By Ras H. Siddiqui
The theme for the day was “Hate Hurts America: Can We Turn the Tide of Hate into Love?” with a Peace Convention where close to 500 people gathered at the California Automobile Museum on Saturday, September 12, 2015, a day after an understandably somber national 9/11 anniversary which this time was held on a unique note in Sacramento, California’s capital city with a parade organized to honor three brave Americans who helped to stop a possible terrorist attack from occurring in Europe.
The group that organized this Peace Convention the day after was none other than the American Muslim Voice Foundation (AMV) whose Executive Director Samina Sundas and National President Khalid Saeed decided to move their annual convention from the Bay Area to Sacramento for the first time. And the AMV-Sacramento Chapter took up this task and did a fine job at it, with an evening where youth, adults and even some seniors were able to participate in spreading a message of peace from a Muslim viewpoint.
It is just not possible to encapsulate the entire event activity in just one article here but this attempt will try to highlight as much as possible. Emcee Firdos Sheikh did a commendable job in conducting the evening activities and deserves praise up front for keeping everyone focused for several hours. The formalities began with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an. AMV National President Khalid Saeed next welcomed everyone and introduced the AMV Team that both locally and regionally makes good things happen. The AMV vison is personified in Khalid because he is everywhere, networking with the mainstream, neighbors, friends and elected officials. The Sacramento AMV Chapter is possibly the most active one currently, and as hosts deserved the additional recognition given to it this evening.
A re-introduction by Ushna Asif Sattar and Aisha Noor of the topic that inspired over 100 youth to participate in an essay competition conducted by AMV earlier this year set a nice tone for the evening as did the short speech by Asif Sattar (who was delighted to see a full hall) as to why he joined the AMV Foundation. He also reiterated that AMV was not here to compete against any other Muslim organization and that the goals may be the same but the methodology may differ.
Aside from the all-important AMV youth factor which included the Essay Contest winning writers, the rest of the evening speeches can be categorized as the social, political and the spiritual with a great deal of overlapping between them. The social was well covered by Samina Sundas of AMV Foundation (ﾠhttp://www.amuslimvoice.org/ ) and Komal Ahmad, the CEO of Feeding Forward. Some could successfully argue that the social and political easily merged during their promotion of humanitarian values. The political did overlap into the spiritual in the speech by Terry Holdbrooks, former police guard at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay who converted to Islam. And for deeper spirituality we turned to professional skateboarder Jordan Richter who grew up in a Jewish household and accepted Islam later in life and was quite satisfied with his choice.
In her speech Samina Sundas did not mince any words when she said how much 9/11 had cost American Muslims. From young men picked up soon after the attack, to the Patriot Act and INS Special Registration of people from over 20 countries (only North Korea amongst them was not Muslim) even if they were sick or handicapped. Many innocent people were detained. After 9/11 and observing its impact she asked, “Where is the peaceful voice of Islam?” And that became the genesis of American Muslim Voice. She said that our fellow Americans want to get to know us, but that we (99% peaceful Muslims) need to become visible and show them the true face of our faith. A video and a slide show of the work that AMV has done stretching from the San Francisco Bay area to Sacramento and as far away as Washington DC was shown to stress that point. “Moving from Fear to Friendship” is a good vision to have and AMV wants to pursue it.”
In her speech, Komal Ahmad a young American Muslim woman, shared her road to making what Samina had mentioned earlier, a reality. One meal with a homeless veteran changed her life and the idea of Feeding Forward was born. She said that as a child she was told by her mother of people starving in Pakistan but that she later learned that people were also starving right here in America in spite of the fact that Americans throw away millions of pounds of edible food every day. She said that many Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The vison and goal of “Feeding Forward” (ﾠhttps://www.feedingforward.com/ ) is to get the food from people who are ready to throw it away (as waste) to the people that need it most. Komal Ahmad is a young American Muslim who had set out to make a difference, and she has succeeded, a fact that should make us all proud.
Terry Holdbrooks who spoke next, said that he was a young man looking for employment options after High School. He decided to try to “Be all You Can Be” and join the army since money was tight (his last employment before that was working at a Taco Bell). On finally being accepted, he asked which job was providing a joining bonus. And that job was that of a Military Guard which led him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Camp Delta to be exact where he met the world’s meanest and toughest terrorists or so he was set to believe (he was taken on a visit to Ground Zero in New York before he was posted). Instead, he met people who were often mistreated but kept their faith. When asked why he accepted Islam, he said that it was the behavior of the prisoners. Terry also cautioned all Americans (not just Muslims) about the NDAA and the issue of their rights.
The deeply spiritual component of the evening was provided via a preview of Harpo Productions (Oprah Winfrey Network) documentary on faith which featured the final speaker of the evening Jordan Richter performing Haj. A former Jew performing Haj and being deeply moved by his experience in the process moved us in the audience too. Jordan spoke after a break for prayers. “I find it very disturbing that I have to apologize for being a Muslim,” he said. He also shared his journey coming from a family where drug use was prevalent and how he found his own salvation in Islam and how he is using that experience to bond with his son.
The tone of the evening was passion, as described by the esteemed emcee. The segment on essay writing contest winners will have to be deferred to another article (and hopefully another event) as will the important comments of Taj Khan. He was one of the “Unsung Heroes” honored by AMV at this Peace Convention along with Hamza El Nakhal, Helen Roland, Shabbir Khan, Komal Ahmad, Sylvina Frausto, Basim Elkarra, Imam Mumtaz Qasmi, Rabina Khan and a writer for the Pakistan Link newspaper who in his acceptance said that his role was minimal since he was continually inspired to write by others from the community who do the actual work. The people of the AMV Foundation are a prime example of this observation! (Courtesy Pakistan Link)
See 7 pages of pictures
See Convention pictures in Urdu News
See pictures of essay competition pictures