Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
June 30, 1999 | Bourne, Donna
The Council of Pakistani-American Organizations, an umbrella grouping in the U.S. national capital area, held a dinner program celebrating the rich heritage of Islam Feb. 28 in Springfield, Virginia. The program was organized around a discussion of the historic and beautiful Grand Mosque of Cordoba, Spain, one of the outstanding monuments of the more than 700 years of Islamic heritage in Spain that began within a century of Prophet Muhammad’s death and ended in 1492.
Council Chairman Al Haj Miraj H. Siddiqi thanked co-sponsors of the event, designed as a “reminder of the glorious past that we have lost.” Pakistan Muslim League (USA) President Shahzad A. Chaudhry introduced the speakers and moderated the discussion. A.A. Pirzada of the Voice of America Urdu Service recited a well-known poem by Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal celebrating the Cordoba mosque.
Mohammad Yusuf, president of the local chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America, noted that “with 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, together we could move mountains.” However, he said, first Muslims have to regain “respect in the world.”
Major Aftab Ahmad described Cordoba as “a city bubbling with activity and life,” with libraries containing 600,000 books, hospitals, charitable institutions for widows and orphans, and even animal hospitals. “What happened to those people, where are they, where did they go?” Major Ahmad asked. “What are the lessons that can be learned?
“Organize, educate, invest in your children. Select and elect the leaders at every level. We have to start with one person — ourselves, our families, our communities,” he said. “In this way we can have Cordoba with us all the time — in our hearts and in our minds.”
Executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs discussed Islamic empowerment in the United States through the electoral system, a peaceful and effective means by which all immigrant groups eventually can play a role in the American tapestry.
He noted that the U.S. foreign policies that most distress American Muslims — the unrelenting tilt toward Israel and resulting egregious violations of Palestinian human rights, and indifference to the unfulfilled United Nations promise of more than half a century ago of self-determination for the Kashmiris — all are the direct result of domestic lobbying by ethnic groups.
All such special interest blocs can be neutralized quickly by unified and effective political organization among Muslim Americans and, in the case of Palestine, coordination and cooperation with Christian Arab Americans, Curtiss said.
Washington, DC Attorney Mowahid H. Shah contrasted “the glory of Islam epitomized by the Mosque of Cordoba that inspired poet Iqbal” with some ignominious events of the past 50 years that have brought misunderstanding, weakness and even ridicule upon Muslims.
Muslims receive more than their share of bad press, he pointed out, because there is little understanding in the West of their history and their long list of accomplishments.
He deplored the term “Judeo-Christian heritage” that “implies that somehow Islam is outside.” This is misleading, he explained, because Judaism had much more opportunity to flourish and develop in the Islamic world than it did in the Christian world. “The Jews who lived in Christian countries were a minority and an unimportant one at that,” Shah said. By contrast, in the Islamic world Jewish communities thrived.
But there are opportunities all around for Muslims to raise the status and positive visibility of Islam in the United States. He described the positive remarks of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the dedication of the Islamic Center in Washington, DC 42 years ago. He noted his pleasure much more recently when he was able to purchase Malcolm X stamps at a post office. It reminded him “that when you fight for the right, ultimately you prevail.”
In addition to Mssrs. Choudhary and Siddiqi, organizers of the well-attended program, held at the Chutney Party Hall in Springfield, Virginia, included Mr. M. Aslam and Dr. N. Faizi.
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