Community News (V13-I51)

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Salman Khan, of Khan Academy, is commencement speaker at MIT

Laurels keep on coming the way of Khan Academy founder Salman Khan. He has now been selected as the commencement speaker at his alma mater MIT’s commencement ceremonies in June 2012. According to the student newspaper he will be the youngest commencement speaker in at least 30 years.

Salman Khan obtained two bachelors and a master’s degree from MIT before finishing his MBA from Harvard.

The hugely popular website now hosts over 2700 instructional videos in topics ranging from basic algebra to thermodynamics to art history, in addition to online exercises and drills.

Khan Academy, which offers its services for free, is supported by donations; among others, Google has promised to contribute $2 million, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed to $1.5 million.

Muslim run food pantry in Bronx to close

BRONX,NY–A food pantry run by Muslims in Bronx will close unless they receive a rush of donations. The Muslim Women’s Initiative for Research and Development has been feeding more than 10,000 people through its two pantries which have been serving as a lifeline to the needy and destitute. But the current economic downturn combined with an increase in requests are taking its toll on the initiative.

‘A 70% slump in donations and a more than 50% increase in demand for services this year has put the organization $48,000 in the hole,’ said its executive director Nurah Ama’tullah in an interview  to the Daily News.

“This is very important for me,” said Antonia Cruz, 52, an out-of-work mother of five. “The food is very good. I don’t have public assistance. I hope they don’t close.”

MWIRD can be contacted at 718-960-2262 / 1-917-529-5242 or via email  info@mwird.org

Irfan Khan joins Phoenixville School Board

PHOENIXVILLE,PA–Irfan Khan took his seat as the new member of the Phoenixville School Board on December 5. He was elected unopposed in October. His term lasts four years and he said he is looking forward for productive term.

Khan has extensive experience in the area of finance and would be able to provide a vast knowledge of management of funds and investments to the local school board, according to an endorsement he received from the Democratic Committee.

Khan has served as a volunteer with a number of charitable organizations in the greater Phoenixville area.

Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha makes historic land purchase

OMAHA– Representatives of Temple Israel, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture (AIISC) and the Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha today announced each of the four entities has purchased land at 132nd and Pacific Streets in Omaha. The four parcels, totaling approximately 35 acres, will be the future site of the Tri-Faith neighborhood.

This unique project, the first of its kind in the world, deliberately co-locates a synagogue, church and mosque. The site plan also includes aTri-Faith Center with social, educational and conference facilities enabling global study and communication.

“Experience teaches us that interaction can transform intolerance, ignorance and fear into understanding, respect and trust,” said Bob Freeman, Tri-Faith Initiative Board Chairman. “These basic values are shared by the three Abrahamic faiths and are rooted in our Midwestern culture.”

The Tri-Faith Initiative and the three religious groups each raised funds and purchased their own parcel of land. Additional funds will be raised to underwrite design and construction costs. The first building is expected to be completed in 2013.

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Community News (V13-I19)

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

MDC Humanitarian Award for Salman Khan

NEW YORK,NY–MDC Partners, a business transformation organization, announced the creation of the MDC Humanitarian Award to recognize individuals and organizations whose disruptive thinking and innovation have led to lasting and sustainable impact. The inaugural award was presented at the 2011 WIRED Conference in New York on May 3. The focus of this year’s conference is “Disruptive by Design,” and it brought together leaders in business and technology to discuss how using disruption and innovation will pave the way to growth.

The first award was presented to Salman Khan in recognition of his creation of the Khan Academy and his innovative approach to education. The Khan Academy was the result of Salman’s desire to help tutor his cousin in New Orleans while he was living in Boston in 2004. Over time his lesson plans evolved into videos, which he began posting to YouTube for her to complete at her own pace, and they quickly built a strong following of viewers.

“We have created the MDC Humanitarian Award because we feel it is important to recognize that true talent innovates and creates not merely for profit and prestige, but to create a legacy of transforming the lives of those in need,” said Miles Nadal, CEO of MDC Partners. “We are proud to honor Salman Khan because he reinvented broken systems to deliver educational tools across the world. Perhaps most significantly, these tools are encouraging under-served individuals to fuel their love of learning and help themselves.”
Although Khan is the only teacher at the Khan Academy, he has posted over 2100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises that have received more the 24 million views. His lessons continue to expand, covering everything from physics to finance and history. Khan’s goal is to bring a world-class education to anyone in the world completely free, and he is currently being aided by Google to help translate his lessons into all the most commonly spoken languages.

