Accolades for Nasreen Haroon at Second Annual Trailblazing Awards
By Leila Shauk

“Transformation starts here,” Rabbi Sarah Bassin told us in a high ceilinged vast space with wooden beams above in the progressive Helms Bakery complex. It is a building that is about change, being in the present, and is culturally trendy with its many new popular restaurants and stores. Newground, a Muslim-Jewish partnership for change, was formed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Progressive Jewish Alliance. It is now an independent group that is sponsored by Community Partners at the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. They hosted their second annual Trailblazing Awards at this exciting location, and this year they honored Dr Judith Glass and Nasreen Haroon.

The event was cordial and optimistic. Jews and Muslims united in celebration of two outstanding women in their respective communities. Lunch was served, friends and family mingled, and Bassin standing at the podium spoke quite aptly about change. “Newground was founded to create a national model for healthy relations, productive engagement, and social change between American Muslims and Jews” (muslimjewishnewground.org). This theme was emphasized throughout the event when each of the several speakers spoke about the profound impact and positivity that Dr Glass and Haroon illustrated.

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas spoke about Dr Glass as a lover of democracy and a phenomenal economics teacher who encouraged students to think about ethics and engage in dialogue.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl immediately got a round of applause when he said, “I happen to believe that there is one God, and we are all God’s children.” He spoke about Nasreen’s positive, peaceful, and loving energy as being at the core of her success. She was a regular guest on four of his distinct public affairs television shows: The God Squad, The Mideast Perspective, Beyond the Beltway, and The Week in Review. Every time she appeared on set, she would speak of everyone as being a team and having the same rights. Rosendahl said, “I happen to believe that we’re all in this mix together, and she [Nasreen] knows that, she has demonstrated that. She would say, ‘We all matter; we are all part of the human condition; Palestinians have rights too.’”

Rosendahl subsequently spoke about Nasreen’s role as a “fantastic artist.” Her vivid paintings are displayed in many US Embassies around the world; her efforts to build bridges and connect everyone is now on a global scale. He described how her oils and colors bring out a brilliant energy to the viewer, and that they are beautiful pieces with meaning. She’s not only a speaking ambassador for peace and change in her local community but also globally via her artwork she is an international model of those motifs.

Coming back to where he started, Rosendahl concluded with the idea that “...we are all connected, all one family, all God’s children; we’re here because we’re lovers; we love life, we love ourselves, we love our neighbors as ourselves, and we don’t judge, and that is the religion. Everyone is looking for a positive moment in their day -- for something hopeful -- and whenever Nasreen would come up [to me], I would get that from her. We should all work together to make the world a better place.” His words of truth were powerful, and they resonated with everyone in the room.

Omar Haroon, Nasreen’s son, came up to the podium with his sister, Sana Haroon, to briefly speak before presenting their mom with her award. Omar, like his mother, promotes hope and positivity; he is running for LA County Assessor in an attempt to make a meaningful difference in his community just as his grandfather, Mr Ahmad Adaya, who was known for his philanthropy and generosity. Omar spoke about the Muslim stereotypes he would notice in school textbooks in LA; when he was 12 years old, he corrected his teacher repeatedly because their book was wrong -- as a result she allowed him to correct their textbook so that the entire class benefited. Even then, before 9/11, there was an inaccurate perspective on Islam.

Omar encouraged Nasreen to speak at his school. Students responded positively to her speech -- many had a lot of questions -- and they were finally learning true Islam. Following that first speech, Nasreen was constantly called to speak at schools and events. Omar concluded by saying how proud his family and him are of Nasreen’s accomplishments.

Finally, the award was presented to Nasreen and it was her turn to speak. She started with many thanks: first to the audience for being there on a Sunday afternoon, then to her family, and lastly to the community. She spoke about how lucky she has been to have been surrounded by a plethora of good people: “People are really good; human nature tends to be good.” There, her optimism and warmth that Rosendahl spoke about. She mentioned being terrified to speak when she gave a speech at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica after 9/11. People around her were so supportive that they put their arms around her and even escorted her back to her car.

A shoutout to Rosendahl was a must: she said he’s a “...genuine, good, and giving man who does so much for the country and so much for LA. He was kind enough to keep calling me to appear on his shows.” More gratitude followed. She thanked Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Center of Southern California for giving her opportunities to speak and letting her say whatever she wanted.

Her parents, Mr Ahmad Adaya and Mrs Amina Adaya, believed in justice and the truth -- her mother (only surviving parent) still does -- she expressed a huge thanks to them. That seed of doing what is right, saying the truth, and sharing it with others so that we can all understand each other better and see that we are a family came from her parents. In her early days of public speeches on Islam, she would speak at a synagogue and her parents would attend and donate money to show their support.

In retrospect, she noted how lucky she has been and that it is so interesting how one’s journey unfolds. She gave her first speech as a volunteer at Santa Monica High School thinking that if she could change one mind that would be good enough. And now? She has an award that illustrates her extensive influence.

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