By Adil James, MMNS
Detroit–September 19–Every year the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) hosts a Unity banquet to which they invite many of the regionâ€™s Muslim communities–this year, as it has for the past 24 years, the CIOM provided another interesting evening for guests representing a broad spectrum of Michiganâ€™s Muslim faithful.
CIOM was founded on December 2, 1990, to coordinate the activities of the Muslim communityâ€™s many community organizations, â€œto foster religious, educational, economic, interfaith, and social activities, and to promote mutually beneficial community affairs.â€ It plays a central role in building contact between Muslims active in social and religious affairs in Michigan, building working relationships between key players that then facilitate a broad range of cooperation in many different areas, not all formally under the banner of CIOM.
This Unity banquet was held at Burton Manor, adjacent to Rte. 96, and ran from 5pm to about 9pm.
The MC for the event was Prof. Saeed Khan of Wayne State University, who with his lively wit was able to make the audience laugh with good natured jokes based on the speeches of the evening and also the political, technological, and cultural circumstances of the day.
In a bow to diversity, Prof. Khan emphasized that both Apple and PC users were welcome at the banquet. However Mr. Khan failed to address other important divides, such as that between Firefox and Internet Explorer users (no indication at all was given that Chrome users were welcome), or Android vs. Iphone, much less the deep political divide between those owing loyalty to Michiganâ€™s different universities.
But in seriousnes, he said of the CIOM banquet attendee audience, â€œyou show the best virtues of your faith and also as Americans,â€ with its engagement across religious and sectarian lines. Indeed, present were organizational and religious leaders representing many thousands of Southeast Michiganâ€™s Muslims, including Shiâ€™a, Sunni, and secular groups.
Mr. Abdallah Boumedienne, the CIOM Chairman, spoke briefly to thank all for coming to the event, thanking especially Ghalib Begg, saying â€œnothing would happen without Ghalib.â€ Mr. Boumedienne read CIOMâ€™s mission statement, and talked about the accomplishments of CIOM over the past year, emphasizing the coordinated open house by mosques across Southeast Michigan on May 15th, 2010–an event which achieved formal recognition by Governor Granholm.
Granholmâ€™s certificate of tribute stated in part, â€˜The state of Michigan is proud of its cultural diversity and welcomes the opportunity to recognize our Muslim neighbors for their commitment to leadership, dedication to knowledge, and for their rich and fascinating heritage.â€™
Mr. Boumedienne also emphasized recent technological improvements of CIOM, especially the website at www.ciomonline.com, thanking new young people who had gotten involved.
Mr. Boumedienne also mentioned the Mitzvah Day in which Muslims had worked with Jews to do good deeds, and community projects on 9/11 as a part of the Day of Service requested by President Obama.
He mentioned there will be a Muslim-Jewish health fair on November 7.
Boumedienne also mentioned CIOM joint responses to the tragic Fort Hood shootings and the Christmas Day attempted bombing.
Mr. Boumedienne emphasized that â€œwe can be diverse and yet solidly united,â€ and said that â€œdiversity is a gift from God.â€ He implored the community to get involved–give time and money. For 25 years, he said, CIOM has been sustained by a handful of volunteers.
An invited speaker for the event was Dan Krichbaum, PhD, who was named Executive Director of Michiganâ€™s Civil Rights Commission in July of this year.
Krichbaum spoke on the title â€œBuilding Inclusive Communities.â€ Mr. Krichbaum is an ordained Methodist ministar who has been active in interfaith work in Michigan and Ohio for many years.
He began his speech by emphasizing â€œthe importance of place–the influence of locations,â€ which he explained by describing a house into which he moved when he was with his parents–a house which after frequent moves during his youth from Ohio, to Michigan, to Connecticut, to Ohio, to other places in Ohio–a house which was defined by its dilapidated setting as an unpleasant home despite its being immense.
â€œIt did become a nice place,â€ he said, but the lesson was that â€œlocation can change hearts and minds–some places are in total despair.â€ He emphasized the importance of location in such situations as the Park 51 controversy, the Detroit murder rate, the desecration of mosques.
Krichbaum spoke of a Muslim woman widowed on 9/11 who now feels deep discomfort wearing hijab, although beyond being innocent of any terrorism, and after being herself a victim of that terrorism.
Mr. Krichbaum then discussed the Michigan Civil Rights laws and the work of the department of which he took the helm less than two months ago. He described the complaints that Muslims had faced last year as being 75% employment-related.
He said there had been 12,000 calls to the civil rights commission last year, of which 4,000 cases had been settled.
Mr. Krichbaum explained that his department deals with hate crimes as well as discrimination cases, and that his department maintains relations with the two US Attorneys in Michigan.
He described his intention to extend the reach of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission by working in cooperation with other non-governmental groups, although it was not clear from his speech exactly in what way such groups (presumably private ethnic and religious groups in Michigan) would be able to cooperate with the civil rights commission.
Mr. Krichbaum encouraged groups which face discrimination to â€œhear the voices of other groups.â€ Unfortunately this message signalled the possibility of his own organizationâ€™s ineffectiveness and inability to deal single-handedly with discrimination claims in Michigan.
â€œWorking separately we canâ€™t succeed, but working together we canâ€™t fail,â€ he said in conclusion.
Professor Khan thanked Mr. Krichbaum leaving Ohio for Michigan, and segued into the story of Jacob Issam, as the â€œunsung heroâ€ of some of the recent controversies involving Qur`an.He mentioned an incident chronicled in a video, in which Issam–a non-Muslim skateboarder with no shirt–removed a Qur`an directly from the hand of a man intent on desecrating it, telling him, â€œDude, you have no Qur`an.â€ Khan emphasized the difference between this non-Muslim who acted with his hands at a time when Muslims are afraid to act with their hands or with their tongues.
Another key speaker was Rami Nashashibi, who spoke at length and with great facility, describing past incidents over a period of several decades, where Muslims in the United States were confronted with disconnects between what they were and how they were perceived, for example describing Warith Deen Mohammad who said that after Pearl Harbor Black Muslims were sometimes called â€œBlack Japs.â€
But he turned also to his main point, which was the ideal that Muslims should work together with others on the ground to improve conditions and help people, and that this would be more important to build goodwill than long interfaith meetings without action.
Nashashibi is famous largely because of his facility and fluency as a speaker, but also because of the work he has done in Chicago to help the community, through his Inner-City Muslim Action Network.
The name Nashashibi is very prominent in Jerusalem, where this family held senior positions in the governing of Jerusalem. Raghib al-Nashashibi was Mayor of Jerusalem from 1920 to 1934.
The progenitor of the family, Naser al-Din al-Nashashibi, migrated to Jerusalem in 1469 AD, and was chosen to guard the al-Aqsa Mosque and Ibrahimiya Mosque in Hebron. From that time the family held prominent roles, although unfortunately this family participated in the anti-Ottoman Arab revolt.