Overall, MDC Partners has pledged $100,000 to the recipients of the MDC Humanitarian Award during the first 5 years of its existence. To honor Khan’s work, MDC will contribute $20,000 to the Khan Academy.

“I am extremely honored to be the first recipient of this award, and am excited that a company like MDC is recognizing innovation beyond the business world,” said Mr. Khan. “The Khan Academy has been very successful thus far, and with the support of companies like MDC its influence and reach will only continue to grow.”

Mohammed Alamani wins award

WILKES-BARRE,PA–Every spring, the Center for Global Education and Diversity hosts a ceremony honoring members of the Wilkes community who are being recognized for fostering multicultural awareness at Pennsylvania’s Wilkes University. This year Mohammed Alamani has been named as the recipient of  Wilkes Helping Hands Student Award. The award is given to a student who has contributed the most to improve the diversity climate at Wilkes.

Woodland mosque raises money for Japan victims

WOODLAND,CA–Imam of the Woodland Mosque, Qari Aamir Hussain, recently lead a fundraising campaign for victims of Tsunami disaster in Japan, the Daily Democrat reported.

Imam Hussain appealed the Muslim Community of Woodland for funds and said that Prophet of Islam Muhammad (s) “has taught them to be kind to each other, to respect elders, and care for our children, and he also taught us that it was better to give than to receive and that each human life is worthy of respect and dignity.”

In this campaign to raise funds appeals were made for three Friday’s during the weekly prayer services and community raised $850 for the victims of Japan tsunami.

Director of the mosque, Khalid Saeed, invited representatives of Woodland Red Cross to Woodland mosque receive a check for the funds. At the Friday, April 22, prayer services two representatives of the Red Cross, Katrina Kilgore and Maria Elena, visited the mosque, where Saeed and Imam Hussain presented them a check and thanked them for their visit to the mosque.

Kilgore thanked the Muslim Community of Woodland for their generosity in raising these funds for the sake of humanity and accepted the check in the main prayer hall in front of the weekly congregation.

Tasmiha Khan speaks at Yale’s United for Sight Conference

NEW HAVEN,CT–Tasmiha Khan, a Wesleyan University student and founder of Brighter Dawns, spoke at United for Sight Global Health and Innovation 2011 Conference April 16-17 at Yale University. She spoke on “Water and Clinic Social Enterprise Pitches – Ideas in Development.”

Tasmiha Khan, a native of Chicago, founded Brighter Dawns in the fall of 2010. In the Summer of 2010, she worked with World Peace & Cultural Foundation (WPCF) in Bangladesh to offer free diabetic screenings, and seminars on hygiene and food preparation. Touched by the people she worked with, she felt the need to address many of the issues she encountered there and brought her mission back to Wesleyan University, where she is a student.

Now Tasmiha, with many of her fellow students, is working to establish Brighter Dawns as a non-profit, collaborating with WPCF to improve living conditions in the slum in Khalishpur, Khulna, Bangladesh.

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Community News (V12-I1)

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Salman Khan, Math tutor to the world

Salman-Khan The name Salman Khan evokes the images of a Bollywood personality. But there is another 33 year old with the same name who is changing the way people learn math and along the way changing lives of people for the better.

Salman Khan, a Mountain View resident, has posted 800 plus tutorial videos on his website the Khan Academy which interactively teach math at all levels. These videos are viewed 35, 000 times a day.

Salman Khan, who holds engineering and science degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School, says it all started in 2004 when he was tutoring his cousin Nadia, who was having having trouble with her math, through the telephone and Yahoo Doodle as a shared notepad. She ended up getting ahead in her class and also started tutoring her brothers.

Nephews and family friends soon followed. But scheduling conflicts and repeated lectures prompted him to post instructional videos on YouTube that his proliferating pupils could watch when they had the time.

