Muslims throughout Surrey and White Rock want to see more diversity and inclusion in city politics –something many of them find has been lacking thus far.
Municipal elections for communities throughout the province will be held Oct. 15 this year. Residents of Surrey will vote for one mayor, eight councillors and six school trustees, while White Rock residents will choose a mayor, six councillors and one school trustee on voting day. Among those gearing up to make their choice are members of growing Muslim populations in both communities.
Violent crime targeting minorities is rising in the country, as reported by Statistics Canada in August. In line with these findings, Asad Syed of the White Rock Muslim Association would like to see more protection provided to racial and religious communities, because many of them do not feel safe, he said.
“We are trying to bring more representation (in city hall) so it’s easier to raise our voice to be heard,” Syed told Peace Arch News.
South Surrey and White Rock’s Muslim population is growing rapidly, with their mosque bursting at the seams, to the point of not being able to physically fit every person.
At times, they will hold the same prayer twice so, that everyone who would like to attend has a chance, but this is still not enough, Syed said.
Syed’s family has been living in South Surrey for nearly two decades. Originally from Pakistan, Syed, his wife Roshan Jamal and their three children — two daughters and one son —were originally one of very few families living in the area who came from a diverse background. Now, everything is changing, they said.
“(White Rock) used to be mostly one racial community, one religious community. It was pretty monolithic so their candidates reflected that. And now we have so much (with) multiculturalism… but the political landscape doesn’t reflect that and it hasn’t really changed,” Syed’s daughter Rabea Syeda told PAN.
“It’s a level of privilege, too. When you’re working so hard, struggling with your income, your housing, you’re trying to stay above the poverty line, you don’t even have time to worry about politics because you’re struggling to take care of your day-to-day… What are those in power doing for our communities to support them to even be interested in politics?”
Members of the White Rock Muslim Association often only see city officials visit and speak with them when it’s campaign time.
“Now you guys come? Where were you the rest of the year?” Jamal would like to ask city officials.
The issue becomes more frustrating when Syed reaches out to the mayor and councillors, from Surrey and White Rock, and some do not bother replying to him, he said. Many do visit the community and engage with them, which they love to see, but there are some city officials no one from the community has ever spoken to, he said.
A goal the founder of the White Rock Muslim group is working towards is getting people of all ages involved in voting, which is proving to be a challenge.
“I see that youth are not interested in politics and that’s my worry, they’re totally disconnected. We’re trying to get the young people involved but it’s a long process,” Syed said.
Encouraging younger voters is something Syed strives for through collaboration with other mosques throughout the Lower Mainland.
One of the other groups South Surrey Muslims work with is the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which has its mosque in North Delta.
Getting youth involved in voting is their goal also, said Naeem Ahmed Lakhan, president of the Lower Mainland Ahmadi Muslims, who is also a Surrey-resident.
“I don’t see that many people who are interested in going into politics but we would like to see it happen. We want to play our role in the development of the city we live in and we are encouraging our young people to do that, but right now, we don’t have anyone,” he said.
Although not all members of the Ahmadi mosque vote the same way, as they are encouraged to make their own individual decisions, Lakhan said that a common opinion of his community is they would like to see the promises made to be kept.
“A vote is a form of trust and the trust should not be broken and that is in our understanding and teachings,” he said.
Syed works with a lot of community groups throughout South Surrey and White Rock to address urgent issues, such as homelessness and affordability. With the colder months approaching, he would like to see city officials take action to reduce the number of people living on the streets and make it less “impossible” for people to live in homes.
“The city has a lot of spare land. Let some minorities — it doesn’t matter who, of what (racial or religious) background — use that space,” Syed said.
Lakhan agrees with this sentiment, saying that the Oct. 15 election is crucial to vote in because “it shapes everything.”