Islamic Heritage Month individuals

Muslim Albertans You Should Know

A few of the remarkable Muslim Albertans who helped shape our country - and continue to influence and inspire us today.

The first Muslims to come to Canada settled in Alberta. Because of that historical fact,  Christians and Muslims have been interacting in positive ways in Alberta for over 100 years.  There are some very solid friendships on which all later initiatives have been built. 

Since the 1960’s Christian and Muslim groups have been partnering in health care, social service and educational ministries. Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholics leaders were founders of the Phoenix Multi-faith Society for Harmony in Edmonton. 

Alexander Hamilton, also known as Ali Ahmed Abouchad

Ali Ahmed Abouchad (Alexander Hamilton)

Ali Ahmed Abouchadi, also known as Alexander Hamilton (1893-1985) was a Muslim pioneer, entrepreneur and community builder who managed a general store, gas station, grain harvester sawmill and real estate agency.

Born in the village of Lãlã in the historic Biqã’a Valley of Beirut, Lebanon, 12-year-old Ali Abouchadi came to Canada in 1905 with his uncle Hussein “Sine” Abouchadi and a friend Sam Jamha to take part in the Klondike Gold Rush. The trio travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to Montreal, where they stayed 9 days before travelling onward by train to Winnipeg. They soon learned that the Klondike Gold Rush had been over since 1899, and they had to pursue other employment opportunities. In Winnipeg, Ali sold fans at ten cents each, but this was not a line of work that he wanted to continue. 

The uncle and nephew continued their westward travels, moving to Edmonton. They became peddlers, selling goods out of a suitcase between Edmonton and Lac La Biche, which was located 140km northeast of Edmonton. At age-13 Abouchadi was also trading furs with Indigenous peoples and, with increasing success, they were able to purchase a horse and buggy. In1906 the uncle opened a general store in Lac La Biche. Ali Abouchadi had a gift for languages, and he learned to speak the languages of the first peoples of the territory as well as newcomers, including English, French, Nêhiyawêwin (Plains Cree), Dene, Ukrainian, and Swedish. It is believed that he was the first Muslim Cree speaker.

In 1909, Ali Abouchadi closed the general store, and moved to Saskatchewan to become a homesteader and try his hand at farming. Within three years he was back in Lac La Biche, re-opened the general store, and returned to fur trading. It was at this time that he changed his Lebanese name to an anglicized name, Alexander Hamilton, he reportedly saw the name on a building and liked it. Some Lebanese and other immigrant families to the prairies often changed their names because locals had a difficult time pronouncing and spelling their names.

When Sine Abouchadi decided to return to Lebanon in 1913, his nephew was still a teenager. Ali Abouchardi became among the most successful businesspeople in Lac La Biche. His success increased after the Hudson Bay Company left Lac La Biche in 1919 and Abouchardi became the most prominent fur trader in the region.  His entrepreneurial ventures included partnering in the construction of the Northern Alberta Railways, becoming the town’s agent for two US-based firms – the Ford Motor Company and the International Harvester Co., and to establishing the town’s first grain harvest.

In 1925, Abouchadi moved further north to Fort McMurray, Alberta, where he built a floating store. While on his floating store, he travelled from Fort McMurray to the Arctic region, trading with Indigenous peoples. He also filled a trade gap that had been left when the Hudson Bay Co. ceased its operations. During this travel, he observed the government boats that travelled to pay treaty money to the Indigenous peoples located in small settlements like Aklavik, Northwest Territories, and all the way to the Arctic. He stopped at these settlements to sell needed supplies to the local Indigenous peoples. 

After the Hudson Bay Co. lobbied to have his floating business shut down, Abouchadi returned to Lac La Biche. He supported the settlement of newcomers to Lac La Biche, which has the largest per capita Muslim population in Canada (14%). The Hudson Bay Company returned to Lac La Biche in 1946, and Abouchadi, now much older, decided to accept an offer to sell his business.  He relocated to Edmonton and established a real estate business. Ali Abouchadi passed away on December 10, 1985. The 107.6-acre Alexander Hamilton Park with hiking and bike paths in Lac La Biche is named in his honour.


Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi (b. 1972)

Naheed Kurban Nenshi is an award-winning politician, mayor emeritus of Calgary, tenured professor, management consultant, public speaker, and community builder. 

A first-generation Canadian born in Toronto, and raised in northeast Calgary’s Marlborough neighbourhood, Nenshi’s parents Kumbandi Hussein and Noorjah Nenshi emigrated to Canada from Tanzania. The family are Ismail Muslims of Gujarati heritage. This cultural background, and the ethic of seva, shaped Nenshi’s commitment to community service and the public good.

