Association of Pakistan Muslim Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America: An Appraisal
The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) held its 31st annual summer meeting in Washington DC in late June 2008. Apart from the usual activities of alumni reunions, social and political forums, the youth program, the excellent continuous medical education program and the ever-expanding and ever-glittering bazaar the highlight of the meeting, as always, was the Saturday night banquet. For the past number of years the banquet program has provided a window into the mindset of APPNA leadership.
Mr. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US House of Representatives, was the keynote speaker. You will recall that two years ago Mr. Ellison was, in the face of formidable opposition and against all odds, elected by the people of Minnesota to represent them in the Congress. He gave a spirited speech that enthralled the audience. The only problem was he was addressing the wrong crowd.
Let me explain.
Apart from being a Muslim, Mr. Ellison is also a consummate politician and as such he was determined to tap into the Islamic fervor of his audience. Unbeknownst to him and to the majority of his doe-eyed admirers who clapped their approval of every word he said, there were also present in the audience a number of non-Muslim APPNA members.
We have often talked about the real nature of our association. We all agree that APPNA is not a religious association but an ethnic professional association of Pakistani physicians and physicians of Pakistani descent. By virtue of the make-up of our organization the leadership of APPNA should have been more interested in Mr. Ellison’s comments and views about Pakistan. In all fairness he did, in the beginning of his remarks, mentioned the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan and the new democratic setup in the country. The bulk of his remarks were not about Pakistan but about Muslims and Islam.
Lord knows our country of birth is in a mess. There is an unprecedented rise of religious self-righteousness and militant fundamentalism across the country. The uncouth and uneducated fundamentalist bullies are running amok, trampling on the social fabric of the society, from Karachi to the Karakorums. Mr. Ellison could have spent time discussing the evils of religious terrorism and its destructive effects on the country. He could have also talked about the negative role that the army rule in Pakistan has played to bring the country to the brink of economic and political disaster. And finally he could have suggested some remedies and the role he could play to help the people of Pakistan.
Instead, he acted as if he were addressing a revival rally of the faithful. He talked in glowing terms about a free clinic that Muslims have started in downtown Los Angeles. He told the audience to follow suite and duplicate that effort elsewhere in the country. He talked about the gathering of Pakistanis on the Hill that afternoon and implored the audience to have a Day on the Hill in their own state capitals to inform the state legislators about issues important to Muslims. Nowhere he proposed a dialogue between APPNA members and their legislators about Pakistan.
Mr Ellison, in all fairness, was taking his cues from APPNA leadership. When the president in his remarks says we ‘Muslim Americans’ then the invited guests are given the carte blanche to follow that line. It was in a way de ja vu all over again, if you will pardon the cliché, when Dr. Rasheed Piracha, our immediate past president declared at last year’s banquet that Alhamdollillah we are all Muslims.
I believe the issue is not very complicated. A segment of APPNA membership, including current and immediate past leadership, are in the habit of wearing their religion and their self-absorbing religious piety on their sleeves. They have been trying to paint this association in religious colors and it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate APPNA from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA). This nonsense has to stop.
This year every registrant received a copy of former president Jimmy Carter’s bestseller Palestine: Democracy not Apartheid. One wonders if the Palestinian issue is more important than the issues confronting Pakistan? Were there no books on the current problems of Pakistan that would have been more pertinent and timely? Just for the information of the holier-than- though crowd, Ahmad Rashid’s new book about Pakistan Descent into Chaos would have been perfect read for APPNA members. It talks in detail the genesis of the problems Pakistan faces. They could have also considered Ahmad Rashid’s international best-seller Taliban. Or for that matter one of dozen other books on Pakistan published in the past few years. Is it an overt attempt to ‘straighten the Qibla of APPNA’ as one former president is reported to have said a few years ago?
I am a staunch supporter of Palestinians cause and have, for over 25-years, written about it extensively in my op-ed columns and have in return borne the consequences of being outspoken. But in my mind Pakistan, the country of my birth, takes precedence over other sundry international issues.
Here are some suggestions to make future APPNA meetings more open and ecumenical. Since we have members who are non-Muslims how about starting the banquet program with a recitation from their scriptures? How about asking those members if they would like to have a separate room for their religious services? And why not having a common prayer room during the meeting? We Muslims are prone to get angry over the non-halal nature of food presented to us. Did we ever ask our non-Muslim friends if they have any dietary restrictions?
For some of us who take pride in our Muslim faith it is utmost important that we distinguish between our faith and our ethnicity. We expect the same from our leaders. And if they refuse to make that important distinction then we, the members, have to assert ourselves and make sure we defeat their ilk who are trying to re-make the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent into a religious organization.
There is nothing wrong, never have been, with the direction of APPNA Qibla. It has always been straight and points to the direction that the founders of this association had set. But there is a whole lot wrong with the way our fundamentalist leaders think and lead.
(A founding member of APPNA Dr. Amjad Hussain also served as the 4th president of the organization in 1982-83. Besides being a regular contributor to Pakistan Link, he is an op-ed columnist for the daily Toledo Blade and holds an emeritus professorship in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at the University of Toledo)