Successful Convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

MPAC-initials-white-on-blkWith the phenomenon of Islamophobia on the rise and now the province of Presidential candidates, thoughtful Americans welcome organizations which confront this problem and work toward solutions. The United States cannot truly fulfill its democratic destiny until the issue of Islamophobia is consigned to the dustbin of history. In addition, many other problems – perhaps trumping Islamophobia in impact – call out for Islamic participation with the concurrent application of Islamic values. The Arab Spring and what America’s role should be, and the Islamic movements outside of the United States are but two. 

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) successfully examined these issues during its 11th Annual Conference, rising once again to the challenge inherent in its founding principles. The Convention took place this past Saturday in Los Angeles and was titled: “Spring Forward: America’s Role in A Changing World”. The Convention consisted of two parts: three work sessions and an evening banquet with speakers.

During the welcome by MPAC President Salaam Al Marayati, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke about Islamophobia and praised the Los Angeles Muslim community in general and MPAC in particular for their cooperation with law enforcement. His presentation might well have been the prologue to the second workshop session. In a direct approach, Sheriff Baca reminded his audience that the United States Constitution grants religious liberty. There should be no interference in the construction of a church, synagogue or mosque. He said that he, like all law enforcement officers, took an oath to defend the Constitution. If there are officers who for reasons of deep seated bigotry are unable to reconcile their positions with their oath, they should leave the office. He received a standing ovation.

The first session,  Plenary I ,  featured Dr. Nayyer Ali, a member of the MPAC Board, as moderator and was titled: “US Foreign Policy: Potentials and Pitfalls”. A diverse panel considered the question of US foreign policy towards the nations of the Arab Spring. While there were answers as diverse as the participants, the results were a mixture of optimism, pessimism, and a wait and see attitude. There was consensus that an American Muslim role is imperative. D Ali gave a summary that perhaps best describes the work of the session.

He said that what we see in the Arab world is the end of the post colonial slumber period much like 1989 was for East Europe. Pay attention to the input of Islam, he continued. It will play a large role and will be integrated into democratic governments.The message of the Koran is a perfect guide as it calls for justice, religious and political freedom, and consensus. Injustice is un Islamic. While the Koran is not a political document, it lays the framework for a just society. The concept of Shura intrinsically prevents dictatorship. “The Arab spring will evolve into something we find admirable”. 
“I feel as if I have attended a graduate level political seminar” said one young woman.

A second session followed a luncheon break. This session was titled: “The Industry of Hate in the Public Square”. Edina Lekovic, MPAC’s Director of Policy and Programing, was the moderator.  She described a whirlwind of activity with emphasis currently on Lowe’s stores withdrawal of sponsorship for the TLC show All American Muslim.

Before the session began, each attendee was given a publication by the Center for American Progress. The book is titled: “Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America”.
One of the authors, Wajahat Ali, was the first presenter. Mr. Ali is also a playwright, journalist, attorney, humorist, and blogger. “Congratulations. The Muslim agenda is in place”. He cited, facetiously, a Muslim beauty queen and stealth halal turkeys. Mr. Ali spoke of the recent decision of Lowe’s stores to remove their sponsorship of the widely acclaimed television series, All American Muslim. He surprised his audience by telling them that the pressure on Lowe’s to withdraw its support was initiated by the work of one man. He identified this man as David Canton, virtually the lone member of the highly touted Florida Family Association, and a man with a history of bothering corporations. He continued by saying that even Mr. Canton’s web site was poorly done. Yet, like the effect of a megaphone,  the efforts of one man was presented as a large group effort.

“Its like watching a balloon deflate” whispered one audience member.

He cited bloggers Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for their role in taking this issue and publicizing it. He referenced the book he co authored and told his audience to read about the money trails, the donors and the amounts they have contributed, the beneficiaries with their organizations and/or web sites.  The book is truly encyclopedic and a valuable weapon in confronting and defeating Islamophobia.

Attendees were given an opportunity to fill out sign up sheets indicating their willingness to work with MPAC in this crucial venture.

Steven Rohde, a well known civil rights attorney and activist, spoke next. He recited a poem which he had written which paraphrased the famous work of the Reverend Martin Niemoller about the German intellectuals’ reluctance to speak up against injustice because they were not not initially targeted. In this version, the Muslims were the miner’s canary.

