KinderUSA Annual Banquet

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The sufferings of the world are too numerous to catalogue. Certainly the suffering of children is particularly poignant, and nowhere is this more evident than in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli occupation has rendered the people oppressed and poor with only a token future. If children have no future, then the world has no future. While many individuals and organizations have commendably worked to aid the children of Palestine, none has done more than KinderUSA (Kids in Need of Development, Education and Relief).

This past Saturday evening KinderUSA held its annual fundraising banquet event, a successful and educational presentation, in Universal City, Ca. The event was titled: “Supporting our Children: The Seeds of the Future”.

With the advent of Ramadan and its call for inner struggle and sacrifice, an event noted by each speaker, this event had a particular relevance for Muslims and non Muslims alike.

The keynote speakers were internationally acclaimed Islamic scholar, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, and Los Angeles’ own Dr. Maher Hathout. Professor Ramadan holds an MA in Philosophy and French literature and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic studies. At present he is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University. He also teaches at the Faculty of Theology at Oxford.

Professor Ramadan was recently permitted into the United States to join the faculty of Notre Dame after having been denied entry for six years because of his political views and activities.

Dr. Maher Hathout was a founder of the Islamic Center of Southern California and of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). He is a sought after speaker, a prolific author, and a participant in interfaith events.

After introductory remarks by Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Jess Ghannam, Jinan Al Marayati, the young daughter of KinderUSA chair, Dr. Laila Al Marayati, read from the Koran and provided a translation.
Dr. Ghannam is a clinical professor and the Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Hathout said that speaking at this event was an honor. He read and translated a poem written in Arabic. Nations, he said, find a place in history because their children live to fulfil their maximum potential.The children of Palestine should have this opportunity for which they were created by God.

“Israel”, he continued, “resorts to piracy.” Israel confiscates food and medicines. Israel claims that the ships they intercepted may have carried weapons. Is there a better way to handle the situation so as not to deprive the intended recipients of food and medicine?

Israel says Gaza does not need these goods. Israel claims that it only objects to material that can have dual use – for example glass, concrete, fertilizer.

For any child to eat, more than bread is needed. “It is food with dignity that is needed.” Kids need a roof that does not leak and windows that are not shattered. What gives Israel the right to say “You need this, but you don’t need that?”

Dr. Hathout was interrupted continuously by cries of “How very true”; “absolutely right”, and “that is so true.”

The issue is not food, he continued. The issue is occupation. All decent people should work to take down the wall of occupation. Everything else is a band aid. Tonight, he claimed is a band aid. But band aids are necessary when you must take a child’s damaged hand and lead him into the future.

Dr. Hathout pointed out the situation in the Middle East and how six months ago it was so different and seemed without hope. We must not, he continued, take our mind of our ultimate target: occupation, occupation, occupation.

He ended by saying that Ramadan is a time to clear our vision. Certain things are incompatible with being a human being.

Professor Ramadan began his address by saying that it was always an honor to tell the truth. He began his speech by praising Dr. Maher Hathout and his late brother, Dr Hasan Hathout. Both were committed to justice for non Muslims as well as Muslims.

We must realize that whether one is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, there are voices that want to criminalize dissent, that want to render what we are doing illegal.

“We will always be on the side of the oppressed.” We are contributing to American society. We want freedom and democracy for us and for them. In this country we have much to do in the way of social justice and education.

He cautioned not to make the Palestinian cause a Muslim cause. Use the month of Ramadan as a solidarity month.

The audience had been interrupting Professor Ramadan with applause during his speech. He asked them to refrain and, if they found that he had made a particularly noteworthy point, that they concentrate on that point for ten seconds.

He then asked: “How do we come to a universalist attitude?” Our mission is to change the world for the better. He said he wanted to die having made himself a better person and the world a better place. He urged that we oppose any oppression.

He said to non Muslims that when you give your money, you purify it. Do not expect the recipient to thank you. Do it for the cause of justice.

