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American Muslim

Pakistan Link – Oct. 15, 2004

AMV: A Voice of Our Times

By Ras H. Siddiqui

The American Muslim Voice (AMV) held its 1st. Annual Convention in the Dinner1 copy02City of Newark, California on Sunday, October 3 2004 to the delight of over 400 people present from diverse backgrounds, reminiscent of the “Rainbow Coalition” from America’s recent electoral history.

From the point of entry to the groups and discussions observed during this convention, this reporter could not help but notice that this group of Muslim activists has much to be proud of in its short life under the AMV banner. What can best be described as an “outreach effort” by this necessary voice for our times, this group has worked hard and succeeded in forging important relationships with the non-Muslim community. and its voice has succeeded in reaching the American political mainstream.

The afternoon was basically divided into three segments with their associated subsets. First and foremost was the panel segment where three interesting topics divided the convention participants, so that specific areas of their concern could be addressed. The second segment was the awards ceremony and the third (last but not least) dinner and entertainment.

The panels addressed the following issues: 1) “Protection of Civil Rights in the light of human rights- Bush or Kerry, will there be a difference?” 2) “Mandatory Draft, Why do we need it, who will be affected by it and how do we feel about that?” and 3) “Women’s roles and rights in Islam-are Muslim Women oppressed?”

The civil rights panel included Newark Vice-Mayor Alberto Torrico, Fremont Vice- Mayor Steve Cho, Councilman Dave Meserve from Arcadia, Muslim Political leader Syed Mahmood, Chinese community activist Cecilia Chang, Mutahir Kazmi from the Sacramento area ACLU and Sameena Faheem Sundas, Executive Director of AMV.

The Draft panel included Steve Munzel of the Santa Clara ACLU Chapter, Mary Jane, Not in Our Name, Adeel Iqbal AMV UC Berkeley, Nosheen Khan AMV Chico, Sadia Mohsin AMV UC Davis, Youth activist Omar Saeed and Christi Ho of the Sunny Hill Association, Father Ben Allen and George Bruno, the Republican candidate for U.Congress from the 13th District.

Last but not least the Women in Islam panel was moderated by Zia Mohsin and the panelists included scholar Sister Shakira Lundie, Anees Ghani from the Republican Women’s Club in Tracy, Sulaiman Gali who is President of Islamic Society of San Francisco and Amal Khan of the AMV.

It will not be possible here to include all of the discussions held during this panel segment. The Women in Islam issue needed to be a singular event by itself without time competition with the other two topics as it was held here.

One is not positive yet but it does appear that the Mandatory Draft is not going to be an issue in the foreseeable future in this country. And that leads us to the hot topic of the day “Civil Rights” and the upcoming elections, which understandably had the highest number of listeners. Mr. Mutahir Kazmi during this segment expressed his own and our collective sentiments on his dream for America. “To leave it a better place,” he said (and in better shape than he found it). Riffat Mahmood echoed his own concerns,”Don’t stay home. Get out and vote.”

Mr. Khalid Saeed, Shahid Chaudary, Reshma Yunus, Zafar Mohsin, Mrs. Razia Inamdar, Richard Conda, Saira Mehmood, Syed Inamdar, Christina Solano, Samina Gardezi, Nosheen Khan (AMV in Action) and Samina F. Sundas (Why AMV?) all made the introductions/comments before and during the Awards Ceremony and expressed their views as did Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison.

“An Organization Defending Human Rights for All” Award Recipient, Amnesty International’s Erin Calahan, also spoke candidly. Jo Cazenave from the office of “Public Official for All” Award Recipient Congressman Pete Stark added her support as did “Unbiased Media Reporter” Award winner Mr. Jonathan Curial of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. Crowd favorite Mrs. Anne McEntee accepted the “Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award” on behalf of her late husband.

It was refreshing to see the mixture of ethnicities, ideologies and apparel present. Democrats, Republicans and Green Party officers, candidates and workers all rubbed shoulders here. Republican George Bruno who is running against incumbent Democratic Congressman Pete Stark talked with this reporter about how he could better serve the 13th District voters. One can wish him luck on November 2 because he is up against formidable odds where the Muslim, South Asian and South East Asian minority vote will make an important impact.

Much of the credit for the success of the AMV goes to its Executive Director Sameena Faheem Sundas. Her ability to motivate others has been as unique as her style of politics. Forging alliances and making friendships endure during times of political turbulence remains her forte. She believes that 9/11 set back the Muslim community in America suffered exponentially. From running for office in large numbers, Muslim Americans were being reduced to political non-existence. The image problem of being associated with a religion which has erroneously come to be viewed as extremist cannot be ignored. Ms. Sundas was of the opinion that political cooperation with like-minded individuals and groups was more important for us today than trying to run for office. She gave a short speech on the topic of “Why AMV?” One answer that immediately comes to mind is “Why Not?’”

In conclusion, AMV needed to accomplish a number of goals at this Annual Convention. First, it took this opportunity to thank its friends and honored four of the many individuals or groups who have opened up their minds and hearts to Muslim-Americans and others (South Asians, Arab-Americans etc.) who faced difficult times in this country after the horrific episodes of 9/11/2001. Second, it was an effort to raise funds to carry on the important work that AMV has been doing (If someone would like to assist or is just curious the website to reach AMV is www.amuslimvoice.org ). Third, this was a great opportunity for the AMV leadership from all over Northern California and their allies from the Interfaith, Asian and Majority/Minority political groups to meet over dinner, to reflect on both the past, the future, and to share their vision of hope. Last but not least, this convention specifically highlighted the issue of civil rights in America, not just from Muslims but for ALL Americans. And if these points are to be used as a benchmark of success, this event was a winner.

Click here to see more pictures of the AMV convention.