American Muslim Voice Foundation Peace Convention a Truly Inspiring Day
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The American Muslim Voice Foundation ( http://www.amuslimvoice.org/ ) held a peace convention at Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California on Sunday, December 8, 2013 to the delight of many community activists from across the region. Although the AMV is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, its outreach effort is now well-known far beyond its roots, and it is actively building up its base of support in the Sacramento area as well.
What is unique about this organization is its approach to the American-Muslim interaction post-9/11/2001 when terrorists attacked the United States. The AMV organization celebrated its 10 years of existence this year and has been successful by encouraging Muslims to take the “bottom up” or grassroots community approach first instead of the usual temptation to prioritize building of relations with the top political powers in this country. If one tries to explain the vision of the organization, AMV founder Samina Sundas explains that you should start a dialog with your immediate neighbor first and explain what Islam is and what Muslims are all about to him or her before you try to get the attention of your Member of Congress or Senator (although that happens later as California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett was present at this event).
To cover even a majority of the activities at this convention poses too much of a challenge for one article here. There was too much that happened, so this writing will highlight just a few areas and take a segmental view of the activities from the lunch opening to the post-dinner closing. Just listing all details of the award ceremonies alone could be the subject for another article.
The afternoon formalities conducted by Maria Tariq started off with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an and formal words of welcome by AMV Board Member A. Sattar Ghazali. The plenary speech delivered by Sadia Saifuddin was clear and informative and delivered with incredible style. Sadia was introduced to us at this venue by Rameesha Sattar. Sadia is fast becoming a role model for many young ladies in our community as a confident young activist. She is the first elected Muslim student member of the UC Board of Regents which represents over 200,000 students (system wide). Sadia spoke about the challenges one is faced growing up as a Muslim in America. The loaded question one is asked, are you “American-Muslim” or “Muslim American” was elaborated on by her personal experience growing up in California’s Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. She stresses the fact that Islam is a message for all of humanity and is not to be confined exclusively to our community. She said that she had worn a hijab since before 9/11 and that being a Muslim should expand our responsibilities in this country. She added that Muslims have the same concerns as the rest of this society and (for our young readers here) that being Muslim can also be synonymous with being cool and that we need to create our own narrative in this country.
After the presentation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Beloved Community Building Award to the Silicon Valley Foundation panel discussions kicked off the afternoon activities. The first panel discussed “Who will be left out of Immigration Reform” and the second “Income inequality and its impact on our communities, especially youth” (Dr. Cindy Chavez was a part of this panel). A workshop: "Made into America Immigrant stories” was also on the cards. Another set of panels followed which tackled “Bring all of your burning questions about Islam and Muslims” and a parallel effort “What is post racial about post racial?” both of which were quite informative. And a “Meet the Authors” panel conducted by Meer Shams concluded the afternoon activity which featured five writers - Dr. Ejaz Naqvi, Pamela Olson, Rev. Ben Daniel, Rabbi Shelly Lewis and John Titus - who we will revisit at the conclusion of this report.
The evening program emceed by Naeem Syed began with a unique multi-faith prayer in which a young Muslim child, a Jewish representative and a Christian female Reverend presented a religious bouquet to bless everyone. Next, M. Asif Sattar representing the AMV Sacramento Chapter spoke passionately about the need for everyone to work together to spread knowledge about true Islam in their communities. Introductions of the AMV team of activists followed and a moving video in which the work that the AMV Foundation has been doing and the recognition that it has received in the mainstream media was highlighted.
AMV President Khalid Saeed next appeared on stage and introduced the first keynote speaker Shane Claiborne. Shane is a peacemaker whose extensive efforts include writing books, traveling to troubled lands and speaking about the need to find an alternate to conflict. Shane’s books include Jesus for President, Red Letter Revolution, Common Prayer, Follow Me to Freedom, Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, and The Irresistible Revolution. In his speech before the AMV audience this evening he shares his observations as a person on the ground (he was actually there in 2003) during the bombing of Iraq, and how in spite of the sufferings that mankind inflicts on itself, humanity still resurfaces and prevails. He stressed the need to build bridges instead of resorting to violence. “Love is more powerful than hatred,” he said, and shared how his life was saved by Iraqis while they were being bombed. He said that we all fear what we don’t know and commended AMV on its mission.
After dinner AMV Executive Director Samina Sundas took the stage and introductions were made of the second keynote speaker Terry Holdbrooks. Terry has led an amazing life which he shared with us. He is from Phoenix, Arizona and was living quite a life when 9/11 happened. He joined the US Army and like many others wanted to defend his country but kept getting rejected by the recruiters. But when he finally did get in he made the mistake of asking for a job which paid a bonus, and found himself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a Military Police Officer ( after a trip to Ground Zero in New York), guarding the world against the “worst of the worst” of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban imprisoned there. During his speech he mentioned some of the workings at Camp Delta, which many of us really feel uncomfortable knowing now (torture etc.) and after seeing prisoners there practicing Islam in that environment, he decided to convert to the faith himself. He spoke of the numerous languages spoken there (Arabic, Pashto, Urdu and Farsi were the main ones) with only a handful speaking English and how he had started hating the place and its environment. He said that he got a Qur’an from a detainee and finished reading it, quit drinking and decided to become a Muslim. He added that after 10 years over 600 of the 780 detainees at the facility were returned to their countries and many of the rest are an embarrassing reminder of our zest to get even and that it is possible that only a few are actually guilty.
AMV Foundation’s Awards Ceremony (and a brief fundraiser) closed the event during which the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Award was given to CAIR, Cesar Chavez Social Justice Award to Fr. Jon Pedigo STL Pastor, Virtuous Public Official Award to Kansen Chu, Badshah Khan Peace Awardto Shane Claiborne, Marla RuzickaHumanitarian Award to MAS Bay Area, an additional Martin Luther King Jr. Beloved Community Building Award to the Kamil Family. Spirit of Islam Lifetime Achievement Award went to Rev. Phil Lawson and Mertze Dahlin and the Peter Jennings Unbiased Media Award to Keit Do.
To conclude, it is groups of social activists like those in the AMV Foundation and their various friends in the community who are laying down the social infrastructure for a brighter future for this country. It is people like author John L. Titus whose daughter Alicia was murdered on 9/11/2001, whose journey as a grieving father is documented in the book “Losing Alicia”, a man who has devoted his life to the cause of peace which gives us hope.
America was attacked by a murderous bunch on that horrible day and not by a whole religion of 1.5 billion people. The damage that those attackers have done will take decades to heal. But the solution does not lie in wars and our doing more damage overseas. The only real healing process is in developing understanding between cultures and faiths, and there is no better place to start than by getting to know your neighbor.