Mr. Rohde expressed his willingness to stand with Muslims and fight with them against any injustice turned their way. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

Aziza Hasan was the last presenter. She is MPAC’s Director of Southern California Government Relations. She said that we are commanded by the Koran to stand up for truth and to speak up against injustice. She told her audience to anticipate and to build. We can reasonably expect that Islamophobia will get worse by the election of 2012. We can prepare for that battle. We will build alliances and work with those already in place.

The final session, Plenary II, was titled: “Islamic Movements: Help or Hindrance”.  Haris Tarin who is the Executive Director of MPAC’s Washington, D. C. office was the moderator. Will political movements, suppressed for decades, be able to lead the people in a government that is democratic and pluralistic?

Salaam Al Marayati introduced Haris Tarin and complimented him on bringing the MPAC Washington, D. C. office to new levels of influence. In the Arab world, he noted, Islamic groups were able to organize against the dictators in power.

The Muslim world entered modernity through colonialism and therefore entered it as subjects, said panelist Haroon Mogdul, an Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches, a Senior Editor for The Islamic Monthly, and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Dr. Jasser Auda said that the landscape is complex. For example, the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood is closer to liberal youth than to the senior leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Auda is an Associate Professor at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies. He continued by saying that the Salafist youth are separate from their Imams. Youth are developing the idea of a civil state with an Islamic reference.

Invited guests for the evening banquet were Dr. Cornel West, Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of “Race Matters” and Ebrahim Rasool, South African ambassador to the United States.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council has worked since 1988 to promote an American Muslim community which will enrich American society through the application of Islamic principles. These principles are Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom and Equality. MPAC has become the go to group for media and government officials. American Muslims have come to accept it as a spokesgroup on their behalf.

MPAC’s programs include: an Anti-terrorism campaign; a Hollywood Bureau; Government Relations; Countering Islamophobia; Young Leaders Development, and Interfaith Outreach.      

The foregoing is but a small portion of the work of MPAC. To learn more about the group, to contribute, and to volunteer, please access their web site at: www.mpac.org.

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Wall Street and Islamophobia

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Oakland–October 31st–I lived in this curious city across from San Francisco for most of my thirty-one years here in the East Bay.  Unlike that City across the Bay, which is more of a dreamland where one goes when one is young, but Oakland is a gutsy –mainly Black – working class city.  It is, also, the third largest port on the West Coast.  Most of the Muslims here, too, are native born Afro-American converts with a considerable number of Eritrean refugees and a noticeable contingent Yemeni with Palestinian and other miscellaneous groupings.

What created Oakland in the Nineteenth Century was the fact that the trans-Continental railway ended here and its passengers would get off, and be put on ferries to the City on the Golden Gate.

Curiously, in the recent “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, more than New York or even the Western financial hub across San Francisco Bay, the seemingly provincial and small (400,000) peripheral urban space of Oakland has become a center of the battle against the financial collapse of “free” enterprise that the George W. Bush Administration accelerated through his anti-Islamic Colonial Wars.  As evil as that was, the administration of those Wars, were managed so incompetently that they failed to finance their martial adventures – contrary to the history of Foreign adventurism which usually leads to a stimulation of a national economy temporarily – in that the Bush Regime gave financially unsound tax-breaks to the upper 1% of the population – the economy shrank instead — as the national debt plummeted.  (Now, let it be noted, that I do not advocate preventative War in any way!)  

Many in the Muslim community here have suffered even more than the general citizenry.  Homes have been foreclosed, jobs have been lost and not regained, lifetime savings have slithered away, and, yes, despite residency in this land of plenty, there is even hunger.

Notwithstanding, President Barrack Hussein Obama’s attempted to prod a budget through Congress earlier this year that would begin to alleviate the suffering of the grand majority of Americans, which was obfuscated by the largely anti-Muslim “Tea Party.”  The latter have hindered relief to suffering American citizens / residents including those who attend the Mosques. 

Under Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was largely instituted as one of the Reconstruction Amendments, to prevent any future attempts to reverse the Thirteenth Amendment passed during the U.S. Civil War (1860s) to irradiate the deplorable institution of slavery, also, raises the question of what monetary powers Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment gives to the President.  “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned…”  Therefore, it is argued that Section 4 gives the President unilateral authority to raise or ignore the national debt ceiling (like in a national such as World War II, the Great Depression or the current financial crisis).

President Obama made a grave error in not invoking Section 4, and regulating by decree last February, and, hopefully, when the budget comes up again, and (economic) Keynesian solutions are called for, the Administration will block the reactionaries of the Lower house, for, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, an upcoming worldwide economic collapse is brewing due to the Euro-zone National Debt Crisis and the “Tea Party” fiscal interference in the States.  Therefore, to avoid this, drastic measures are indicated.

