Houston Community News for Week Ending 6/29

July 3, 2006 by  


Faith and Pluralism: Challenges in the 21st Century

At a spiritual event held at Rice University in Houston, “Faith and Pluralism: Challenges in the 21st Century” was the theme for the presentation by a renowned speaker, Dr. Ahmet Karamustafa.

Organized by the Ismaili Muslim community in Houston, the event was held at the Hamman Hall of Rice University. Among the dignitaries in the audience were the Consul General of Pakistan, Mr. G. R. Baluch; the Consul General of Jordan, Mr. Sabir Amawi; Texas State Representative Charlie Howard; Mayor David Smith of Friendswood; Mayor Joe Gurecky of Rosenberg; Councilmember Laura Ewing of Friendswood; Councilmember Thomas Abraham of Sugar Land; Fort Bend Independent School District’s Trustee, Mrs. Sonal Bhuchar; President & Aamil Saheb Shaikh Quraish bhai Shaikh Fakhruddin of the Bohra community; President and CEO of the Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston Mr. Elliot Gershenson; and former Mayor Pro-Tem of Houston, Mr. Gordon Quan, to name a few.

In his welcome address, Dr. Amirali Popatia, President of the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States, spoke of how “today there is clearly a need to significantly improve each other’s understanding of the diversity of traditions, values, and cultures, both within a particular faith community and across the spectrum of faiths within a society.” He also briefly touched upon how Prophet Muhammad (s) exemplified a way of life simply through his actions towards others, including the respect he gave to people and his respect for other cultures and religions.

The highlight of the event was an eloquent lecture given by Dr. Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, an expert in the social and intellectual history of pre-modern times in the Islamic World. Dr. Karamustafa spoke about a different way to approach pluralism. Rather than seeing pluralism as a necessity or a view forced by increasing globalization, he said that one must take on a committed approach by seeing this as a consequence of a belief in one God. Dr. Karamustafa elaborated on the two key attributes of God, namely God as ‘Creator’ and ‘Transcender’, which are viewed commonly by all monotheistic religions. He cited verses from the Qu`ran to show how God acknowledged pluralism and intended for there to be pluralism, which has goodness and benefits. He stressed that verses showed how God intended for humankind to get to know one another regardless of gender, race, or economic status. Most importantly, Dr. Karamustafa explained the importance of coming to terms in not just inter-faith relations, but also in intra-faith relations such that all various Muslim communities can coexist.

Dr. Carol Quillen, Director of the Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance, and Associate Professor of history at Rice University, provided the closing address. Dr. Quillen described how she was moved and humbled by this event, and reiterated key messages from Dr. Karamustafa’s lecture, especially with respect to tolerance through openness. By seeing how the audience was comprised of such diversity, she felt that events such as this are examples that give hope a pluralistic world existing in peace is indeed possible.

The program also included inspiring and wonderfully melodious Islamic poetry without any music by a choir.

PCC-USA Organizes Useful Immigration Seminar

Gut Feeling – Immigration Bill Will Pass: Attorney Willy

The Pakistan Chamber of Commerce (PCC-USA) is organizing regular monthly seminars. Seminar Chair Haroon Shaikh, President Dr. Barkat Ali Charania & Executive Board Members of PCC-USA are attending all these seminars with substantial numbers of members and well-wishers.

After their successful Health Seminar of last month, June saw the immigration seminar organized by PCC-USA at Shahnai Restaurant. An appreciable number of people attended and raised pertinent questions regarding the four topics that were being discussed and presented by four attorneys, namely Shenila Momen (H1-B Employment Visas), Farooq Essani (Labor Certification and Business Immigration), George Willy (E-2 USA-Pakistan Treaty Visa for Businessmen) and Neiyer Izfar (L Visa and Latest on U.S. Congress Immigration Initiative).

Attorney George Willy explained the way Republican Congressmen are feeling in the backdrop of an unpopular President; the way politics is now brewing in Washington D.C., he has the gut feeling that the immigration bill will pass. He also commended the efforts of the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of 1960s and early 1970s if devising an excellent E-2 USA-Pakistan Treaty Visa for businessmen, which is truly in favor of Pakistani citizens.

Attorney Neiyer Izfar said that the Comprehensive Immigration Bill is the only way to go forward as far as legislation is concerned.

Anything short or modified will not be useful, as there is a need not only to fix the future immigration problems, but also to mend the existing broken immigration system. He felt that with so much wrangling in Washington D.C. and politics taking precedent over the actual needs of society, this bill might not get passed soon.

However, Attorney George Willy showed more optimism in saying that any Congressional failure to pass the Comprehensive Bill will reflect negatively on them during the November 2006 elections: So he was very hopeful that the bill will go through.

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