If you missed Amira Elghawaby on February 23, 2017 at Bar Robo, you really missed out. The soft spoken, proud Canadian journalist kept the audience completely engaged and when she had responded to all questions, left behind an incredibly positive view of her life as a Muslim woman journalist in Canada.
Amira’s introduction began by remembering her parents. She was encouraged by the strength she saw in both of her parents as they learned and adapted to life in Canada after moving from Egypt in the 1970s. Amira remembered the ’70s, under P.E. Trudeau, as a time when the doors to immigration in Canada were wide open
As she grew up, Amira began to take greater notice of small differences between her parents’ Egyptian-based cultural beliefs, and those of Canadian culture. For example, her father discouraged her from pursuing a career in journalism, noting that the profession was not well-respected in Egypt. Nonetheless, Amira attended Carleton University’s journalism program and was awarded the opportunity to work in Cairo for a weekly newspaper, The Middle East Times.
In Cairo, she bore witness to the strength of faith among impoverished and marginalized communities and became inspired by the resilience of the people she met. As a result of this experience, Amira wished to live a spiritual life and decided to practice her Islamic faith. Amira said she views the debate over hijabi and niqabi women as a simple right of choice; wearing the hijab, she believes that “we have to stand up for the freedom to choose.” Amira exemplifies this belief in motherhood, educating her children about Islam and allowing her daughter to choose for herself whether or not to wear the hijab.
Upon returning to Canada, Amira was hired by the Toronto Star. It was in this context that she first began to feel “othered” by the highly “male and pale” composition of the workforce. She felt singled out as a woman of colour and of faith, and said that today a lack of representation persists in news media. Amira subsequently worked for CBC Radio, an organization she holds great respect for and “a national treasure.”
Amira currently works as Communications Director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the only national civil liberties organization for Muslims at this time. Her work includes outreach to young people and educators across the country. On the topic of outreach, an audience member asked if Amira felt an undue burden when consistently asked to comment on violent incidents involving Islam. To the contrary, Amira said she welcomes the opportunity to reiterate that her faith is entirely incongruent with violence. However, she did comment that some conversations are tough, and she doesn’t worry about the “stubborn few” because there are some people who simply cannot be reached through dialogue. Amira said that it is the responsibility of each and every person to speak out against hatred, and Canadians must prioritize the issues facing our “First Nations brothers and sisters.”
Amira wrapped up with some advice: “Haters gonna hate, but love will conquer all.”