Mukhtar Mai’s Sacramento Visit a Huge Success

By Ras H. Siddiqui


Left to right: Jack Morris, Reverend Benny Ellis, Phil Meserve, Mukhtar Mai and Tariq Munir

One of the most famous female personalities originating from Pakistan today is a humble lady named Mukhtar Mai from the village of Meerwala in the Seraiki language speaking belt of Southern Punjab. We are proud to report that Sacramento, California  hosted this great woman for four days during the second week of December, thanks to the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Credit Union League and Loomis Lion Jack Morris.


Naseem, Mukhtar Mai, Jack and Freda Morris

Accompanied by her trusted companion Naseem Akhtar, Mukhtar Mai (also known as Mukhtaran Bibi) was received at the local airport on Saturday, December 8 by Jack and Freda Morris, Mr. Tariq Munir and this writer.  Tariq and his wife Sowaiba Munir along with their kids played a pivotal role during Mukhtar’s visit to California ’s Capital City and hosted the guests throughout their stay here. Mukhtar left on Wednesday, December 12.
For those who may not be aware of Mukhtar Mai’s tragic start as a fighter for women’s rights, education and social justice in the feudal environment of Southern Punjab, Pakistan, it all started with an assault on her in June, 2002. She was attacked by several men as an “Honor Punishment” because her younger brother Shakoor was seen with a woman of another tribe. To protect the honor of that tribe, the village council “decided” that Mukhtar should pay for this “crime” by being dishonored by several men. And the “sentence” was carried out.  But thanks to the support from her family and the village Imam, Abdul Razzak who condemned the rape during his Friday sermon and a local journalist Mureed Abbas who broke the story to the world, Mukhtar Mai was able to turn the table on her attackers. She filed charges in a regular court against the men who assaulted her and they are now in prison awaiting a Supreme Court decision.


Mukhtar Mai signs books at Borders Bookstore

In August 2005, Mukhtar Mai was awarded the Fatima Jinnah gold medal for bravery by the Government of Pakistan. In November 2005, she was declared Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year. But the most important point to mention here is that she was awarded 500,000 rupees (just over $8000) in 2002 by the Government which she then used to start her school and women’s shelter in Meerwala. The rest as they say is history. And that includes her book “In the Name of Honor” and a movie titled “Shame” made by Mohammed Naqvi.  Her welfare organization (http://www.mukhtarmaiwwo.org/) is now well known throughout the region and one is happy to report that no tribal council sentencing incident has occurred against women of the area ever since Mukhtar Mai took her brave stand.  
Meeting “Lady Mukhtar” as Jack Morris calls her, was a humbling experience. She does not say a great deal and barely gets by in Urdu and my Seraiki speaking and understanding skills are poor. But thanks to Mrs. Durriya Syed and Mr. Tariq Munir, we understood everything she said through translation. It may sound cumbersome but during this visit, at times a question in English directed at Mukhtar was next translated into Urdu and a reply was received in Seraiki to be translated back into Urdu and English. But when this actually occurred, things went rather smoothly. Naseem Akhtar who always travels with Mukhtar speaks fluent Urdu and is more than willing to speak her mind on any occasion. She told me to tell everyone to dwell more on the cause that Mukhtar has pursued and not on the politics or perceived reputation fallout that some Pakistani origin people are concerned about.

Naseem, Durriya Syed and Mukhtar Mai

Ras, Mukhtar Mai and Farah Siddiqui

It took several weeks to plan and execute the visit and fundraising for Mukhtar Mai in Sacramento . In the process, this reporter met some wonderful people who had made a commitment to help this unique woman in a part of the world that only Jack Morris amongst us has visited.  Event Chairman Phil Meserve and his wife Susan, Henry Wirz,  Dana Newell, Paul Hersek and Mike Webber, Terry Halleck, Carey Nicholson, Herb Long, Stephen Serfozo, Jane Einhorn and Nathan Schmidt all deserve a big hand along with Jack Morris for making this effort possible. From the Pakistani community Naeem Syed and Bashir Choudhry deserve full credit along with Rashid Ahmad, Basim ElKarra and Dr. Hamza El Nakhal from the local Muslim community.  So a very special “Thank You” to all of these individuals along with the following $5000 Classroom Sponsors: SAFE Credit Union, The Golden 1 Credit Union, Wescorp, Pakistani-American Association of Greater Sacramento and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley. Plus the $2500 Teacher Sponsor: Summit Fiserv. And last but not least the $1000 Student Sponsors: California Credit Union League, World Council of Credit Unions, Travis Credit Union, CUNA Mutual and The Tariq Munir Family.


