A Blog Post About My Father

My father at his desk. 

My father at his desk. 

I haven't blogged in a while, and tonight's blog post is a heart-felt one about my father's journey in America and beyond. 

Abu came to America in love with my mom, and wanting to live in a free society where he could practice his faith, raise a family and get an education. His first boss later became one of his first hires when he launched his own business a decade after coming to America. Abu would struggle and toil to launch his business, sometimes not coming home until 11 or 12 at night, and rarely before 9. He experienced a string of busts because of a slight language barrier, and also because of his personal sense of duty unto others--not taking the quick buck if it would compromise his integrity. What really drove him was his faith in his Creator. When faced with a major crisis with a major crisis when I was a baby, Abu cooly told a friend: "I'm not worried. I trust God." Within days, the crisis was averted thanks to a miracle. Eventually, he made it in America.

Around then, filial piety kicked in and Abu decided to open the second-ever back office and call center for an American business in Pakistan. The idea made business sense, but until then only in India. Abu worried what was happening in his home country in the early 2000s, and wanted to give people hope that good works and faith together with some elbow grease could make a better world. Abu went on to employ scores of young people in Pakistan to help support his business here at home, making jobs in a country where 54% of the skilled, college-trained labor force was unemployed.

A lot of those young people Abu employed got a chance to earn a living and feel a sense of self-worth many would not have found otherwise in a country that has few job opportunities for their college graduates. Young, urbane, middle class young people in the Muslim World are often listless and seeking out their place in the world, and many become radicalized while seeking out their identity (Check out Foreign Policy for more about that). Abu helped make sure countless young people didn't go that route. For him, it was a matter of honor and principle: provide the opportunity to help improve lives on both sides of world, and through that use one's wealth and talents to repair our world. Abu never outsourced any jobs, and he never fired an employee because their task was made redundant by having a back office in Pakistan. Instead, he was able to hire more employees here in America than he had before.

After a long break, today my father is working on a business model that will find a way to bring people together. I am already proud of how hard he worked to make both the American Dream and the Pakistani Dream a reality. I can't wait to see how he will work to make our would a better place, insha'Allah.

Post Script:

I hadn't thought about Abu's life in terms of the #ImmigrationBan and the hateful rhetoric targeting immigrants today in America. To reflect for a moment: my father is quiet, reflective man. He often told me growing up that to talk too much was a sign of ignorance, and to listen and observe was the sign of true intelligence. My father weathered the financial crash of 2008 with grit and humility. Today, in spite of the political hostility to immigrants and Muslims, he wants to be a job creator again. The other night, Abu said to me: "Americans are at their core good people, and I want to help the world see that." I do too, Dad. 

Rest in Peace, Elie Wiesel

Yesterday, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel died at age 87. An accomplished author who knew the power of words all too well, Wiesel chose to devote his life to furthering the art of the written word. His short novels, Night, an account of the tragic events of Wiesel's time at Aushwitz and Buchenwald during the Holocaust, and Dawn, a novel about the loss of innocence in the struggle to free Israel from British rule, had a profound impact on me as a young adult in high school and college. Both novels played a role in my decision to become a bridge builder between Muslims and Jews around the world. I also read Wiesel's novel The Judges, semi-existential modern-day parable about how to respond to evil and the perversion of what exactly is "good" by many seeking power, one summer after a particularly morally-challenging semester in college. Needless to say, Wiesel had a profound impact on me as a young American man.

But it was Wiesel's outspoken insistence that we Americans save the lives of Muslims being massacred in the tens of thousands by Russian-supported Serbian forces in Bosnia that left the deepest impression on me as a human being.

During the two decades leading up to disintegration of the multi-ethnic, religiously diverse Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia's government were firm supporters of the Palestinian cause, and broke ties with Israel following the Six Day War that were not re-established until 1991. Yugoslavia's ruling strongman, Tito, was a major supporter of Arab nationalism, especially as Arab nationalism from the 1950s until the 1990s was fervently anti-Islamic. Yugoslav policy was to repress Islam among the Bosnian population of Yugoslavia, promoting secular nationalism. As a nod to keep Bosnia's Muslims from completely turning against their government, Tito publicly and firmly supported the Palestine Liberation Organization, then led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO would not recognize Israel's right to exist until after Yugoslavia collapsed, and would carry out horrific acts of anti-Semitic violence across the globe with Yugoslav-provided weapons and armaments for several decades.

Upon Tito's death and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bosnia's Muslims called for independence on the ground that their religious freedoms and cultural identity had been forcefully repressed under a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Croats and Muslims in Kosovo demanded the same right. Serbia launched a multi-pronged war and mass-extermination campaign against all who opposed their continued rule within a new Serbian state that sought to dominate non-Serbs. Given that Serb nationalists blamed Bosnians and their Islamic faith for centuries of nominal rule by Ottoman Turkey in the recent past, Serb forces focused their efforts on exterminating Bosnia's Muslims first and foremost.