We must follow events in the Middle East. We have inform ourselves of the situation and then inform others.

“There was no war in Gaza. It was an attack.” said Professor Ramadan. When you destroy schools as Israel did, you destroy the future.

We want to be an added value to the United States. We want to reconcile the United States to its own values. We are agents of reconciliation.

We must not accept the criminalization of support for the Palestinians. He said he was barred for six years from entry into this country because of his support. One of the groups he supported was on a black list, but it was not on the list at the time he gave the group money. He refused to apologize. None the less, the ban on his entry into this country stood until it was lifted by the current administration.

We practice a non violent resistance. We must persevere and be active. The more we are silent the more violent our enemies will become. “Who would have thought what would happen in Egypt? I am waiting for an Israeli spring.”

Muslims fast during Ramadan to purify themselves. They must act for humanity. We are a consumerist society. Ramadan makes this a better society through  fasting on the part of Muslims. The children of Palestine may be helping us. The poor whom we help may be our salvation; the oppressed whom we liberate may be our liberators.

The short and well received film, “Noor”,  written and directed by Mustafa Shakarchi, told the story of a ten year old girl who lived in a Lebanon Refugee Camp and wanted only to be a normal ten year old. Instead she was forced by her step mother to sell trinkets on the street. Her dream was to be able to read and write. The film was in Arabic with English sub titles. The child’s face and demeanor told the story, and the subtitles were in the end superfluous. When the film ended, not a few of the attendees had been moved to tears.

Before the formal part of the program, a reception was held in the lobby. A continuously running film that showed the plight of Palestinian children was on display. Dr. Laila Al Marayati, the Chairwoman of KinderUSA, and Dr. Basil Abdelkarim, a KinderUSA Board Member, presided over the collection of donations. Dr. Al Marayati showed and narrated a short film on the work of KinderUSA.
Many non Muslims were in attendance. Dr. Ghannam introduced some from the podium including Mormon Bishop and Mrs Steve Gilliland; Rabbi and Mrs Leonard Beerman, and two Roman Catholic nuns from the Los Angeles area. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and the Palestine American Women’s Association were also represented.

KinderUSA was founded in 2002 to help Palestinian children in need. The mission soon spread to other parts of the Middle East. To accomplish its work KinderUSA relies on partners throughout the world. KinderUSA has been recognized as one of the foremost children charities. It also seeks to provide services to help women who are the heads of households so that they might become independent. It is a 501(c)3 charity. The foregoing is only a very small part of KinderUSA in its entirety.

For more information on the far reaching work of KinderUSA, please access their web site at: www.kinderusa.org.

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ISNA Convention Chicago

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Top Moments From 48th Annual ISNA Convention

ISNA Press Release

ISNA07042011

The 48th annual ISNA convention has come and gone, and thousands of attendees from across North America were able to learn, laugh and reflect. From July 1-4 in Chicago, convention-goers learned from some of the most influential Muslim icons in the West, on topics ranging from social pluralism to racism and classism to Islamophobia, and more.

Whether attendees were taking part in the ISNA, MSA, or MYNA programs, sessions followed the main convention theme: “Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony,” in an effort to illustrate how the merits of integration and social harmony in America are in line with Islamic spirituality and inspire community members to respond proactively to discrimination with patience and initiatives to promote tolerance.

The four-day convention-the largest Muslim convention in North America-had many great moments, lessons and events. Too many to count, in fact. But here are the Top 11 highlights of the 48th ISNA convention:

1. Hathout, Mattson, Esposito and Shakir on Social Harmony. 

At the Friday night main session, “Islam, Pluralism, and Social Harmony,” speakers Maher Hathout, former ISNA president Ingrid Mattson, John Esposito and Imam Zaid Shakir addressed the importance of a peaceful, pluralistic society, and the social movement needed today. Their reflections on the topic set the tone for the rest of the weekend, illustrating the main theme of social harmony.

