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May 8, 2015

Seven Years Ago - Memories from The Multi Faith Walk Against Violence

Imam Syed Soharwardy

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Seven years ago, on April 11, 2008 to be exact, we drove from Calgary AB to Halifax NS to begin a historic project - the Multi-Faith Walk Against Violence. We arrived in Halifax on April 18; two days later, I dipped my feet into the Atlantic Ocean and then turned west to start walking toward Victoria, BC.

By the Grace of Allah, following the Sufi tradition of Islam, I walked every day, regardless of weather – rain or shine, snow or sleet, extremes of heat and cold. My steps took me across extremes of Canadian geography and terrain as well. I witnessed the St. John River flooding in New Brunswick; the rugged Canadian Shield of Ontario; the vast flat prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; the imposing Rocky Mountains of BC.

During the walk we experienced four bear encounters, all in northern Ontario; surprisingly, none in B.C. or Alberta.  Twice I narrowly escaped stepping on camouflaged snakes in northern Ontario, and twice narrowly escaped fatal traffic accidents. We also had several moose visits. Walking through the very thick forested areas on both sides of the highway in northern Ontario was laborious; it took nearly a month just to go from one end to the other of Lake Superior’s long shoreline.  In June and July, the annual summer plague of mosquitos took their toll and I had to wear netting on my face and upper body. As I walked, I realized how difficult this would be for women who wear the Burqa; having a net over my face in such hot weather was very uncomfortable.

From the Maritimes to our destination of Victoria BC, my volunteers and I were welcomed with open arms in every province, but the best reception we received was in Quebec.  At that time, the Reasonable Accommodation Commission was hearing people’s opinions on Islam and Muslims. Due to all the alarmist media hype about anti-Muslim sentiment in the province, I was very concerned when walking through rural Quebec.  Moreover, I do not speak French, which only increased my anxiety. But I was pleasantly shocked and surprised to see how warmly the people of Quebec welcomed us; they made me feel like a celebrity!

From coast to coast, I met thousands of Canadians of all faiths, as well as those of no faith. We were invited into many homes and churches. Hundreds of ordinary Canadians walked with me for short distances, giving me opportunities to talk to them, answer their questions and explain to them what Islam is all about and what Muslims believe in. I was also gratified that the media, especially our national CBC network, covered the Multi Faith Walk against Violence so well. The closing ceremony in Victoria was organized by a local interfaith group, bringing the project to a meaningful and memorable conclusion.

I am extremely grateful to the volunteers from Montreal, Toronto and Calgary who drove the motorhome, as well as those who cooked food and helped in numerous other ways large and small; above all, for their supportive companionship and company along the way. In particular, I cannot thank Linda Zachri enough. She worked day and night to plan my route and coordinate with local church groups and authorities and did a fantastic job.  Without the invaluable help of all these good people working together, I could not have done the walk. May Allah richly bless them.

The only downside of this experience is that while we did receive some donations along the way from ordinary Canadians, most of the expenses of this nearly seven-month project were covered through a bank loan, which I am still trying to pay off.

 In retrospect, I feel privileged to have seen Canada on my own two feet. There is no country like ours anywhere, and no people like Canadians. I pray that God will keep this great country of ours safe, glorious and free.

(To donate to paying off Imam Soharwardy’s continuing costs of financing the Multi Faith Walk Against Violence please go to: …………………..)

To learn more about the Multi Faith Walk Against Violence, here are a few links: (This is the most comprehensive collection of media articles on the walk.)  (Featuring the song “Full of Humility” by Kitchener Ont. Native, Dawud Wharnsby Ali.)   (Rhythmically chanting the name of Allah, a technique called Zikr, is a spiritual and inspirational practice used by Sufis to overcome stress and fatigue. This can be heard in a clip where Imam Soharwardy is en route to Thunder Bay.)  (Featuring the song “Our World” by South African Muslim singer-songwriter Zain Bhikha.)  (Featuring the song “Tala’al Badru Alayna” by Yusuf Islam.)  (Featuring the closing ceremony of the Multi Faith Walk Against Violence at the British Columbia legislature building in Victoria on October 27, 2008.)  (More from the public closing ceremony of the Multi Faith Walk Against Violence at the British Columbia legislature building in Victoria on October 27, 2008.)

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