Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Convention

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

With the twin scourges of Islamophobia and racism prevalent in the United States and with the media acting as an echo chamber, a great burden is placed on individuals and groups who seek to speak the truth about Islam and the nature of the crises that effect us domestically and internationally.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), created in 1988, is one such organization. MPAC was formed to work for the civil rights of Muslim Americans and to facilitate their entry into American pluralism. MPAC works at the national as well as the grassroots level and has won the trust and respect of the Muslim and non Muslim community. MPAC has become an information source for those seeking to understand Islam and seeking also to put current events in their proper perspective.

MPAC held its ninth annual convention in Long Beach, Ca. this past Saturday. The event brought a capacity audience to attend workshops and listen to speakers, expert in their fields, and who provided insight and education into topics taken from today’s headlines. The title of the convention was: “With Change come Challenges.”

After thought provoking and informative workshops, the event ended with a banquet featuring Congressman Andre Carson (D,IN), awards, and entertainment.

Among the presenters (but not limited to) were Dr. Maher Hathout, a retired physician celebrated in the Muslim and non Muslim community for his dedication to peace and human rights and for his interfaith work. Dr. Hathout is the MPAC Senior Advisor, an author, and a sought after speaker.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor-in Chief of The Muslim Observer, a weekly English language Muslim newspaper. He was recently elected vice president of the Muslim Council of America, a new organization which serves Muslims in the arena of policy and political affairs. Dr. Abdullah is active in Islamic affairs in Nevada which activity also includes being secretary of the Interfaith Council of Nevada.

Dr. Laila Al Marayati is a physician and the Chairperson of KinderUSA, an organization dedicated to the well being of children, focusing in particular on the children of Palestine. Dr. Al Marayati is also the spokesperson for the Muslim Women’s League, a Los Angeles group which seeks to strengthen the role of Muslim women.

Haris Tarin of MPAC is that group’s Community Development Director. Mr Tarin has traveled extensively and has spoken at various symposia on the topic of Islam and the Muslim community.

“Fort Hood: A Defining Moment” was the topic of an afternoon panel. Most of the audience spoke among themselves before the event began and indicated thoughtful interest in how the matter would be handled.

“I am so glad this is being discussed” said one young man to his companion.

“I know there is more than what the media say” said his companion.

When asked by panel moderator, Salaam Al Marayati, MPAC’s Executive Director, whether Muslims should respond to this event, Dr. Maher Hathout declared that Muslims should not be apologetic because of the deranged acts of one man who happened to be Muslim. He reminded his audience that Major Nidal Hasan shouted  “Allahu Akbar” before he began his killing spree.  He said that if he used those two words now, every non Muslim would run out of the room.Yet Muslims use the same two words forty two times a day during their prayers. It is wrong to tar Muslims with a broad brush as the media have been wont to do. Non Muslims, most of whom do not understand the phrase, and its meaning, “God is Greater”, automatically fear it. Muslims are an essential part of the solution to the problem of Muslim extremists. They are essential to the education of non Muslims about Islam and the only ones truly qualified to ascertain when there is extremism and to propose effective solutions.

Dr. Connie Rice, an attorney and activist and a second panel member, said that this incident indicates more than ever the essential role that MPAC and other moderate Muslim groups must play in partnering with law enforcement. This places a terrible burden on MPAC, she said,  but one which they will willingly and efficiently carry out. She seconded the presentation of Dr. Hathout in presenting the necessity for groups such as MPAC to educate the community about Islam and to partner with law enforcement.

After the panel MPAC received an award from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Maher Hathout accepted the award.

During a particularly timely panel on “”Rebuilding US-Muslim World Relations”, a State Department official, Jonathan Morgenstein of the Department of Defense, commented that in Iraq and Afghanistan American soldiers were interacting with the local population. Dr. Laila Al Marayati commented that it would be so much better if these men and women were doing so in the capacity of peace corps volunteers and not as occupiers.

