Salma Lakhani, Alberta’s First Muslim Lieutenant Governor, Speaks to Canadian Geographic on Building a More Inclusive Canada

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: As Simerg completes its 13 years of continuous publication, we launch a special series profiling Ismaili leaders of distinction over the past 125 years. The series will be dedicated to Ismaili institutional leaders as well as individuals who have achieved distinction and recognition working outside the Ismaili community, yet continuing to support the work of the Ismaili Imamat through its Jamati institutions and the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies. We welcome articles from all over the world for this new initiative. Please write in confidence to the editor at mmerchant@barakah.com.

Map of Canada
Map of Canada, world’s 2nd largest country (9,984,670 sq kms, 6.1% of world landmass) after Russia (17,098,242 sq kms, 11% of world landmass). The map represents Canada’s Political Divisions, and shows boundaries, capitals, selected place names, selected drainage and names, the Arctic Circle and adjacent foreign areas. Photo: Natural Resources Canada.

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

My first home in Canada was in Edmonton. I left London, England, in late December 1980, with the blessings of my mother, Malek (“Mrs. Merchant”), and arrived several hours later to my new home in the thick of winter. It was a clear day, and from the plane I only saw snow as it flew over Canada to my destination. My dad, who had arrived in the city a few days earlier from London to give talks on science and faith as well as other religious topics at the invitation of the local Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB (then known as the Ismailia Association) was there to receive me.

Malik Merchant with Jehangir and Malek Merchant, Simerg
The editor of Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos, Malik Merchant, is pictured with his beloved late parents, Jehangir (d. May 2018) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021), at the Gatineau Park in the Canada’s National Capital Region during their visit to Ottawa in 2007. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

That weeklong presence of my beloved dad was inspirational, and filled me with immense courage during my first phase of settling down in a new country. Earlier during the year, I had successfully completed an IT assignment in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Edmonton was my home for just under 3 years, before my consulting firm, Cognos, relocated me to Ottawa, Ontario, in late 1983, due to branch closure. I am happy to say that, as of January 2022, Alberta has once again become my home. It will give me an opportunity to reconnect with my boyhood friends, the Jamat as well as many friends with whom I played sports in the past. The Jamat has grown significantly, and the opportunity of seeing thousands of Ismaili faces from Afghanistan excites me.

During my time in Edmonton in the early 1980’s, Dr. Zaheer Lakhani, was the Chairman of the Aga Khan Edmonton Council (or the Administrative Committee, as it was then known, I think), and I came to know him as an open-minded leader who reached out to the Jamat seeking out their suggestions, opinions and ideas. I have not met Zaheer for almost 40 years now, but I was extremely pleased to learn about his wife Salma’s appointment as the 19th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

Story continues below

Dr. Zaheer Lakhani accompanies his wife, Her Honour Salma Lakhani AOE, at her Lt. Gov of Alberta installation ceremony, Simerg and Malik Merchant; Al Karim Walli twitter photo
Dr. Zaheer Lakhani accompanies his wife Salma Lakhani at her installation ceremony as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta on August 26, 2020. Photo: Via Al-Karim Walli’s Twitter page.

Salma’s appointment was announced on June 30, 2020 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She became the first-ever Muslim to hold the ceremonial position in Canadian history. In a written statement on her appointment the Prime Minister said: “Ms. Lakhani is devoted to supporting people in her community, from new immigrants and young people, to women and families. As Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, I know she will serve the people of her province and our country well, and continue to be a source of inspiration for all Canadians.”

Profile of Honourable Salama Lakhani

The following biographical sketch of Honourable Salma Lakhani has been compiled from the websites of the Prime Minister of Canada and the Government of Alberta. Readers may also wish to access the website of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta to read more about Honourable Salma Lakhani.

