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Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

Walid weighs in on Sterling Heights mosque dispute

Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

By Dawud Walid

The evening of September 10th in Sterling Heights, Michigan reflects the complex convergence of trauma and bigotry that affects Chaldean and Muslim communities in Southeast Michigan.
The American Islamic Community Center (AICC), which currently resides in Madison Heights, purchased property in neighboring Sterling Heights to relocate its small center to build a larger community center to meet the needs of the Muslim community. Once AICC’s request for a special land use permit was made known to Sterling Heights’ residents, a sea of opposition came out against it in five separate city council and planning commission meetings. There was also a separate protest against the proposed community center to boot including the mayor voicing opposition.
On the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, the planning commission unanimously voted against the proposed Islamic center. After the hearing, Muslim community members including myself were faced with jeers, profanity and physical intimidation. One Muslim woman was even spat upon in her face by a resident who celebrated the decision.

Oppositions to Islamic centers and schools are nothing new to American Muslims in post-9/11 America. People with bigoted agendas have protested special land use permits and zoning accommodations for Muslims from Pittsfield Township, Michigan to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. What makes Sterling Heights different from others was the vast majority of protestors coming from the Chaldean community, Christians who originate from Iraq.

The protests in Sterling Heights were not really about the proposed height of the Islamic center and traffic concerns as some claim. There are churches off of primary roads in the city that are equivalent heights, and a traffic study by AICC reflects that no adverse impact would take place if the center was built at the proposed location. The opposition clearly desired that the area which is majority Chaldean continues to remain so and that an Islamic center is not welcomed there.

The largest concentration of Chaldeans in the world resides in Metro Detroit. There are literally more Chaldeans in Sterling Heights than in Baghdad. Due to the chaos which engulfed Iraq as a result of the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Chaldeans were displaced like other Iraqis. The difference between them and Iraqi Muslims, however, is that as Muslims continue to live in Iraq, though circumstances are tough, Christians have almost disappeared.

Michigan Muslims most certainly sympathize with the plight of Chaldeans as well as Assyrians in Iraq and the reasons why large numbers of them were forced to resettle in Michigan. It is easy to understand that Christian Iraqis who were displaced from are traumatized.

Michigan, however, is not Iraq.

Michigan Muslims were not part of the Al-Qaeda and Daesh criminals that destroyed churches, killed clergy and displaced Christians from their land in Iraq. The countertransference of Christian suffering in Iraq onto Sterling Heights Muslims is misguided to say the least.

The recent drama in Sterling Heights is not the first time that Michigan Muslims have received misguided opposition from a section of the Chaldean community. Beginning in 2011, members of the Chaldean community were the primary opposition to the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) Islamic center project in Sterling Heights. In the same year, members of the Chaldean community joined a group from the ultra-conservative Jewish community in opposition to the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA) establishing a community center in Farmington Hills. During the same timeframe, the Walled Lake based Aramaic Broadcasting Network (ABN) hosted Islamophobes from Acts 17 who came to Dearborn to disrupt the now defunct Arab International Festival.

It is incumbent upon leaders within the Chaldean community to firmly denounce the Islamophobic elements which exist among them including from some who purport to represent Christianity. As we know that it takes time for a people to heal from collective trauma, the leadership of that community has to set the tone for healing and reconciliation. Being quiet about or brushing aside the issue of anti-Muslim intolerance among some Michigan Chaldeans is no solution; it is in fact irresponsible.

Hopefully the recent events in Sterling Heights will spark awareness among Chaldean and Muslim leaders in Metro Detroit that the two communities must hold regular community conversations just not leaders meeting once or twice then going back to the status quo. The process of reconciling the pain and frustrations between Chaldeans and Muslims in Michigan will not be without pain but must happen. Otherwise, such ugly situations as what recently took place in Sterling Heights will repeat themselves and possibly escalate.

Editor’s note: Dawud Walid is the Executive Director for the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. His views are his own.

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ACCESS Event Supports Victims of Torture and War

ACCESS Press Release

Dancing, singing and then drumming rhythms from their homelands, supporters gathered at ACCESS in Sterling Heights last Friday to honor the United Nations’ International Day to Support Victims of Torture.