In 1993, while the Clinton administration was fully engaged in trying to save Bosnian lives, our post-colonial European allies were not. The result was a divided NATO, coupled with crushing negative public opinion for another foreign intervention (we were disastrously engaged in Somalia at the time) weakened our country's ability to do much of anything to bring an end to Serbia's reign of terror. As a result: 250,000 Muslim lives would be lost before America would bring its full force to bear to end the Bosnian Genocide.

But on April 22 of that year, at the grand opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., Elie Wiesel ditched his written remarks and instead made a plea to America to end its isolationism, and save the lives of Bosnia's Muslims. That is to say: Wiesel reached out to save Bosnian Muslims from annihilation on the principle of Never Again should any people be subject to the horrors of a genocide. Wiesel's morality and commitment to what was right, and his public siding with the voiceless cause of Bosnia's Muslims remains a virtuous act that will forever bless his name and memory. 

Elie Wiesel was a literary giant who shaped my personal identity and sense of social justice had passed away. He was more than just the author of "Night", "Dawn", "The Judges" and countless other stories about morality and principle in our world. Wiesel was a man who acted upon his beliefs for the sake of others.

May God grant Elie Wiesel peace in the hereafter, as he championed peace and justice for all in the here and now. 

 

Ramadan's Final Ten Nights

During the last ten nights of Ramadan, Muslims seek out through prayer and contemplation a sacred night where God is believed to erase our sins of the past year should we ask Him to, and to finalize the destinies of each member of our great human family for the coming year.


While we begin to seek out God's mercy and ask for the good of this world and the hereafter, I have some important things I would like to ask of those who know me.


I ask that you forgive my shortcomings, forgive my failings and the times I might have hurt you or failed you, and to forgive my past misdeeds by you. While I have strived hard to be a person of honor and decency, my heart aches at the many times that I have had neither since turning 18. Please grant me your pardon, as I have fully granted to those who have wronged me in our shared past this night.


We are living in a world embroiled in conflicted emotions and uncertain circumstances. What we can do by one another is to show compassion to the stranger, and to those we have disagreement with. I hope that Ramadan might show all of us a path on which we can all grow our souls on together.


Peace be with us all.


-Hamza

#SOLIDARITYIFTAR: Muslims Come Together in Solidarity with the LGBTQ Community

On the night of Monday, June 13 community members came together for a #SolidarityIftar with the LGBTQ community following the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Florida on Sunday Morning. The event was co-organized by Free State Legal | Equality Maryland, the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, and the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE)

200 people gathered from every imaginable walk of life in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in the wake of the tragic Orlando mass shooting. The Muslim community organized the Solidarity Iftar that followed. 

200 people gathered from every imaginable walk of life in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in the wake of the tragic Orlando mass shooting. The Muslim community organized the Solidarity Iftar that followed. 

200 members of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities participated in the #SolidarityIftar and listened to the statements of community leaders prior to the breaking of the fast. Over 30 organizations co-sponsored the event, and countless elected officials from across the region were in attendance(lists of both are below). 

Community speakers included Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi of WORDE, Patrick Paschall of Free State Legal and Equality Maryland, and myself on behalf of the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County. LGBTQ community leaders who spoke included State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), who was instrumental in organizing the event, and Delegate Bonnie Cullison (D-19). Both are members of the Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, and staunch allies of the Muslim Community. 

Imam Tarif Shraim of the Islamic Community Center of Potomac offered an opening prayer from the Holy Quran at the #SolidarityIftar. Reverend Terri Murphy and Rabbi Charles Arian also offered prayers at the beginning of the program.

State Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) spoke passionately at the #SolidarityIftar. Senator Madaleno helped behind the scenes in rallying elected officials to attend the event, and enthusiastically agreed when first approached with the Muslim Community's request for a solidarity event. He lifted us all with words of motivation and hope--before and during the event. 

Prince Georges County's Nadia Hasan (Young Leaders Institute) recited the names of those who died during the mass shooting, and Howard County Muslim Council president Shahan Rizvi concluded the official program of the event a powerful tribute of spoke word poetry.

Others who spoke included Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, a strong ally of both the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community, as well as a long-time bridge-builder between both communities, as well as county administrative officials and Reverend Kasey Mansfield, who spoke on behalf of County Executive Ike Leggett.

