Mr. Musa Ismail, President of the British Columbia Muslim Association, Distinguished delegations from organizations affiliated to the British Columbia Muslim Association, Ladies and gentlemen,
As salam wa leikum and Bula Vinaka,
Thank you for this invitation to be with you tonight. As you know, I have been proclaiming three things since I arrived in Canada:
• First, that there is a new Fiji that has embraced equality and true democracy as never before. We guarantee freedom and equality for all—in deeds as well as in words. Fiji has repudiated its past of division, racism, ethno-nationalism and sectarianism.
• That there is a new spirit and confidence in Fiji. We Fijians believe in ourselves and in each other. We believe we can do anything. Just as we have stood up to do more than our fair share in international peacekeeping and gained respect in international athletics, we are becoming the leading political and economic nation in our part of the world.
• And that Fiji is open for business. My government has set about aggressively but methodically to establish conditions to encourage both domestic and foreign investment. And it’s working.
Skeptics are becoming believers. Because, ladies and gentlemen, a prosperous society is built on meritocracy. We need to encourage and reward the best efforts and best talents of our people. And meritocracy happens when you have democracy, equality and good governance. It happens when you root out corruption. It happens when government is a partner to business, not an obstacle—when government does its job to establish a level playing field, create the right economic and political conditions, and ensure equal justice under the law. It happens when a government makes education for all its children a priority. And it happens when people are allowed to harvest the fruits of their labors and their ingenuity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To be a Muslim requires commitment and a way of life that fortifies the soul and encourages a positive relationship with one’s fellow human beings. Islam requires its believers to put their faith into action and practice. And carrying out the Five Pillars, Muslims are able to put faith into practice in their everyday lives. Our Muslim community in Fiji has also played a pivotal role together with other Fijians in our country’s achievements.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a public holiday for the Prophet’s birthday, just as we do for the great commemorations of our other major religions – Christianity and Hinduism.
Very few countries do this, and we do so proudly. It underlines the unique nature of Fiji in our own region – a multi-faith nation with a new Constitution that guarantees religious freedom and establishes a secular state, in which all religions are equal. It is also a gesture of respect that each Fijian pays to our fellow citizens of other faiths, because we are one people and one nation, and we know that we have a shared destiny, no matter what beliefs we hold.
Religion can actually be a unifying force, a bridge between us all no matter what we believe. That is because a sense of spirituality – a belief in something greater than ourselves – is common to the overwhelming majority of Fijians, no matter what their religious background.
Many people in Fiji were alarmed by the provision in our new Constitution that makes Fiji a secular state. They thought that made Fiji non-religious—or even hostile to religion. Their fear was unjustified. Our Constitution simply respects all religions. Where all faiths flourish in harmony, morality and goodness prevail. That is because faith ennobles.And where morality and goodness prevail, democracy and good governance will grow.
People of faith have an important role to play in the ordering and conduct of our society and government, as individuals and congregations. They give voice to principle and ensure that ethics and morality are a part of our political dialogue. This is essential for any society, but especially for a democratic one.
Government must be pragmatic, but it must also uphold principle, stand for fairness, and stay true to the values of its people. Government must therefore not give preference to any faith in the functioning of a secular state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Many of you came to Canada because you came to the conclusion that you were not welcome in Fiji. As I have said many times since I have been in Canada, your departure was Fiji’s loss. But I am here to tell you that the doors to your homeland are open once again.
The British Columbia Muslim Association is I understand the largest Muslim organization in Canada. You operate schools and Islamic centres all over the province. You support business and the overall community through the Muslim Business Council. And, as the world has come to expect of Muslims, you give. You do charitable works to help the needy and less fortunate, Muslim and non-Muslim, here in British Columbia and abroad. You help make this wonderful province an even better place. It makes me proud to know that Fijian Muslims have played a big part in this effort, even building more than 80 homes for disadvantaged families in Fiji.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We know that Islam is under stress today, torn by competing visions of the nature of Islam, of its teaching, and of how Muslims are encouraged to act on their faith. You are showing that Islam and democracy are not only compatible, but that they can thrive together. You have shown—and we are showing every day in Fiji—that Muslims living side-by-side with people of other faiths can produce great things. You have shown that Muslims of goodwill live their faith in a positive way every day, and that the world is better for it. But we must always be vigilant. It is our moral responsibility irrespective of whichever faith we belong to stand up against extremism and fundamentalism. Love, affection and understanding is what we all must profess and practice. Indeed I am told that Prophet Mohammed not only taught and practiced this but also said we must live our lives in and with moderation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I told you earlier that I have been proclaiming throughout British Columbia that Fiji is open for business. And while tonight’s dinner is a celebration of your organization and what it means for British Columbia, and not an occasion for a business pitch, I do not want to miss this opportunity to encourage you to see the business opportunities in Fiji. Ladies and Gentlemen we encourage you to join our country that is growing more dynamic and productive every day. Government is the private sector’s partner. We have lowered tax rates and offer a number of attractive investment incentives. Our infrastructure is robust. Our education system is improving. And we have streamlined the process for establishing a business. If you are looking for business opportunity, come to Fiji.
If you want a memorable vacation, come to Fiji. If you want to see the dynamism and optimism that democracy and meritocracy can produce in a short time, come to Fiji. It is a place of freedom, tolerance and hope. And you are always welcome.
Shukria, VinakaVakalevu, and thank you.