An Islamic Lens on Justice in the 21st Century: A Talk with Saima Malik
Saima Malik, Assistant Vice- President for Digital Channels at TD, leads a team responsible for the development of all digital sales capabilities across banking, insurance and investing digital platforms across North America. In the last seven years, Saima has led major transformational digital initiatives for TD Bank including Mobile Appointment Booking, Chat, and Digital Advertising.
Saima champions the cause of “adl” in her environment, pushing for women empowerment as the leader of the TD Women in Leadership (WIL) program for the digital and payments area. The program seeks to increase the representation of women in leadership positions by building the talent pipeline, developing forward thinking programs and helping women achieve their career aspirations.
As a Mentor with the MAX Mentors program, Saima is playing a pivotal role in establishing a WIL program at MAX, geared towards creating a supportive network for young Muslim females entering the workforce. As a mother of three, Saima enjoys staying active and busy with her family and is often found at the gym or basketball court with her kids. Saima is also actively involved in the community as a board member at IDRF, a Canadian global charity. In addition Saima actively mentors young professionals at work and in the community.
In this quarterly issue of the MAX Mentors newsletter, we asked Saima Malik to shed light on how to strike a balance between our responsibilities of creating and maintaining adl and allyship in the rather ambiguous corporate world of the 21st century.
How do we walk the fine line between personal beliefs and professional obligations? Is that even a reasonable distinction to make?
My workplace offers a culture that values diversity where employees feel comfortable and supported regardless of their background, religion, race, gender, and disability/ability. At TD, I have been able to help advocate for women in the tech space. In addition, I have been asked to share and write about my perspectives as a Canadian Muslim with TD employees. I am proud to work for a place where all employees have the opportunity to showcase their talents and achieve their full potential. If you are currently working in an environment where your personal beliefs are at odds with where you work or what you do – you need to ask yourself – will I be able to be my ultimate best? Can I achieve excellence at what I do? Am I passionate about what I do?
How can those in careers where ideas of social justice seem more nebulous, such as marketing or finance, make a difference?
The most important thing to consider first is what matters to you the most. What are you passionate about? Start by reaching out to organizations that interest you and tell them about your background, skills, and experiences. Identify the areas you want more exposure in i.e. leadership and communications. Seek to leverage and complement your area of expertise with the organization or cause you are interested in. For example, if you are in finance, you can help identify ways to help manage expenses or raise donations. If you are in marketing or communications, you can assist in helping to refine messaging and branding. Additionally, if you are in the digital or technology sector, you can improve mobile or web experiences for users or help automate processes or documentation.
Do our obligations for social justice mean allyship with marginalized groups? How about activism in the workplace?
I believe that collaboration/allyship over competition is key. Connecting with others will not only help build stronger relationships with other marginalized groups but enable a louder voice, leverage resources and drive empowerment.
I would not consider myself an activist and I’m sure that many do not see themselves like this, however, I do want to see positive change in the areas that are meaningful to me such as women in leadership. I believe in order to initiate change, it requires leadership, support and action on my behalf.
I would encourage you to evaluate how you can help drive change in your workplace. Can you help mobilize individuals to start thinking collectively about progressive change? A simple act can be to organize a luncheon to help foster discussion and brainstorm ideas. Start small and as you meet others with similar passion, the momentum will build and action will follow.
How have Islamic teachings on social justice inspired your work?
My focus has been on advocating for women to help increase their representation in leadership roles, both in business and community. Islam was one of the first religions to help establish the rights of women and pave the way for them to attain leadership positions within the community as businesswomen, politicians and scholars. There are many stereotypes of Muslim women and what their rights are. I believe as Muslims, we have an obligation to help dispel these myths and when possible, utilize our leadership positions to educate others around us by example. I am currently working with MAX to look for opportunities to develop, connect and profile Canadian Muslim women in leadership positions within the business and community sectors. In addition, I am dedicated to human rights and the well-being of girls and women; a core component of Islamic values.
Allyship and Adl: A Review
In the heart of downtown Toronto, amidst icy roads and traffic jams, the meeting room inside Tory’s LLP buzzed with warmth and an eagerness to learn from a panel of powerful guest speakers, including:
|Mr. Ziyaad Mia, a lawyer, social justice activist, award-winning writer, founder of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association’s advocacy arm and the founder of Give 30;|
|Mr. Kofi Achampong, a lawyer, who works as a Policy and Stakeholder Relations Advisor for an Ontario cabinet minister at Queens Park. He is the former president of the Osgoode Hall Black Law Students’ Association;|
|Dr. Shazeen Suleiman, a staff paediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital, one of the founders of the paediatric outreach program at the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care and co-founders of the non-profit MusicBox Children’s Charity;|
|Mr. Jeewan Chanicka, Superintendent of Equity, Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression at the Toronto District School Board. He has worked to re engage at risk youth back into schooling and had the honour to be a torchbearer for the 2015 PanAm games;|
All the speakers spoke emphatically about the need to live a life of purpose dedicated to serving those in need.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” quoted by Ziyaad Mia in his opening remarks for the evening, referencing the great American political activist Henry David Thoreau. Born in Apartheid South Africa, he beseeched the group to act when something needs to change and not to assume that someone else will do it. He referenced the hadith of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) which stated that if you know the end of the world is imminent, but you have started to plant a seed, continue and complete that act, allegorically stating that good actions always matter.
Dr. Shazeen Suleiman spoke expressively about some of the children she sees in her care who suffer from developmental delays that are often a result of poverty and lack of support from the child’s family. She added that mentorship can be an act of empowerment and social justice. She discussed how her mentors led her and supported her to do the work that she does, in social justice as part of her practice of medicine when others might relegate the advocacy to social work or other social services.
Mr. Jeewan Chanicka aptly quoted Judge Murray Sinclair stating that “education is what got us here, and education will get us out.” While acknowledging our roots in colonialism and understanding that inequitable systems and structures drive our practice, he also acknowledged that we have created similar powers and structures in our own Muslim institutions, such as mosques where boards are predominantly men and of one community. When we make mistakes, we are quick to defend our good intentions in accordance with Islam, but Mr. Chanicka asserted that our best intentions are no longer enough. We must listen, truly listen without getting defensive and understand that it is necessary to “centre the voices of those who are marginalized” in order to seek justice for all.
Mr. Kofi Achampong, who kept the conversation flowing with his humour and periodic allusions to X-Men and the civil rights movement, emceed the event. Dr. Saad Ahmed, the chair for MAX Mentors, closed the evening reminding us of the Prophet Muhammad’s last khutbah that all are equal in the eyes of God and that we must seek justice for all.
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