Law student wins inaugural Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award

Lina Bensaidane honoured for her work to advance the inclusion of Muslims in Quebec and Canadian society

In many ways it is fitting that Lina Bensaidane, of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, will be the first recipient of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec (CCIQ) Memorial Award. The Award was established at McGill earlier this year in the wake of the January 29, 2017 attack at the CCIQ, a Quebec City mosque, where six men were killed and 19 others were injured when a lone gunman opened fire shortly after the end of evening prayers. The Award goes to students who show a commitment to fostering the inclusion of Muslims within the larger Quebecois and Canadian societies.

“I have a Quebecois accent, light hair and do not appear as a visible minority,” says Lina Bensaidane, a Muslim. She says this sometimes helps remind people “that Islam is a faith and not a race.”

Bensaidane’s family helped to start the CCIQ in Sainte-Foy, where she grew up. Her mother was at the CCIQ just a few hours before the shootings that left two dozen men injured and killed. As a teenager she babysat the three children of Azzeddine Soufiane, the owner of a halal grocery store known for welcoming newcomers to Quebec City, who was killed trying to stop the shooter. Besaidane, a 21-year-old in her third year of Law, will receive the award on Wednesday, Nov. 21, at 5:30 pm, in the Wendy Patrick Room of Wilson Hall.

Embrace diversity, don’t push it away

“I’m grateful for the support of this Award,” says Bensaidane. “But for me the most important thing is to remember the people who were killed, and their wives and children. We really need to learn to accept diversity, and not fear it.”

Bensaidane describes herself as a vocal defender of her community, who tries to demystify the Muslim faith for anyone who is curious to know more. “When I’m asked about the hijab, I openly talk about my mother, who chose to wear the hijab at age 26 as a pure act of faith, to counter the common misconception of the oppressed Muslim woman,” she says. “My openness about my faith has allowed my non-Muslim peers to counter Islamophobic claims themselves.”

The co-founder of the Muslim Law Student Association (MLSA) at McGill, Bensaidane has also helped organize several successful events in diversity education at the Faculty of Law. She is the only student member of the executive of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association.

Bensaidane will receive the Award from Cara Piperni, Director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid.

Support needed

“I am delighted about McGill’s new Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award,” said Provost Christopher Manfredi when the creation of the Award was announced at a June tree-planting ceremony to honour the six men who lost their lives. “This award encourages us to look back and remember, but also to look forward with hope. The McGill students who receive this award in years ahead will represent academic talent and a commitment to fostering inclusion, and will thus be outstanding ambassadors for our University.”

The plan is to be able to give monetary awards of $1,200 each, to two students enrolled in any McGill degree program who are in good academic standing and who advocate for social justice. Organizers have created a Seeds of Change crowd sourcing page  in hope that people will support the endowment that funds the Award.

“We need help to fund the Award,” says Ehab Lotayef, Eng. IT & Technical Services Manager;  Lotayef who, along with Sameer Zuberi, Diversity and Engagement Officer in the Faculty of Medicine, is the CCIQ Award fundraising campaign co-chair. “Our goal is to raise $60,000, the minimum needed to endow this award in perpetuity, so that future students may benefit as well.”

Those who wish to make a donation to the endowment for the CCIQ Memorial Award are encouraged to do so here. McGill’s inaugural Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award will be presented to Lina Bensaidane on Wednesday, Nov. 21, at 5:30 pm, in the Wendy Patrick Room of Wilson Hall. The reception is open to the public.

On June 18, a commemorative ironwood tree was planted on the east side of Dawson Hall, with a commemorative plaque that reads “This tree was planted by McGill University in memory of the 6 (six) Muslims slain at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City (CCIQ) on January 29, 2017.”