To counter this, a populist movement has arisen in America in protest against the corruption of the American system deregulated over the past several decades by interspersed right-wing governments.  In a letter, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in Congress sarcastically writes, “…if you exercise your right to free speech against the excessive power and greed of Wall Street…they say you’re ‘dangerous’ and engaging in ‘class warfare.’”

The disproportionate importance of the Oakland demonstrations to the national movement is the reaction by incompetent elite who essentially stole an election by a conspiratorial manipulation of rank-choice voting.  (This minor city’s last two mayors had remarkable resumes – one a former Governor and the last a leading former Congressman.  It was expected that the last President Pro Temp of the California [State] Senate in Sacramento who represented Alameda County of which Oakland is the seat, who won a plurality of the first round vote, would be the next Mayor, but lost because three of the other candidates campaigned to have their supporters list two of the others as their second and third choices; thus, thwarting democracy with incompetency.  The result of which is that the current Mayor represents only one small ethnic element of the city; therefore, Muslims, who largely belong to the ethnic plurality, are denied political recognition here.)

Be that as it may, this Op-Ed is to state that the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement is related to Islamophobia because the same crisis that created hatred against Muslims in the States gave reign to the greed in America’s financial structure.  In a way, maybe Islam’s non-usury system has a lot to teach the West which, by the way, renounced a similar system in the Renaissance.

Some commentators have equated the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement to America’s version of the Arab “Spring.”  It is true that Islam and democracy can find a compatible form, but – like the case with Soviet Socialism – it may not be able to co-exist with American Capitalism as “written.”   I believe that the Koran and Hadith have much to teach the West in ways to reform its financial institutions and dealings.

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MPAC Forum on Bullying

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

default-article-thumbnailOne of the primary social problems confronting the United States is the well organized and well financed industry of Islamophobia. At a time when the nation should be united, Islamophobia is the great divider. While many groups have been and are active in combating this pernicious industry, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) must be considered in the forefront. Islamophobia is hate, and hate acts like a malignancy.

MPAC was founded in 1988 as a 501 (c) (3) organization devoted to the establishment of a vibrant Muslim American community that would “enrich American Society through promoting the Islamic values of mercy, justice, peace, human dignity, freedom and equality for all”. MPAC is well equipped to deal with hate speech and hate acts and to enlighten the community.

MPAC has held many educational forums dealing with timely subjects. This past Saturday a forum entitled: Stand up Against Bullying was held in the Ehsan Center in Canoga Park, Ca. The forum was a training session for parents that began with the question: “What would you do if your child was being bullied?”

Ms Holly Priebe-Diaz an Intervention Coordinator representing the Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity Department of the Los Angeles Unified School District was the speaker.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave an excellent presentation of bullying: its definition, its manifestations, the public school’s responsibilities to identify bullying and to counsel, and of course possible resolutions. Ms Priebe-Diaz is obviously well qualified to speak on the topic and her presentation was informal yet informative and thought provoking. The audience participated throughout the discussion.

Herewith some of her observations. Bullying, she said, can be a form of hate. “We have to educate law enforcement”. Ms Priebe-Diaz told her audience we have to educate more about hate. While it is understandably hard to prove an attitude, we can look at behavior. “When we find a child who is a bully, we re-educate him.”

The child says “My heart hurts”, and the adult replies “Let me help you.”

Not surprisingly, young boys who are school bullies also become adult offenders who are guilty of crimes of violence.

To combat this, the school gives a child a community project; the relevant school personnel dialogue about the situation, and different cultures are studied. “There is a lot of ignorance” Ms Priebe-Diaz told the attendants.

She continued by saying that 30% of hate crimes are committed by kids. Where, she asked rhetorically, do these children learn hate. The obvious answer is from home. The Internet has given the community a new word: cyberbullying as the bully – always present in society – has now moved into cyber space.

Ms Priebe-Diaz cited California law that makes certain classes of school children protected. They are protected against real or perceived acts of hostility. There are six protected categories: race, color, national origin, mental or physical disability, gender identification (how one perceives one’s self), and ethnicity.

While she cautioned parents to have rules – for example having a computer in a central room rather than in a child’s bedroom – she also acknowledged that for every restriction a child may find a way around it.

She made a clear distinction between tattling and helping the victim of a bully. The foundation of that distinction was the question “Is someone being hurt?”

