Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to rise in the House to speak in support of Bill C‑232, which would designate the month of April as Arab heritage month. I also want to thank the hon. member for Ottawa South for introducing this bill.
I would also like to take a moment, given the context we are in right now with world affairs, to mark and speak about Ukraine. We know that this is a grave humanitarian crisis. We know that the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and for their freedom. I am grateful to our government, and to all of us together in the House, for uniting to help the people of Ukraine and to avert this humanitarian crisis.
Returning back to Bill C-232 and Arab history month, in my university days in the early 2000s I first came to know who Arab Canadians are and who Arab people are, including their history and culture. It was at this time in my undergrad that I got to have and develop deep friendships with my Arab classmates. As somebody from a diverse background, a father that came here to Canada in the seventies and a mom who a third-generation Canadian of mixed Italian and Scottish heritage from Brockville, Ontario, I am personally fascinated by people's stories.
I am fascinated by people's personal stories, their ethnicities, their cultures and their heritage. That is how I became fascinated by Arab Canadians and all Canadians who I was studying with while at university. I learned that Arabs are not a monolith, but are of diverse cultures and diverse backgrounds. I learned too that there are contours to the Arab people. Their history and culture is deep.
Later on, once I completed my degree in mathematics, I ended up working in Kuwait. For the first time since being born in Canada, I was living outside of Canada. It was there that I got to again know what Arab culture is about, but that is just one small aspect of Arab culture in the Gulf.
I also had the chance to visit other countries, such as Bahrain. I had the chance to see the beautiful deserts of Saudi Arabia, to see Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in UAE and to go to Morocco, and I acknowledge that not all Moroccans identify as Arabs. Many will identify colloquially as Berbers, or Imazighen, who are indigenous people, in contrast to Arabs.
I have also had the chance to visit Jerusalem and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. I have seen the diversity of Arab peoples, at least a part of it. There are 400 million Arabs in the world. There are 25 countries that have Arabic as a first language. There are many Canadians who also link themselves to Arab culture and heritage.
Arabs are not only geographically diverse and living in many different countries, they are also diverse when it comes to their faith traditions. The caricature is that Arabs are mostly Muslim, and while that might be true, there are important Christian communities within Arab lands who speak Arabic. There have also been historically Jewish communities that are within Arab lands.
In my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard, I have had an amazing conversation with a gentleman who is living here today who lived in Iraq and who is attached to the Arabic language and culture of Iraq. Arabs are also of Druze faith and the Baha'i faith and no faith at all. Arabs are actually quite diverse in terms of their religion and background.
Before I leave the regional diversity of Arabs, it would be wrong of me not to speak for a moment about Yemen. We have the caricature of Arabs, especially those in the Gulf, as being wealthy oil sheiks, but there is also poverty. There is sometimes deep poverty, and right now in Yemen, there is what the UN has said might be the deepest humanitarian crisis currently on earth with over 20 million people starving due to six years of conflict. This is something for us to reflect upon.
This is something for us to reflect upon, and as we think of the people of Ukraine, one million of whom are displaced, I am sure our hearts and minds also go to the international community and to people who are suffering on this earth, such as in Yemen at this point in time, too.
I would like to switch a moment and go from diversity of regions, regionality and contours, and destroying and breaking some caricatures, to fleshing out the diversity of faith of Arab peoples and to note their large contributions to humanity.
We know today of the current geopolitical challenges in the Arab world, but we sometimes also forget about the contributions Arabs have made to humanity. I will name a few.
One is al-Kindi, who was a father of Arab philosophy in the 9th century. He lived in Baghdad. He brought into the Arabic language Greek science and philosophy and made it available to humanity. He was also a luminary in metaphysics, ethics, logic, psychology, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astrology and so many other subjects. If only we could be like people of ancient times who were luminaries in many different domains.
There was also Ibn Rushd, commonly known to many of us here in the west as Averroes, who lived in the 12th century. He was heavily influential in contributing to the European Renaissance movement. He also was a luminary in philosophy, medicine, theology, astronomy, physics, mathematics, law and numerous other fields. He also had many treatises and commentaries on Aristotle.
If we fast-forward to present day, Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer who so many know, especially those who are connected to Egyptian culture and heritage. She was a film actress also. A singer-songwriter from the 1920s to the 1970s, she is very well known.
There is also Nancy Ajram from Lebanon, who is also quite well known.
I mentioned earlier our human family, in which Arabs number upward of 400 million and 25 countries have Arabic as a first language. Let us zoom in here on Canada, where at least one million Canadians mark their heritage as from an Arabic background. In Quebec, ma belle province, there are 170,000 Canadians and Quebeckers of Arabic origin. In my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard, there are 7,000 Canadians and residents of Arabic origin.
Arab Canadians are a fast-growing population. They are also highly educated. Among the highly educated people within our country, 61% of Arabs have a post-secondary diploma, degree or certificate. This is something that is important to note. Arabs are hard-working.
The first known Arab to come to Canada arrived in 1882 and settled in Montreal. From that time until now, we have seen Arabs come to Canada and contribute to our social fabric.
I want to take a moment to highlight the importance of this heritage month. Arab heritage month, like so many other heritage months that give communities the chance to educate fellow Canadians about their culture and heritage and give communities the chance to share their contributions to humanity, would give Arab Canadians a chance to contribute to our social fabric and to share their contributions.