Mattson urged others to have a positive attitude toward religious diversity.

“Allah [swt] in the Quran tells us that it is His will that there should be religious  diversity in the world,” Mattson said. “This is Allah’s choice. … He could have chosen it to be a different kind of world.”
Imam Zaid Shakir said he believed what is needed now is a social movement within the Muslim community.

“Our community has proven that we can live with other people,” Shakir said. “Our challenge [now] is to build a social movement to enhance values in our own community and then just share those values with others. Our movement should be of grace and rehabilitation to show that we have something to offer this country.”

2. Tackling the “difficult” topics head on.

There are those topics that, perhaps in our local masjid community, are often shied away from, brushed under the rug, or aren’t given the proper attention or depth of discussion needed. The majority of the sessions this weekend were chosen by ISNA members, so many were not the run-of-the-mill topics, but were instead those that are often “uncomfortable” but extremely necessary today to bring to the forefront.

Convention-goers attended sessions from topics ranging from substance abuse and addiction to Muslim women in the military, to how to respond to Islamophobia and anti-Sharia sentiment, to the need for many of our mosques to be more inclusive.

3. All the Muslims. 

Let’s face it: ISNA is the largest Muslim convention of its kind in all of North America. And seeing thousands upon thousands of Muslims from all over the country flock to one place in an effort to learn more about their faith, network, reflect, and learn how to be a more active citizen or a better Muslim, is awe-inspiring.

“As a first time ISNA-er, the number of Muslims from all over for one weekend is what is amazing to me,” Zaynah Qutubuddin said.

Another perk to being the biggest Muslim convention? ISNA-goers are able to see old friends.

“Probably one of the best things about my weekend was seeing the faces of people I haven’t seen in nine years or so,” one convention-goer said.

“I got to spend time with friends from D.C., Chicago, Boston and California, all at once. I never would have been able to see them otherwise, and I look forward to seeing them at the ISNA convention every year,” said Dalia Othman, of Detroit.

4. Learning more about the faith.

The contemporary sessions of the weekend were remarkable, but some convention-goers are also looking for a revitalization of their faith, to learn more about Islam and be inspired. One of the breakout lessons that left a strong impression with attendees was the MSA session, “Inner Whispers: Defeating Satan’s Playbook” with speaker Wisam Sharieff, who addressed ways to fight temptation and strengthen one’s bond with God instead.

“One thing he said that just completely opened my eyes was how we should start any form of speaking with either alhamdallah, subhanallah, or la illaha ila Allah,” said Khalid AbdelJalil, of Villa Park, Ill. “[Sharieff] said by starting with that, it could stop us from things like getting into arguments or gossiping. It was tips like that that I think are going to make a big difference in my day-to-day.”
For some, sessions like this were a reminder of the importance of spiritual learning, and how the convention is a chance to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time.

“It truly reminded me of why I came to ISNA and reminded me of how special I am to be a Muslim, alhamdallah,” sai Lama Musa, of Chicago.

5. Entertainment Night.

Native Deen, Muslim country singer Kareem Salama, poet Mona Haydar, and musician Najam Sheraz headlined Entertainment Night on Sunday evening. The crowd got to sing along to their favorite Native Deen songs, and old and new fans of Kareem Salama’s music were able to finally see the artist in a rare Chicago appearance.

“When Native Deen got on stage, I felt like I was a little kid again,” said Haneen Waheed, from Indiana. “They’re an exciting, thrilling, amazing and talented group, mashallah. They really got the crowd going-I had a blast.”

She also caught Kareem Salama’s performance for the first time. “He was like a rock star country singer!”

6. Sheriff Leroy D. Baca & Keith Ellison.

Baca’s testimony at the controversial hearing led by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was key in highlighting the baseless singling out of Muslims, and turned him into a veritable hero to the Muslim American community. His appearance at ISNA’s “Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony: Building Bridges Through Caring” session showed attendees his support for the Muslim community, as well as other faith communities.