Realizing the immense potential of his method and the possibilities of the internet Khan formed the Khan Academy, a non profit organization. The nonprofit generated thousands in advertising revenue this year through YouTube and could become self-sustainable as a one-person operation within a year. Khan is in talks with several foundations for capital that could enable him to expand the organization’s reach.

For his services Khan was awarded the 2009 Tech Award for Education. The Tech Awards website praises the Khan Academy as follows:

Millions of students around the world lack access to high quality instruction, especially in the sciences and math. The Khan Academy provides it for free in a way that can be accessed on-demand at a student’s own pace.

The videos are directly teaching tens of thousands of students on every continent on a daily basis. Other non-profit groups have even begun distributing off-line versions of the library to rural and underserved areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Lilburn sued for denying mosque permission

LILBURN, GA–The Dar-e-Abbas, a local Muslim congregation, is suing the the Lilburn city council for discrimination in denying the required zoning to build a mosque. The council had denied the zoning request citing traffic and other issues. The Muslim group says that the council caved into pressure from residents.
Doug Dillard, an attorney for the Muslim group told the WABE Radio, ‘There’s seven churches within a two mile radius of this facility. Within half of mile there’s a Baptist church. They have 110,000 square feet on 11 acres. We were asking for 28, 000 square feet on 8 acres, so it was clearly discriminatory and their decision had no basis.’

The congregation filed the lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits local governments from restricting land access to religious groups.

Madison mosque decision in Jan.

JACKSON, MI–The Madison County zoning board would decide in January whether to allow the Mississippi Muslim Association to build a mosque on US 51. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet on Jan 4.

The association owns five acres just north of the Madison city limits and proposes to build the Magnolia Islamic Center, a worship center to serve the 100-plus local families who now attend a mosque in south Jackson. The association has met resistance from nearby landowners and residents, who say the project is not the best use for the property.

The association earlier this month received conditional approval from the county’s planning commission for the site plan detailing the landscaping and building design.

The plans for the Islamic center call for a 10,000-square-foot, two-story building made of red brick with a standing seam metal roof. The first floor will contain the prayer hall, multi-purpose room, office, restrooms and kitchen. The second floor will contain a prayer hall, classrooms, restrooms and office. The building is based on a capacity of 650.

Toronto’s Muslim convention sends message of unity

TORONTO, Dec. 29, 2009–Speakers at a three day  Islamic convention held in Toronto on the weekend (Dec. 25-27) urged Muslims to live up to their responsibility to save the world. The Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention, in its eighth year, was attended by more than 15,000 people from across Canada and some from the US and elsewhere. The convention is unique as it is completely organized and managed by the youth.

The convention theme, SOS: Saving the Ship of Humanity,  hosted more than a dozen hi profile speakers from the USA, Canada, and the Middle East. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, the former minister of justice of Mauritania and a member of the Islamic Fiqh Council, said that Muslim youth must not forget the spiritual legacy of their predecessors bust must reconnect with that tradition.

Dr. Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, was another main speaker at the event and spoke on the universal message of Islam.

The convention saw a steady stream of people converting to Islam.

Dr. Tarek Al Suwaidan (a leading scholar and public speaker from Kuwait) spoke on Islam and the modern world. He said Muslims should look up to the character of Ali (RA)  as a role model for their own lives. He also spoke at length about Islam and science and criticised those who try to force in strange assertions in such an exercise. He stated that scientific facts can never contradict Islam but scientific theories can. He said the distinction should always be kept in mind.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf urged the assembled gathering to live up their responsibilities and fight for a sustainable and peaceful world. He said Muslims should shun bickering over minor issues and instead unite. He also said that Muslims should avoid indulging in takfeer of fellow Muslims.

Shaykh Habib Ali Al Jifri, Dr. Tareq Ramadan, Dr. Abdul Hakeem Murad, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Imam Zaid Shakir, and a host of other scholars spoke at the convention. 

Prominent Canadian politicians including Derek Lee and Liberal Finance critic John McCallum also spoke at the convention and appreciated the efforts of Canada’s Muslim youth to build an inclusive society.

The convention’s entertainment session featured live performances by Maher Zain, Irfan Makki, Junaid Jamshed, Bennami and Grammy award winning  Outlandish. The Allah Made Me Funny comedy troupe also performed.

