American Islamic Congress Inaugurates Its Washington Center
By C. Naseer Ahmad

Washington, DC: “I had a duty. I wanted to represent those American Muslims who cherished the freedoms of the US after living under repressive regimes”, said Zainab Al-Suwaij, cofounder of the American Islamic Congress-AIC. “They call her the bulldozer” was the headline of the July 11, 2012 Washington Post Style Section story on a remarkable American Muslim leader, who along with her associates, promotes advocacy and engagement.

On October 25, 2012 – one day before Eid-al-Adha, AIC inaugurated its Washington Center. About 125 people representing a wide range of organizations and individuals from different countries and faiths participated in AIC Center’s inaugural event. John Pinna, Director of Government and International Relations, initiated the ceremony and Ms. Zainab Al-Suwaij welcomed the guests to this modern well-equipped center. Among the speakers were Ms. Judy Golub, Director of Government and Media Relations, US Commission on International Religious Freedom; Joshua Polacheck, Senior Policy Advisor for Near Eastern Affairs, US Department of State; Ms. Julia Koo, Executive Director, Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Office of the Mayor, Washington, DC and Grande Lum, Director of Community Relations Services, US Department of Justice.

With the Muslim Community AIC appears to have built a coalition based on principles of an unequivocal denunciation of terrorism, extremism, and hate speech. Reaching out to all peoples of conscience, AIC promotes genuine interfaith dialogue and stress that tremendous diversity exists within Islam and in Muslim communities throughout the world.” On October 25, 2012, AIC demonstrated that it reached out to all those who shared the same goals.

AIC extended an invitation to use the state-of-the-art center that can accommodate up to 150 people for a reception and up to 60 people for a seated event – right in the heart of Washington. The audio/visual system includes moveable microphones and mixer, surround system, a 92” presentation screen, HD projector and Wi-Fi. By making this center available for use by the community, AIC has made a meaningful contribution.

Through imaginative programs likes Project Nur – a student-led initiative for advocating social justice, AIC empowers responsible leaders to cultivate an environment of respect between Muslims and all communities. By distributing the groundbreaking Arabic edition of the comic book “The Montgomery Story”, AIC has helped Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream live on in the streets of Tunis and the city squares of Cairo. The Hands Across the Middle East (HAMSA) is another remarkable civil rights initiative which is reported to have trained hundreds of young Middle East activists to explore free expression and create positive change in their communities.

Ms Zainab Al-Suwaij is helped by energetic and able assistants like John Pinna and Aimee Chiu to implement the mission of AIC. During Ramadan, perhaps the best interfaith Iftar reception in Washington was held at the residence of the Deputy Head of Mission, the British Embassy. A great example of the interfaith harmony engendered by AIC was the statement after the breaking of the fast, by Deputy Ambassador Barton who said: “Ramadan, with its emphasis on togetherness and compassion, is a testament to what we share as human beings, as well as the rich diversity of our cultural traditions. But even in the West, where we rightly cherish our peaceful and pluralistic societies, bigotry and violence still exist. Terrible events such as the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the attack on a mosque in Joplin, Missouri earlier this month remind us of the need to bring people of different faiths together in dialogue and mutual understanding.”

At the interfaith Iftar event, Melanie Maron Pell, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office said: “AJC is honored to join with our friends from the Muslim community for this important Ramadan tradition, and we are grateful to our hosts at the British Embassy for making this celebration possible. The Jewish and Muslim communities share many traditions, including the traditions of fasting on holy days and breaking bread with friends and family. We look forward to celebrating these shared traditions at future events, to deepening our understanding of each other’s faith and communities, and to building strong, sustaining friendships.”




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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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