Muslim women's helpline defends decision to invite American activist to Richmond

The leader of a Muslim women’s helpline is defending her non-profit’s decision to bring one of America’s highest profile activist’s to speak at its gala in Richmond on Friday evening.

Tanweer Ebrahim – CEO of the Surrey-based Nisa Helpline, which assists Muslim women across North America seeking counselling – will welcome often controversial activist and feminist Linda Sarsour to the UBC Boathouse tomorrow.

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Sarsour was the co-chair of the 2017 and 2019 Women's March in the U.S. and is a former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

However, she has been heavily criticized by Jewish commentators around the world for what they perceive as “anti-Semitic” views.

And when it became apparent she was set to be the keynote speaker at Nisa’s gala fundraiser in Richmond, the charity was flooded with protests from the local Jewish community.

“(Linda) has been a strong supporter of the helpline in the past, long before she became famous,” said Ebrahim, of the decision to invite Sarsour.

“People look up to her as a woman and a Muslim woman who is speaking up for equality. She is usually very hard to get, but we managed to do that.”

Some members of the Richmond Jewish community reached out to the Richmond News to express their concerns over Sarsour's appearance, but declined to be named or quoted.

Of the protests received by Nisa, notably from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in Vancouver, Ebrahim said they took their concerns seriously.

“(CIJA) was worried about Linda having anti-Semitic views and things like that. We also heard from other members of the local Jewish community and some of them were very aggressive in their communications with us. Some of our volunteers were feeling threatened,” she said.

“People were very angry and were demanding we revoke our invitation to Linda. We took those concerns into consideration and discussed it internally.

“But the booking was already made and many tickets had been sold on the back of Linda coming to speak.”

Ebrahim said she talked personally with Sarsour, who agreed to stick to women’s empowerment and to leave politics aside.

“She knows who we are and that we’re not affiliated to anything or anyone political,” added Ebrahim.

“We don’t want our organization’s image to suffer and we’re actually looking to connect with (the Jewish community) after this event; it’s a great opportunity to establish a relationship. This may be a blessing in disguise. We certainly don’t advocate for any division.”

Ebrahim hasn’t heard of any official protests being planned but, given the tone of some of the emails Nisa’s volunteers received, she has asked Richmond RCMP to keep an eye on the area.

The Richmond News has reached out to CIJA for comment.

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