As part of its social outreach the convention raised more than 1000 winter coats and close to 10,000 meals for the needy in the Greater Toronto Area.

The convention featured a large bazaar selling books, clothing, and other Islamic items. Prominently missing from this year’s convention were the packaged Halal food product companies. An interest free MasterCard from the UM Financial group was launched at the event.

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Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Awaken Bollywood

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The India film stars dictate fashion and customs, but they usually aren’t politically active. The recent killings seem to have changed that.

Courtesy Anupama Chopra, LA Times

Reporting from Mumbai — Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun. On Nov. 26, as 10 terrorists orchestrated mayhem at Mumbai’s landmark hotels and train station, Bollywood’s most enduring superstar pulled out his revolver.

The following day, he wrote on his blog: “As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that. I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.”

As the bloody face-off between the terrorists and Indian commandos continued for three days, Aamir Khan, another major star and avid blogger, wrote: “Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God . . . an incident such as this really exposes how ill equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders who actually care for the country.”

A few days after the attack, Shah Rukh Khan, who is known to Hindi film viewers as King Khan and routinely described as more famous than Tom Cruise, told a leading television channel, “I have read the Holy Koran. It states that if you heal one man, you heal the whole of mankind and if you hurt one man, you hurt the whole of mankind. . . . There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs.”

This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry produces 200-odd films each year for an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion. Bollywood and its stars dictate fashions, language, rituals and aspirations for millions of Indians and non-Indians around the globe. In Britain and the U.S., Bollywood box office is largely driven by Indian immigrants, but in countries such as Malaysia, Poland and Germany, even locals are avid consumers. Hindi films vary from fantastical entertainers to realistic, low-budget urbane dramas that usually appeal to more educated audiences. Bollywood is one of the few film industries globally that has withstood the Hollywood goliath. In fact, Hollywood is pushing for a piece of the booming Bollywood pie; studios such as Sony and Warner are producing Hindi films.

But despite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space — columnist and author Shobhaa De, more acerbically, described it as “apathetic.” Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, stars here have rarely aligned themselves with causes. Even those who join political parties usually serve an ornamental function.

Like much of India’s elite and middle class, the film industry has preferred to disengage from politics and the invariably messy functioning of the world’s largest democracy. “Most Bollywood actors claim their job is to entertain the masses — nothing more, nothing less,” De said. “It is the Republic of Bollywood movie stars owe any allegiance to.”

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic.” They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, “reclaimed their religion.” In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in “ Slumdog Millionaire,” called the attacks “a tipping point,” adding: “I think things will be different now.”

The film industry can play a prominent role in India’s post 26/11 citizens’ movement, not only because of its cultural cachet but also because Bollywood is and always has been inherently secular. India is home to about 151 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority Hindus and minority Muslims share a long and tragic history, and politicians of every hue have exploited this divide. Hindu-Muslim relations are usually in a state of simmer, and the decades-old distrust routinely boils over in riots, murder and more recently terrorism.

Intriguingly, Bollywood has largely managed to resist this communal caldron. Through the decades, Hindus and Muslims have worked together without any palpable friction. In fact the biggest stars in contemporary Bollywood are Muslim (this includes the reigning superstar trinity of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan). In “Maximum City,” his bestselling book on Mumbai, Suketu Mehta described the Hindi film industry as having “the secularism of a brothel.” “All are welcome,” he wrote, “as long as they carry or make money.”

Among Bollywood’s earliest stars were Australian-born Mary Ann Evans, known to her fans as Fearless Nadia — a whip-wielding, iconic action heroine in the 1930s; the Jewish Florence Ezekiel, known to her fans as Nadira, a legendary vamp who seduced with her smoldering looks in the 1950s; and the Anglo-Indian-Burmese Helen, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was Bollywood’s most famous dancer.
Box office is king

Writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, president of an organization called Muslims for Secular Democracy, disapproves of Mehta’s brothel comparison but agreed that in the 40-odd years that he had been working in Bollywood, he had never encountered bias. “There is a method in the madness,” he said. “People in films — from the biggest stars to the smallest — know that their survival is in the success of the film. When you go to the racecourse, you cannot not bet on the winning horse because the jockey is of some other religion. You want to win the race so you cannot afford to be communal.”