Many of the refugees who attended the event at ACCESS’ Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors and Refugees were torture survivors themselves. Music helps them heal, they said, adding that they hoped the event would spread awareness about the facility.

It is estimated there are nearly a half-million immigrants in the United States who have been victims of torture. Their healing process is crucial not only for each individual, but also for their families, employers, friends and neighbors.

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Pakistan Day Parade and Mela on August 15, 2009

Press Release By PAA President Mohammad Qasim, General Secretary Muhammad Zahid

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l-r:  3rd adult from left, SM Khalid, PAA President Mohammad Qasim, State senate candidate Pam Jackson, Dr. Syed Taj, Canton Treasurer, Mr. Verma Ramesh, Michigan Democratic Party Treasurer, Ms. Natalie Mosher, State senate candidate, Mike McGuiness, Oakland County Demorcatic Pary Chair, fully visible man at farthest right (holding banner), PAA VP Ikhlaq Shah.

Alhamdulillah, it turned out to be the best and the biggest event the Pakistan Association of America has put together in its history since its existence in 1977. Thousands who attended are the living testimony of this fact.

The following are the guests from the Michigan Democratic Party who lead the parade with the Pakistani community and attended the event. Mr. Mark Brewer, Chairman Michigan Democratic Party; State Senator Mr. Micky Switalski; Ms. Rashida Tlaib, State Representative; Mr. Mike McGuiness, Chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party; Mr. Verma Ramesh Treasurer, Michigan Democratic Party; Dr. Syed Taj Treasurer, City of Canton; U.S. Congressional Candidate Ms. Natalie Mosher; State Senatorial Candidate, Ms. Pam Jackson.

Former PAA presidents Mr. Niaz Ali, Dr. Riaz Ahmed, Mr. Sardar Ansari, Mr. Mansoor Ahmad, Mr. Faiz M. Khan and Mr. Shakeel A. Lari were also present.
Governor Jennifer Granholm and Lt. Governor John Cherry could not make it to the Pakistani Parade, but they sent special messages to the Pakistani Community congratulating them on Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister, Ambassador and Consul General sent their special messages to PAA’s President Mohammad Qasim, asking him to convey their best wishes and congratulate the Pakistanis living in Michigan.

Besides the Pakistani community, a large number of non-Pakistanis participated in the colorful parade, which was lead by U.S. elected officials from various districts, famous stars Saud, Javeria, Arif Lohar and professional dholies and other instrument players.

Several media outlets attended: GEO TV, TMO, Urdu Times, Pakistan News and Voice of Pakistan Radio were all present to cover the parade and mela.

PAA gave awards and recognition as follows: PAA Community Services Award for 2009–Dr. Zubair Rathur (who has been doing voluntary community services consistently and generously).

Media recognition awards were presented to Dr. Abdul Raheman Nakadar, Mr. Masood Farooqi, Mr. Khalid Gilani and Mr. Faiz M. Khan. The Sharifan Bibi student scholarship award was given to Ms. Sana Ashraf of Sterling Heights. Special Awards were given to famous Pakistani drama on Geo TV “Yeh Zindagi Hai” to Filmstar SAUD and TV artist JAVERIA, presented by State Senator Mickey Switalsky.

There were various kinds of fun rides for the children who had a good time while their parents were enjoying the shopping for clothes, jewelry, media , etc. The food area was probably the most attractive area all day. Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike kept busy trying multiple options of Pakistani cuisine.

There was also a fashion show–American kids wore Pakistani clothes for the show.

Evening Entertainment: The concert was the most popular part of the whole event. Southfield Pavilion was filled beyond maximum capacity. Hundreds of people were celebrating and socializing in hallways and outside the pavilion. People joined the artists in signing, clapping and dancing. The musical concert lasted until midnight.

Artists in attendance: King of comedy Shakil Siddiqui, Chand Puri, Pervez Siddiqui, Fozia, Sumbal Raja, Naeem Abbas Rufi, Queen of Melody Fariha Pervez, and Legendary Arif Lohar.

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