World Interfaith Humanitarian Cooperation Reception in
Garden Grove
By Mehnaz Afridi

L to R: Dana Rohrabacher, Beth Krom, Jim Ferryman, Dr. William Jackson and Manal Jaffrey

Garden Grove: On the cool and crisp night of January 29, 2006 the elegant Embassy Suite in Garden Grove, California, was the venue of a reception hosted for over 200 Americans - Christians, Muslims, Pakistanis, and local politicians - by the Saba Trust and the International Education and Welfare Society (IEWS).
Mr. Saghir Aslam, the founder of Saba Trust, has created significant awareness of challenges posed by disasters like Bam in Iran, Tsunami, Afghani refugees, and recently, the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan. A soft-spoken, intelligent, and motivated man, Mr. Aslam has provided many opportunities to the needy in Pakistan and has committed his organization to serve all Pakistanis with dedication regardless of creed. He has pioneered selfless, humanitarian work in the Pakistan-American community. His unique mission is truly international and he believes that all disasters require immediate attention. The mission of the IEWS in the United States is to develop Pakistan’s human potential by promoting literacy and education, and building closer relations between America and Pakistan.

L to R: N.M.Jadmani, Abu Bakr Vakil, John Jones and Javed Arain

As the guests arrived, a rich Pakistani spread with hot food and beverages added to the warmth of the ballrooms with the reception area displaying the many tragic but heroic stories resulting from Mr. Aslam’s endeavors after the recent earthquake devastated Pakistan’s northern areas.
The event commenced with a Muslim and Christian prayer, followed by a few introductory words by Mr Abu Baker Vakil, president of IEWS, and the M.C., Paul Prichard, Board of director of IEWS.
The program listed an array of recognized guests and speaker, including Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Beth Krom (Mayor of Irvine), Mike Duval (Mayor of Yorba Linda), and keynote speaker Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. It was a delightful experience to witness so many politicians resonating with the mission of IEWS, and the diligent work that it takes to reconstruct an earthquake-devastated country where, as Sanchez said, the “loss of life” was unbearable. She went on to say that “US-Pakistan relations have been good,” and she hoped that “the two countries would continue to partner globally and locally.”

L to R: Safi Qureshey, Mahboob Akhter, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Paul Prichard

Mike Duval (Mayor of Yorba Linda) and John Jones (intern during Ronald Reagan) shared their personal stories of the nature of Pakistani-American relations post- 911. Mike Duval spoke of a Muslim friend who had invited him to a feast at his home to discuss the repercussions of 9/11 upon the Muslim American Community. In addition, John Jones who had visited Pakistan shared stories of his visit with the help of Saba Trust, and how many “relationships” had been made in Pakistan, and his “mutual understanding of ordinary life such as sports had made alliances and understanding of common activities of two cultures”.
Congressman Rohrabacher spoke on the crucial position of Pakistan in the Islamic world and how “Pakistan happens to be at the epicenter of Islam vs. Western Culture…both sides have to say no to extremism, we have to be honest.”
Interfaith relations are a central component of the IEWS mission, and Bishop Thorkelson and his wife Sheila O’Leary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, recalled their personal and spiritual experiences in Pakistan at the Second Annual World Interfaith Conference in Islamabad. They both spoke about the “connections to tradition” and how they discovered the commonalities of both faiths and family values. Sheila O’Leary spoke about her discussions with her “sisters in Pakistan” and the “question of tradition” in common familial relationships. She went on to talk about the explicit generosity of the Saba Trust in Pakistan and how she had witnessed the welfare of the Pakistani people who were given provisions and aid. Mr. Thorkelson said that “God recognizes virtues of people. He acknowledges that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the greatest religious leader of his time”. Mr. Thorkelson was a key figure in the Saba Trust relief efforts in Pakistan where he was able to provide ambulances and as he says, “While we were in Islamabad, we had the opportunity to see Saba Trust in action.” He was impressed with “some of what Saghir Aslam does involves charitable efforts to the Christian community when that need is brought to his attention. “

Speaking on the occasion Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, expounded on the interfaith aspect by saying, “All religions believe in loving others as you love yourself.” Watching the interfaith aspect was a reminder to all of us that we were all from a common humanity and that IEWS was committed to creating an alliance through basic and human suffering in a mission to seek peace while working for all faiths.

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez addresses the gathering

Also present was the most important key figure of Dr. William Jackson, the Founder and Chairman of Deseret International, who spoke about his own role in helping Pakistanis and his “privilege in helping out in any humanitarian manner, and his experience of working with such a well-established society and group of people”. He went on to add that most people who run organizations for humanitarian relief are “doing it for the sake of being busy; however, this organization is offering true and sincere reach out to people.” Dr. Jackson had first-hand experience in Pakistan where he said, “I saw first-hand destruction the killer earthquake had caused.” He went to add that “we have learned that the most prominent ingredient of a successful program, anywhere in the world, is the person who you are working with. Give me dependable, energetic men of vision and integrity as a partner and we will make good things happen. Saghir Aslam fits those criteria to a tee!” Dr. Jackson has figured in an eye-care program in Pakistan. Deseret and Saba as partners share the same goals of wanting to “provide the miracle of returned sight to those worthy poor who struggle with cataract blindness.” Dr.Jackson went on to say about Saba: “Confidence of that kind is born after years of selfless service; it is something that has to be earned and he has done it.” “When no one was there, it was Saba trust that appeared.” Mr. Aslam has also helped by accumulating an additional “20,000 educational books for all grades.”
During the program there was a presentation by Munir Shaikh (IEWS member & Professor at University of Redlands) and a short documentary was screened to provide information on how and why IEWS and Saba function in relief situations led by Mr. Aslam who “carries out the work night and day.” The presentation clarified that IEWS is based in Westminister, CA, and Saba Trust is located in Islamabad, Pakistan. Both are separate and non-profit organizations. To the attendees, it was apparent that the financial profile given by the Annual Report 2005 indicated a record low under 1 % for administrative expenses. This budget indicator clearly showed the hard-work, voluntary work and dedication of the Trust members and Mr. Saghir Aslam.
Consul General Noor Mohammad Jadmani, speaking on the occasion, said that the support from the government and Americans “ was unprecedented, thanks to the US in such a difficult situation.” He went on to explain that Mr. Aslam’s emails and testimonies from Pakistan after the quake were heartbreaking. He concluded with the resolve and affirmation that “we will take this challenge and the rehabilitation phase will take four to five years.”
The reception ended with guests milling around, exchanging positive words for the organizations, and extending heartiest congratulations to the major donors during 2005. I hope that such events and organizations will inspire Americans and Pakistanis to bond in situations of desperation but more importantly also for building programs and initiatives that promote a world that offers prosperity to all humanity.
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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.