“We will defend all religions at all times,” Baca told attendees.

Following Baca was congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who closed the session with a rousing speech asking the Muslim Americans to be active in the arenas of social and economic justice.
“Get ready to help your country, help your country revive the economy, help your country say liberty and justice for all to include all and help your country to relate to the rest of the world,” Ellison said. “All these strengths are on your table, all these things demand your attention. But I believe you can do it if you put your mind to it.”

7. Islamic Film Festival.

Whether you’ve been dying to watch “Mooz-lum,” “I am Here,” or “The Deen Show,” it was all available for screenings at the Islamic Film Festival that showcased some of the latest and most critically-acclaimed films by and about Muslims.

The big weekend crowd-pleaser was the documentary “Fordson,” about the Fordson High football team and what happens when Muslims play football. It also helped that the “stars” of the film were there for the screening. Film creators talked about the making the film and gave the audience a “behind the scenes” look, team members took photos with fans, and the team coach threw a football around with kids at the bazaar.

“I kept fighting with myself-I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to a lecture or sneak back to the film festival and watch another movie,” said Samira Mohommad, of Chicago. “’Fordson’ was great, gave a really strong patriotic message, especially on fourth of July weekend!”

8. Health Fair.

At a time when more than 46 million Americans lack health insurance, the free health screenings at the convention health fair were a welcome offer, and had an almost constant stream of traffic all weekend.

Along with health screenings, testing for blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even dental health screenings were available on site. There was also a blood drive from the Red Cross, and a bone marrow donor registration-in memory of 15-year-old Bilal Mallik, who passed away earlier this year after a brief battle with Leukemia.

“I registered to be a bone marrow donor,” said Omar Yunus, of San Francisco. “Just took a swab of the inside of my cheek-the whole thing took about five minutes. This is a good thing they’re doing.”

9. Love for the orphans.

Dozens of people signed up to be an orphan sponsor, seeking to clothe, shelter and nourish orphans from all corners of the world through Islamic Relief’s orphan sponsorship program. And when Imam Shakir, along with speakers Elena Melona and Wafa Bennani, discussed orphan adoption in Islam in the session “Each of Us is a Flower: Adoption in the Muslim Community,” the room was so jam-packed that attendees were standing in any space that was available-the phrase, “this may be a safety violation” was uttered more than once-demonstrating the eagerness with which many ISNA-goers sought to learn about adoption and how they can reach out and care for orphans.

“If we don’t provide nurturing environments for both our biological children and those children who are orphans, then we are going to provide a social situation that is going to provide a lot more haraam,” Imam Shakir said. “There are social consequences that accrue when we don’t look care for our orphans.”

10. Zumba! Fitness.

This year’s convention had many new and fun activities, including the return of the ever popular basketball tournament, but none more anticipated than the all-ages “Soul Improvements: Sisters Fitness Extravaganza,” where attendees (sisters only!) were able to enjoy a food tasting and an exciting Zumba routine, while also learning about healthy living in Islam.

Zaynah Qutubuddin of Boston, a newcomer to the convention, said, “I absolutely loved it. It was my first time doing Zumba and I had a lot of fun. I also appreciated the tie-in to Islam and general health.”

11. Bazaar, Bazaar, Bazaar.

It’s always fun to see what stops vendors pull out to attract ISNA-goers. From free t-shirts and electronic tasbeeh counters to live-and oh-so-adorable-baby chicks, to a chance to win a free cruise, you can always guarantee a good time at the bazaar (and get to go home with a respectable amount of free swag!).

Many booths even featured surprise appearances; bazaar shoppers could take get their Kareem Salama CD signed by the artist himself, take a photo with the football players from the critically-acclaimed film “Fordson,” talk with imams Yaser Birjas and Yasir Qadi at Al-Maghrib Institute’s booth, or meet NFL players-brothers Hamza and Husain Abdullah.

