AMA Involves Community in Planning for 2008, 2012
By Hazem Kira


Detroit, Michigan: “I am afraid that now that the elections are over, the major Muslim organization will busy themselves with other pressing matters and, as far as election are concerned we won’t hear from them for the next four years,” wrote a columnist shortly after the 2004 Presidential Election.


L to R : Saghir Tahir, Mitchell Shamsuddin, Mahjabeen Islam and Raana Akbar

Well, that did not happen because cognizant of these apprehensions the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), an umbrella group representing 11 national Muslim organizations, had chalked out a four-year action plan that, among other things, entails quarterly town hall meeting that are to be jointly organized by eleven national organizations; most recent of which was held in New York on Saturday, April 3, 2005 and the one before that was held in Chicago on Dec. 14, 2004.
The AMT Plan also calls on each member organization to hold town hall meetings, civic education forums, candidates’ forums, workshops, and teach-ins on its own as well.
As a member of AMT, the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), a national civic education organization with 101 chapters, has been holding monthly town hall meetings to ensure the fulfillment of the following goals: 1) inculcate organizational capabilities to take care of the 24/7 political needs of the American Muslim community, 2) formalize pro-active and futuristic activism by planning for the next decade, 3) involve the community at large in setting up goals and strategies for 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, 4) identify milestones and establish clear criteria to measure level and ratio of success, and 5) help maintain a grassroots-based, bottom-up, democratic decision-making system.
To that end, the AMA held its second town hall meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, only a month after the first. Speakers at the meeting, emphasized that real solutions can be found only though an open and democratic process. The community must honestly and forthrightly recognize that it faces serious and substantial difficulties, it must involve the whole community, men and women, young and old as well as all ethnicities and classes to find coherent and meaningful solutions, and must develop an organizational structure to incorporate and implement the democratically developed solutions.
Mitchell Shamsuddin, President AMA-Detroit, inaugurated the forum with a call for internal dialogue among Muslims with the aim of enhancing cooperation, unity, and political participation. It has become a cliché for activists to say that we should be proactive and not reactive. We can become proactive by planning ahead for the next decade and involving the activist sections of the Muslim community in setting up goals and strategies for the short, medium and long-term projects. “The future is arriving event by event and we intend to be ready for all conceivable possibilities and opportunities,” Mitchell Shamsuddin said. “We have started working on election 2008 and we plan to keep up this momentum for the next four years”.
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, President AMA-Ohio, told the audience that since the first American settlers landed on the New England shores, “Muslims have been an integral part of the construction and creation of American society”. The monumental American infrastructure was built on the backs of Muslim slaves, and with the critical contribution of immigrant Muslims in the technology and bio-medical industries, Muslims have been at the heart of American society. Cities such as Palestine, Texas and Lebanon, New York are tributes to their ancestral founders, and pictures and names of Muslim immigrants fill the logbooks in Ellis Island. “We are an irrefutable part of the American family,” argued Dr. Islam
Because the scourge of slavery forced scores of faithful slaves underground, and the first waves of immigrants came in small pockets, often settling in often rural areas, “very few of them were able to maintain a Muslim identity”, said Dr. Islam.
Working her way to the contemporary, Dr. Islam sketched a cartography of today’s American Muslim. She illustrated her point through statistical data, including demographic distribution, education and income levels, and the growth levels of institutional structures within the Muslim community.
The approximately 8 million American Muslims living in the United States are composed of four even quadrants: 24 percent African American, 26 percent Arab American, 26 percent are South Asian, and all others constitute the remaining 24 percent.
According to the data cited, American Muslims are younger than most non-Muslim Americans, with 67% of adult American Muslims under 40 years old, while 67% of the adult American population is over 40 years old.
Though American Muslims tend to be highly skilled professionals, they are disproportionately underrepresented in occupations that make public policy and influence public opinion. Muslims constitute only 1.1 percent of Journalists/Editors, 0.8 percent of Attorneys/Lawyers, and 0.6 percent of Directors/Producers/Actors.
American Muslims are not represented in state legislatures and courts where laws are made and practiced. This is one reason that Muslims have been paying for the tragedy of 9/11 through guilt by association, Dr. Islam said. “Besides murder in the first degree the perpetrators of 9/11 have condemned generations of Muslims to discrimination at the least and arrest and torture at its worst.”
“Thousands of people with Muslim and Arab sounding names are languishing in jail without charges or legal representation.”
Dr. Islam provided a few recommendations on how American Muslims can advance towards full integration, and live freely as practicing Muslims without fear of persecution and harassment.
1. Graduate beyond the hedonism of the American Dream. The joy of materials is ephemeral whereas the fulfillment of working for a higher cause and the collective good is enduring.”
2. Stop undercutting one another. Avoid defining ourselves through broad characterizations, such as fundamentalist, Islamist, Jihadi, etc.
3. Work towards enhancing democratic values.
4. Graduate from building mosques, to building hospitals, senior centers universities, and other necessary institutional structures.
5. Participate in political process from your neighborhood committee to Congress. Be involved in voter registration, debate the issues, contribute to the Letters to the Editor columns, join Political Action Committees
“With the treasure house of talent distributed between the indigenous and immigrants Muslim, male and female, young and old, we have the ability to participate productively and enhance the great nation that this can and should be, “ she said.
The next speaker, Dr. Raana Akbar, told the audience to concentrate in three main areas: internal unity, political education, and involvement with fellow Americans. “We must not be strangers in our own cities and neighborhoods”, she said. We should not wait for others to reach out to us; we should take the initiative to reach out to them.” Dr. Akbar also emphasized that our outreach to fellow American should not be limited to political participation only.
Assemblyman Saghir Tahir (R-NH) exhorted his audience to become involved with parties of their choice. “Get registered, join political clubs, work in campaigns, pound the pavement, work with candidates, and become a recognized part of the American mosaic”.
In America, he said, every group has to pay its dues. “You must pay your dues by contributing to the general welfare of this country.” The secret of success in American politics is involvement. Mr. Tahir advised his audience, especially the American-born youth, to run for public offices at the local level.
The AMA will be holding three town hall meetings in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts in the coming months. For more information contact AMA at (510) 252-9858.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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