What came as a surprise to all of the organizers was the massive interest by the media in the #SolidarityIftar. The Washington Post, WTOP Radio, WAMU 88.5 NPR, Salisbury Public Radio, Montgomery County Media, Univision, Patch, Montgomery Sentinel, Reuters, and other news outlets all covered the #SolidarityIftar. Below are a few of the links to published news articles about the event: 

Montgomery County Mediahttp://www.mymcmedia.org/muslim-and-lgbtq-join-in-solidarity-in-montgomery-village-videos-photos/
WTOP News: http://wtop.com/montgomery-county/2016/06/muslim-lgbtq-leaders-unite-montgomery-county/slide/2/
Patchhttp://patch.com/maryland/rockville/lgbtq-muslim-leaders-montgomery-county-condemn-orlando-club-shooting
The Montgomery Sentinel: http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/newsx/local/item/3661-county-residents-show-solidarity-after-orlando-shooting-massacre 
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/from-orlando-a-wave-of-grief-washes-over-dc-area/2016/06/13/52db8428-31c0-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html

The Need for Solidarity

Exhausted from being awake together until 2:30 am (the Ramadan fast begins promptly at 4:08am, preceded by a morning meal that usually begins 45 minutes earlier), the officers of the Muslim Demoxratic Club managed to have an emergency conference on Sunday, during which I moved that we ask if the LGBTQ community would join us for a solidarity event. There was no hesitation: Montgomery County's 100,000 Muslims needed to stand shoulder to shoulder against hate and violence; sexual orientation and gender identity did not matter to any of us.

I then contacted Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi of WORDE, one of America's most respected Muslim thought leaders. WORDE agreed to host whatever we had planned. Next, I reached out to the LGBTQ leadership in Montgomery County, starting with Senator Rich Madaleno, Majority Leader Anne Kaiser and Delegate Bonnie Cullison. They in turn, put me in touch with Equality Maryland's executive director, Patrick Paschall. Together, Hedieh, Patrick, Senator Madaleno and the officers of the Muslim Democratic Club worked tirelessly for 36 hours to organize an event for solidarity between our communities. I want to emphasize the following: without Senator Madaleno and Hedieh Mirahmadi's particular leadership and the assistance of their staffs, the #SolidarityIftar would not have been possible. Both of our communities are deeply indebted to their vision and leadership. Thank you.

Personal Feelings

I spoke at the event about the importance of our communities to come together in solidarity. Few of the organizers had slept more than a few hours in two days.

I spoke at the event about the importance of our communities to come together in solidarity. Few of the organizers had slept more than a few hours in two days.

Words fail to describe the horrific sense of emotion and outrage I personally felt when Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County Vice President Nadia Syahmalina broke the news to me and others that a mass shooting had occurred in Orlando the very same night (or early morning after) the Muslim community held its first annual iftar with County leaders and elected officials. At that event, all of us had taken pride in knowing that we had shattered a barrier by ensuring members of the LGBTQ community were invited and included to participate in the iftar dinner. Only hours later, our work to be inclusive, progressive, and true Americans would be undone by the senseless slaughter perpetrated by Omar Mateen. The bitter taste of heartbreak has a physical dimension for me: metallic, as if blood has suddenly gushed into my mouth. Yet again, evil had found a way to rip at the soul of our nation. 

But there is hope: it's called Montgomery County.

Growing up in Montgomery County, I have a good number of friends, past teachers and mentors who happen to be gay. While I am an observant Muslim, and come from a religious family, the idea that I should be repelled by someone due to their sexual orientation or gender identity has always been beyond the pale. We don't have to agree on anything--politics, religion, whom we love or hate--to be kind to one another. My personal lifestory proves that to me more than anything.

Love is about accepting that we are all different yet family.  

Love is about accepting that we are all different yet family.  

When I was in high school, several teachers who happened to be gay looked out for me and offered me guidance following 9/11, and later the invasion of Iraq. The internet was in its adolescence then, and there were few to no ways for Muslim American teenage activists from across America to find each other and seek comfort in one another's personal sagas as young people with an identity crisis. More than one of my teachers understood that, and looked out for me in ways that still surprise me to this day. This amazing sense of "live and let live" and "I beg to differ, but more importantly beg to break bread with you first" became a living mantra that guided by life and intellectual curiosity. Yes, like all males in our privileged society, I would rear my head and stubbornly insist on my own way many times growing up. But if it hadn't been for more than one mentor in school, politics, and for more than one friend in personal life who happened to be Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Transgender, Questioning, Bisexual, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Palestinian, Yemeni, Persian, Ghanaian, Peruvian-Japanese--I would not be who I am today. Thank you to each and every one of you--and especially to those of you who were my high school teachers at Winston Churchill High School. 

We live in one of the most diverse of places to live in the world. That diversity exposed me to the Uzbek language before I knew where Uzbekistan was on a map, and taught me French and Arabic poetry all I while I struggled to use that poetry to get girls to go out with me in high school. It also taught me the important value of coalition-building and extensive outreach. If we plan to live together in one society for the long haul, then we are going to need to build bridges between various communities within our greater whole. 

I hope and pray that the coalition of 30-plus community groups that came together after the tragic murders in Orlando remains in place. Together, we can and will halt the forces that seek to divide us, insha'Allah. 

