It was a homecoming for Nazem Kadri
even as he was meeting everyone for the first time.
Kadri was a marquee guest at the Islamic Society of Markham Mosque Friday and greeted countless young and adult males before participating in a road hockey game with dozens of boys in the rear parking lot of the mosque.
Kadri’s mom Sue was born of Canada but traces her family roots to Lebanon. His Dad, Sam, moved to Canada from Lebanon when he was a small child.
The Muslim population of Toronto is estimated at over 250,000. More than twice as many Muslims live in Canada. As he grows in stature as a player, Kadri’s constituency could become enormous.
As the most prominent Muslim in hockey and a touchstone figure in one of the most diverse cities on earth, Kadri has tried to strike a balance between attracting attention strictly as a hockey player and reaching out to those sharing his faith.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job at walking that line and keep everyone satisfied,” he said. “I understand the responsibility I have, but anytime I get to interact with kids like this, it’s always good stuff.”
“I look up to him,” said Wazha Baig, a Grade 11 student at Marc Garneau Secondary School. She doesn’t play hockey but wants to be a corporate lawyer. “He’s proven that people of my faith can get where they want to go.”
Vazir Khan coordinates the mosque’s ball hockey league and organized Kadri’s visit. Kadri’s presence on the Leafs, he said, shows any avenue is open.
“He proves that if you work hard and you have the right attitude, any of these kids could do what he is doing.”
Sixteen-year-old Kadir Motiwala jokes that he wishes the last two letters in his first name were reversed. “I’m really a hardcore fan,” he said.
Born in India, he plays the ice variety of hockey and even wears a Vesa Toskala Leafs jersey he sported when he played goal. He too finds ample inspiration in a young Muslim who is beginning to fulfill a promising career with the Leafs.
“The thing I want most in my life is to be able to play with him,” Motiwala said. “When you see a person of your own race succeed, it’s cool.”
Dave DeFreitas, manager of youth hockey for Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, said forging links between the team and all its constituencies was more than just good business.
“Something like this is an important extension of what we want to do as a hockey team, what we want to do as a company,” he said. “It’s our responsibility and Nazem is someone who kids, no matter what their ethnicity, just naturally look up to.”