Nenshi completed his education at Queen Elizabeth High School in Hillhurst, where he was actively engaged in extracurricular activities such as the debate and acting clubs. Subsequently he attended the University of Calgary (1989-1994), where he served as president of the Students Union (1993-1994) and attained a Bachelor of Commerce with Distinction. Nenshi was admitted to Harvard as a Kennedy Fellow and completed a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in strategic management, non-profit sector, and media relations.

In 2004, Nenshi became Canada’s first professor of nonprofit management studies at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, where he is currently a tenured associate professor. Previously he was a management consultant for McKinsey & Company, before launching his own consulting firm, Ascend Group. Nenshi’s advising serves spanned sectors – private, public, and nonprofit, as well as international organizations like the United Nations, where he focused on corporate citizenship and initiatives to support the world’s underprivileged and underserved populations.

With his “Purple Revolution” – an appeal to voters from across the political spectrum – Nenshi came from behind to win the municipal election and become the 36th Mayor of the City of Calgary. He also made history as the first Muslim mayor in a Canadian, and indeed North American, big city. A transformational leader, Nenshi went on to serve three consecutive terms as the Mayor of Calgary (October 25, 2010-October 25, 2021), leaving an indelible mark on the city. Under his stewardship, Calgary experienced remarkable growth, enhanced quality of life, improved infrastructure and public transit, state-of-the-art recreation centres, a landmark Central Library designed by Snøhetta and Dialog, improvements across various facets of life and elevated the city’s status as one of the world’s best places to live. 

During his tenure as mayor, the City of Calgary faced some major challenges, including four states of emergency, the devastating floods of 2013, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Nenshi's steadfast leadership and crisis management skills were instrumental in navigating the city through these turbulent times.

Nenshi's service has garnered him numerous awards and honours, including an Honorary Peace Patron award from the Mosaic Institute for initiatives to strengthen the fabric of Canada (2017), the World Mayor Prize from City Mayors Foundation, the first Canadian mayor to receive the award (2014), the Humanitarian Award from the Canadian Psychological Association for his contributions to community mental health (2014), a President's Award from the Canadian Institute of Planners for innovative city ideas and transparency (2012), and a Young Global Leader Award from the World Economic Forum for innovative planning (2011). Nenshi has also been honoured with a Blackfoot name A’paistootsiipsii (meaning ‘Camp Moving Leader’ or ‘he who moves the camp and others follow’) by Elder Peter Standing Alone of the Kainai First Nations, Blood Tribe. 

Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani

Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani (nee Rajabali) was installed as Alberta’s 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, becoming Alberta’s and Canada’s first South Asian and the first Muslim to serve in this role. 

A businesswoman, distinguished community builder, advocate for women’s rights, public education and health care, volunteer with newcomers with English as a second language, and dedicated student mentor with students, Salma Lakhani has led an exemplary life of service guided by an enduring commitment to community. Her citation on becoming Lieutenant Governor read: “through her work too advance education, health care, women’s empowerment, human rights and support for new immigrants, she continues to be a champion of diversity, pluralism, and inclusion.”

Born and raised in Kampala, Uganda to Ismaili Muslim parents Abdul and Malek Rajabali, Salma Rajabali loved learning. She completed her education at the Aga Khan School in Kampal, and subsequently was admitted to Manchester University in the United Kingdom to study science. During a summer 1971 visit to Uganda, the country underwent a violet coup d’état led by General Idi Amin. Salma Rajabali’s parents encouraged her to return to Manchester immediately. A year later, in August 1972, Amin expelled Uganda’s entire Asian minority population, as well as all other Asians including citizens of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, from the country. The properties of South Asian Ugandans were expropriated, and an international humanitarian crisis unfolded as they became stateless people. Many were given refuge in England, Canada, India, Kenya, and Pakistan. 

The Rajabali family, stripped of employment, property, and income, were not able to support their daughter’s university education at Manchester. The British government intervened and covered the tuition of stateless Asian Ugandan students. Through this support, Salma Rajabal was able to complete a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Clinical Biochemistry. Her friend, and fellow exile, Zaheer Lakhani, completed his degree in Medicine from the University of Leeds. They married in 1977. That year, Zaheer Lakhani was successful in securing a two-year opportunity for postgraduate studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. They arrived in June 1977, and Dr. Zaheer Lakhani become a cardiologist. The couple stayed and built a new life and their careers in Edmonton.

