AMV’s Annual Convention Attracts People from Various Religious & Backgrounds
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Speakers at the AMV Convention
The American Muslim Voice, a leading community building and civil rights group, held its fourth annual peace convention on December 9, 2007 at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California. The convention focused on the theme ‘Assimilation and integration, how about a new inclusive nation?’ It attracted people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds and peace groups.
Rabea Chaudhry, Adeel Iqbal and Mohammad Saqib Ocean were the MCs. Congressmen Mike Honda and Pete Stark sent special messages commending the AMV’s efforts to promote the acceptance of diversity in communities across the United States.
Five year old Faisal Tanveer initiated the convention proceedings with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an. It was a moment of great spiritual experience to watch a little “angel” performing a sacred duty with all his innocence and sincerity. His recitation captivated the audience.
Khalid Saeed, National President of AMV, welcomed the guests on behalf of the organization. He also presented a report card of the organization. Mr.Saeed said that the AMV believes in diversity and strives to create a culture of peace, acceptance, mutual respect and harmony. He pointed out that the best example of AMV’s community building effort can be seen in the day’s event which has attracted people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds and civil rights groups. In his view this was the best example of community building in action.
Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves and Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh shared their thoughts on diversity and protection of civil rights of all. Milpitas Mayor said every citizen enjoys equal right in his town. He said , “We respect everybody regardless what your religion or ethnic background is.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh said that we have to stand up to protect the rights of all people. Santa Clara County is recognized as one of the most culturally diverse counties in the nation and is a leader in protecting everyone’s rights. “This is a wonderful country and if we will not accept diversity and live in harmony then it will not happen anywhere in the world.” In 2007 Pete McHugh recognized AMV’s leading role in building an inclusive community and honored AMV with the “Unity in Diversity Award.
Interfaith prayers were another feature of the convention. Reverend Ron Kobata offered Buddhist prayer. Diana Gibson from the Council of Churches, Santa Clara, CA, offered Christian prayer. Elden Rosenthal offered Jewish sermon. Naeem Raza gave Muslim benediction.
Members of the AMV Group
The convention proceedings had a pause for 20 minutes for Maghreb (sunset) prayers. Master Omar Raza did a fantastic job in performing and explaining the Muslim call to Maghrib (sunset) prayer to fellow Americans.
The convention was divided in two sessions. The first session was titled “Fighting for the American Constitution.” Peace mom, Cindy Sheehan was the opening speaker.
Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq in April 2004, was welcomed with a standing ovation. Sheehan said events, coalition building and groups like the American Muslim Voice are very important to her, because they allow her "to tear down the boundaries whether they are real or fake. These boundaries prevent us from having true and authentic relationships with each other."
Cindy Sheehan reiterated that in 2008 she will run as an independent candidate against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She accused Pelosi of collaborating with the Bush administration as she knew about the water boarding torture since 2002.
The Hamdan v. Rumsfeld famed lawyer Neal Kumar Katyal was the keynote speaker of the first session. He is the Georgetown University Professor of Law and victorious lead counsel in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Katyal related hardships in visiting his client Salim Ahmed Hamdan in Guantanamo Prison as the government was telling him that he doesn’t need to meet Hamdan personally to file a brief for him. “When I told the government to give this in writing the stance was changed and I received a call that I can visit him,” Katyal said.
He believes that in its decision, the Supreme Court said something profound about America. “A man with a fourth grade education from Yemen, accused of conspiring with one of the world’s most evil men, sued the most powerful man in the nation, if not the world, took his case to the highest court in the land, and won.”
Neal Katyal commended the concern of American Muslim Voice on the erosion of constitutional and civil rights of all Americans.
Khalil Bendib was the featured speaker of the second session titled ‘America, One nation under God.’ Born under colonial rule in Algeria during the war of independence against France, Khalil is the only widely read political cartoonist in North America who brings a Muslim and progressive perspective to our media.
His mere ascendance to the podium with Moroccan Fez (cap) amused the audience that was concentrating on the serious issue of constitutional and civil rights violation issues. His satire, platform of a Muslim presidential candidate, brought great applause from the audience. He was very eloquent in putting forth the ‘agenda’ of a Muslim President of America.
Khalil Bendib’s book ‘Mission Accomplished: Wicked Cartoons by America 's Most Wanted Political Cartoonist’ also drew attention of the audience.
Professor Ronald Takaki, the keynote speaker of the second session, has been a lightning rod for the study of America 's racial and ethnic diversity. An internationally recognized scholar, Takaki has been professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, for over 30 years. Takaki has recently published a new book entitled ‘Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II’. It offers a different memory of World War II than the one offered by, say, Steven Spielberg in the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan.’
As a scholar of America's past, Prof. Ron Takaki has been peering into our society's future. The 21st century, he notes, will witness a tremendous expansion of our racial and ethnic diversity. The 2000 Census revealed that Americans of European origins had become a minority in California -- like African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. What has happened in the Golden State will happen across the country by 2060. Indeed, we will all be minorities.
Professor Takaki praised the theme of the AMV’s convention: “Assimilation and integration, how about a new inclusive nation?” He commended AMV for challenging all Americans to work side by side to build an inclusive nation.
Brandon Mayfield, an American who converted to Islam and received an apology and restitution from the federal government after being held in jail for weeks, spoke about racial and religious profiling after Sept. 11. Mayfield said the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, a system designed to protect US citizens from terrorism, "was really a war on Islam." His situation is one of the most prominent cases opponents cite against the Patriot Act.
"I should remind you, if you didn't know already, that our freedom of religion in this country is a sacred right and to exercise ones beliefs should never be a factor of a government's investigation in its citizens."
Brandon Mayfield, spoke about his quest for justice, not only for himself, but for all of us through his lawsuit against the government, demanding that the PATRIOT Act be declared unconstitutional.
Legendary labor activist Dolores Huerta hailed the work of American Muslim Voice on the immigration issue. She was also impressed by the AMV’s outreach to other ethnic communities and people from various faiths. She said that the anti-immigration movement was an attack on all people of color, especially Latinos. "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us," Huerta argues. "We, the Latinos, are the indigenous people of America. Billions of dollars have been put into social security and the undocumented people will never see that money. They are not criminals. They are just people trying to work."
Winner of the Puffin Foundation Award for Creative Citizenship in 2002, she poured her $100,000 grant from the award into creating the Dolores Huerta Foundation Organizing Institute that is dedicated to promote the cause of immigrants. The 77-year-old great grandmother is matriarch of the Mexican-American labor movement.
Throughout her long career as an activist, Huerta has been arrested 22 times in peaceful civil disobedience. She still remains active, currently teaching at University of Southern California while maintaining a very busy schedule of speaking engagements and appearances.
At the end, AMV Founder Samina Sundas thanked community leaders, panelists, distinguished speakers and participants for attending the conference. “I am fully aware that you had many choices available to you for today. By choosing AMV's Convention you have provided me with greatest gift of confidence that we are paving the right path.”
She went on to say that four years ago, American Muslim Voice was created to take the interfaith dialog to the next level of forming lifelong relationship with all Americans. “We are proud to say we have established relationships with many of our fellow Americans and we are continuing to build new friendships with people of all religions and ethnic backgrounds.”
Samina said that AMV’s ultimate goal is to create a culture of peace, acceptance, mutual respect and harmony in the world and through four years of hard work, we have found the best recipe for that. The ingredients are: 1) Forgiveness, 2) Openness, 3) Compassion, 4) Interaction at personal level, 5) Mutual respect, and 6) Trust and Justice.