Wife, mother, teacher, interfaith activist, spiritual angel. Born Aug. 3, 1975, in Edmonton, died Aug. 6, 2013, in Toronto of complications from a brain aneurysm, aged 38.
'A woman of valour, who can find?" asks the book of Proverbs. "Far beyond rubies is her value."
We had found our woman of valour in an everlasting friendship with Tanya Khan. "We" were the three musketeers of interfaith activism: Tanya, a devout Muslim, Rev. Cathy Gibbs, an Anglican priest, and me, a Jew. So different and yet exactly the same, we were all bent on making the world a better place through common understanding, stoked by a great love and respect among the three of us.
I first met Tanya about 15 years ago while working for an organization that taught interfaith understanding to schoolchildren. The essence of the program was to take them to places of worship so they could feel, taste and smell the mysterious world of others and see that the similarities of their lives outweighed the differences.
A visit to Tanya's mosque, the Ahmadiyya Baitul Islam Mosque in Maple, Ont., was a delightful experience each time, and through hundreds of trips we found that a true bond had developed among us, over and above work. We began hanging out. Chinese food – hold the pork.
Our relationship was cemented forever when we arranged a women's interfaith build for Habitat for Humanity in 2008. It included 30 women of eight different faiths and was the initiative that led to creation of our interfaith women's group, which still meets today.
We shared Passover Seders in my home and revelled in Eid at Tanya's. The conclusion: Eid food was better than matzah. Tanya and I organized the first visit of Muslims, including Imams, to the Toronto Holocaust Centre, where most of the audience wept at hearing a survivor's story.
We watched foreign films, some incendiary, about Jews, Muslims and Christians, and that only gave us more manna for conversation.
We shared Easter dinners at Cathy's home, and Thanksgiving turkeys; we made Hungarian stuffed peppers and Lebanese hummus. We travelled to Albion, Pa., to speak to students and parents who knew Islam only through the corrosive news articles they had been reading since Sept. 11, 2001.
Tanya was hysterically funny, smart, compassionate and strong.
As a teacher at Louis-Honore Frechette Public School in Thornhill, Ont., she was deeply loved by her students and staff. Tanya would have become a vice-principal this year, something she had been working toward for years. I will never forget her story of one student who told her that if she were a menu item at McDonald's, she would be a "McGorgeous."
We tend to identify strength with physical power, but true strength comes from within. It is the power to perform the menial with dignity, the raising of children with heroic discipline and unstinting devotion, and the creation of the indefinable warmth and joy that make a beautiful family. Tanya was the true essence of a wife, mother, friend and teacher.
Our hearts are inconsolable that she has physically left us, but we truly believe that people only die once they are forgotten. Through her multitude of friends and family, her loving husband Asif and their three beautiful daughters, Alia, Safiya and Nadya, she will live forever. She just needed to "move on" to her next project.
Judy Csillag was a friend of Tanya.