Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Violence Against Women

Flags are flying at half mast as we remember the 14 women killed at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal 22 years ago today.


And in Kingston the Mohammad Shafia murder trial of his three teenaged daughters and first wife continues to stagger the imagination.


Shahla Khan Salter is a lawyer, mother of three, and chair of Muslims for Progressive Values Canada. She lives in Ottawa. We wanted to share her thoughts today:


As a Muslim woman raised in Canada it’s hard to pick up the paper and read about the Shafia murder trial.

I feel that Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona are our daughters, our sister.

I feel sick reading that the one person they should have trusted the most in the world could do this.  And overwhelmed when I think about the burden we carry right now in trying to making sure this tragedy does not happen again and again. 

My fellow Muslim community members – including my family and Muslim friends – we know we have a problem in our community. We know that this is not about domestic violence alone. It’s about a cultural gap between parents and kids. It’s about acquiring the strength to embrace differences. It’s about making sure others remember that the greatest tenet of our faith is not the honour that comes from guarding one’s modesty, but the love that arises from spreading compassion.

I believe that part of our responsibility now means that second generation Muslims, like me, have to come out of our Muslim closets. We have to tell the story of what happened to us, when we were growing up and how our parents coped with differences.

Not all Muslim men are Mohamed Shafia. Most are like my dad, Asad Ullah Khan - who raised three daughters, rarely raised his voice and never used force.

For the sake of all the Zainab, Sahars and Geetis out there - I wish all Muslim dads were like mine. The story of my dad and me is in this poem. 


I am a Canadian Muslim Woman

My Muslim father came to North America from Pakistan before I was born

My Muslim father prays five times a day

My Muslim father reads the Holy Quran


My Muslim father taught me to value my body

And not let just anyone touch me or see me


But I did not listen

When I was sixteen I secretly wore a bikini on the beach

My Muslim father was disappointed that my shorts were too short


When I was eighteen I had a boyfriend

My Muslim father waited up all night for me to come home


When I was twenty six I moved out of his house

My Muslim father was sad when I refused to marry the man of his choice


When I was twenty nine I married my husband

We had been in love for two and a half years


My Muslim father put me through law school

My Muslim father walked me down the aisle on my wedding day

My Muslim father told me he was proud of me

My Muslim father loved me no matter what

My Muslim father never harmed a hair on my Muslim head


My Muslim father helped make me the woman that I am today.


- Shahla Khan Salter