Mukhtar Mai visits SALAM School

Many local television channels along with the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Borders Bookstore, Pakistan Link (English & Urdu) newspaper, the webzine chowk.com, Pakistantimesusa (Urdu) and India West also helped to spread the word on Mukhtar Mai’s visit here.  
It is just not possible to cover the Mukhtar Mai visit to Sacramento in its totality here in this one report. She spent the afternoon of December 8 visiting the Folsom area with Jack Morris. The following day included a visit to local Westminster Church and their Sunday morning services. This was followed by her address to a large congregation at the Spiritual Life Center which Steve Magagnini of the Sacramento Bee has covered very well. Mukhtar Mai and Naseem Akhtar next visited the SALAM (Islamic) Sunday school in session and had lunch there. Mrs. Durriya Syed who is currently President of the Sacramento Interfaith Service Bureau translated for Mukhtar at these events and at local Television channels along with Tariq Munir on Monday. The visit to a local area school on Monday morning (Highlands Academy of Arts and Design in the Grant Union School District) was also widely covered in the local media. The visit of Mukhtar to Borders Bookstore for her book signing of “In the Name of Honor” went really well in a standing room only presentation.  
We visited Mehran Restaurant located next to Borders for dinner, where the person whom Time Magazine had designated as one of the most influential people in the world only requested “Bhindi” (okra) on the menu. Tuesday morning we saw Mukhtar on another television channel and she was present at a radio show or two before the main fundraising dinner that evening.
“An Evening with Mukhtar Mai: Building Schools of Hope Fundraising Event” at the Arden Hilton in Sacramento was extraordinary. Introduced by Event Chairman Phil Meserve, a United States Marine Corps Color Guard presentation started the formalities. The playing of the US followed by the Pakistani national anthem gave the evening its multinational flavor (the American and Pakistani flags were both on stage). Two young Pakistani-American girls Javairia Abbasi and Hibba Munir next read and translated an invocation from the Holy Qur’an. They were followed by an inspirational invocation by the Reverend Benny Ellis, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Church CoOp Credit Union. Dinner followed with both American-Continental and Pakistani cuisines (it was sure spicy and halal but it wasn’t Lahori Charga).


Group Photo at Borders

Phil Meserve took the opportunity to thank all the sponsors and supporters of this event.
“We are here tonight to honor and support a most unusual woman. We all have an interest in the work she does and we want to help her and her organization bring literacy and education to the rural areas of Pakistan,” said Phil. “We don’t criticize her country or her government for what she experienced because we have gone through much the same in our own country, as have most countries in the world.  Few people can change the hearts of a nation, and like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King changed the hearts of America, Mukhtar Mai is changing the hearts of Pakistan,” added Phil Meserve.
Jack Morris was introduced next. The fact is that without Jack, there would not have been a Mukhtar Mai visit to Sacramento. It all started when Jack, the Lion from Loomis, California, visited Mukhtar Mai in Meerwala, with the help of the Lions Club members in Karachi and Multan, Pakistan. He started with Assalamalaikum and asked everyone to respond with Walaikumsalam. “Did you touch your heart?” he asked. In a passionate presentation, which included slide pictures from his visit, Jack painted a Rembrandt of Mukhtar’s school efforts for the over 300 people in attendance. He took us on as co-passengers on his guarded journey through rural Pakistan.
Mukhtar Mai herself next came on to the stage. Speaking in beautiful Seraiki which Durriya Syed and Tariq Munir translated into English she thanked everyone for their valued support. “With your help and the courage that God gave me, I see success in future,” she said. She said that close to 1000 kids go to her school now, 700 girls and 300 boys. She added that her motto was “Zulm ko Ilm Say Khatam Karo” or “Fight injustice through knowledge and education.”


A view of Dinner Audience

After an interesting question and answer session Phil Meserve formally concluded the event. “To close the evening I am pleased to announce that by a rough accounting we have collected close to $30,000 from the event this evening.  We will forward those funds to Mercy Corps, the funds transfer agent her organization has used in the past, and will be put to wonderful use.  I might add that Mercy Corps has waived all expenses and fees to insure all the proceeds of the event get to Pakistan,” said Phil. “God Bless America ” were the closing words of the event.  
In conclusion, let me add that it was wonderful to finally meet this quiet and humble lady from Pakistan who has inspired many people overseas to help her to spread education in an area of southern Punjab in which the feudal environment did not allow functional schools before. A lady who travels all the way from Lahore with only one small carry-on bag, speaks softly in Seraiki and asks for only okra (Bhindi) and roti at a restaurant in Sacramento is indeed someone that we can learn some humility from. And for making this meeting possible, to the organizers of this event the Sacramento Chapter of the California Credit Union League and Jack Morris of Loomis, we offer our heartfelt thanks.
With the Muslim Eid Al-Adha or the Feast of Abraham and Christmas just around the corner, let us draw inspiration from this event and wish for collective peace and prosperity to all nations and faiths around the world.     
 (Please visit http://www.sacvalleychapter.org/ if you would still like to donate).


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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