By Nargis N.

It was a cold and icy day in Toronto. Instead of the usual snow storm, we had an ice storm. The roads were slippery and schools were closed due to bad weather.

But a big day was ahead for the Muslims of Toronto. The first ever event to recognize excellence in Muslims was opening its door at the Ritz Carlton downtown! Yes, the steep price of $200 per ticket did nothing to deter people from making the MAX gala tickets sell out within a few weeks of its launch.

 

From youth awards, to Best Entrepreneur, Best Charity and Women of the year awards along with several others, MAX gala had done their best to leave no one out.

They also included the non-Muslims as ‘Friends of the Muslim Community Award’ who had been working for justice for Muslims. Several well deserved people were nominated for this.

 

That evening, from home, looking out the window and watching chunks of ice everywhere, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to step out the door, but putting on a brave front I headed out with my team to cheer the recipients of the MAX award. MY Voice Canada’s team of videographer Naoma Khan and interviewer Ghulam Jamil were all set to head out to interview the youth nominees and winners at the event. As their founder I was also invited to sit and watch the show and to enjoy the fancy several course meal of the famous Ritz.

 

As winners came and went and speeches of prominent government officials and leaders of the community were heard, I glanced at the program to see what was coming next. My heart lurched as I read Friends of the Community Award was next and Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s lawyer, was a nominee. My sister Sara who works at the Free Omar Khadr campaign from Amsterdam has made Omar a well-known person in our household. Omar’s case has been so close to my heart and the love and respect we feel for Dennis and all that he has done for him is so strong that I started to look around the ballroom, wondering where he was sitting and if he would win. I couldn’t think of a better person to receive the award, hoping that our community had the sense to vote for him as its recipient.

 

Sara had asked me a few months ago what the MAX awards were since Dennis had been told of its nomination and had asked her team what it was and if he should go. Apparently my text to her encouraging him to go, saying that it is like the Oscars for Muslims and he deserves to win made its way to him but I had forgotten all about that.

 

Sure enough, as his name was called, the entire hall stood up for him clapping non-stop. It was an emotional time for me and I am sure for many others as a humble Dennis was escorted to the podium to share some words with us.

 

Dennis has been famously quoted to have once said that the first time he went to meet Omar in Guantanamo, he went in as a lawyer and came out as a broken father. Only a teenager then, Omar became the face of Guantanamo’s child prisoner and became a deeply heart-breaking subject for most of us. Being a founder of a magazine to give a chance to our young Muslim youth, my heart felt very close to the 15 year old Omar’s plight and, even though he is all grown up now, I still see him as a young boy greatly wronged.

 

The years Dennis has worked pro bono (without pay) tirelessly, making personal sacrifices with his family, for Omar, are all testament to the paternal love he has for him (he now lives with Dennis’s family in Edmonton), and the strength with which he fights for his justice.

 

“You must always stand up and challenge human indignity,” were Dennis’ profound words at the end of the speech leaving many with lumps in their throats.

 

As he left the stage I excitedly ran out the doors to meet him and he greeted me warmly. I introduced myself as Sara’s sister and we got a picture taken together. I felt like the day had wrapped up beautifully. Cold or not, listening to Dennis’ moving speech and simply meeting him made the trip to the gala worth it!

me and dennisjamil aisha

 

Our team went up to him to tell him that we have awarded a one-year subscription of MY Voice Canada magazine to Omar, something we have all the intentions of extending if Omar so wishes.

 

For those of you that do not know Omar’s case or what he and Dennis have gone through, please visit: www.freeomar.ca and be generous in your donations to this cause. Their journey for justice is not over.

 

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