Public Officials in Attendance

  • Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal,
  • Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz
  • Montgomery Councilmember Nancy Navarro
  • James Stowe, Director of Human Rights
  • Uma Ahluwalia, Director of Dept. of Health and Homeland Security (DHHS)
  • Luis Cardona, Administrator, Positive Youth Development Initiative, DHHS
  • MD Senator Richard Madaleno,
  • MD Senator Nancy J. King
  • MD Senator Roger Manno
  • MD Delegate Kumar Barve
  • MD Delegate Bonnie Cullison
  • MD Delegate Jim Gilchrist
  • MD Delegate David Moon
  • MD Delegate Aruna Miller
  • MD Delegate Will Smith
  • MD Delegate Kirill Reznik
  • MD Delegate Shane Robinson
  • City of Gaithersburg Councilmember Robert Wu
  • Representative from the office of US Senator Benjamin Cardin
  • Representative from the office of US Representative Chris Van Hollen
  • Representative from the office of US Representative John Delaney
  • Representative from the office of Chief J. Thomas Manger, MC Police Department

CO-SPONSORS:

  • American Muslim Peace Initiative

  • American Muslim Women's Empowerment Council

  • Ansar ud Deen Society Metro Area

  • Ascension Gaithersburg

  • Bait-ur-Rehman Mosque

  • Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Foundation

  • CASA  

  • Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church

  • Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

  • Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring

  • Episcopal Diocese of Washington

  • Equality Maryland

  • FreeState Legal

  • Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative

  • Greater Gaithersburg Interfaith Alliance

  • Haneefiya America

  • Howard County Muslim Council

  • Inayat Begum Foundation

  • Indonesian American Association (IAA)

  • Indonesian Muslim Association in America (IMAAM)

  • Islamic Center of Northern Virginia 

  • Islamic Center of Virginia

  • Islamic Education Center (IEC)

  • Islamic Society of Germantown

  • MiMadre.org

  • Montgomery County Young Democrats

  • Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County

  • Muslim Women's Coalition (MWC)

  • Muslims for Progressive Values

  • National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

  • Nigerians in Diaspora Organization-America (NIDO-A)

  • Parent, Family & Friends of Lesbians & Gays in Washington Metropolitan Area (PFLAG)-DC Chapter

  • St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Damascus

  • Take Charge Program

  • Universal Muslims Association in America (UMAA)

  • West African Muslim Association

  • WORDE

  • Young Leaders Institute

 

Ramadan

I'm not a religious Puritan.

I was president of a Jewish fraternity in college, have a love of hookah, dated my wife before we became married, wear shorts at prayers, and have a number of unendingly unorthodox positions on religious matters.

But what really gets to me as a Muslim is that we are in the month Ramadan, and I'm unnerved by those from our religious community who think this month's fasting revolves around drink and water. It's about actions as well.

I've heard mean gossip, swear words, snide remarks and now on Facebook, I've seen even memes making fun of famous people's looks from Muslims observing the fast. I've experienced people being aggressive and unfriendly because they want to eat or sleep or drink water.

The whole idea of the Ramadan fast is to restrain your ego (an-nafs), and teach yourself to find an inner calm while conversing with God. I urge my fellow Muslims to look within themselves and change what is ugly about our internal selves this Ramadan by seeking out The Eternal God, and reminding ourselves that we are just specks of carbon and water in a much greater universe.

 

Also: it was only when I lost my ego that I had any success in political activism. People with big egos rarely achieve truly good works.

Talking Points: Orlando Shooting Tragedy

Muslim Community Talking Points

Orlando Shooting Tragedy

Prepared by: Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County

Our Shared Sadness

The Muslim community is heartbroken at the horrifying events that have occurred in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. We cannot express in words the depths of our outrage as a community. Our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Community leaders from all walks of life will take part in an event on Monday June 13 to show solidarity with one another in Montgomery County, Maryland. Please read our Joint Media Event Advisory for more details

In the face of this utterly horrific tragedy, the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County has assembled the following talking points for Muslim community leaders.  

1.       The Shooter was deranged and unstable.

a.       Omar Mateen, 29 years old, was divorced and with good reason: his ex-wife described him as “mentally ill and mentally unstable.” She divorced him because he was physically abusive.

b.      Mateen’s father described him as hateful towards members of the LGBTQ community.

c.       Mateen’s classmates and colleagues described him as “aggressive”.

d.      Mateen’s ex-wife further state that he was irreligious.

 

2.       This isn’t about terrorism, it’s about gun violence.

a.       Every Day on Average (all ages) 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. (source: bradycampaign.org)

b.      Every day, 89 people die from gun violence: 31 are murdered. (source: bradycampaign.org)

c.       Chart 1: Number of Deaths by Mass Shootings in 2016:

d.      Guns by country: The country with the most number of guns per capita after America is Yemen, which is in the middle of a civil war and home to multiple armed militant groups:

 

e.      The number of American deaths by terrorism over the past decade is dwarfed by the number of deaths by domestic gun violence:

 

3.       Islam has never endorsed killing people because we disagree with them or their lifestyles.

a.       Islam teaches us that to take a single life is to have killed the world, and to save a single life is to have saved the entirety of the world.

b.      Across the country, Muslim community leaders and congregation leaders (“Imams”) have issued statements and edicts forbidding violence and condemning extremism.

c.       Muslim Americans uphold the constitution, and moreover just last week we laid to rest the people’s champion, Muhammad Ali, a Muslim American leader who exemplified tolerance and a commitment to non-violence as an Islamic religious tenet.

d.      The Quran teaches us to agree to disagree with those we do not agree with, and to greet even those who wish us harm with peace, as the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did throughout his life.

4.       Within hours of the shooting, every major Muslim organization in America from every sect of Islam not only condemned the mass shooting, but reached out with prayers to the LGBTQ community.

a.       Sunni, Shiite and Ahmediyya organizations all immediately condemned the mass shooting in Orlando.

b.      CAIR, MPAC, ICNA. ISNA and many others have issued statements condemning the shooting attacks, and offering support to the victims and their families.

c.       Montgomery County’s Muslim community issued a joint statement with LGBTQ community leaders condemning Saturday night’s violence and calling for solidarity.

d.      A Solidarity Iftar will be preceded by speakers from the Muslim and LBGTQ communities on June 13, 2016 in Montgomery, Maryland. Please contact Hamza@HamzaKhan.me for details.

5.       America is about living together and agreeing to disagree.

a.       When America’s constitution was written, detail was paid in the Bill of Rights to protecting the rights of minorities—be they social, religious, or otherwise. In other words, our country was founded with the understanding that all Americans are free to practice their way of life without molestation. The Muslim and LGBTQ communities have both striven to protect one another’s constitutional rights for many years.

b.      Islam as a faith has a strong religious tradition of live and let live, as well as protecting the rights of others—especially those we might disagree with on any number of matters. The true state of being a good Muslim is to be a compassionate citizen of one’s society.  

6.       Muslim Americans have in place rigorous anti-terror and anti-radicalization programs

a.       To re-emphasize: Saturday night’s attacks were not about terror, but about a deranged person committing a horrific act of gun violence. That being said, Muslim Americans are on the forefront of combatting extremism and terrorism, especially here in Montgomery County, MD.

b.       MPAC launched the SafeSpaces project some years ago that focuses on empowering communities in order to secure the sanctity of the mosque and Muslim communities in promoting Islamic values of civic engagement, public safety and healthy identity formation. To learn more, visit:  http://www.mpac.org/safespaces/

 

NBC: MoCo is America's Most Diverse County

 http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/where-most-diverse-city-u-s-n577936

It comes as no surprise to the president of a Democratic organization that has officers who speak 9 languages that Montgomery County is America's most divers place to live. MoCo features three out of four of Maryland's top most diverse places on the list. California gets an honorable mention for diversity as well.

Yet our diversity isn't reflected in whom we've elected to represent us at any level of government. While ten percent of Montgomery County's population are Muslims, not a single Muslim is elected to office from Montgomery County. There are only three Latino lawmakers and thee Black lawmakers in the county's state delegation. The County Council has only one Latina, one African-American, and no Muslims. Only two East Asians and two South Asians have been elected to higher office in a county with one of the highest concentrations of Asians nationwide. The County Executive, Ike  Legget is black, and has been re-elected thrice. 

The lack of diversity has legislative implications. Muslims for years have complained about the lack of halal lending options in Maryland. Yet without a champion in Annapolis to help state lawmakers understand what exactly a halal loan entails, there   has been little movement on the matter. That's even true after this week, when NPR's Planet Money  did an entire segment on Islamic banking

But the trend against diversity is declining. In the last election cycle, two Latinos, David Frasier-Hidalgo and Maricé Morales were elected for the first time. Also elected were Will Smith, who is Black, and David Moon, who is Asian.

While the African Immigrant communities of Eastern Montgomery County still lack an elected voice, many have turned to the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County for leadership, as nearly 1/3 of all Muslims in the county are African immigrants. That leadership, based on a model of inclusive representation, led to the Montgomery County Democratic Party (MCDCC) following the Muslim Democratic Club's recommendation in selecting a new delegate from eastern Montgomery County earlier this year. Pam Queen was chosen to represent D14 in Annapolis following the creation of a vacancy when the previous delegate Craig Zucker was appointed to the Maryland Senate. The Muslim Democratic Club recommended Pam Queen after she met with a ten person Muslim community panel that included representation from the Ahmadi, Shia, Sunni, African immigrant, Arab, Asian, Latino, Turkish, and South Asian communities (among others). This level of dedication to diversity and inclusion is why the Democratic Party and elected officials trust the Muslim Democratic Club as representative of the greater Muslim community's interests. 

