UMA honors American Muslim women political activism
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
"American Muslim Women: Building Alliances, Upholding Democracy and Defending Civil Rights" was the theme of 32nd annual convention of the United Muslims of America (UMA). The convention, held on February 23, 2013, at the Chandni Restaurant, in Fremont/Newark, drew large crowd from different ethnic and faith groups.
The UMA is perhaps the first American Muslim organization which acknowledged and honored the contributions of Muslim women, particularly in the post-9/11 America> when the seven-million strong Muslim American community became target of institutionalized profiling, bigotry, discrimination and hate.
Four prominent women activists of California>, Feriall Masry (Democrat candidate for California State Assembly in 2010), Samina Sundas (Founding Executive Director of American Muslim Voice), Syeda Reshma Inamdar (Director of the League of Women Voters of California), Ameena Jindali (Islamic Networks Group-ING) and Safaa Ibrahim (President of CAIR-SFBA) shared their experience of civic and political activism.
Congressman Mike Honda was the keynote speaker. He is a staunch supporter of Muslim cause. In November 2010, Mike Honda introduced a legislation recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha.
Sabahat Rafiq Sherwani, a civic activist and an the ING board member, was the MC of the program.
The program began with the recitation of the Holy Quran by Iman Jandali daughter of Amena Jandali of the Islamic Networks Group.
Shafi Refai, President of the United Muslims of America, welcomed the guests on behalf of UMA. He pointed out that 9/11 is a significant incidence in the history of the United States> and many things have changed since that horrific incident. He went on to say:
“ Unfortunately for American Muslim, our community was on receiving end of the vast majority of that backlash. Many opportunists, who we call Islamophobes, like Ann Coulter, Pamela Geller and others, made it their full-time business to demonize Islam and Muslims. Even President Obama has not been spared, as he is accused of being a Muslim in spite of his repeated denial.”
But in these challenging environments many Muslim women bravely stepped forward and built up alliances with the people of other faiths, presented Islam in a way to counter negative stereotypes, and even ventured to run for a public office, said Shafi Refai and added “Some of them are here with us to share their experiences, and we are eager to hear what they have to say.”
Syeda Reshma Inamdar, a well known and popular personality of the San Francisco Bay Area, shared her experience with the League of Women Voters. She has been a member of the League of Women Voters of Fremont, Newark and Union City> for more than 15 years where she first served as Public Relations Director. Reshma was also LWVFNUC’s President during their 50th anniversary celebration. She currently serves as the Chair of the Alameda County Council of the seven County leagues. Reshma is also the Executive Director and co-founder of SEMAH, aimed at breaking the cycle of violence through education and teaching healthy conflict resolution skills.
Ameena Jindali, a founding member of Islamic Networks Group (ING), filled in for Maha El-Genidi, president of the group established in 1993 to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America>’s history and cultural diversity. Ameena spoke about ING's teach-in programs. Not surprising to fulfill ING's mission, Ameena has delivered hundreds of presentations in schools, colleges, universities, churches, and other venues on Islam and related subjects.
Samia Sundas, the Founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice, was the next speaker. The AMV is the pioneer organization to introduce the Open House events on such occasions as Eid Al Fitr. Samina pointed out that the idea behind such events is to develop person to person contact which is the best way to remove misunderstanding and hate that has prevailed in the post-9/11 America>. She revealed that her organization has so far donated 10,000 scarves among the fellow Americans to promote goodwill. American Muslim Voice will be celebrating its 10th anniversary of its establishment in the month of July.
Safaa Ibrahim, President of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA), was the next speaker. Safaa stressed that the Muslims should speak for themselves and this is what CAIR is doing as a leading American Muslim organization.
Ferial Masry, the first Saudi American to run for a political office in America>, stole the show with her eloquent, moving and vivid style of speech. She was CA State Assembly Democrat candidate from the District 37 in 2010. Born and raised in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Ferial Masry was proud to be the mother of his Army Veteran son Omar who served in Iraq> in 2003. She visited 30,000 homes during her election campaign. Ferial said that she did not lose the election but won by gaining experience and knowledge about the US> electoral process. She said that best way to counter the challenges encountered by the American Muslims was to actively participate in the political process.
Rep. Mike Honda, who always supported the cause of American Muslims, was the keynote speaker. Having spent his early childhood with family in an internment camp in Colorado> during World War II, Honda realizes the pains of a persecuted community. Rep. Honda referred to the 2009 controversy when Rep. Sue Myrick and others accused the CAIR of infiltrating the Capitol Hill through interns. He said what CAIR was doing was the objective of all such minority group organizations. He noted that the CAIR office in Washington DC is situation only few blocks away from his residence. It may be recalled that in response to the allegations against the CAIR interns, Mike Honda wrote: ".....These fallacious allegations implicate the existence of a society still struggling with anti-Muslim sentiment. My Muslim colleagues in the House of Representatives, along with the highly qualified, patriotic and committed Muslim staffers and interns that have worked with my office and with CAPAC, contribute mightily to our democratic process. Any slander against these fellow patriots is slander against democracy and religious freedom."
Rep. Hondo also wrote an article on Rep. Peter Kings anti-Muslim hearings: "..... Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia...."
Rep. Honda was also one of the ten House Democrats to speak out criticizing NY Mayor Bloomberg for his response to the NYPD program spying on American Muslims.
Surely with the backdrop of dedicated support to the cause of American Muslims, Rep. Honda drew wide applause from the audience.
The program ended with the melodic presentation of "America> is Beautiful" by Anam Siddiqee, daughter of Athar Siddiqee, Vice President of the CAIR-SF.
The 32nd UMA convention attracted more than 200 people from far and near including CA Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski. Khalid Saeed, National President of the American Muslim Voice travelled from Sacramento> to attend the UMA convention. The CAIR-SFBA has a strong presence with Zahra Billoo, the Executive Director for the CAIR-SFBA and other officials attending. Some founding members of UMA were also present. Those were: Dr. Waheed Siddiqee, Iftekhar Hai, Javed Ellahi and Sayed Rifat Mahmood.