Bollywood’s reigning deity is the box office. Consequently, Akhtar pointed out, even actors and technicians who are high-profile members of the right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party will behave “in a totally separate manner within the industry.”

Attempts to divide the industry on religious lines have found little support. In July, a little-known terror outfit called the Indian Mujahideen issued death threats via e-mail to leading Muslim actors, urging them to stop acting in movies or face the consequences. The industry collectively denounced the mail and Saif Ali, one of the actors threatened, responded in a newspaper saying that he would “rather be shot than not do a shot.”

Eight years ago, a Hindu actor named Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation with his debut film, “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say You Love Me). As the film ran to packed houses, a right-wing Hindu magazine, Panchjanya, ran a cover story insisting that Roshan was the Hindu answer to the Muslim Khan supremacy in Bollywood. The claim was resoundingly ignored. These contrived divisions also have little meaning in Bollywood because many of the leading stars have had interfaith marriages.

Even at historic turning points such as the 1947 partition, when Hindu-Muslim relations were violently fraught, the film industry has remained impervious to religious bias. In the 1940s and 1950s, the industry was also less self-focused and inward-looking. Cultural groups such as the Progressive Writers’ Assn. and the India Peoples’ Theatre Assn. exerted a great influence on the leading writers, actors and directors of the time. The filmmakers and their films reflected an awareness and engagement with social causes.

But by the 1970s, a disconnect had set in. Prakash pinned it on “the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon.” After the actor had a string of successive hits, the media labeled him “a one-man industry.” According to Prakash: “The Bollywood space changed then and became about celebrity.”

Star-driven culture

This celebrity has only amplified in recent years. The post-liberalization media explosion and consumerist culture have converted actors into brands and they are constantly “on,” whether in cinema halls, television shows or newspapers and magazines. Hindi cinema and especially its stars dominate India’s cultural landscape, enjoying a super-size visibility. Media doggedly report on the minutiae of their lives, from love affairs to diet to favored hair stylist. Political parties have often attempted to turn this visibility into votes by using stars to campaign for them, but Bollywood stars in politics have largely been, in De’s words, “a monumental joke.”

Prakash agreed. “Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has became a space only for stardom,” he said. “Politics is problematic, and it’s not conducive to stardom. It only gets in the way.”
Aamir Khan discovered this the hard way in 2006, when he joined activists demanding the rehabilitation of farmers displaced by the construction of a dam in the western state of Gujarat. The government demanded an apology. When he refused, multiplex owners in Gujarat refused to screen the actor’s film “Fanaa” (Destroyed). Though the film eventually became a blockbuster, losses from the Gujarat ban — deemed unconstitutional by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — ran into the millions. Not surprisingly then, silence and insularity are the preferred mode here.
Actress Preity Zinta, one of the industry’s more outspoken stars, said the prevailing silence also had to do with the quality of leadership. “Where are our icons?” she asked. “Give me one inspiring leader and I will not even think twice before offering support. Look at the political class abroad. I jumped as high as anyone in America when Obama won.”
Terrorism has provided the impetus that politicians could not. Zinta was among the thousands of people who gathered Dec. 3 at the Gateway of India (opposite the Taj Mahal hotel) to protest the attacks and demand better security. The gathering, organized spontaneously through e-mail, text messages and Facebook, was described in leading newspapers as unprecedented.
Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar’s son and a filmmaker-actor, was also at the Gateway. When the firing started Nov. 26, Farhan was shooting the first episode of a “Saturday Night Live”-style television show called “Oye It’s Friday.” Farhan, who hosts the show, and his producers stopped work because, he said, “we were too depressed to continue.” But a few days later, they regrouped to rewrite a part of the show. The first episode now included several biting comic lines about politicians and their legendary incompetence. “There has been no event of this magnitude, nothing this drastic to get people polarized,” Farhan said. “But now people have had enough. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore.”
The big question is: How long will the anger last? Skeptics like De don’t envision a more politically sensitized Bollywood, but many such as Zinta and Farhan believe and hope that a sustained involvement will follow. But even if the current activism dilutes with time, the Hindi film industry, an inclusive, successful global brand, will remain a symbol of unity in a deeply fractured country.
Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema. Her books include “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.”