Interfaith Peacebuilding


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Interfaith Programs

A Muslim Perspective in America

USA-2009-04-16-A Muslim Perspective in America

Virgina, United States - The Ambassadors for Peace Association of Virgina’s forum on April 16, 2009 fulfilled an essential need in our American society today; to provide a platform for the “moderate” voice of American Muslims. This is the marginalized voice which seems to be the large majority yet is sadly ignored because it is not sensational, and therefore not news worthy.

The room was crowded and the diversity of the group was startling. The high spirit of the initial networking period of the forum attracted three more people to attend who were at the library just walking by the doorway to the forum.

The forum moderator, Dan Ammerman (a government contractor/consultant and former career US State Department officer) framed the morning’s topic by pointing out the new administrations’ efforts to reach out to the Muslim world by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to Indonesia.

Mr. Ammerman then went on to say that the work of UPF is truly “cutting edge” in that it is defining the common ground between cultures and religions as being universal principles, and there by clarifying and emphasizing the importance of the role of faith in diplomacy and peacemaking.

The first speaker, Naila Alam, moved many hearts by recounting her story of how she had faced a life threatening disease as a new immigrant from Pakistan in this country. She told how eventually she had been healed by her faith in God. “I have seen so much suffering, so I am able to understand the suffering of others in the same situation.

This was the turning point in my life when I decided to devote my time and energy in serving the people in need of comfort and counseling. God had guided me to take this path to help others, so my sister and I founded “Express Care” in 2003. Express Care assists immigrants in health care, language, and job placement.

The next speaker of our panel was an independent consultant and contractor in Public and Cultural Diplomacy and Interreligious Relations, Hazami Barmada.

Barmada is active in planning and coordinating initiatives that promote collaboration within interfaith and intercultural communities. She was the 2008 Executive Director of the 9/11 Unity Walk, and is also the Founding President and Director of the Progressive Muslim Network.

This young Muslim woman addressed the theme of Freedom, Faith and Family from her own perspective, telling her story with deep heart, humor, and brilliance.

Hazami started her presentation by saying,

“Perceptions are very powerful in that they dictate how we interact with people. The pre-conceived notions we have about them dictate how we act towards them and treat them.  

I would like to stress that when talking about religion, regardless of what it is; one must differentiate between the Religions themselves and those who practice it. One must differentiate between Islam as a religion and Muslims as followers of Islam....

As I see it, the variations in religious practices are similar to the growth of a tree -- take the pine tree for example. Take an identical seed and plant them in 2 different environments.

The pattern of growth will reflect the different environment. A pine tree growing in a sheltered valley may grow straight and balanced – now that same tree planted on the mountain side exposed to harsh conditions and weather will probably grow twisted and crooked.

So when looking at the “product” which is the tree, we cannot look at the seed alone, but have to weigh in the conditions, environments, and other factors that may affect ones spiritual growth, or more specifically, conditions that affect ones application of religion.”

She went on to give commentary on the writings and influence on the American public of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Muslims such as Ms. Ali who are quick to blame Islam for their experiences spread like wild fire in to western audiences who are hungry for this type of information to be used for political gain.

These narratives are economically and politically rewarding. Hirsi, now working with American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy research as a scholar on Islam– says, and I quote, “As much as I wanted to be a devout Muslim, I always found it uncomfortable to be opposed to the West”. Is she implying that Islam is Anti-Western? I would like to remind you all that Islam came to be before there was such a thing as “the West”. 

Furthermore, she says in trying to prove the inequality of women in Islam: “In Islam, the little boys were in charge, they would turn off their mothers TV program and order their older sisters of their chairs”—now I have read the Quran and never found the passage that told little boys to boss around their mothers! – This is NOT a problem with Islam, it is a problem with discipline in her household!! 

Ms. Barmada stated that there is no Muslim or Arab “face” or “voice” but that her community supports a unified vision of fair and equal representation, and hopes for respect of their differences and diversity. In her words...

“Social and political policies should reflect that diversity and not lump all Arabs and Muslims into small limited and bias categories that do not accurately or fairly represent the colorful interwoven skills, faces and involvement that we each contribute to America at large.”

Ms. Barmada ended her presentation with the recounting of a painful example of one of the many experiences of prejudice that she has encountered throughout her life in America.

“I want to tell you a true story, which sadly, happens very often: 

As an Arab and Muslim in America, every outing from jogging at the gym to a trip to the grocery store becomes a political and religious debate.

As soon as my identity is known, I become a spokes person for the entire Middle East, Arab and Muslim worlds. I am expected to speak on behalf of government systems, geopolitical situations, economic development, religion, social rules and values, and most of all, I am expected to answer the question “why do they hate us.” 

People expect that I can regurgitate an eloquent answer that sums up world history, religious and political affairs of over 25 countries, and speak for “oppressed women worldwide” in the amount of time it takes to ring up their groceries.”

She then went on to tell about a confrontation begun by a random stranger, a former marine who was truly insulting and irrational. The audience squirmed and listened sympathetically.

A lively question and answer session followed in an atmosphere of respect and understanding. The round table discussions were very fruitful and the reports of each table were engaging.

Gail Paine, the Virginia Ambassadors for Peace Association’s State Coordinator, then reviewed the Peace Principles of UPF and gave updates of activities in the Northern VA area.

She shared the progress made on the new initiative, “Global Orphan Outreach; Families for Children.” The orphans of “Peace Children Home” in Nepal are steadily being sponsored by Virginian families and new bridges of heart are being forged.

A wonderful group of new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed at the conclusion of the forum.

One of the new Ambassadors for Peace gave her reflection of the forum,

"When I arrived at the Ambassadors for Peace Forum, I found myself in the midst of so many people of different faiths and nationalities.

However, what was most amazing was the commonality of purpose of everyone present; that of rising above the apparent differences that tend to separate and to acknowledge that we are each members of the family of humanity joined in the effort of working for global harmony.

What a privilege to be part of the Ambassadors for Peace, an initiative to honor as well as encourage contributions made for the cause of peace in the world.

I found instant kinship with others whose hearts were open and who have focused their lives on truly making a difference in the world. Listening to a young woman of Palestinian heritage, Hazami Barmada, share with humor her daunting experiences of living as an American Muslim woman in our country, still with its continuing prejudices, brought to life the reality that we still have so very much to do to create a Culture of Peace.

I felt hopeful though, as I reflected upon the speakers' messages and especially after our round table discussions that through forums such as this, dialogue which generates enlightenment and purposeful action can bring about the transformation needed to herald in a golden age of peace.

It was truly an honor to stand with other newly appointed "Ambassadors for Peace" and know that together, we can attain that dream." 

As volunteers worked to clean up, and folks had more coffee and bagels, it was clear that a closeness and camaraderie has been built among this group of diverse folks because they just did not want to leave!

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