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Larry Shaben: An Embodiment of a True Leader

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Larry Shaben

Larry Shaben, a very well-known and respected member of our community passed away peacefully on Saturday, September 6th 2008 with his family by his bedside.

May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace. Amen.

Larry was a prominent member of the Muslim community and a leader in more ways than one. Larry lived a full life, believing in and practicing the ethics and values of Islam: values such as caring and sharing, compassion, generosity, service to the community, fairness and equality. Family to Larry meant not only his wife and children, but also his Muslim Sisters and Brothers, and indeed the larger Community in which he lived, worked, and played. He served the people of Alberta in many roles and positions. He was Canada’s first Muslim to hold a cabinet position, and among the first Canadians of Arab descent to be elected to Canadian public office.

A devout Muslim and a founding member and the Chair of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities (ECMC - an umbrella organization that represents nine different Sunni and Shia Muslim organizations in Edmonton), Larry was a leader dedicated to bridging the gap in understanding between peoples of many faith communities. His humility in service and his sharp mind in discerning between faith-based passion and modern living distinguished him as a dynamic leader.

Larry’s parents were born in Lebanon and as young children immigrated to Canada with their families. When his parents married they lived in Endiang, Alberta, a little town north of Hanna, where Larry was born. His family remained in Endiang through the depression, until 1945 when they moved to Edmonton. Here the Al Rashid Mosque, the first Mosque to be built in Canada and now in Fort Edmonton, became the centre of his religious and philosophical growth. He attended Eastwood High School and the University of Alberta.

In 1960 he married Alma Saddy, also of Arab decent, and in 1967 they moved to High Prairie with their family of five young children. In High Prairie, Larry quickly became involved in town council, the Chamber of Commerce, managing and coaching hockey, and running the family store business.

One of the early influences in his life was a flamboyant British-born woman, Muriel Burton-Watkins and her husband Bony, with whom he discovered a world of literature, books, newspaper clippings, and animated discussions of world affairs. It was she who suggested he meet a young politician whose stature was rising quickly, Peter Lougheed.

In 1974 Larry was persuaded to run for the Progressive Conservative nomination and won the nomination on the third ballot.

Larry was the first member of the Alberta Legislature to be sworn in on the Holy Qur’an rather than the Bible. He worked diligently for his constituents and especially for the Aboriginal people of northern Alberta. After his second election he was appointed Minister of Utilities and Telephone and then Minister of Housing and Urban Development. Later he became Minister of Economic Development and Trade, where he played an important role in the spectacular growth of Alberta.

Larry has been a leader of the Muslim community in Edmonton, Chair of the Muslim Research Foundation, and part of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action. He served for several years on the board of directors of the Canadian Islamic Centre – Al Rashid Mosque. He was involved in planning the three Jewish, Christian, Muslim Dialogues which have been held with great success in Edmonton. “Walking Together,” a program for parents and children from Jewish, Muslim and Christian families was something he actively promoted. He demonstrated faith in action by leading the Muslim community that provides a delicious meal to the Boyle Street community each year.

At a meeting in late 2001 to plan the creation of an umbrella organization to bring together Edmonton Muslims, he offered advice to his colleagues that later on became the operating principle of ECMC: “park your ego at the door, treat each other with utmost respect, and resist the temptation to lecture.” This advice has helped glue the Sunni and Shia communities in Edmonton.

The highlight of his achievements and a legacy for which he was indeed very proud and happy was the establishment of the First endowed Chair of Islamic Studies in Canada, at the University of Alberta, known as the ECMC Chair in Islamic Studies.

ECMC has thus become a beacon of hope for all Muslims across Canada and as far as Seattle. It is only through co-operation can we hope to move ahead. Larry believed firmly that only by means of education and dialogue, can we dispel the myths about each other and come to a true understanding of the reality of the pluralistic nature of human beings.

Larry Shaben was known throughout Edmonton as a man of integrity, concern for all peoples, a genuine, open-minded, and committed individual who sought a better society for us and our children. Never one to bask in his own limelight, he allowed others to shine first, thus demonstrating that “one need not blow out someone else’s candle to let one’s own shine. Together we burn brighter.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with Alma and the family in their hour of need.

We are forever indebted to Larry.


Board of Directors, Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities

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