Khalid Arriani has spent hundreds of hours giving back in the community he now calls home, in part to pay forward the help he was given when he first arrived in Canada, and in part because of his faith.
In 1997, Khalid was a 30-year old engineer in Morocco wanting more opportunities. Canada was open, and he left his parents and seven siblings in Casablanca for Vancouver. It was hard times economically and although fluent in French, he was not able to work as an engineer with his limited English. He took jobs in retail and restaurants, improving his language skills at night school, and going to BCIT to study electrical engineering during the day.
“It was hard, but I am glad I did it,” he says. “I am not going back – I love Morocco. It is my native country, but Canada is home.”
“It’s like Morocco is my mom and Canada is my wife. I love them both …,” he trails off laughing, sharing the analogy. “Also, my kids were born here, so Canada is their home.”
With his schooling complete, Khalid worked in Vancouver for a year before joining ESS Technologies in Kelowna in 2001. Then it was a team of four and he was the second person hired. Now he is the physical design manager and the company has grown to over thirty employees.
“It’s wonderful to live in Kelowna and have a high-tech job. Here you work and you can see the mountains and the lake. It’s nice,” he says, content.
Khalid has been active with the Islamic Centre for over 15 years, six of them as president. He worked outreach events that built connections with other faith groups and community organizations. From family picnics to cooking dinners at the Gospel Mission, the events shared both culture and nourishment.
Three years ago, Khalid became very active in helping the Syrian refugees that were starting to arrive in the region, both officially as the then president of the Islamic Centre, but also personally, spending many hours working with community organizations that were supporting and sponsoring families, such as KCR – Community Resources, where his wife Siham Salhi, works as a settlement worker. He has acted as an interpreter, a driver, a tour guide, a mediator, and a friend for the families, travelling the Thompson Okanagan, helping families settle in other communities.
“We have to help. Our religion tells us to help the needy and poor,” Khalid states simply. “More than that, it is part of our humanity—we should help other humans. We are immigrants. We went through this, and it helps us be more compassionate. I received a lot of help, so, I want to pay back to the community.”
Speaking with Khalid about Islam, his strong faith is evident. “Ramadan is not a punishment. It is worship, to be closer to God, to be more compassionate. When we abstain from food and water, we should also abstain from gossip and other behaviours. This trains our soul and prepares us to live well the rest of the year. Believe me, for many Muslims, when Ramadan ends, we are sorry it is over.”
Once the Mosque is completed in early May, there will be many opportunities for the community to visit and learn more. “Anybody who is interested to come, is welcome to,” says Khalid. “The Mosque is the house of God. It’s not my house, or someone else’s house, it’s God’s so you don’t need permission, everyone is welcome.”
Khalid acknowledges that when he first came to Kelowna, he felt he stood out as a visible minority, but now, he sees the region’s growing diversity. Khalid is still active in sharing understanding and will participate in a Community Dialogue hosted by COLIP (Central Okanagan Local Immigrant Partnership) titled “Human, Not Race, Relations” at the Downtown Library on Wednesday, April 11 at 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome and the event is free.
The Respect Network is a group of community organizations in the Thompson Okanagan region that seek to have all community members welcomed, valued and respected. Moving beyond mere tolerance of differences, respect elevates us from merely co-existing to living harmoniously. Funded by the Province of British Columbia, the Respect Network is coordinated in the Central Okanagan by KCR – Community Resources. www.respectnetwork.ca. www.kcr.ca