Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CAIR Leadership Award Acceptance Speech

Assalamoalaikum and may the best of peace be on all of you!
The highest honor in my mind is to be appreciated by one’s own people. And for this I am deeply grateful to CAIR.
The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo’s construction began in 1982-the year that I moved to the United States. Mine was the first wedding that was held at the Islamic Center. I could not have imagined then that fast-forward 30 years, not only would I become its president, it would be at a time when a hate-filled, armed and drunk Randy Linn would torch its prayer hall.
Throughout my career in medicine I have been acutely aware of the power of my signature and how it can profoundly change lives. After I was elected president of the Islamic Center the added power to affect the lives of 500 Muslim families would weigh on my mind. I remember. When requests for zakat money or financial assistance came from the community, I would beseech God to sharpen my sense of justice and objectivity.
Muslim leaders should continually remember the triumvirate of accountability: the angel on the right, the angel on the left and God above. Our responsibility and accountability is greater and the Day of Judgment should be continually in our thoughts and impact on our decision making. In my mind the definition of leadership encompasses the four Cs: consensus building, conviction, courage, and consultation. With absolute integrity connecting all of them.
The concept of shoora or consultation is an excellent one. I feel shoora begins at home, where I live with my youngest daughter and mother. I run a very democratic household and in every important issue my daughters Atiya, Sairah, Faiza, and my mother and I vote. Thanks to technology my Atiya votes from Chapel Hill NC and my Sairah from Boston MA. Everyone gets an equal vote; my youngest daughter Faiza’s vote is equal to my mother’s or mine. Instituting shoora and equal representation in families, workplaces and organizations encourages team spirit and accomplishes a whole lot more than egocentric tyrants handing down unilateral decisions made behind closed doors, as it tends to happen in our mosques and Islamic schools.
Just before Ramadan 2012 at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, we received an eerie threat that said “stopped” in Arabic with a smiley face in grease on the same paper. It was very strange. The writing was in typed Arabic, with each letter disconnected, and rather than “stop” it said “stopped.” But it didn’t have to make sense for us to know that it was intended as a threat.
Our congregation had gotten very concerned after the Joplin City Missouri arson and suggested that we get added security at the Islamic Center. And here came consensus building: some Council members felt that security during Saturday iftar dinners and Friday prayer was not needed and just another expense.
We learned how it is important for leaders to integrate conflicting opinions and make the decision that is born of conviction and a commitment toward the community. We did have security during Ramadan and I am so grateful that we did; had Randy Linn decided to attack us during Ramadan with a full mosque, it would have been disastrous.
I just attended a conference in Toledo called “Abrahamic Visions of Peace” and they spoke of “internal pressures from the community” and I was reminded of the disagreement within our community regarding the disposition of Randy Linn’s case. To me, making it a federal rather than a county case seemed so logical and obvious; but it wasn’t so clear to others. And here courage is what was needed. Against a lot of pressure I pushed for it to be prosecuted at a federal level and it was. This was important because it wasn’t just about our case; this sets a precedent for future cases.
Only this past week Randy Linn was sentenced to 20 years for unlawfully entering a religious institution, carrying a weapon and arson. I want to acknowledge the diligence and determination of the US Attorney’s office especially the work of Bridgett Brennan and Ava Dustin. The tense hearing when Randy Linn tried to withdraw his guilty plea was handled with professionalism and the skill and convincing arguments of Bridgett Brennan.
Randy Linn was given an exemplary sentence which works to ensure that religious minorities are protected in our country. Judge Zouhary’s statement at Randy Linn’s sentencing was very instructive. He told Linn that what happened on Monday in the Boston bombings and what Linn had done were “an assault on the American psyche”. He also told Linn to study Islam while he’s in prison so that he could perhaps better understand the people that he had attacked.
I can trace the way I’ve been treated as a Pakistani Muslim immigrant for the 30 years that I’ve been in the US. When I first came here, people did not know where Pakistan was and I was treated with interest and courtesy. Post 9/11 things still weren’t too bad. But over the last 7 years or so, that courtesy and interest has changed to coldness and intimidation. There are times I feel that I have horns on my head! At others if looks could kill I’d be dead! My experience is backed up by polls that show that public opinion of American Muslims is worse today than immediately after 9/11.
People would have us believe that America belongs to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The fact is that all its citizens, red, yellow, black, white and brown own America. Muslims do live in fear; we do feel that we are under siege. But cowering in the corner will not do us any good. Calling non-Muslims “Americans” and allowing us to be made into “the other” will not either.
It is for Muslim-Americans in general, and our leaders in particular, to promote the premise that sharing a religion with fanatics or crazies doesn’t make all Muslims extremists. That there’s the good, the bad and the ugly in every group, culture and religion.
We must follow the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about whom the Quran says in Surah Qalam “You O Muhammad stand in an exalted standard of character”. With courage and restraint, determination and flexibility, fearlessness mixed with wisdom, let us work for a day where differences do not mean inequality and we can walk in any neighborhood with skins of many hues and covered heads and not be marginalized, harassed, intimidated, injured or killed.