UMA Honors American Muslim Women’s Political Activism
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
"American Muslim Women: Building Alliances, Upholding Democracy and Defending Civil Rights" was the theme of the 32nd Annual Convention of the United Muslims of America (UMA). Held on February 23, 2013 at the Chandni Restaurant in Fremont/Newark, the Convention drew a large crowd from different ethnic and faith groups.
The UMA is perhaps the first American Muslim organization which acknowledged and honored the contributions of Muslim women, particularly in the post-9/11 America, when the seven-million strong Muslim-American community became target of institutionalized profiling, bigotry, discrimination, and hate.
Four prominent women activists of California - Faisal Masry (Democrat candidate for California State Assembly in 2010), Samina Sundas (Founding Executive Director of American Muslim Voice), Syeda Reshma Inamdar (Director of the League of Women Voters of California), Ameena Jindali (Islamic Networks Group-ING) and Safaa Ibrahim (President of CAIR-SFBA) shared their experiences of civic and political activism.
Congressman Mike Honda was the keynote speaker. He is a staunch supporter of the Muslim cause. In November 2010, Honda introduced a legislation recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha.
Sabahat Rafiq Sherwani, a civic activist and an ING board member, was the MC of the program.
The program began with the recitation of the Holy Qur’an by Iman Jandali, daughter of Amena Jandali of the Islamic Networks Group.
Shafi Refai, President of the United Muslims of America, welcomed the guests on behalf of UMA. He recounted the dedicated work of the organization. The UMA, officially established in 1982, was the first non-partisan Muslim public affairs organization in America with the mission to educate and encourage American Muslims to actively participate in the mainstream social, economic, civic and political activities in America. Shafi Refai was proud to say that the UMA was successful in achieving its mission and the massive attendance of this convention proves this.
Syeda Reshma Inamdar, a well-known and popular personality of the San Francisco Bay Area, shared her experience with the League of Women Voters. She has been a member of the League of Women Voters of Fremont, Newark and Union City for more than 15 years where she first served as Public Relations Director. Reshma was also LWVFNUC’s President during their 50th anniversary celebrations. She currently serves as the Chair of the Alameda County Council of the seven County Leagues. Reshma is also the Executive Director and co-founder of SEMAH, aimed at breaking the cycle of violence through education and teaching healthy conflict resolution skills.
Ameena Jindali, a founding member of Islamic Networks Group (ING), filled in for Maha El-Genidi, president of the group established in 1993 to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity. Ameena spoke about ING's teach-in programs. To fulfill ING's mission, Ameena has made hundreds of presentations in schools, colleges, universities, churches, and other venues on Islam and related subjects.
Samina Sundas, the Founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice, was the next speaker. The AMV is the pioneer organization to introduce the Open House events on such occasions as Eid Al Fitr. Samina pointed out that the idea behind such events is to develop person-to-person contacts which is the best way to remove misunderstanding and hate that has prevailed in the post-9/11 America. She revealed that her organization has so far donated 10,000 scarves among fellow Americans to promote goodwill. American Muslim Voice will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of its establishment in the month of July.
Safaa Ibrahim, President of the Council on American-Islamic Relations- San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA), was the next speaker. Safaa stressed that the Muslims should speak for themselves and this is what CAIR is doing as a leading American Muslim organization.
Ferial Masry, the first Saudi American to run for a political office in America, stole the show with her eloquent, moving and vivid style of speech. She was CA State Assembly Democrat candidate from District 37 in 2010. Born and raised in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Ferial Masry was proud to be the mother of his Army Veteran son Omar who served in Iraq in 2003. She visited 30,000 homes during her election campaign. Ferial said that she did not lose the election but won by gaining experience and knowledge about the US electoral process. She said that best way to counter the challenges encountered by the American Muslims was to actively participate in the political process.
Rep. Mike Honda, who has always supported the cause of American Muslims, was the keynote speaker. Having spent his early childhood in an internment camp in Colorado during World War II, Honda realizes the pains of a persecuted community. He referred to the 2009 controversy when Rep. Sue Myrick and others accused CAIR of infiltrating Capitol Hill through interns. He said what CAIR was doing was the objective of all such minority group organizations. He noted that the CAIR office in Washington DC is situated only a few blocks away from his residence. It may be recalled that in response to the allegations against the CAIR interns, Mike Honda had written: ".....These fallacious allegations implicate the existence of a society still struggling with anti-Muslim sentiment. My Muslim colleagues in the House of Representatives, along with the highly qualified, patriotic and committed Muslim staffers and interns that have worked with my office and with CAPAC, contribute mightily to our democratic process. Any slander against these fellow patriots is slander against democracy and religious freedom."
Rep. Hondo also wrote an article on Rep. Peter King’s anti-Muslim hearings: "..... Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia...."
Rep. Honda was also one of the ten House Democrats to speak out criticizing NY Mayor Bloomberg for his response to the NYPD program of spying on American Muslims.
Rep. Honda drew wide applause from the audience.
The program ended with the melodic presentation of "America is Beautiful" by Anam Siddiqee, daughter of Athar Siddiqee, Vice President of CAIR-SF.
The 32nd UMA Convention attracted more than 200 people from far and near. Khalid Saeed, National President of the American Muslim Voice, travelled from Sacramento to attend the convention. The CAIR-SFBA had a strong presence with Zahra Billoo, the Executive Director for CAIR-SFBA and other officials, attending. Some founding members of UMA were also present. They included Dr. Waheed Siddiqee, Iftekhar Hai, Javed Ellahi and Sayed Rifat Mahmood.
Another feature of the UMA Convention was an Islamic Art exhibition by Salma Arastu, a Berkeley artist. To quote Ricardo Viera, professor of art at the Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, Salma Arastu is blessed with a fluent and lyrical visual language. She is a diverse and solid multicultural humanist. Her work reflects, as well as transcends, all barriers with compassion and creative elegance. Salma Arastu has illustrated poetry of the Sufi poet Rumi which drew the attenttion of many.
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