A gala to celebrate Muslim women in B.C.

Voices of Muslim Women (VMW), a non-profit organization, will be holding their annual gala on April 22, 2018 at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey to celebrate and inform the community about the accomplishments, talents and fearlessness of local women in Metro Vancouver.

Hosts of this year’s gala include UBC Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Ayesha Chaudhry, and Alia Vellani, a Canadian television actress from Little Mosque on the Prairie.

“I am very excited but also a little bit nervous,” says Vellani. “The gala provides a space for the community to come together and engage in a discussion in shared experience, and I want to do my very best to contribute on that day.”

Aisha Amijee and Fatima Ahmed, co-founders of Voices of Muslim Women, in their office. | Photo by Alia Youssef

The gala

Part of the gala will be a film festival and storytelling showcasing some films. The second half will have an award ceremony that recognizes and honours local excellence in Muslim women in different fields such as athletics, business, social justice, education, and arts and culture.

“The gala will be showcasing an external partner and an internal member this year,” says Fatima Ahmed, co-founder and program’s director.

Tayybeh Syrian Cuisine, a caterer in Vancouver and the external partner of VMW, will have an opportunity to share their story. The gala will also showcase one of the internal members, Alia Youssef, who is the creator of The Sisters Project, a portrait series that aims to diversify women, in a photography exhibition.

According to Ahmed, besides making new friends and finding new allies to talk about causes that affect everybody, the gala can “give the youth something to look forward to” and they can become inspired by their role models.

The gala gives people the chance to dress up and experience some amazing food and performances, explains Ahmed. Muslim events are not usually open for everyone to share the experience so it is quite a unique occasion.

“The gala and VMW’s programs allow Muslim women to enter their respective industries without feeling defined by their faith while also being empowered by their faith,” says Vellani. “And that’s something people need to see!”

For Muslims and non-Muslim alike

In April 2017, Aisha Amijee, founder, board president and executive director of VMW, organized an event called “The Voices of Women Festival” at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). Ahmed attended that even as a representative from another organization co-sponsoring part of the event. Amijee and Ahmed discussed how to turn the event into an ongoing service for a wider demographic over a cup of coffee. The two decided to start a non-profit organization that would offer programs, services and events to target women of all ages and backgrounds.

Aliza Vellani, one of the hosts of the VMW Awards Gala. | Photo by Alia Youssef

Voices of Muslim Women (VMW) is a non-religious, social and professional organization that provides space for self-identified Muslim women, while also building relationships with the larger community. Although VMW focuses on Muslim women because they are marginalized, non-Muslims and men are welcome to join and participate in their events.

“We are not a religious organization,” Ahmed explains. “The point of using ‘Muslim’ is as a cultural identity, and there are lots of ways that people choose to live that culture.”

VMW members hope to have sustainable support for their ongoing programs such as digital storytelling and art therapy in the future.

“What I think makes VMW so unique is the fact that the programs run by VMW are taught and supported by Muslim women,” says Vellani. “It makes such a difference when you attend a class and see fellow Muslim women teaching and executing that profession to the fullest.”

VMW was founded in B.C. but Ahmed is hoping to reach out across Canada and the world to build a strong network to face challenges such as mental health, addiction, racism and internal biases.

“We are growing. We are young. We are open to feedback, collaboration and ideas,” Ahmed adds. “So, we are willing to talk to everybody who is out there. Whatever you think you know about the group, you don’t. Please talk to us.”

For more information, visit www.voicesofmuslimwomen.com.