Bay Area Community Pays Rich Tributes to Syed Rifat Mahmood
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The San Francisco Bay Area community paid rich tributes to Syed Rifat Mahmood, President of United Muslims of America, Founder of the Islamic Society of East Bay, American Institute of International Studies and Journal of America and an outstanding author.

Syed Rifat Mahmood passed away in Fremont CA on August 4, 2016 after a long illness. The United Muslim of America (UMA) sponsored a special event on August 28 at the Chandni Restaurant, Newark, CA to recognize his sincere services to the community.

A host of community leaders and civil activists gathered to honor Syed Rifat Mahmood who enriched his community in civic, political and religious fields. Among those who addressed the gathering were: Zara Mahmood (daughter of Syed Mahmood), Dr Waheed Siddiqui, Reshma Inamdar, Javed Ellahie, Samina Sundas, Mertze Dahlin, Shafi Refai, Tashie Zaheer, Prof. Arthur Scott, Javed Khan, Dr Khalid Baig, Moeena Shaiq, Iftekhar Hai, Nihal Khan, Hazem Khera (on behalf of Dr Agha Saeed), Ahmed Kaleem Hashmi, Abdus Sattar Ghazali, Ali Cemantur and Dr Ostur Raza. Dr Rajabally concluded the commemorative gathering.

Shafi Refai, the former President UMA was MC of the program. Speaker after speaker, highlighted the accomplishments of Syed Rifat Mahmood and the difficulties he faced in achieving them.

Perhaps the best tribute to Syed Mahmood was given by Dr Ostur Raza who described him as an example of the African tradition of Ubuntu, meaning humanity towards all others. “I am what I am because of who we all are." Ostur Raza said that these word come to mind “when I remember Syed Mahmood.” He related the following story to explain the philosophy of Obuntu:

An anthropologist proposed a game to the African tribal children: He placed a basket of sweets near a tree, and asked the children to stand 50m away. Then he announced that whoever reaches first would get all the sweets in the basket. When he said 'ready steady go!' ... Do you know what these children did? They all held each other's hands, ran together towards the tree, divided the sweets equally among themselves, ate the sweets and enjoyed them. When the anthropologist asked them why they did so, they answered, 'Ubuntu'. Which meant - 'How can one be happy when the others are sad.’ Everything Rifat did was for all of us. Rifat could not be happy, unless the community was happy. "Rifat did not live for himself, he lived with us and for us. Rifat was an UBUNTU man."

Dr Raza said that people know Ubuntu as an open source single software platform that runs across smartphones, tablets and PCs. The name Ubuntu was given because it is an open source platform which is shared free by the IT community.

Dr Raza said, “Let's honor Rifat by living UBUNTU Life.” He invited the audience to make a commitment that like Syed Rifat Mahmood "I will do my best to practice UBUNTU for my community."

Zara, the daughter and the only child of Syed Rifat Mahmood, was the first speaker. In an emotional speech, she related the salient points of his loving father's life. Her father arrived in the USA in April 1969. Syed Mahmood was the first member of his family to arrive in the USA.

Syed Rifat Mahmood was a public figure. He was a nominee for the US Congress as a Republican candidate in 2002. He was also a Republican nominee for the California State Assembly in 2000. Syed was elected to the Central Committee of the Alameda County Republican Party for a two-year term. He was also nominated to California State Republican Party's Central Committee for two terms. He had worked for the Reagan and Bush presidential campaigns and served as one of the co-chairs for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren.

Dr Waheed Siddiqee recalled: “Congressman Mike Honda sent a condolence message on Syed Rifat Mahmood’s demise which read: Syed Mahmood’s efforts to educate and foster Muslim participation in mainstream social, economic, political and civil activities has benefitted our community throughout his life.”

Syeda Reshma Inamdar, a civil advocacy activist, met Rifat when he was President of the Islamic Society of East Bay (ISEB). She said that she was happy that the ISEB expanded under his leadership. But it is sad to learn that several community members filed a lawsuit against him rather than cooperating with him to elevate the ISEB and the community.

Attorney Javed Ellahie was of the view that we should follow Syed Rifat Mahmood’s legacy with action.

Mertze Dahlin, Managing Editor of the Journal of America, met Syed Rifat Mahmood in 1977 when he was president of the San Francisco Islamic Center. Dahlin said Syed Mahmood was a prolific writer with rich content. He was one of the founders of the Islamic Society of East Bay (ISEB) neighboring the Methodist Church. The Harvard University has selected them as the best model of co-existence of the two faiths.

Tashie Zaheer, President of the Urdu Academy of North America, read a message of Dr Abdul Jabbar, who was unable to attend the event personally because of other engagements. On his behalf, Tashie Zaheer said something saddened him a great deal. "Why did we not do it when he was alive? At least, going forward we as a community must think about it. I am sad that we did not recognize him while he was alive."

Samina Fahim, the founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice (AMV), concurred with him lamented that we did not recognize him while he was alive.

Arthur Scott, Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California, said Syed Rifat Mahmood was concerned that the Muslim community should be more active, particularly in the political process. He was  a pathfinder through his active political life. Prof Arthur said he knew Syed Mahmood through his articles because he was writing a lot about the Middle East affairs. Syed Mahmood invited him to write for the Journal of America that was being published since 2008.

At the end MC Shafi Refai thanked Chandni Restaurant, Newark, for hosting the event to honor Syed Rifat Mahmood.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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