No one can be a bystander in the matter of bullying. While urging parents to work through the school counseling office and not to take matters into their own hands, involvement is key.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave suggestions for children who have been bullied such as “Don’t let the bully see you afraid” and “avoid areas where certain children congregate” to name but two.

The district uses progressive punishment with bullies beginning with (if the bullying continues) suspension, then expulsion, and last, arrest.

“I have learned so much about the subject” said one young mother at the conclusion of the forum.

Readers interested in learning more about MPAC and its work may contact MPAC at: www.mpac.org. Ms Priebe-Diaz may be contacted at: holly.priebe-diaz@lausd.net.

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An Historic Achievement by MPAC

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

With the proliferation of Islamophobia in the United States and the spike in hate crimes directed at the Muslim community, organizations to counter these phenomena and to project the truth while at the same time working within the Muslim community for empowerment, are essential if we are to survive as a democracy.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has stepped up to the bat in these arenas. Last week well deserved formal recognition took place in the form of a telephone call from President Barrack Obama to Haris Tarin. Mr. Tarin directs MPAC’s Washington, D. C. office.

During the course of the conversation the President recognized Mr. Tarin’s work with the Muslim community and through that community to the United States. Specifically, he praised Mr. Tarin’s work with Muslim youth, with interfaith clergy and lay persons, and for empowering the contributions of Muslims through civic engagement.

Mr. Tarin replied by telling the President that MPAC has a deep commitment to this nation and to Islam as do other Muslim institutions.

The telephone call is a testament to the success of MPAC in countering Islamophobia and in working within the Muslim community and reaching outward to other communities to establish roots that make Islam an integral part of the American fabric.

Mr. Tarin was raised and educated in Southern California. He is pursing an advanced degree at Georgetown University where he is studying at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Mr. Tarin, in his capacity as Executive Director, intersects with many government agencies and has addressed numerous conferences and symposia. He is a “go to” person for media outlets.

MPAC was established in 1986. Its vision was and continues to be to establish a vibrant Muslim community and to enrich with Islamic virtues the American society it is a part of. MPAC promotes the leadership of young Muslims, and it is a resource and partner to various government agencies.

Its awards and the programs it has formulated are many. Herewith a few: In partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, MPAC formed New Ground, a group dedicated to Muslim-Jewish understanding; MPAC became a consultant to a television series “Aliens in America”; MPAC Senior Advisor, Dr Maher Hathout, received the John Allen Bugs Award from the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, and MPAC, after a decade  of work, persuaded the Bush administration to desist from use of the term “jihad” in its official communications.

To find out more about the Muslim Public Affairs Council, please access their web site at: www.mpac.org. Mr. Tarin’s work may also be accessed at that web site.

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ICNA Launches Campaign on Understanding Sharia

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rida Fozi, ICNA

Hartford, CT (June 5, 2011) – From a thought-provoking performance at Sunday’s entertainment night, to jam-packed sessions with various scholars the ICNA-MAS Convention was the place to be this Memorial Day weekend.

2011 convention videos are now available exclusively on ICNA TV channel.

More people attended the ICNA convention this year than any other in the past 4 decades.

A record 18,900 people attended the three-day conference entitled “Quran: Guidance Towards a Just and Balanced Way,” 4,900 of which were unique online viewers. Convention-goers benefited from nearly 80 sessions by over 100 prominent scholars, leaders and activists from across the country and around the world. The overwhelmingly successful Youth Conference ran parallel to the ICNA-MAS Convention, and crowds lined the entrance as speakers discussed “Diamonds in the Rough: Heroes of the Past.”

Reverend Dennis Perry of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA was honored for his interfaith and community work with the Community Service Award.

National and local leadership of organizations including ISNA, CAIR, MSA, MANA and MUNA attended the convention this year, and were recognized at the Community Leaders Luncheon on Sunday.

The Islamic Circle of North America launched its nationwide, yearlong “Understanding Shariah” campaign at this year’s conference, which, according to president Zahid Bukhari, “will educate the American public on the definition and place of Shariah in Islam.” Says Bukhari, “Our campaign will also counter Islamophobia that is fostered and spread by groups who hide behind the false guise of an anti-Shariah movement.”

ICNA plans to develop an online portal as part of the campaign in order to support those engaged in similar efforts to shed light on religious freedom and the concept of Shariah. The organization also hopes to mobilize the Muslim community to undertake several grassroots efforts to better explain Shariah, and intends to partner with various faith and civic organizations to reach this goal.