Shaped by the Islamic ethic that if you have the “good fortune to be a privileged individual in society, you have a moral responsibility to society,” Salma Lakhani’s life has been marked by commitment to family and distinguished service to community. She helped to manage Dr. Zaheer Lakhani’s cardiologist practice, as well as spearheaded and operated a business focused on early childhood education. In 2009 she was among the first mentors in NorQuest College’s Youth in Transition program, providing guidance for newcomers and students in the English as a Second Language program. In 2009 she was also a founding member of NorQuest College’s 1000Women: A Million Possibilities Movement. From 2009-2020 she served on the Board of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, and in 2017 became a volunteer with the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. She shared her knowledge, skills, and passion for service with numerous non-profit and public sector bodies, including Kids Kottage, Sorrentino’s Compassion House, the Alberta Cancer Board, the Zebra Foundation, and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. 

Lieutenant Governor Lakhani has received numerous awards and honours, including the Alberta Centennial Medal (2005), the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), NorQuest College awarded her an Honorary Diploma in Community Services Leadership from NorQuest College (2019). Upon her installation as Alberta’s vice-regal representative in August 2020, she became a Member and the Chancellor of the Alberta Order of Excellence. Her Honour is Vice-Principal of the St. John Council for Alberta and a Dame of the Order of St. John. She is also the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta (2021), the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (2022), and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow Award (2022). 

Salma Lakhani

Lawrence “Larry” Shaben

Lawrence “Larry” Shaben (1935-2008) 

Lawrence “Larry” Ralph Shaben was a politician, entrepreneur, merchant, and community builder.

Born in the town of Hanna in Central Alberta on March 30, 1935, Larry Shaben was the grandson of a Lebanese merchant, Saleem Sha’aban (Sam Shaben), who had emigrated to Alberta after World War I. The grandfather opened and operated a grocery store in the hamlet of Endiang, in the County of Stettler, Alberta. Once established, he was joined by his wife and son who had remained in Lebanon. The son, Albert Sha’aban, was 13 years-old when he emigrated to Alberta from Lebanon. Saleem and Albert Sha’aban worked closely together in the family business until they moved to Edmonton after the opening of the Al-Rashid Mosque.

Larry Shaben, the son of Albert Mohammed Shaban and Lila (nee Kazeil) Shaban, completed his early education in Edmonton and graduated from Eastwood High School in 1953. He briefly attended the University of Alberta as a general science student but left his studies to work. In July 1960, he married Alma Amina, the daughter of Rikia and Samuel Saddy, and the couple had five children (Carol, James, Joan, Larry, and Linda Shaben). The family moved to High Prairie, where they owned and operated a grocery store and actively contributed to community building. 

Shaban was active in economic and civic life in High Prairie, serving as the President of the Chamber of Commerce (1968-1970), and as a Councillor (1969 to 1974). Later, he entered provincial politics and ran as a Progressive Conservative under Premier Peter Lougheed.  In 1975, Shaben was elected to represent the district of Lesser Slave Lake in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. He became the first Arab and first Muslim MLA in Alberta, and the first Muslim elected to higher office in North America. Shaben was also the first Muslim to serve as a provincial Cabinet Minister in Canada, including serving in the governments of Peter Lougheed and Don Getty. He held various portfolios including Minister of Utilities (1979-1982) and Minister of Housing (1982-1986).  

On October 19, 1984, Shaben survived a plane crash over High Prairie that claimed the life of five passengers, including Alberta MLA Grant Notley, the Leader of the Official Opposition. Shaben recovered and continued to serve in the legislature. Subsequently, Don Getty was elected Alberta’s Premier in 1985, and in the general election in 1986 Shaben ran for a fourth consecutive term. He was successful and Premier Getty appointed Shaben as Minister of Economic Development and Trade. He was active in the community and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Edmonton Islamic Academy and in creating a Chair in Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. Shaben retired at the end of the Legislative Assembly in 1989. He was appointed a federal citizenship judge in 2005. 

After a long battle with cancer, Larry Shaben died at the age of 73 on September 6, 2008. His memorial service at the Edmonton Islamic Academy drew over 1,000 people, including Premier Ed Stelmach and former Premiers Peter Lougheed and Don Getty. In his eulogy, Premier Lougheed stressed that, “We all know how much better we are because we knew Larry Shaben. We all know how much better Alberta as a whole is because of Larry Shaben.”