect.

It is also a good reminder for us that within different faiths we all share similar tenants based upon the positive principles of: compassion, forgiveness, patience, humbleness, and doing good for others.

Similar to the importance of respect for those of other faiths, is the understanding and respect of those from other countries. Like Canada, the UAE is proud to be a multi-cultural country built on diversity. We celebrate more than 200 nationalities living peacefully and successfully in the UAE, (including approximately 40,000 Canadians), where different faiths pray alongside each other, and each neighbour holds the other with respect.

In reaffirming our commitment to diversity this year, it is also important that I emphasize that my country is proud of the empowerment of women in the UAE, and my government actively develops on-going supportive policies to further encourage their success.

We are privileged to have UAE women represent over 70% of our university graduates, over 60% of our doctors, and hold two-thirds of government sector jobs. Women are leaders in all sectors, including traditionally male dominated professions, from: law, commerce, engineering to the sciences. Women also finance one third of all the UAE’s financial and banking sector transactions.

As a quick societal snapshot, one of our top pilots is Ms. Mariam Al-Mansouri, who serves as a UAE air force pilot.  Her Excellency Lana Nusseibeh serves as our UAE Ambassador to the United Nations, Her Excellency Amal Al Qubaisi  serves as the Speaker of the UAE Federal National Council – (our parliament), and nine females serve in the UAE cabinet, including Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail bin Faris Al Mazrui, who is the Minister of State for Youth, and also the world’s youngest minister. It goes without saying that all of these individuals represent the high success of women in the UAE.

Another initiative connected to Year of Tolerance ~ and our support for diversity, could be seen when the UAE hosted the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in March of this year, which saw over 7,000 athletes, from over 170 countries compete in a series of competitive sports.

Significantly, this was also the first time since the movement’s founding over 50 years ago, that the games were held in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Special Olympics was an opportunity for top athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete in the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event. This has become a global movement which focuses on the empowerment of what we call ‘People of Determination’ in the UAE; individuals with intellectual disabilities who excel through the power of sport. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Toronto, [just prior to their flight to the UAE], and meet with the 109 Canadian athletes from Team Canada, and their 54 coaches and staff, (who remarkably represented almost all of Canada – 10 provinces and 2 territories), and I must say that this engagement was one of the most meaningful experiences that I have had during my posting in Canada.

These Canadian special athletes were a true symbol of success ~ of someone who has overcome genuine challenges to reach the highest levels of accomplishment and skill. They personified strength of character, and excellence. As I said to them, they are leaders themselves ~ not just for other athletes, but for those in all fields.

On a final note, let us continue to work together in our own ways, in our own lives to support one another within our diversity - within our different abilities, backgrounds, gender, and faiths, which will ensure not only each country’s success, but the success of our global future.

I would like to thank Mr. Khaja once again, who invited me to speak this evening, and thank you all for your patient ear. I look forward to engaging with you throughout the night ~ and wish a Ramadan Kareem to us all!