The convention also marked the beginning of ICNA and ICNA Relief’s Back to School Giveaway campaign, a two-month long initiative that will culminate in a series of free school supply giveaways in low-income areas in the month of Ramadan (August 2011). The Back to School Giveaway, previously hosted in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC is now expanding to Houston, Chicago and Southern California. Mahmood Aijazi, national director of the Back to School Giveaway hopes more cities will follow ICNA’s lead and host giveaways in their respective areas.

Aijazi says the initiative is necessary because “it’s part of our duty to help our society. We need to go out, reach out to others and give back to our communities.”

Social media played a significant role in this year’s convention, with ICNA hitting its 10,000th Twitter follower and 14,000 Facebook likes over the weekend. Perhaps the most creative initiatives at this year’s conference were the “surprise events”, exclusive to those who are members of ICNA’s social media fan base.

The attendees then enjoyed one-on-one time with renowned speakers. ICNA also offered a live webcast of selected sessions for the second year in a row, and families as far away as Trinidad were able to enjoy the lectures. One convention attendee said this spurred his family to raise the money to attend in person next year.

And bringing families together is a staple of the convention. In the middle of the day you’ll find parents and their children lunching together or friends strolling through the bazaar searching for the perfect gift. Strangers will stop you and ask your opinion on the right hijab color or ask you to borrow your charger to recharge their cell phones. The ICNA-MAS Convention is that experience that brings together people of all backgrounds for a unified purpose. And as one speaker said, “It just gets better and better every year.”

Credits:
Article: Rida Fozi. Photographs: Arfa Aijazi, Waqas Syed, Rida Fozi. Videos: Talha Faruqui, Anas Faruqui

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Iranian Girls Soccer Team No Longer Banned

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

iran_1610091c It was a happy day for a gaggle of young girls in Iran who were finally being allowed to play ball. The Iranian girls soccer team, who had been banned last month from participating in August’s inaugural Youth Olympics, was now being allowed to compete in the six-nation tournament in Singapore. There was a disagreement between FIFA, the governing body of soccer, and the Iran Football Federation, over what headwear the Iranian girls could don. And on April 5th, FIFA took the step of banning the girls from the upcoming tournament. Thankfully, further discussion ensued, and an agreement was reached the first week of May. “We sent FIFA a sample of our new Islamic dress and fortunately they accepted it,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Relations Committee of Iran’s soccer federation. “They announced that there was no objection if the players covered their hair with hats,” he told the Tehran Times. Alas, an accord was reached, but the road traveled to reach the agreement speaks volumes about the state of Islamophobia in this world.

The Iranian National Olympic Committee had originally urged FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to review the ban on the hijab, worn by girls and women as part of Islamic dress code. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, rejected the request, saying FIFA had no other choice but the reject Iran’s requests. He cited FIFA’s rulebook of conduct, with Law 4 stating “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” So, what this argument attempts to do is to reduce the wearing of the hijib to the level of a political or religious statement, rather than the measure of modesty that it is.

The hijab issue was first examined in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl in Canada was prevented from wearing one for safety reasons. FIFA’s rules-making arm, the International Football Association Board, declined to make an exception for religious clothing. The Quebec Soccer Association said the ban on the hijab is to protect children from being accidentally strangled. This mechanism of strangulation has never been documented in sports, nor has it even been properly explained. And if the covering of the back of the neck is such a violation of sporting principles, then should there not be restrictions also on hair length below the ears?

Faride Shojaee, the vice president of the women’s department of the Iranian Football Federation, said that FIFA officials had previously allowed Iranian athletes to participate in the Olympics with their hijab, “before denying them the right to do so in the letter they sent on Monday.” Several athletes, in fact, competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 wearing a hijab, including Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, her country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies.
The hijab has made its way onto the most wanted list around the globe, but particularly in Europe. France, under Nicholas Sarkoczy, has been well publicized in its growing body of rules outlawing the hijab, particularly in school. Now there is a law on the table in Belgium banning the hijab, and a similar law is being considered in the Netherlands as well. With the growing numbers of Muslims in this world, and the corresponding rise in anti-Islamic sentiment, the hijab does seem to be looked upon as more of a symbol or statement. But that is in the eye of the beholder. An eye that is increasingly becoming jaundiced by Islamophobia.

So, finally, a compromise was reached on, ”… a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Now the Iranian girls are back on track to compete from August 12-25 in Singapore, where about 3,600 athletes, ages 14 to 18, will compete in 26 sports. They will represent Asia against Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Papua New Guinea. They will have to wear caps instead of hijabs. But, in the end, a happy group of girls will be allowed to play ball. What kind of person would have wanted to prevent that?

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