Jefferson Award Presented
to Samina Faheem Sundas
By Shelah Moody
Faheem Sundas, a community activist and a Sunni Muslim from
Pakistan, had been living comfortably in the Bay Area with
her family since 1983. But her life, like so many others,
changed forever after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was in Costco when I first learned about the tragedy,"
said Sundas, who wears the full-body dress and headscarf traditionally
worn in Pakistan. "I just started crying. I remember
there was a man who looked at me and asked, 'Why are you crying?'
I couldn't even find words to answer him. I was hit twice
at that time, one because of the tragedy that took place,
and two, because it gave me a sample of what my life was going
to be like after that. Even though I have been a citizen for
a long time, all of a sudden I was considered an outsider
who does not have the right to cry about the worst tragedy
that happened to our country and the innocent lives we lost."
Two years later, Sundas founded American Muslim Voice, a grassroots
organization that seeks to foster lifelong friendships between
Muslims and all communities through interfaith dialogue.
According to Sundas, after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims
and fear of Muslims were at a record high. She wanted to form
an organization that would ease fears and provide Americans
with firsthand contact with members of the Muslim community.
"We started opening our homes, even though at that time
Muslims were really afraid to let people in because they did
not know whether someone was going to be your supporter or
someone was going to hate you. But we decided that these kinds
of desperate times needed totally courageous acts of faith.
I always have believed that Americans were open-minded, kind,
compassionate people, and if they knew the plight of Muslims,
they would understand and they would support us. I am very
happy to report that my faith has been renewed over and over
again. We have made beautiful relationships with all ethnicities
and all faith groups. I know this path can take us to the
peace that we all want in our world."
Sundas' efforts have paid off. This year, American Muslim
Voice was presented with the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace
Prize by an interfaith and peace organization called Fellowship
"They usually like to honor somebody who is working closely
with Martin Luther King's dream," Sundas said.
Sundas said she typically devotes 18 hours a day to social
activism and serves on the steering committee for Multifaith
Voices for Peace and Justice in Palo Alto. She is co-founder
of Fear to Friendship, a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural
friendship and education in the wake of 9/11. Sundas also
founded Global Peace Partnership, a partnership of American
Muslim Voice, Global Peace Partners and Peace Alliance.
On July 19, her 52nd birthday, she participated in a board
dialogue between youth and adults as a human-relations commissioner
for Santa Clara County. Organizations such as Global Exchange
and Code Pink have invited her to speak at their events.
Sundas also devotes a lot of her time to human rights issues,
such as immigration.
"A few months back, she heard about a family facing deportation
and she raced into action to try to help," said Craig
Wiesner, who serves on the Multifaith Voices for Peace and
Justice steering committee with Sundas. "Within 48 hours,
she helped organize a press conference and a posse of supporters
to accompany the family to Immigration and Customs Enforcement
headquarters in San Francisco."
Sundas, who speaks Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi, studied English
literature and religion at Islamia College for Women in Lahore,
Pakistan. In 1979, she and her then-infant daughter, Misbah
(now 30), came to America to join her husband, who was studying
at UC Santa Barbara. The family eventually moved to Arizona,
where their son was born. She came to the Bay Area in 1983
when her husband was accepted into Stanford University's electrical
engineering Ph.D. program. They separated a few years later.
Sundas opened a preschool, which is now run by her daughter
so Sundas can devote all her time to American Muslim Voice.
"This is really my commitment: that I am going to continue
bringing people together who care about the human race,"
she said. "I look at myself as a trunk of a tree. My
roots are in Pakistan, and my branches are the relationships
I have made with my fellow Americans. The fruit of the tree
are my children, and someday, my grandchildren."
For information, visit amuslimvoice.org and www.multifaithpeace.org
Each week, The Chronicle features a Bay Area resident who
has won a Jefferson Award for making a difference in his or
her community. The awards are administered by the American
Institute for Public Service, a national foundation that honors
community service. Bay Area residents profiled in The Chronicle
are also featured on CBS 5-TV and KCBS-AM, which are Jefferson
Award media partners, along with The Chronicle.
(Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle)