By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
With the twin scourges of Islamophobia and racism prevalent in the United States and with the media acting as an echo chamber, a great burden is placed on individuals and groups who seek to speak the truth about Islam and the nature of the crises that effect us domestically and internationally.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), created in 1988, is one such organization. MPAC was formed to work for the civil rights of Muslim Americans and to facilitate their entry into American pluralism. MPAC works at the national as well as the grassroots level and has won the trust and respect of the Muslim and non Muslim community. MPAC has become an information source for those seeking to understand Islam and seeking also to put current events in their proper perspective.
MPAC held its ninth annual convention in Long Beach, Ca. this past Saturday. The event brought a capacity audience to attend workshops and listen to speakers, expert in their fields, and who provided insight and education into topics taken from todayâ€™s headlines. The title of the convention was: â€œWith Change come Challenges.â€
After thought provoking and informative workshops, the event ended with a banquet featuring Congressman Andre Carson (D,IN), awards, and entertainment.
Among the presenters (but not limited to) were Dr. Maher Hathout, a retired physician celebrated in the Muslim and non Muslim community for his dedication to peace and human rights and for his interfaith work. Dr. Hathout is the MPAC Senior Advisor, an author, and a sought after speaker.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor-in Chief of The Muslim Observer, a weekly English language Muslim newspaper. He was recently elected vice president of the Muslim Council of America, a new organization which serves Muslims in the arena of policy and political affairs. Dr. Abdullah is active in Islamic affairs in Nevada which activity also includes being secretary of the Interfaith Council of Nevada.
Dr. Laila Al Marayati is a physician and the Chairperson of KinderUSA, an organization dedicated to the well being of children, focusing in particular on the children of Palestine. Dr. Al Marayati is also the spokesperson for the Muslim Womenâ€™s League, a Los Angeles group which seeks to strengthen the role of Muslim women.
Haris Tarin of MPAC is that groupâ€™s Community Development Director. Mr Tarin has traveled extensively and has spoken at various symposia on the topic of Islam and the Muslim community.
â€œFort Hood: A Defining Momentâ€ was the topic of an afternoon panel. Most of the audience spoke among themselves before the event began and indicated thoughtful interest in how the matter would be handled.
â€œI am so glad this is being discussedâ€ said one young man to his companion.
â€œI know there is more than what the media sayâ€ said his companion.
When asked by panel moderator, Salaam Al Marayati, MPACâ€™s Executive Director, whether Muslims should respond to this event, Dr. Maher Hathout declared that Muslims should not be apologetic because of the deranged acts of one man who happened to be Muslim. He reminded his audience that Major Nidal Hasan shouted â€œAllahu Akbarâ€ before he began his killing spree. He said that if he used those two words now, every non Muslim would run out of the room.Yet Muslims use the same two words forty two times a day during their prayers. It is wrong to tar Muslims with a broad brush as the media have been wont to do. Non Muslims, most of whom do not understand the phrase, and its meaning, â€œGod is Greaterâ€, automatically fear it. Muslims are an essential part of the solution to the problem of Muslim extremists. They are essential to the education of non Muslims about Islam and the only ones truly qualified to ascertain when there is extremism and to propose effective solutions.
Dr. Connie Rice, an attorney and activist and a second panel member, said that this incident indicates more than ever the essential role that MPAC and other moderate Muslim groups must play in partnering with law enforcement. This places a terrible burden on MPAC, she said, but one which they will willingly and efficiently carry out. She seconded the presentation of Dr. Hathout in presenting the necessity for groups such as MPAC to educate the community about Islam and to partner with law enforcement.
After the panel MPAC received an award from the Los Angeles Sheriffâ€™s Department. Dr. Maher Hathout accepted the award.
During a particularly timely panel on â€œâ€Rebuilding US-Muslim World Relationsâ€, a State Department official, Jonathan Morgenstein of the Department of Defense, commented that in Iraq and Afghanistan American soldiers were interacting with the local population. Dr. Laila Al Marayati commented that it would be so much better if these men and women were doing so in the capacity of peace corps volunteers and not as occupiers.
A bazaar was held in the main room and featured booths representing different Islamic groups. These booths include (the list is incomplete): CAIR; Islamic Relief; the Muslim Womenâ€™s League; ACCESS; American Medical Overseas Relief (AMOR); the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) Youth Programs, and Al-Madinah School. AMOR is dedicated to helping the medically needy in the Middle East with emphasis on children in Afghanistan. It may be accessed at: <www.AMORelief.org>. The Al-Madinah school in Los Angeles is currently engaged in building projects that will be in the heart of urban Los Angeles.
Those wishing to learn more about MPAC and/or to make a contribution may access it at: www.mpac.org.