A campaign is urging Manitoba Muslims to vote in Monday’s election.
The push is part of a national effort called the Canadian-Muslim Vote, which is sponsoring two town hall meetings with city candidates. The first is in Winnipeg South Centre at the Grand Mosque, 2445 Waverley St., at 7 p.m. tonight. The second is in Winnipeg Centre at Knox United Church, 400 Edmonton St., at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Idris Elbakri, president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, said the two ridings were chosen because large numbers of Muslims live there.
Elbakri said the campaign was launched because low voter turnout "is not healthy for any democracy."
It’s also important for Muslims because some recent immigrants to the province come from countries where voting wasn’t allowed or was a sham.
"We want to get the message out to them that voting is what it means to be part of Canada," Elbakri said.
Many Muslims already vote, he said, adding, "We want to increase it and make voting contagious" in the community.
It’s a personal issue for Elbakri, who grew up in Palestine and didn’t have an opportunity to vote.
The first time he voted was in 2011, at age 36, after coming to Canada.
"I still remember how glad I was to be able to do it," Elbakri said. "I never want to take it for granted."
During election time, he and his wife take their children with them to the polling station so they can see how important voting is.
Elbakri said Muslims are interested in the same campaign issues that concern other Canadians, including health care, the environment, taxes and the cost of living.
Foreign policy is also of interest, Elbakri said, because many Muslims emigrated from other countries. Increasing Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism in general are also high on the list, he said.
To get the word out about the importance of voting, the campaign is using social media and word of mouth, and mentioning it at Friday prayers.
"Voting is a privilege," Elbakri said. "We never want to take it for granted, especially since some members of our community know what it’s like to live in countries where they had no say in how things were run. That’s why we are happy to vote. It’s our act of Canadian citizenship."
The campaign and town halls are sponsored by the association, the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute, the Husaini Association of Manitoba, the Rahma Islamic Centre, the Winnipeg Central Mosque and the Winnipeg Islamic Centre. For information: themuslimvote.ca.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.