“Kareem Salama signed my CD, that was a definite highlight for me,” one young convention attendee said. “I love his music, so different from other Islamic music, with its own unique message.”

“I got to hold a baby chick,” gushed another attendee, Tamara Saleh, of Washington D.C., said. “The chicks at the Crescent Chicken booth were my favorite.”

Article courtesy of ISNA volunteer and freelance journalist Meha Ahmad. Photos courtesy of ISNA volunteers and photographers Nushmia Khan, Osama Alian, and Mariam Saifan.

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Haiti Fundraiser

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMnS

Despite Islamophobia rampant throughout the world and Muslims everywhere under attack, when disaster strikes as it has in Haiti, Muslims react instantly with charity and a deep sense of humanity.

If the foregoing seems to describe a paradox, to Muslims, helping others in distress regardless of religion, is a Koranic mandate. This past weekend Islamic Relief held a successful fundraiser in Anaheim, Ca to raise funds for disaster relief in earthquake ravaged Haiti. The speakers described the Islamic duty to support this cause citing Koranic chapters and centuries of precedent.

Before a capacity crowd the evening, which began with a recital from the Koran, featured such noted Muslim figures as Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Dr. Maher Hathout and Imam Zaid Shakir. 

A video showing the devastation in Haiti played during the length of the evening.

Dr. Siddiqi said that natural disasters are trials, both for those who are stricken and those who are safe. For the former, it is a test of faith; for the latter, it is a test of charity.

“We are all part of the human family”, Dr. Siddiqi told his audience.

When Dr. Maher Hathout took to the podium he asked his audience to imagine what life must be like for people whose very existence changed in a matter of seconds.

“We do what we do because we are followers of the Koran and of Mohammed (pbuh).”

Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute spoke of the parallel between the tragedy of Haiti and the tragedy of Gaza. In the former there is mobilization through out the world to come to the aid of the Haitians. For Gaza, one year after the devastating attack by Israel, rebuilding has not begun and aid convoys are turned away. Despite this the people of Gaza have raised money for the suffering people in Haiti.

Islamic Relief leader Anwar Khan presided over fundraising and spoke of his experiences in Haiti. He had just returned from a two day visit, and his testimony was particularly compelling because he spoke as an eye witness.

“The smell of death was everywhere”, he said.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake left an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, and initially 200,000 were killed. Many survivors have died since due to malnutrition and dehydration and injuries received during the quake. People are sleeping in the streets with nothing under them but bricks. With a shaky infrastructure to begin with, there is very little that the earthquake did not damage or destroy. Homes, schools, places of worship, government buildings – all suffered damage and those that are not level are unsafe.

Islamic Relief set up temporary shelters in tented areas for 120 families. They worked with and befriended the Haitians whom they helped. This contrasts with many other relief efforts in which the volunteers felt the need for body guards and also the need to construct barbed wire fences between themselves and the Haitians. The humane ambiance of Islamic Relief’s work in addition to the direct aid is an outgrowth of religious faith.

“I never realized how devastated that poor country was” said one woman after hearing Brother Khan speak.

The evening was presented by Islamic Relief in coordination with the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. Sponsors were CAIR-LA, MPAC, MAS, MSA-West and COPAA.

Islamic Relief is a charitable organization which has operated for a quarter of a century to alleviate poverty, illiteracy and suffering and to bring aid and comfort to victims of natural and man made disasters. They are often the first responders to any emergency, and their work covers every part of the globe. They operate without reference to nationality, creed and color. They partner with other aid groups both local and international.

The list of their activities is encyclopedic. Here are a few: an orphan support program; water and sanitation development; education, and income generation. They have been in Pakistan in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes there; in Gaza when Israeli bombs were dropping; in Ethiopia during a famine, and in our Gulf States in the aftermath of Katrina.

To find out more about Islamic Relief and/or to contribute, please access them at: www.islamicreliefusa.org.

