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ISSA Canada Provides Family, Health, and Social Welfare Services for Muslim Communities in Winnipeg

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Shahina Siddiqui of Winnipeg is a powerhouse who has been involved in creating non-profit service organizations in Canada and the United States. She and her husband came to Winnipeg from New York City in 1996, thought this northern city had a ‘soul’, and stayed. While she was initially involved in helping the then small Muslim community in Winnipeg, particularly starting a Muslim school, it wasn’t long before she extended her wings to be a positive force across Canada and beyond.

She founded the Islamic Social Service Association of Canada (ISSA) along with three ‘sisters’, who seeded it in the United States, thus giving it a broad mandate to help the growing, diverse Muslim Community with family, health and social welfare services to survive and thrive in the North American context. (She says that there are 56 separate Muslim groups in Winnipeg alone.) She is the Executive Director to this day.

She, along with others, have spawned a number of other organizations that help with the social, cultural, spiritual and economic well-being of the larger Muslim Community and others. Her organizations often worked with other organizations to make things happen. She is a strong believer in coming together with other groups outside the Muslim community so that there is the strength to create change.

Despite her senior years, she has no plans to stop. Her latest venture is to establish an Institute for Muslim Mental Health, and she wants to set up a conference in Montreal to figure out how to deal with the increasing homelessness, poverty, and associated addictions and violence that are disrupting communities across Canada.

She is a compelling story teller. She remember going to bed as a Canadian on September 10, 2001 and she said, “I woke up “other’. She fielded 72 interviews in the first few hours of the event. She received hate mail and death threats. She says that some in her community thought the anti-Muslim sentiment would diminish quickly, but that is not the case. It is still prevalent today, according to her.

Her advice to young people of the Islamic faith, including her two interviewers, Rimsha Shoal and Ian Ano, is not ‘to other’ people. “We must understand we are Canadian. We must change our focus from the Muslim community to the Canadian community. In her view, Canada is a diversity of communities which is both its strength and its weakness.

She exhorts young people to take up the challenge of helping others and advancing social justice. While mistakes will happen, they are learning opportunities, she says. She believes that we all must come together for the common good – everyone. “Roll up your sleeves and get in there!”

– Zuher Almusre, U Multicultural

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