A bazaar was held in the main room and featured booths representing different Islamic groups. These booths include (the list is incomplete): CAIR; Islamic Relief; the Muslim Women’s League; ACCESS; American Medical Overseas Relief (AMOR); the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) Youth Programs, and Al-Madinah School. AMOR is dedicated to helping the medically needy in the Middle East with emphasis on children in Afghanistan. It may be accessed at: <www.AMORelief.org>.  The Al-Madinah school in Los Angeles is currently engaged in building projects that will be in the heart of urban Los Angeles.

Those wishing to learn more about MPAC and/or to make a contribution may access it at: www.mpac.org.

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Sir Syed Day 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui

SIRSYED

The annual Sir Syed Day 2009 gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area once again brought together south-Asian Alumni of this esteemed university and a rainbow of enthusiasts of the Urdu language at the India Community Center in the city of Milpitas on Saturday November 14th. And once again great pains were taken during this two part educational and literary gala to keep the legacy of a great man alive and to highlight the efforts of the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California (AMUAA-CA) in raising funds to offer educational opportunities to several disadvantaged students to enable them to attend AMU.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817 to 1898), the founder of the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College which became a full-fledged university in 1920 was a remarkable individual who defied the odds and was able to provide an avenue for Indian Muslims to get a scientific-modern education at a time when the community was shunning progressive ideas. And because of him and the institution he founded this event became possible because Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is recognized today for its academic and not to forget artistic contributions (e.g. Indian Actor Naseeruddin Shah).

The evening started with fine food from Chandni and some valuable networking opportunities as both the “Old Boys” and now “Old Girls” who have had the privilege of attending this unique institution located in Aligarh, India caught up on their current lives, the past, and speculated on the future. AMU, which started off as a somewhat exclusive Muslim university has now acquired a more religiously diverse student population whose its ethnic diversity has remained legendary. Scions of families from Peshawar to Dacca (Dhaka of the old) and from Kashmir to Hyderabad Deccan all have attended AMU from the early 1900’s onwards and some graduates have gone on to lead countries, states and other educational institutions. Today, the university population is global and they including over two hundred in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sitting at the table with Prof. Munibur Rahman and Prof. Steven Poulos was indeed an honor. We will revisit Prof. Rahman later in the report. His friend Dr. Poulos who has been Director of the South Asia Language Resource Center at UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago and did research at AMU in the late 1960’s also shared his feelings on his visit there and where things stand today. The program at the University of Chicago has been instrumental in creating the first online Pashto dictionary and has created a Pashto proficiency test and also offers online courses in elementary Sindhi and intermediate Urdu.

The formal evening proceedings started off with an invocation and Ms. Huma Abidi made the necessary introductions, welcoming back Aligarians to Sir Syed Day and reminiscing about her own past experiences at the historic campus. She then invited AMUAA President Nihal Khan to present his thoughts. Khan Sahib highlighted facts on how the Sir Syed’s memory and the Aligarh tradition has been kept alive for the past decade in the San Francisco Bay area but also reminded everyone that there was a dual purpose for the evening which is to raise funds to provide students in need to get an education, making the purpose of this Mushaira (Poetry Recital) broader. He also thanked a list of sponsors for making this gathering possible.

Next, Keynote Speaker Dr. Aslam Abdullah who wears many hats including that of leading both American and Indian Muslims in thought, started by stating that in cities all over the world Aligarh Alumni pay tribute to that giant of a man (Sir Syed). Quoting from poet Allama Iqbal looking through Sir Syed’s eyes, Dr. Abdullah explained how Sir Syed’s efforts started when the Muslims of India were at their lowest self-defeating point. Modern scientific education was negated by the religious leadership of the time to the point when they defined the poor Muslim conditions post 1857 as a divine scheme to be accepted. “Sir Syed challenged that view,” said Dr. Abdullah. He gave the example of how at one time England was debating how many teeth a chicken had. The debate went on and on till Francis Bacon simply asked why don’t you open the chicken’s mouth and find out?  He said that Similarly, Sir Syed promoted analytical thought. “He wanted to inspire the younger generation,” he added. He wanted his community in India, especially the young to understand both the Holy Quran and modern thinking. . “He did not want to build an ordinary university,” said Dr. Abdullah. This was a revolutionary movement inclusive of others but people mistakenly made it a minority issue, which is not correct. “Today, we need to re-awaken that dream,” he said.

