Islamic Relief 2013 Qurban

A Tireless Ally for the Muslim Community

June 24, 2010 by  


By Matthew Artz, Oakland Tribune

ScreenShot126 FREMONT — Moina Shaiq didn’t venture outside on Sept. 11, 2001 — or the next day, or the day after that.

It took her more than a week to finally leave her opulent Fremont home — as always with a headscarf covering her hair — and go grocery shopping for her family.
At the time, Shaiq could barely face a world she thought hated her. But instead of withdrawing, she soon would become an important face of the Muslim community.

In the years since 9/11, Shaiq, 51, has founded a nonprofit that helps Muslim seniors and joined more than a dozen civic organizations. The mother of four has made time to drive cancer patients to doctors’ appointments, provide spiritual guidance to the sick at Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, bring city leaders into her mosque and encourage fellow Muslims to get involved in politics.

“I just had this feeling that I needed to let people know that not all Muslims are bad,” Shaiq said. Her transformation from suburban mom to community leader started with her opposition to the Patriot Act — the 2001 bill that curtailed privacy rights in order to help federal authorities keep closer tabs on terrorists.

In lobbying the Fremont City Council to oppose the bill, she came into contact with city leaders and soon accepted an appointment to the city’s Human Relations Commission.

She continued to network, joining many civic organizations and helping start a couple of her own—the Muslim Support Network and the American Muslims and Friends Democratic Club.

Her work with the Tri-City Interfaith Council has made her a regular at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Service.

And with the Fremont Alliance for a Hate Free Community, she helped promote “Wear a Hijab Day” in 2006 after a Muslim woman wearing the head covering was shot to death as she was walking with one of her young children on a Fremont street.

“Moina is very comfortable in her faith, but she is also very comfortable with American pluralistic society,” said Agha Saeed, a friend and professor at Cal State East Bay. “She is a true face of American Muslims.”

Shaiq’s background is atypical of most American Muslim immigrants. She grew up in an upper-class home in Karachi, Pakistan, where she attended English-language schools and graduated from college with a degree in psychology at age 19.

Upon graduation, her parents arranged for her to marry an engineer, Mohammad Shaiq, who had a job lined up in Dallas.

“I was so excited to come to America,” she said. “I just wanted to assimilate completely into the society.”

After short stints in Texas and Florida, as well as several months in Zambia, the couple moved to Fremont in 1982, where Moina Shaiq opened a computer wholesale business and her husband worked for Sprint.

But they didn’t fully immerse themselves in American culture as Shaiq had expected.

Most of their friends were fellow Pakistani immigrants, and Shaiq, who never attended mosque in Pakistan, began learning more about Islam.

In 2000, she started wearing a headscarf, and her eldest daughter soon followed her example.

“When my kids were born, that’s when I realized that I have an identity, and I should teach them my language and my culture,” she said. “But first I had to learn about my faith.”

Shaiq’s husband took over the computer business after their youngest daughter was born in 1997. With more time at her disposal, she began volunteering with a Muslim civil rights group and a community soup kitchen.

As Shaiq began volunteering more after 9/11, she realized that many Muslim seniors were confined to their homes with little social activity or access to services.

“A lot of the seniors from my community didn’t know that there is paratransit or Meals on Wheels,” she said. “In Pakistan, the community takes care of elders, but here, the community is busy because people are working most of the time.”

In 2005, Shaiq started the Muslim Support Network, which connects seniors with available resources and organizes events for Muslim seniors at the Fremont Senior Center.

The program’s success has been noted by local social service workers.

“I’ve sat with people who say the work she’s doing has been a lifesaver for them,” said Suzanne Shenfil, Fremont’s director of human services. “We’re very appreciative of her. She’s not flashy, but she’s always working hard behind the scenes.”

Shaiq has also sought to comfort the sick. For the past three years, she has been a volunteer spiritual adviser at Kaiser, although she visits Muslim and non-Muslim patients alike.

“She’s very peaceful, very present,” said Carol Estes, who helps run Kaiser’s chaplaincy program. “Her energy is, I would say, life-affirming — just her presence when she enters a room.”

One reason Shaiq says she works so hard to show Muslims in a positive light is that she often feels misplaced guilt when a Muslim commits an act of violence. The day after U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas, Shaiq dropped her daughter off at a youth soccer game, but once again didn’t feel comfortable going out in public.

“I couldn’t bring myself to leave the car,” she said.

Finally Shaiq mustered the strength to walk around a lake adjacent to the soccer fields, but she still couldn’t bear to make eye contact with the people she passed.

“It was like I had done something wrong,” she said.

Shaiq watches television news and reads the newspapers with trepidation.

“Any time it’s a Muslim that does something violent, it makes headlines,” she said. “People look at us in a negative way because every time they turn on a television or open a newspaper, that’s what they see.”

When her youngest daughter asked why “Muslims were so bad,” Shaiq told her, “It’s just a few people on the extreme giving the community a bad name.”

Shaiq, who became a U.S. citizen more than 20 years ago, said she has never faced discrimination in Fremont. “I’m very blessed living in this community,” she said. She also said she feels “completely American,” even though she still fears that some Americans will judge her for the scarf she wears on her head.

“It’s always on my mind that I need to change the image of what a Muslim is for ordinary Americans,” she said. “That’s why I live and breathe community service.”

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