By Susan Schwartz, TMO
The Islamic Center of Reseda in Reseda, Ca hosted a fundraiser for the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) this past weekend.The auditorium was packed to overflowing with more than 300 people in attendance.
Lauren Booth, a revert to Islam, a champion of the Palestinian people, and a respected humanitarian was the keynote speaker. Ms Booth is the sister-in–law of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. She has made a number of appearances in the Souther California area to raise funds for the MLFA while telling of her amazing journey to Islam. Audiences have been captivated by her story of faith and discovery while learning about an organization that seeks justice.
Two representatives from the MLFA addressed the audience.
MFLA was founded in 2001 as a 501 c (3) charity. It is Zakat eligible. The organization is not composed of attorneys but seeks funds to employ attorneys to handle the cases it accepts.
â€œAllah says â€˜be justâ€™â€!
MLFA works with Muslim organization – the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) was specifically cited – and with non-Muslim groups.
Citing the 1996 Anti-Terrorist Act signed into law by then President William Clinton, which law made it illegal to provide material support to terrorists, the representatives asked rhetorically how one would define material support. The audience was unable to give a clear definition.
Suppose that one were to feed 200-300 people in Palestine. Suppose further that it was subsequently discovered that one or a few of these people was affiliated with Hamas. Would this otherwise charitable act be giving material support to terrorists?
As a second example, suppose one were to approach a terrorist and tell him that he was totally wrong in his methods and should seek peaceful resolutions. Would this otherwise laudable approach be giving advice to terrorists?
The Act was vague, and when MLFA asked for clarity, they were refused. They sued in what would become known as Holder vs Humanitarian Law Project. In a 6-3 decision the Supreme Court essentially dismissed the challenge to the material support law.
The MLFA funded the defense of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF).
â€œThe HLF gave humanitarian charity all over the worldâ€.
President George Bush closed the HLF down in December of 2001. His rationale was that the HLF gave money to Zakat Committees which were under the influence of Hamas.
The spokesmen announced a project with the University of Texas in Austin (UTA). UTA will host the information the MLFA has amassed since its inception in 2001. The MLFA will provide its services and expert resources to those who need it pro bono with UTA as a base.
The MLFA will also send Fellows at its expense to various organizations such as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights so that their vast experiences and expertise may be shared.
A successful fundraising followed.
To find out more about the MLFA, please access their web site at: www.mlfa.org
The audience then warmly greeted Lauren Booth.
â€œI was not seeking Islam. Islam came to me very stronglyâ€.
She told of her experience while holding her first child watching on television a young boy holding a rock. He was standing up to an Israeli tank. The child was nine and incredibly strong in spirit. His will to protect his people showed through. On a subsequent visit to Palestine she learned that he had been killed by Israelis shortly after his appearance on television. She felt that the reporters who covered the story did not tell the story that she observed.
A few years later she told her editor that she wanted to go to Palestine and interview Mahmoud Abbas. She soon found herself in Tel Aviv minus her luggage which was still in Israeli hands. She took a taxi and soon learned from the driver the lesson she termed Occupation 101. On the way to Ramallah the road was incredibly bumpy. Ms Booth noticed above them a road which appeared to be modern and smooth. Why not take that, she asked. The driver told her that if they were caught on that road they would be killed. That road was for Jews only.
At the first checkpoint her driver told her he was not permitted to move beyond that point.
When she came to interview Mahmoud Abbas she found herself in the presence of his security guards. She imagined that when they spoke in Arabic they spoke of plans to kill her. She then chided herself for her arabaphobia. In a few days she felt she would give her life for the Palestinians she met so impressed was she by their kindness, love, and generosity.
â€œWhen God puts you on a certain path, there is nothing you can doâ€.
Soon she was asked to do a program on the Islam Channel. This brought her around the world in two years. She met Muslim scholars whose dignity and knowledge so greatly impressed her. She was also impressed by teen age Muslims she encountered – so polite in contrast with the typical British teenager.
She felt Iman – another step on the road to Islam. She received dawaâ€™h from Somali taxi drivers she encountered. She referred to them half in jest as â€œAllahâ€™s secret armyâ€
In 2007 with little time to spare before catching a plane she met a Palestinian who helped her shop for souvenirs and a Koran in English. He refused to take money, saying that everything was a gift from the people of Palestine.
In 2008 she was asked by the Free Gaza movement to board one of two ships leaving from Cyprus and heading to Gaza to break the decades long siege by the Israelis. She went and recounted her fear when the ship was contacted by the Israeli navy and told, in a threatening manner, to turn back. The order was followed by Israeli music. When she said she did not know what to do, one of her ship mates suggested that they dance to the music. They proceeded to do exactly that.
Ms Booth told of the beautiful scene as her ship approached Gaza with crowds lining the landing area shouting â€œAllahu Akbarâ€.
She did not return with her ship. When she tried to exit through Rafah an Egyptian guard â€œone of Mubarakâ€™s thugsâ€ would not permit it despite her British passport. He told her that the Israelis did not want it.
During her enforced stay in Gaza she spent Ramadan iftar with a poor family. When she asked why they fasted, thinking of their poverty, the woman of the house said that fasting reminded her of the plight of the poor.
The end of the journey came in the Fall of 2010 in a shrine in Iran. She became a Muslim and felt while in the shrine the most incredible peace she had ever known.
And so the journey ended – or did it began?
â€œI have never heard such a beautiful storyâ€ said one young woman with tears in her eyes.
Refreshments followed, and the discussion among audience members testified to a fulfilling evening.