After a brief ceremony for a local Aligarh Cricket League where the “Man of the Tournament” and the winning team was presented awards, everyone was reminded of the fundraiser (www.aeef.net) and the first part of the event came to its conclusion with the traditional singing of the university anthem the “Tarana-e-Aligarh” in which many in the audience participated.

The second part of this program was once again the Urdu poetry recital or “Mushaira” which draws on the essence of a culture, which is associated with the Urdu language. Dr. Nausha Asrar from Houston, Texas conducted the proceedings and introduced all the poets and invited Prof. Munibur Rahman to preside as the most senior person present. And from that point started a literary journey of wit, humor, reason, wisdom and in the end emotion moved many listeners.

Starting with local San Francisco resident Engineer Vasmi Abidi who questioned why neighbors who share walls here don’t know each other, to India ’s Tahir Faraz asking why trees of friendship have little support from even a gentle wind while the trees of hate today are so full of fruit? And then Abbas Tabish from Lahore, Pakistan explained how his own condition has started to reflect the condition of his house and the lament of those who sell their village land and soul to big cities for a song. Nausha Asrar next added both his wisdom and humor while Khalid Irfan from New York was at his satirical best about donkeys in public places and the government and why one more mule would not make a big difference. He was also for the exchange of female Indian Bollywood dancers with extremists from across the border for better Pakistan India ties (We don’t believe that the Indians would agree).

Senior poet Meraj Faizabadi from India next brought the audience back down to earth speaking of glass houses and dashed hopes amidst betrayals. On Aligarh he asked what is a flame without its spreading light? On India-Pakistan friendship he explained that he was all ready to reach across the gap that divides the two people, but strangely he was still trying to find where that gap really was?

The other senior poet, Waseem Barelvi also from India requested that other avenues of expressing sadness be found, since his tears are now too old to express his feelings anymore. He spoke about the human relationship with God and the uniqueness of the Aligarh culture or “Tehzeeb”. He said that one should try to give up on expecting generosity from others to protect one from painful disappointment but on the other hand, one should be ready to hit a wall if the cause is just. And yes on the topic of love without which the language of Urdu poetry would remain incomplete, if you have lost in love, your loss is painful but in that loss it is still a gain, he said.

Last but not least the President of this Mushaira, Michigan resident Prof. Munibur Rahman, who holds two Masters Degrees from Aligarh, in History (1942) and Persian (1944) and a contemporary of this writer’s father, shared his thoughts. Prof. Steven Poulos was quite accurate in describing him earlier as he turned out to be an amazing presenter. Someone who can think in English, Urdu and Farsi simultaneously, he moved us all to an emotional level seldom reached. The pain of old age, the parting of his beloved wife, visiting a relative with Alzheimer’s disease, all this reporter can say is “Maan Gayay Sahib” (We knew that we were in the presence of excellence). Several people were moved to tears with his Nazm “Guftugu” (Conversation) written for his late wife in which he tries to bridge a gap between his current life and her death. Down to her “Chabi Ka Guccha” (Key Ring) a stark reminder of her, we found out what true love was. Prof. Rahman also highlighted his trials and tribulations on aging, trying to reach out to busy children and losing one’s old friends in a unique and beautiful manner. His standing ovation was certainly well deserved. All this writer can add is that I was humbled in his presence and Prof. Munibur Rahman is one fine example of some of the people who graduated from and taught at Aligarh.

In conclusion, this was possibly one of the finest evenings that the local AMUAA has put together in the past decade or so. Our congratulations to all the local volunteers who put this event together and a word of thanks to Nihal Khan, Dr. Shaheer Khan and their team for continuing to keep us in mind when Sir Syed Day comes around every year. It was almost surreal but this time “Mehfil Ka Mahol Bahot Khoobsoorti Say Ban Giya” (the environment of the event came to a beautiful medium naturally). Bahot Khoob!

Readers are encouraged to contact the AMUAA at http://www.amualumni.org/

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