Diversity matters. 

I Was Right About The Lack of Diversity in Muslim Leadership.

It's time we all shine, together. 

It's time we all shine, together. 

The Bottom Line

Arab and South Asian Muslim power brokers need to take a step back and empower a much more diverse generation of Muslim leaders in the USA. We've already begun the transition here in Montgomery County, Maryland, with a movement among our county's 100,00 Muslims to bring in voices from the African Immigrant, Convert, Indonesian, Iranian, Latino, Turkish, and Turkic communities, who combined make up a whopping 60% of Muslims who live in Montgomery County. Now the experts say we are right to do so: Muslim Americans have no majority ethnicity nationwide. Muslim Americans must end the practice of selective self-representation, and commit to a path of outreach-above-all-else in 2016. 

The Data: Muslims Are Not All Arab & Desi

We have known for a long time now that Arab Muslims and South Asian Muslims are overrepresented in nearly every major Muslim organization. The challenge has been how to coax power out of the hands of a small group of well-monied, highly ambitious Muslims who hail largely from the South Asian community that the Muslim Community is largely being dis-served by the over-emphasis that both their political priorities and their cultural traditions be considered the golden standard for Muslim American identity. However, when you ask the Divine for assistance, the Divine always delivers. The Institute for Social and Political Understanding (ISPU) has released a powerful study that finally makes it clear as day that Muslims are far more diverse than our collective leadership has been willing to admit, or allow to come to daylight. 

So what's for iftar? Hint: it ain't Samosas

From ISPU: 
"May 21 is the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
The goal of defining the interests and policy priorities of American Muslims mightseem impossible. As a vibrant microcosm of society, Muslims are the only major American faith community with no majority ethnicity. We at ISPU see this diversity as something to be celebrated. The vibrancy of the American Muslim canvas reflects that of America as a whole. Understanding the challenges faced by one provides lessons and opportunities for us all."

The Importance of Diversity

Earlier this year, I found myself invited to a national Muslim organization's summit on the 2016 elections. Expecting to hear a national strategy laid out to empower Muslim Americans, and having seen social media tidbits about the organization's commitment to diversity, I looked forward to attending. Sadly, I was disappointed. A majority of the guests were South Asian, as I am myself. Not only that, but the experts called to speak were largely of Arab background, and spoke only about Levantine Arab political instability. When several attendees raised their hands and spoke to ask that there be a more focused discussion on the White House's Pivot to Asia, the TPP trade negotiations, and the massacres of Rohingyan Muslims in Burma, the moderator- who was Arab- rudely told the guests that the Levant was the only matter of interest to the Muslim American community. Furthermore, another speaker at the event insisted on characterizing the major policy victory of the Obama administration: a nuclear deal with Iran, as bad for Muslims because of its impact on US policy towards the Levant. There were no Iranians in the room to counter-point, aside from one non-Muslim speaker who likely felt insulted. 

I tell this story because when Muslim activists and leaders pretend as if our community's priorities are well-known, well-established and well-documented, they likely are referring to Muslim communities with affinity and heritages with the Levant and South Asia. This is increasingly evident in the chai-houses and smokey shisha bars frequented by self-appointed Muslim intelligentsia across the D.C. region--venues that themselves tilt the balance of power towards those who hail from the cultural backgrounds that patronize them. Critics of my push for diversity have argued until now that Muslim institutions were merely catering to what they considered to be the vast majority of the Muslim American population. This new study by ISPU proves the assumption that the majority of American Muslims are South Asian or Arab to be false. Rather, we now see that the collective national Muslim community leadership has been cherry-picking whom they represent and what political and social justice causes they choose to advocate on behalf of arbitrarily, while intentionally ignoring whomever they deem to be "off-message". With the rise of Trump and grassroots movements such as "UnMosqued", the era of selective Muslim representation must end. 

The Way Forward

Muslim-American institutions nationwide should take cues from the established Montgomery County Model of community leadership that empowers Muslims from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds to have a voice at the table in community decision-making and political advocacy. Established Muslim organizations in Montgomery County have engaged in a two-year long outreach campaign to previously disenfranchised segments of the Muslim community, including the Shia community, Iranian, Turkish, Indonesian and African Immigrant communities, as well as the African-American community. This effort was spearheaded by the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, in coordination  with major mosques, non-profit organizations and Muslim community-focused think tanks. These efforts have culminated in major policy victories at the county, state and federal levels that reflect the collective will of the Muslim community. This is because elected officials and policymakers  have clear, empirical evidence that when Montgomery County's Muslims speak today, they speak with a united, fully representative voice.  

