American Muslim Voice Launched
as a Solution to Community Isolation
By Reshma Yunus
Member South Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition
The American Muslims Voice (AMV), a Muslim civic organization dedicated to bridging diverse communities and preserving civil liberties, was officially launched on October 24, 2003 at Mehran restaurant in Newark, California.
The program began with a prayer by Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah, Imam of Livermore Mosque, who spoke about unity of mankind and universal brotherhood. He said “we are all children of Adam who was in paradise and we all deserve to be in paradise.” Ms. Elizabeth Zimmerman, a Quaker, also offered prayer on behalf of the non-Muslim guests who made 60% of the gathering. The prayers were in the spirit of the AMV’s ambitious mission to bridge the gap between all communities.
The Executive Director of AMV, Samina Faheem Sundas, had been actively working to preserve and protect civil liberties and constitutional rights for all, months before the formal launch. Ms. Samina Faheem Sundas, the former national coordinator of American Muslim Alliance, had worked for two and half years on similar projects prior to launching the AMV. She initiated the AMV when she saw the need to bridge the gap between various ethnic, religious, social and political communities and felt that no other Muslim organization had this particular focus.
Ms. Samina Sundas told the audience that "AMV is committed to bridging the gap between all communities and to form a unified coalition dedicated to support each other." She added, "We want to serve as a resource for inter-community and cross-cultural cooperation. The AMV is committed to promote mutual respect, understanding, acceptance and harmony in America. This is the miracle that I believed in that my fellow Americans are open minded and kind people we just have to reach out to them and they will stand by us.”
“Historically, most administrations have taken advantage of our isolation from each other, my dream is to build life long friendships amongst all of these divers groups where no body will feel alone, we will make the most beautiful diverse human wall of resistance and support, one that can not be shaken," said Ms. Samina Sundas.
The event generated many thoughtful responses, commentary and words of support for the AMV and for the path the organization has chosen
In a special message on the AMV official launching, Congressman Pete Stark said “I am confident AMV will be a bridge to foster understanding and bring peace to our communities. … I join you in your work to strengthen the ties of friendship and respect for all.”
Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, in her message, said I stand with you to reverse the attack on civil liberties perpetrated by this administration and I salute each of you for your extraordinary advocacy for justice, for acceptance and for a better America.
The event was attended over thirty organizations representing various civic, political, interfaith, social, and religious groups, predominantly from outside the immediate Muslim Community.
Many attendees such as Ben Allen, from the Blue Triangle Network, Ken Russel from American Civil Liberties Union Sacramento, Howard Liu and Jo-Shing Yang of Chinese American Political Action Committee Sacramento and Jo Cazanave representative of Congressmen Pete Stark’s office, Richard Konda of Asian Law Alliance, Sam Ho President of Vietnamees organization and many others stated that the event was a successful blend of many diverse groups all striving for a common cause, primarily the preservation of civil liberties.
Maad Abu Ghazalah, moderator for the community meeting, announced that he will be again contesting congressional seat from CA District 12 next year against Tom Lantos, who is a career politician in office for 22 years.
The event also honored four dedicated, outstanding individuals:
Ms. Elizabeth Zimmerman presented the AMV humanitarian award to Ms. Habibe Hussain, founder of Rahima, a charitable foundation.
Ms. Christine Cook of Palo Alto Patriots presented the AMV spirit of Islam award to Ms. Nasira Shariff for teaching Koran and Islamic principles to the community for over a decade in the San Ramon area.
Ms. Riva Enteen, of National Lawyers Guild, received the civil liberties champion award for tirelessly defending civil liberties for all even at the cost of her job.
Attorney Altaf Adam received the Community Service award for his pro-bono services to help a detained student in Houston, Texas.
The evening program included introductions by many of the groups, and an open microphone session moderated by community member Tahir Malik. One of the questions that Mr. Malik posed to the group was why we are only fighting for civil liberties in the United States when we should be speaking out against the countries of origin of many attendees, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran which would not even allow public forums like this one.
This writer, who is a community member and representative of World Alliance for Humanity and South Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition, responded that many immigrants, including Muslims came to this country to escape dictatorships and chose to make this country their home for the freedom and liberties it offered, in addition to economic opportunity. "If we let these precious liberties perish here, we will be even less able to impact the rest of the world."
Ben Allen, who came from a family many of whose members had died in the holocaust in Germany, responded that the United States has often interfered in the democratic process of other countries such as Iran in the 50’s and established dictatorships. Mr. Allen expressed concern that in enforcing the "unpatriotic Patriot Act", the US was attempting convert the United States into a police state.
Two students from San Jose, related their experience with the INS Special Registration. Hassan, 19, was detained for one day when he went for registration in February. His brother Amin, 17, was allowed to go home but both faced deportation possibility for a minor visa violation. Hasan and Amin thanked the American Muslim Voice and Ms Samina Faheem Sundas for providing proper guidance and media exposure that forced the Immigration officials to reconsider their case. They contacted Ms. Samina Sundas who is also coordinator of the national hotline established to help those affected by the INS Registration. In September both were given one year visa extension.
The AMV along with the Blue Triangle Network and Pakistan American Alliance has launched a campaign against the INS Special Re-Registration as the second round of INS Re-Registration begins in December when nationals of 24 Muslim countries will be required to do annual re-registration in groups. The AMV is urging civil rights groups and individuals to co-sponsor or support this campaign.
The program ended with a vote of thanks by community activist Zeya Mohsin.