When the Olympic Cauldron was lit at BC Place Stadium on 12 February – marking the opening of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games – the fire that set it alight came by way of more than 25 members of the Ismaili community. Like thousands of their fellow Canadians, they were chosen to carry the flame as it made its way across Canada in the months leading up to the Games.
The Olympic Torch Relay was a 45 000 kilometre journey that started in Victoria, British Columbia. As it criss-crossed the land, visiting each Canadian province and territory and touching over 1 000 communities and places of interest, it unified the country and built excitement in anticipation of the Games. In the course of 106 days, some 12 000 people had the honour of carrying the Olympic flame as torch bearers.
The Olympic flame is symbolic of the Games' principles of peace, brotherhood and friendship – also cherished by Muslims. When it returned to British Columbia, Hassanali Merali had the honour of carrying it in Vancouver.
“Carrying the flame was a unique opportunity to represent the Foundation, the Ismaili community and Canada at large,” said Merali, who was asked to carry the Olympic flame as a representative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “The Olympics is an event which represents the multicultural and diverse society in which we live. I take a lot of pride in being a part of the Ismaili community, a community that contributes to the wider society.”
A Tanzanian who immigrated to Canada in 1972, Merali has lived in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and is now a resident of British Columbia. Volunteerism has been an important part of his life, and his services to the Heart and Stroke Foundation over the past 11 years earned him the Foundation's Skookum Award for leadership, dedication and hard work, as well as the Leadership Award with Distinction, which recognises ten years of dedication and contribution to the organisation.
Zoya Jiwa, a Grade 10 high school student from Coquitlam, British Columbia was part of a leadership group that entered a contest run by the Royal Bank of Canada, which challenged students to send in a video showing how their school helps the community. Along with 20 others, Jiwa was selected to carry the Olympic flame over a one kilometre stretch in Coquitlam. “We are all united by the Olympics as it brings people together,” said Jiwa. ”It is also an exciting time for the Ismaili community and it is awesome that we get to participate in the torch relay and other Olympic events.”
Farhan Lalji is no stranger to major sporting events. As a broadcaster with Canadian sports network TSN for the past 12 years, the 2010 Games will be the fourth Olympic Games that Lalji has covered. The network was allocated six spots in the torch relay, and Lalji was the only BC on-air personality asked to carry the flame. He described how the excitement for the event grew as he made his way towards his starting position.
“Once I was in my position to start the relay, the reaction in the streets made me realise that this was an extremely special moment,” said Lalji. “I had about seven minutes with my wife, son, parents, and sister at the starting spot before I got the torch, and I was extremely happy to be able to share with my family. The reaction on the streets and from the people was overwhelming.”
On 11 February 2010, Ismaili Council for Canada Vice-President Malik Talib carried the Olympic flame in Vancouver. “The Olympic Games are an opportunity for the Ismaili community to show our strong community values and spirit of volunteerism,” said Talib. “The Olympic ideals of peace, brotherhood and friendship are shared values of the Ismaili community, and it is our privilege to be given the opportunity to work together with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to help welcome the world to Canada.”
A list of Ismaili participants in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay is provided below.
President, Ismaili Council for Canada Toronto, ON
Vice-President, Ismaili Council for Canada Vancouver, BC
(upcoming) Zahir Abji Whistler, BC