Pakistani Student Association Shaken by Resignations
Two VPs Resign and Accuse President of Religious Discrimination for Blocking Speaker
Earlier this month, two Pakistani Student Association VPs resigned from their posts accusing the association’s president of religious discrimination.
In July, the PSA along with the Canadian Council for Muslim Women booked Durre Ahmed—a religious scholar, author and lecturer—to speak at Concordia University.
“Dr. Ahmed was scheduled to speak at Java U [on Aug. 5],” said Saad Sarfriz, one of the PSA VPs who resigned. “Just a few days before, [PSA President Yassir] Aziz found out that she is an Ahmadiyya Muslim. The night before the event, around 11 p.m., Aziz cancelled the speech without consulting with me. Aziz and [PSA VP External] Mohammad Malik told me Ahmed was an infidel.”
Ahmadiyya Muslims are a sect of Islam considered heretical by the Pakistani government. In Pakistan, four million Ahmadis face institutional discrimination on a daily basis. Pakistani federal laws prevent Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims, using the traditional Islamic greeting or publishing religious materials.
On May 28, suicide bombers attacked two Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan, killing nearly 100 people.
“Aziz told me it would be unethical to allow a non-Muslim to speak about Islam,” said Sana Khalil, the former PSA VP Internal, who resigned due to the cancellation. “That kind of narrow mindedness is very sad to me.”
Despite the PSA’s last minute cancellation, Ahmed spoke at the Java U in Concordia’s Hall building on Aug. 5. The CCMW hosted the event without Aziz’s support but Sarfriz said the PSA’s attempt to cancel the event negatively affected turnout.
“We were expecting over 100 people to show up,” he said. “Only about 40 came. By the time Dr. Ahmed spoke, she had heard about the Ahmadi controversy. I apologized but it was very embarrassing for the PSA.”
Aziz told The Link his attempt to cancel the event had nothing to do with Ahmed’s religion.
“I respect [Ahmed’s] religion,” he said. “These allegations are just personal attacks against me. I cancelled the event because of security reasons. We booked the event at the last minute and didn’t follow the right security procedures. Ask anyone at the Concordia Student Union.”
Aziz consulted with CSU VP Clubs and Outreach Ramy Khoriaty a few days before the event.
“I asked [Aziz] if there would be any security problems a few days before the event,” said Khoriaty. “He said no. A few days later he came back and said there would be a risk of [violence]. I told him the PSA couldn’t host the event but the CCMW could. We can’t run the risk of a Concordia club being liable if something bad happens.
“I don’t think [Aziz] is guilty of [religious discrimination],” he continued. “If he was, then the CSU would definitely take action. That kind of behaviour is unacceptable.”
Shaheen Ashraf, a board member of the CCMW, has a hard time believing Aziz’s cancelation was for security reasons.
“[Former PSA VP] Sana Khalil called me and asked me if Ahmed was an Ahmadiyya Muslim,” said Ashraf. “I said yes, but that doesn’t matter because this is about education, not religion. Then she told me that President Aziz wanted to know what sect of Islam she was from. After he found out, he cancelled the event on Facebook saying it was because Ahmed could not make it to Montreal. That was a lie.”
Ashraf called Concordia Security on the morning of the talk to ensure that security would be at the event. The speech was held without incident.
After Ahmed’s speech, former PSA VP Sarfriz wrote two emails to members of the PSA. The first detailed his allegations against Aziz. Sarfriz received support from some members but troubling emails from others.
“I received some email telling me I would be punished in hell,” said Sarfriz laughing. “Others told me I would get what was coming to me later in life.”
The second email, written on Aug. 5, was a letter of resignation. The following day, Khalil resigned as well.
The CSU VP contends that neither resignation was due to religious discrimination.
“One of the executives resigned because the PSA is really busy right now,” said Khoriaty. “The other because she had to move away.”
On Aug. 30, The Link obtained a copy of Khalil’s resignation letter. In the letter Khalil wrote that she decided to leave the PSA because it was “full of intolerance for other religious views.”
Khalil is now living in Ottawa studying for her Masters in Social Work.
“I was afraid to speak out because of [PSA executive] might start rumours about me and try to ruin my reputation,” she said. “But I’m not afraid anymore. They have already done that, and someone needs to speak against this narrow mindedness.”
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 03, published August 31, 2010.
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