By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
Islamophobia, rampant racism, escalating hate crimes – is there an answer for these attacks on the Muslim community? This question was posed and discussed by a broad field of speakers during the 10th annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) this past weekend in Los Angeles.
The event was sold out with more than one thousand people attending. Government leaders from the state and national level sent letters of support. These letters attested to the depth and scope of MPACâ€™s work and influence.
The workshop portion of the event dealt with two major divisions of these problems: The State of our Union: Race, Religion and American Identity and the State of our Ummah: Facing our Challenges. The format was in conversational style with the moderator sitting in the center of the stage surrounded on both sides by the speakers. An informal question and answer session provided the audience with the full range of knowledge and expertise the panelists possessed. Questions were then submitted by the audience, often to one of the panelists.
The first panel featured MPAC President Salaam Al Marayati as moderator. Speakers were: Rashad Hussain, President Barack Obamaâ€™s Special Envoy to the OIC; civil rights attorney Reem Salahi; Pastor Bob Roberts of the Northwood Church in Texas; Rev. Madison Shockley of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in California; Angela Oh, Executive Director the Western Justice Center, and Fernando Guerra of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Mr. Hussain spoke of President Obamaâ€™s outreach to the Muslim world and of his concept of partnership with the Muslim world. He warned of the dangers of conflating Islam with terrorism.
Pastor Roberts brought the audience to gales of laughter when, in describing his churchâ€™s Muslim outreach., he described a Muslim in full cowboy gear meeting his congregation for the first time. It turned out to be a mutual instant friendship.
â€œThere is so much to reflect onâ€ said one young woman in the audience â€œbut it makes me optimisticâ€.
The second session featured Edina Lekovic as moderator. Ms Lekovic is the Director of Policy and Programming for MPAC. Her co panelists were: Dr. Maher Hathout, a respected speaker and activist in the Islamic community and in interfaith work; Imam Suhaib Webb, an activist and Islamic scholar; Asma Uddin, Founder and Editor and Chief of <www.AltMuslima.com>; Imam Johari Abdul Malik of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center; Dr. Abdul Azziz Sachedena, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and stand up comedian and film producer, Aman Ali.
All the speakers emphasized the importance of civic engagement as an antidote to Islamophobia and racist attitudes.
Mr. Ali is the co-producer of the award winning documentary â€œThirty Mosques in 30 Daysâ€, a chronicle of his adventures during a Ramadan car journey through the United States. Mr. Ali told the audience of his cordial meetings with Muslims in mosques and his cordial meetings with non Muslims, including one that took place in a store featuring a confederate flag on the front wall. Despite some trepidation, it was a meeting that turned out, after initial introductions and explanations, to be warm and friendly, giving new meaning to the term â€œcivic engagementâ€.
A banquet followed in the evening. Dr. Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Laureate and President Obamaâ€™s Science Envoy to the Middle East, gave the keynote address.
The aforementioned Rashad Hussain was a special guest for the evening. The banquet also featured Community Leadership awards.
Outside of the meeting rooms a bazaar held a variety of booths. Some featured Islamic books and clothing. Others included but were not limited to: Islamic Relief; Helping Hand, MPAC, and AMANA Funds.
MPAC was founded in 1986 as the Political Action Committee of the Islamic Center of Southern California. In 1988 it became the Muslim Public Affairs Council with 501 (c) 3 status. MPAC serves as a trusted source – the â€œgo toâ€ people – for the media, government officials and policy making institutions.
In addition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council works to develop leaders among Muslim youth to enhance Muslim participation in the fabric of American life.
To discover more about MPAC, please access them at: www.mpac.org