Her Group Promotes Cultural
Understanding, Respect, Civil Rights
By Kellie Schmitt
When Samina Faheem Sundas
was 6 and living in Pakistan, she volunteered to package
supplies for victims of a monsoon. Sundas, whose grandmother
called her ``a bundle of love,’’ was a humanitarian
before she even knew what it meant.
Decades later, the Palo Alto resident is dedicating her
life to a bigger mission as the founder of American Muslim
Voice. The group works to unite people in a campaign for
human rights, respect and understanding of other cultures.
In the year since it was founded, Sundas, 49, and her organization
have tried to voice concerns about civil rights while also
forging ties with other groups nationally, such as Amnesty
International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Global
Exchange, and the Blue Triangle Network.
Sundas started the group after the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, when the backlash against Muslims made her part
of a ``target community.’’ She wanted to help
people move through that to create friendships between Muslims
and Americans, something she hoped would lead to the preservation
of civil liberties and human rights.
``What I wanted to see was friendships between Muslims,
Arabs and fellow Americans,’’ Sundas said. ``American
Muslim Voice was founded to fill a void and take dialogue
to the next level.’’
The campaign began on the grass-roots level, with Sundas
looking for groups of ``community builders’’
across the country that shared the philosophy of the American
Muslim Voice. She immersed herself in their divergent causes
and along the way found a common mission with many.
``We get to the bigger things by meeting people, one person
at a time,’’ Sundas said. ``I go to the community
and say, `What can I do for you?’ ‘’
She measures the organization’s success, in part,
by pointing to the diversity of groups whose causes have
become part of the agenda for the American Muslim Voice.
Among them are the Oct. 22 Coalition, an organization designed
to stop police brutality, and Code Pink, a group of women
who created a peace organization after the bombing of Afghanistan.
Most recently, Sundas’ organization has advocated
for people who have been deported because their visas are
expired, a cause that took her to Pakistan to speak at a
news conference on the issue.
``I think she has the ability to bring people together because
she’s coming from a very non-ego place so she can
get people together that normally won’t -- she bridges
warring factions,’’ said the founding director
of the San Francisco-based Global Exchange, Medea Benjamin,
who invited her to speak at a Code Pink event.
Richard Konda, the executive director of the Asian Law Alliance,
met Sundas after a San Jose police officer shot Bich Cau
Thi Tran, a Vietnamese woman. As the case progressed, Sundas
attended many strategy sessions and worked to inspire hope
in the community, he said.
When she called her news contacts to attend the Tran news
conference, they were baffled as to why a Muslim would be
calling about a Vietnamese issue, Konda said.
``She said, `This is a human issue,’ ‘’
Sundas came to the United States from Pakistan when in 1979
she was a young mother and her husband was studying in California.
``I chose America because I thought this country would provide
my children with a better opportunity,’’ she
said. ``You can make mistakes your whole life, and change
it at any point, any stage -- that’s the beauty of
Before creating American Muslim Voice, Sundas was a full-time
volunteer with the American Muslim Alliance, a political
organization that helps Muslims understand the government
and empower them to run for office.
Sundas said she sees her work as a calling, putting in about
18 hours a day and doing her best to answer all e-mails
sent to her Web site within 24 hours.
``She believes wholeheartedly in civil rights for everyone,
much like Martin Luther King,’’ said her daughter
Misbah Faheem, 27.
Sundas said the magnitude of her mission to improve the
human condition can seem daunting, but that it’s really
as simple as inviting a neighbor over for dinner one night.
``I want us to be able to sit in the park and talk about
movies while the children are playing,’’ she
said. (Courtesy San Mercury News)