Lieutenant Governor Lakhani tours new Stanley A. Milner Downtown Branch of the Edmonton Public Library
Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani is seen touring the new Stanley A. Milner Downtown Branch of the Edmonton Public Library, September 13, 2021. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

Salma Lakhani is a long-time resident of Edmonton, and a distinguished community advocate with a passion for education, health care, human rights, and support for new immigrants. A proud Ismaili Muslim, her longstanding service as a community leader and volunteer has been guided by her deep commitment to the values of pluralism and inclusion and her dedication to championing those who face barriers in life. Salma inherited her devotion to giving back from her parents, Abdul and Malek Rajabali, who were active members of the Ismaili community.

Salma was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda. A keen student with a deep seeded love of education, Salma attended the Aga Khan School in Kampala before pursuing post-secondary studies at the University of Manchester in England. Her life took an unforeseen and dramatic turn during a summer visit home to Kampala in 1972, when it was announced that the country’s entire Asian minority population was to be expelled. Salma’s parents pressed her to return immediately to England, travelling on her Ugandan passport. Within three months, her family would be stripped of virtually everything and she would be stranded in England with no funds to continue her education and no valid passport.

She had become a stateless person. Salma had two saving graces that sustained through this challenging time. First, she had the love and support of her fellow exile and future husband, Zaheer Lakhani. The couple also learned that their tuition would be covered by the British government, allowing Salma to complete her Honours degree in Clinical Biochemistry and Zaheer to graduate in Medicine from the University of Leeds. The couple married in Leeds in 1977. That year, the University of Alberta accepted Zaheer’s application to continue his postgraduate studies in Edmonton and the Lakhanis began writing a new chapter in Canada.

Dr. Lakhani went on to establish himself as a cardiologist while Salma helped to manage his practice and operated a business focused on early childhood education, which developed out of her innate affinity for teaching. She also began looking for opportunities to give back and to help those in need to thrive.

Story continues below

Salma Lakhani tours Aga Khan Gardens
Her Honour Salma Lakhani (centre of photo) toured the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden located near Devon, Alberta, on September 23, 2020. She was joined by Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer and University of Alberta Chancellor Peggy Garritty. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

Salma was one of the first mentors in NorQuest College’s Youth in Transition program, providing valuable guidance for students with English as a second language. She was a founding member of the College’s 1000Women: A Million Possibilities movement, and served on its advisory committee for ten years. In addition she also shared her skills, energy and passion for service with the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, Kids Kottage, Sorrentino’s Compassion House, the Alberta Cancer Board, the Zebra Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation Canada. She received the NorQuest College Honorary Diploma in Community Services Leadership in 2019. In recognition of her services to the community and civil society, Ms. Lakhani was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Upon her installation as Alberta’s vice-regal representative, she became a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence and Chancellor of the Order. Her Honour is Vice-Prior of the St. John Council for Alberta and a Dame of the Order of St. John. She received an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta in 2021. Their Honours Salama and Zaheer Lakhani make their home in Edmonton. Their family includes daughter Safia Lakhani, daughter Soraya Lakhani and son-in-law Zain Velji.

The Honourable Salama Lakhani’s Interview with Canadian Geographic

In August 2021, one year into her term as Lieutenant Governor, the Canadian Geographic magazine, which is dedicated to uncovering and communicating the stories about Canadian people, places, frontiers and issues (past and present) spoke with the Honourable Salma Lakhani. In the interview with Kate Helmore she reflected on her journey, and her hopes for her province and country. Please read the full interview on the Canadian Geographic website by clicking HERE or on the photo below.

“…after the discovery of the mass graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School, I had a meeting with a First Nations Elder, Roy Lewis. And he said to me that while this is extremely sad for all Indigenous people, and it’s sad for all Canadians, it is an amazing opportunity to learn and to understand. This is where I hope to be able to play a role” — Honourable Salma Lakhani in interview with Canadian Geographic magazine

the Honourable Salma Lakhani, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canadian Geographical, Simerg, Malik Merchant
Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Please click on photo for Canadian Geographic interview

Date posted: February 7, 2022.

________________

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click on Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor, Malik, may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com.