In the past, various factions of largely South Asian Muslim immigrant groups would insist that they alone were the sole voice of representation for Maryland's Muslim community. This confused policymakers who cared little for who was "in-charge", and far more about involving all Muslims in making public policy.  In 2014, Muslim community leaders from no less than 15 ethnic and sectarian groups with susbstantial populations in Montgomery County met and pledged to conduct a two-year long drive for inclusion and outreach to the county's disaffected Muslim electorate. The results have been rewarding, and today Montgomery County is the national model for how a Muslim community should function. 

Takeways

Muslim American leaders nationwide should take three takeaways from this blog post: 

  1. Outreach is no longer adviseable, it is a moral obligation: national Muslim American organizations must prioritize outreach above all else in 2016 in order to truly reflect the vibrant mosaic that is the Muslim Community.
  2. In the course of that outreach, instead of talking down to previously disengaged Muslim communities about what Muslim national priorities are, national Muslim leaders must actively listen to what Muslim communities truly what as our national, state, and local policy objectives (hint: it's not always about Peace in the Middle East).
  3. It is vital to incorporate feedback from the previously ignored Muslim majority into service changes by Muslim organizations to reflect the real needs of everyday Muslims (i.e. youth ministry, high-quality and well-rounded education, affordable college education, safe spaces, gender equity, professional counseling, burial services, reliable public transit, affordable healthcare, etc.)    

Final point to community activists and community leaders: don't take this post to be an insult to some nebulous sense of personal honor.  Establishing best practices for a faith community with no central authority, and with congregants hailing from no less than 200-some cultures and speaking dozens of languages while belonging to countless religious orders, sects and schools of law is incredibly hard work. It's even harder work in a community where a tiny, monied elite from South Asia refuses to share power with anyone else. Just do the right thing, and all will be fine.

We Need to Talk About Bangladesh.

I'm a politician. I admit it. I look things in our world from the angle of someone who works in politics; someone who believes actvism, civic participation, and democracy are the best way to make a better world. But in the world of politics, there are things we are supposed to talk about because powerful constituencies advocate or goad us into taking action on an issue; and then there are things we are supposed to ignore or stay silent on, lest we awaken a slumbering beast whose wakefulness will have profound consequences for the status quo.

Among Muslim Americans, the Bengali genocide is one of those issues. In 1971,  Pakistani military forces commanded by Tikka Khan (no relation) committed acts of genocide and other unspeakable atrocities against the Bengali people of East Pakistan. East Pakistan's population had revolted against Pakistani rule after being perpetually ignored by the military government in West Pakistan. An estimated 3 million Bengali civilians were killed by Pakistan in an attempt to put down the rebellion, leading to international condemnation, and a police action by India to end the genocide. The result was India's invasion of East Pakistan, the declaration and recognition of a new country, Bangladesh, and the third straight loss of war by Pakistan to India in less than forty years. Pakistan has yet to accept responsibility and apologize for the genocide.

Muslim Americans rarely discuss the impact of what was the worst genocide since the Holocaust up until that time. One reason is fear of retribution by Pakistan's powerful military establishment against Pakistani-Americans who raise the matter publicly. Another reason is that many Pakistani-Americans are in positions of authority throughout the Muslim American community, and will not allow open discourse in Muslim spaces of the Bengali Genocide. Finally, Bangladeshi-Americans are "new kids on the block", and their institutions and leadership are still largely in an incubatory stage of development.  

As a Muslim-American, I work hard to transcend the ethnic and racial divide within our community. Admittedly, I am just one voice out of many working towards a more unified and civicly-engaged Muslim-American presence--and by far not one of the best at it. That honor goes to professionally-run organizations such as ISNA, UMAA, Emerge USA and MPAC. But that doesn't change the fact that we must all work in tandem to recognize the Bengali Genocide for what it was: a human tragedy of profound magnitude, and a moral failing on the part of the greater Muslim world that will haunt our faithful community (the Ummah) for generations to come. 

I urge Muslim-Americans to join me this election year in asking local and state legislatures to recognize the Bengali Genocide. As a religious community, our duty is to the truth--no matter how embarrassing and hurtful it might be. Islam transcends political convenience, and therefore so must we. 

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Bengali Genocide by the Pakistani military. 

 

 

 

Commentary: Israel & Palestine v. Pakistan

For hundreds of years, in the wartorn Holy Land, two Muslim families have held then keys and had the duty to open the Church of the Sepulcher for Sunday services, in particular Easter.

 

Despite the crusades, Turkish rule, Catholic rule, colonial rule, Israeli rule, two world wars, three subsequent wars between Arab nations and Israel, and three violent uprisings by Palestinians against Israel, the two Muslim families have kept their oath to safeguard their Christian brothers and sisters' most sacred church. An example of multi-pluralism.

 

Yet in Pakistan, a country with no history (as it is artificial), Pakistanis insult Christians and other non-Muslims regularly. Pakistanis often describe Christians in bigoted terms, calling them outcastes (even though Islam forbids castes), polluted, and pressuring them to convert to Sunni Islam, not for faith, but just to be in the majority. Pakistan cynically flies a flag whose white bar is supposed to symbolize tolerance for all faiths. That is and has been a lie for some time. Palestine has no need for a bar on its flag. For centuries, freedom of religion has been the only way anyone has thought of living there.