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Muslim American Convention

January 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS Southern California Correspondent

The issues of family values, of the expectations of family members and even of what constitutes a family and what its place in society is, involves all human beings. This popular subject was addressed by the Muslim America Society in its recent convention.

The Muslim American Society (MAS) held its 13th Annual Regional Convention this past weekend in Los Angeles, Ca. Titled: “Portrait of a Family” the well attended event featured timely and informative issues presented by Muslim leaders and scholars.

A bazaar within the convention area provided an opportunity for attendees to purchase Islamic goods and to learn about Islamic organizations. It also provided an opportunity for people to fraternize and to discuss sessions they had attended.

The convention featured Main Sessions and Parallel sessions with some presentations intended for Muslim youth.

The panels dealt with such topics as: “Empty Nest, Not Empty Life”; “Family: The Heart of the Muslim Ummah”, and “Get Involved: Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP)”.

“I feel that many of my questions about family situations have been answered” said one young woman after the early morning session.

The invited presenters were truly a cross section of respected and informed Muslim leaders. These included Dr. Maher Hathout, Hussam Ayloush, Reem Salahi, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Shakeel Syed, and Sheik Safwat Morsy.

A secondary topic of the Convention, one that was truly a logical segue from the concept of family that dominated the Convention, was the Palestinian cause. In the words of one presenter “Our Ummah is like one body. When one part aches, the entire body aches”. These three presentations introduced a group called Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP), a Muslim American Society youth based project which began in August 2009. MAP has three primary objectives for the Palestinian cause: 1)To inform the public of the true story – the true history – of Palestine; 2)To empower the Muslim community to revive and recognize the Islamic value of Palestine, and 3)To preserve the glorious Islamic heritage of Palestine.

There were three panels that covered the subject of Palestine and MAP. During the first panel Reem Salahi, an attorney who has twice visited Gaza in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, told of her experiences. Ms Salahi speaks Arabic and showed pictures that she had taken, so her experiences were truly first hand and not filtered. In February 2009 Ms Salahi went to Gaza in the immediate days following Israel’s attack as part of a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation to investigate possible Israeli war crimes and violations of the basic norms of accepted international behavior. The delegation found Israel in total non compliance. Ms Salahi spoke of “white flag murders”, that is the murder by Israelis of innocent civilians whom they had ordered out of their homes and who had complied and exited waving white flags. In at least six incidents the Israelis shot them in cold blood.

Toward the end of the panel Ms Salahi placed an overseas telephone call to Dr. Nafiz Abu Shaaban at his office in a Gaza hospital. Over a Speakerphone Dr. Shaaban told of chilling experiences that he and other Gazan medical personal had been privy to. He told of people who entered the hospital with White Phosphorus burns and of how these burns, rather than being extinguished, continued to burn as long a there was flesh to destroy. Finally medical personnel called in from Lebanon were able to treat these patients, the Israelis having introduced White Phosphorus to Lebanon during their recent war.

As the convention ended, people who had attend one or more of these sessions spoke enthusiastically about working with MAP and taking back Palestine.

“I never realized how bad things were. I am glad these sessions brought the truth home” said one young man of apparent high school age.

Participants at the bazaar included, but were not limited to: CAIR, ACCESS, Islamic Relief, and Helping Hand. Helping Hand is a humanitarian organization that sends relief teams to all parts of the world when a crisis ensues. Their motto is: No Borders, No Boundaries. They may be accessed at: www.helpinghandonline.org.

The Muslim American Society may be traced to its ancestral roots to the call of the Prophet Mohammed (s). Its modern roots are traceable to the Islamic revival movement at the turn of the 20th century. The revival was intended to re-establish Islam as a total way of life.

The Muslim American Society may be accessed at: www.masnet.org. The local Los Angeles chapter may be accessed at:: www.mas-la.org.

Muslim Americans for Palestine may be accessed at: www.mapalestine.org.

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