By Susan Schwartz, TMO
In a country that values its religious diversity and its freedoms, it is interfaith coalitions that allow harmony in the public square because such coalitions bring people together by emphasizing the values that they have in common. In this arena no organization has contributed more to the spirit of cooperation and outreach than the Muslim Public Affair Council.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) held its 12th annual convention this past Saturday and in doing so set an historical precedent by its choice of venue: All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Ca. The theme of the convention was â€œOur future in the Makingâ€. MPAC Executive Director, Salaam Al Marayati, said that by this move MPAC â€œwill be taking the next step in its mission by crossing the interfaith line.â€
The daytime events consisted of presentations in forum mode, discussing pressing issues that impact all Americans. MPAC Washington, D. C. Director, Haris Tarin, conducted a morning panel titled: Fast Fwd: The Ideas shaping our Future.
Edina Lekovic, MPACâ€™s Director of Policy and Programming, moderated the afternoon panel discussion. The participants were: Dr. Maher Hathout, Rabbi Sarah Bassim, a member of the Muslim-Jewish dialogue group, New Ground; Reverend Ed bacon of All Saints Church, and Narinjan Singh Kalsa of the Sikh community.
Each panelist gave answers to important questions. Herewith some outstanding responses.
Dr. Maher Hathout, in responding to a question about Muslim respect for the Constitution in light of sharia, said that in his experience people who asked questions of Muslims regarding sharia did not understand what sharia is. Perhaps not realizing this, they spoke only of a minute fragment of sharia that had relevance at some time in the far historical past. They were afraid of what they did not understand. There is no question that Muslims regard the Constitution as the law of the land.
Rabbi Bassim, in discussing the need for Jews and Muslim to come together, reminded her audience that Jews have been the subject of persecution in the past, and they have long memories.They do not want others to be subject to the same fate.
Reverend Bacon suggested each faith bring in teachers from other faiths to form an interfaith community that works for justice. He also said that we have to speak to extremists in our own faiths. Christianity is â€œlittered with acts of evilâ€. We have to hold evangelical Zionists accountable – they pay for West Bank settlements.
Narinjan Singh Kalsa said we have to invite people in. â€œWhat is going on here is seeds of peaceâ€.
MPAC presented Reverend Bacon with a beautiful wooden bench in thanks for his churchâ€™s fruitful association, Reverend Bacon and the entire audience were visibly moved.
The evening banquet featured speeches by Representative Mike Honda (D, Ca) and football star brothers, Hamza and Husain Abdullah. Pakistanâ€™s Consul General, Riffat Masood, received an award. She thanked MPAC and told the audience that she accepted it not only for herself but for all Pakistanis worldwide.
Edina Lefkovic honored many who had contributed to the success of MPAC. They included, but were not limited to: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca; Deputy Chief of Police in Los Angeles, Michael Downing; Assistant Director for the FBI in Los Angeles, Bill Lewis, and former rector of All Saints Church, George Regas.
Once the venue of the convention was announced, Islamophobia came out in full force to attack All Saints Church for partnering with MPAC. MPAC held an interfaith press conference at the church to demonstrate solidarity. Clergy from many faiths attended and stood shoulder to shoulder – quite literally – with MPAC and All Saints Church. Reverend Susan Russell of All Saints Church called the event â€œan interfaith Adventâ€ and termed those who wrote in opposition ignorant and labelled the convention a â€œteachable momentâ€. Salaam Al Marayati read excerpts from some of the hate mail the church received.
The Los Angeles Timesâ€™ Editorial Board praised the decision in an editorial titled: â€œAll Saints Rolls Out the Welcome Matâ€. The editorial went on to state that religions do not have to be in complete agreement to hold interfaith events, otherwise there would be no interfaith events. The board also noted that MPAC and All Saints Church had worked together for well over a decade and found that what they had in common was far greater than what separated them.
The attacks took many forms including articles on Islamophobic web sites such as Front Page Mag, Jihad Watch and Walid Shoebatâ€™s page. Other than consultation with law enforcement vis a vis security measures and considerable heightened security, the MPAC convention went on as planned and was successful and informative. Islamophobia challenged the truth, and the truth won.
MPAC advises government agencies and Congresspersons; is the go to source about Muslim matters for news reporters; works with Hollywood to counteract derogatory images of Muslims, and counsels victims of hate incidents.
In its own words: â€œMPAC is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of American Muslims.â€
To find out more about MPAC and its work, please access them at: www.mpac.org