 

If in Israel and Palestine, where religious identity wars have continually found a way to complicate all things, Muslims can take oaths that began under a Caliphate to protect the holiest of churches, then why today in a Pakistan that was founded by a secular elite can we not find anyone willing to send soldiers to protect Christians in a park named after a religious nationalist they frequent on Easter?

 

It's simple; Islamabad is and remains complicit with the ethnic cleansing and religious persecution of Christians and other minority groups. We must demand Islamabad be held accountable.

Commentary: Why Aren't We Empowering more Muslim Women?

I am becoming more and more distressed that far, far too many Muslim men in our region have mysogynist tendencies towards empowering Muslim women to be in positions of authority and leadership.

 

I am not a natural leader of Muslim Americans. Although I had been raised in a religious family, nearly all of my friends growing up were non-Muslims. I always felt comfortable, if a little more shy, in mixed gender crowds, and I was taught women are equal to men in every regard--but if I was ever caught dating one before I was 18, my mother would personally oversee my doom.

 

As an adult, I've worked largely in secular circles. My favorite bosses have all been strong, empowered women who really helped me grow into my roles in politics, community outreach, and communications.

 

That's why I find myself astounded today that so many men have done so much to block Muslim women from succeeding in Montgomery County. From blocking needed reforms to countywide institutions while Saquiba Durrani was president of the MoCo Muslim Council (now defunct), to trying to keep rising leaders like Nadia Syahmalina from helping to run Islamic institutions in our county, I'm more and more concerned that we are on the wrong footing as a community. 

 

Just yesterday, Iranian leader Houri Khalilian organized an incredible forum with congressional candidates with the support of her husband Serge Sira. We need to learn from the Iranian community how to empower women leaders. Men: we don't need our egos inflated all the time.

 

Empowering our women to lead is a moral responsibility, and in my remaining 9 months as a community leader as president of the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, I pledge that we're going to make sure Muslim women have every resource they need to take our community from the chaos we find ourselves in today, to a much higher plane of spirituality and growth.

 

Three Muslim Women Seek Office in Montgomery County, MD

Over the course of the next four weeks, three Muslim women will seek elected or appointed positions in Montgomery County. These women are making history; never at any time in Maryland history have so many Muslim women sought public office at the same time. Each hails from a different region of the county, and belongs to a different ethno-cultural background. All three are driven to seek office by the desire to serve the public, and set an example for young minority women everywhere. Their decision to run is a testament to what Montgomery County is, and always will be: proud of its diversity and steeped in a tradition of inclusion. Below are their names, and a brief paragraph about each candidate.

Emmalee Aman - Planning Board of Montgomery County (non-partisan)

With 1 million people living in Montgomery County, the county's planning commission is one of the most influential governmental agencies in the the DC metro region. While it is estimated that some 100,000 Muslims reside in Montgomery County, to date no Muslim has ever served on the planning board, though many have applied over the years. Given the influence the planning board has over vital matters of public planning, having the unique perspective of a Muslim American would have considerable impact on the future of the county.. Aman currently serves as the Director of Advocacy for Green Muslims of America, and is a consultant who advises clients on outreach to faithful & minority communities regarding planning and zoning matters. Aman is the youngest Muslim seeking office in the county, and lives in Germantown, Maryland.

Rida-Bukhari Rizvi - Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC)

Due to a peculiarity in Maryland law, whenever a vacancy occurs in a seat previously held by a Democrat in the county's Annapolis delegation, the MCDCC recommends a replacement to the governor, who then makes a formal appointment to the empty seat.  Given that no Republican has been elected in the county since 2006 (when Jean Cryor was defeated by Craig Rice to represent Germantown & Potomac from District 15), the MCDCC reigns supreme in terms of shaping the county's state delegation. Rida Rizvi would be to date, the only Shiite Muslim elected official elected anywhere on the East Coast, and furthermore, Montgomery County's first American-born Muslim Democratic official. She serves as the political director of the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, the only countywide political organization working to politically empower Muslim Americans living in Montgomery County. She lives in Burtonsville, Maryland, and is of South Asian heritage.

Nadia Syahmalina - DNC Delegate (Hillary Clinton)

Nadia Syahmalina is the first Indonesian-American to seek election in Maryland. She is also the first Muslim to appear on the ballot in Sixth Congressional District ever in history. Should she be selected as a delegate to the DNC, she might very well be the first Southeast Asian Muslim to ever attend a national party convention as an elected delegate. She is a former board member of the nation's only Indonesian community mosque, IMAAM, and is the vice president of the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County. She lives in Darnestown, Maryland, but also has roots in Rockville and Silver Spring, Maryland.