United Muslims of America (UMA) Holds 28th Annual Dinner
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Speakers and invitees at the 28th Annual Dinner of the United Muslims of America
The United Muslims of America (UMA) held its annual dinner on November 7 at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, CA to celebrate the 28th anniversary of its founding.
The event began with one minute silence to pay homage to the victims of the Fort Hood vio- lent act. Athar Siddiqui, emcee of the program, said that Muslims throughout the world are sharing the grief of this tragic incident.
Tellingly, the UMA annual event was held just two days after the tragic shooting at Fort Hood which claimed the lives of 13 innocent soldiers and wounded scores others.
Alluding to the backlash fear of the seven-million strong American Muslim community, Rita R Semel, Executive Vice-Chair of San Francisco Interfaith Council, read a message from the Council which said: "We fully support our Muslim brothers and sisters in our community who fear that these actions will make them vulnerable to discrimination and prejudice as the details of this incident unfold."
She said that the Council acknowledges with appreciation the public statements of many Muslim organizations condemning the atrocity at Fort Hood. "This is a time when our faith communities need to come together so that all can be treated with respect without discrimination."
In his speech, the UMA presi dent Syed Shafi Refai pointed out that Muslims in America have be- come unintended victims of the war on terror. "They became sub- ject of hate and suspicion. Muslim organizations and charities became subject of FBI surveillance. Many Muslims stopped participating in politics and preferred to maintain low profile."
He went on to say that UMA has intensified its efforts in build- ing alliances with the Interfaith groups and it found many people of different faiths working with it on the issues of common interests. "That is the beauty of America that the people of different faiths, dif- ferent races, different cultures work together to achieve the common goal."
However, it is not always easy for the grassroots groups to achieve the common good as there are powerful lobbies armed with large resources and they are narrowly fo- cused on their special interests, Mr. Refai added.
Speaking about the history of UMA, Shafi Refai pointed out that UMA was the first non-partisan American Muslim public affairs organization established in 1981 with the mission to educate and encourage the growing American Muslims to actively participate in the mainstream social, economic, civic and political activities in America.
He was delighted to note that one founder President of UMA, Dr. Islam Siddiqui, was appointed by President Clinton as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and President Obama has appointed him as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the US Trade Representative.
Another past president Syed Rifat Mahmood was a Republican Party candidate for the US Congress in 2002.
Democratic Congressman Pete Stark, who was scheduled to speak at the dinner, was unable to attend because he had to rush to Washington for the crucial voting on the Health Bill that was approved by the House of Representatives that night. In a recorded voice message the Congressman said he appreciated the Muslim organizations' condemnation of the killings in Fort Hood and understood the Muslim community's concern of a fallout at the tragic event.
Iftekhar Abdul Hai, UMA's Director of Interfaith, disclosed the organization has received a lot of hate calls since the Fort Hood tragedy.
Imran Rifai introduced the former Congressman Tom Cambell who is a candidate for Governor of California from the Republican Party in the 2010 election.
Campell recalled his association with the cause of the Muslim community when as a Congressman he worked against the so-called Secret Evidence Act under which the accused were not able to see evidence against themselves.
Campbell said he was proud of his friends in the Muslim community. "I remember support of the Muslim community in my previous elections." It may be pointed out that Campbell served as a Congressman for five terms representing the district in the Silicon Valley from 1988 to 2000.
Ahsan Baig from the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) introduced Prof. James Ahiakpor of CSU Hayward who spoke on the theme of the event: The current economic crisis Causes, remedies and consequences. He held three factors responsible for the 2008 economic crisis, namely, incorrect thinking; bad economic advice and faulty analysis.
At the end of formal speeches there was a panel discussion on the current economic crisis. The panel included Tom Campbell, Prof.
James Ahiakpor and Dr. Naveed Sherwani, President and CEO of Open-Silicon. Dr. Sherwani was of the view that the IT sector has great potential and a bright future.
At the outset of the event, Imam Bilal, Asian Director of Universal Communications Services, presented translation of verses from the Holy Qur'an. The program ended with the remarks of Reverend Gibbs. Alluding to the Fort Hood tragedy, Rev Charles Gibbs of the United Religious Interfaith, said the he was a Christian and Christian organizations would not have been obliged to condemn the incident if the perpetrator happened to be a Christian. "I hope a day will come when the Muslims in America will not feel necessary to condemn an act done by a fellow of their faith."