By Taha Ghayyur
On Friday, November 26, 2021, Wahida Chishti Valiante, a visionary Canadian Muslim leader passed away in Toronto, Canada.
Wahida, also affectionately referred as “Auntie Wahida” by many younger Muslims she inspired, was born in Azad Kashmir and raised in the UK.
Living in Canada since 1961, Wahida was a pioneering Muslim leader, writer, presenter, social worker, and social justice and human rights advocate. She was among Toronto’s earliest and most vocal Muslim leaders on anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia, interfaith dialogue, civic engagement, and mental health issues.
Her many incredible accomplishments include:
- Founding member of Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), which she served as a President and Vice President for 13 years.
- Founding National Chair of the Islamic History Month Canada in 2007-2011.
- Four-time recognition among the “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World” by Islamic Studies scholars at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
- Recognition among "100 Extraordinary Muslim Women Past and Present" by Women Islamic Initiative in Spirituality ad Equality (WISE Muslim Women).
- One of the earliest female leaders of a national Muslim organization in Canada.
- One of the only visible Muslim female voices on Canadian Muslim issues post-9/11.
- Pioneering contributions to both academic and applied aspects of social work in the Canadian Muslim community.
A more comprehensive list of her publications, presentations, and awards can be found on her website: https://wahidavaliante.weebly.com/biography.html
Auntie Wahida traveled around the country and the world for presentations on an array of topics.
I was fortunate enough to have met and collaborated with Auntie Wahida on a few occasions. I always found her to be deeply concerned about the empowerment of Muslims and their contributions to Canadian society.
I admired her visionary and out of the box thinking. In many ways Auntie Wahida was thinking a few steps ahead of her time. She was talking and writing about difficult social issues, in particular family relationships, marriage, and divorce at a time when hardly any Imam or Muslim leader would address such sensitive and taboo topics.
She wrote some insightful articles for Sound Vision: https://www.soundvision.com/authors/wahida-valiante
I had the distinct honour of being among three people she requested to write a review for her last book about six years ago, “A Mosaic of Thoughts”. Here is what I wrote, which she featured on her website: https://wahidavaliante.weebly.com/books.html
“A Mosaic of Thoughts by Wahida C Valiante is not a mere compilation of random musings or philosophies of life. It is a unique intellectual endeavour of an outstanding Canadian Muslim thinker and leader of our time who means every word that she pens. Throughout the book, her zeal for empowering the community, her passion for social justice and her vision for a more inclusive and harmonious world, is vivid and refreshing.”
Despite her health challenges, Auntie Wahida was kind enough to come down to the Sound Vision office along with her husband Ali Valiante, to drop off copies of her book as gifts, something I will cherish for life.
Auntie Wahida touched the lives of many through her passion and pioneering work in the areas of political engagement, community development, family counselling, and human rights advocacy.
Over the last two years, Canadian Muslims have lost several pillars of our community, including but not limited to Dr. Ahmet Fuad Sahin, Khadijah Haffajee, Hussain Bhayat, and Amjed Syed.
I wonder if we, the current and next generation of Canadian Muslim leaders, Imams, advocates, and activists, have learned enough from their elders and pioneers? Have we done enough to honour their contributions and legacies while they are alive? Do we have a succession plan in place to build on the successes of our pioneers? Do we even have the same level of passion and sincerity to serve and lead our communities as they did?
May Allah count Auntie Wahida among the Sabiqoon (the pioneers) of the Canadian Muslim community, Ameen.
May Allah accept her sacrifices and allow her contributions to continue to grow as a Sadaqah Jariyah for her, Ameen.
May Allah inspire us all to build on her legacy of sacrifice, service, and leadership, Ameen.