By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
One of the challenges facing Muslims and, indeed fair minded people of all faiths, is to present the true picture of Islam and to combat an Islamophobia that has shown little signs of abatement. The Muslim Public Affair Council (MPAC) has accepted this challenge and has done an outstanding job in working for the civil rights of American Muslims.
MPAC held its eighth annual convention this past Saturday at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Ca. The well attended event was titled: â€œNew Era, New Roleâ€ and subtitled: â€œGet informed; get inspired, get involved.â€
â€œToday we are here to explore the dimensions and possibilities that come with the â€œnew eraâ€ in American leadership we have helped put in officeâ€ wrote Salaam Al Marayati, the Executive Director of MPAC in the Convention booklet available upon registration.
Dr. Rick Warren, author of â€œA Purpose Driven Lifeâ€ and Pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Ca., was the keynote speaker at MPACâ€™s annual banquet. More than 800 people heard Pastor Warren emphasize the need for people to get along and to emphasize their common goals and interests rather than focussing on their differences.
Dr. Warren has been asked by President-elect Barak Obama to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
His book has sold 25 million copies, setting a record. During the recent election campaign, his church was a venue for a debate between the President-elect and GOP Presidential candidate Senator John McCain.
During the day attendees listened to such roundtable discussions as â€œThe Next American Presidentâ€; â€œThe Aftermath of Mumbaiâ€, and â€œHow to Run for Public Officeâ€. A parallel Youth Session was also available.
A varied group of speakers challenged and informed the attendees. They were diverse and included: Varun Soni, a Hindu and the Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California (USC); Shejea Khan, a young college student, business woman, and candidate for the Hendricks County Council in Indiana this year; revered Islamic spokesperson Dr. Maher Hathout, and Kiran Khalid, a producer for the NBC television show: â€œGood Morning Americaâ€.
â€œI donâ€™t know which session I enjoyed moreâ€ said one young woman holding up a thick sheaf of notes she had taken during the morning session.
During the timely session on Mumbai, the participants unanimously declared their disagreement with the declaration that Mumbai was Indiaâ€™s 9/11. Indian news organizations, new to the business, sensationalized the days of terror. NBC and CNN partnered with these Indian outlets and used the live feeds they were sent.
Participant Reza Aslan, author of â€œNo god but Godâ€, referencing the media coverage, said that media attention yields power to the perpetrators. Ms Khalid offered the opinion that the opportunity for the India media to make a name for itself led them to sensationalize the event.
Dr. Nayyer Ali, Chair of MPACâ€™s Board of Directors, suggested that Indiaâ€™s rise to global prominence made the attack relevant.
A video of the aftermath presented an interview with a couple who had survived the attack. The Indian wife of an American said that there were Muslims in their hotel,and that everyone prayed together for survival. She rejected in no uncertain terms that this was the Muslim terrorism presented in the Western media. The perpetrators had no religion and â€œhad no soulsâ€.
Various booths were set up in the Convention Center lobby. They included booths selling Islamic books and clothing; CAIR; MPAC; Islamic Relief; AMANA financing, and the Muslim Womenâ€™ s League.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council is a grass roots public service agency. MPAC works for the integration of American Muslims into our pluralistic society. MPAC also seeks to train young Muslims for leadership roles. Perhaps itâ€™s most important area of activity since 9/11 is to publicize and investigate hate crimes. MPAC created its Hate Crimes Prevention Department in December of 2001.
MPAC: www.mpac.org. LA office: (213) 383-3443; DC office: (202) 547-7701.