Since September 11, 2001, many stories have been told and experiences shared, but here is one story among many, that I hope my fellow Americans ought to hear, particularly those who are afraid of everything and everyone, and believe in conspiracies.
I hope this piece prompts you to think of the difficult encounters you may have had dealing with people of different faiths. This is a long story and I hope it offers insights into what it takes to build a cohesive America, an genuinely free America where no one has to live in apprehension and fear of the other.
Please remember God is a good and a just guy. He has not signed a deal with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus or others behind each others back, and he treats all of his creation with the sameness as a teacher treats her students or a chef wants his patrons to enjoy his cuisine. There is serenity in being fair and just, it is the ultimate goal for harmony and balance in the society. Can we be fair to each other?
The idea for Unity Day USA was first conceived on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and took its current form on Sunday, September 11, 2005. It is an initiative to come together to stand up for the safety, security and cohesiveness of America.
On this Unity Day, we the people of the United States of America of every faith, race, ethnicity, culture and background will gather to express our commitment to co-existence, unity, prosperity and well being of our nation.
Our civic leaders including Mayors, Council members, State representatives, Senators, Congresspersons and other officials will honor us with their presence. Each Mayor at the event will give a one minute speech to share his/her thoughts about co-existence and promoting social cohesion in their respective cities. Additionally, our men and women in uniform including police and fire chiefs will be honored for their outstanding service to our nation.
It is an awesome experience to feel a sense of unity with fellow Americans that will bring a feeling of coming home to where we drop all of our identities to be united together as an American family.
As Americans we uphold, protect, defend and celebrate the values enshrined in our constitution. Our faiths reinforce the idea of one nation with liberty and justice for all.
As a Muslim, I am deeply committed to America, the land of the brave and the free with liberty and justice for all.
On the day of 09/11/2001
Dallas, Texas. About 10:00 in the Morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was called in by AM Radio 1150 to address the situation; and 950 AM also joined in to simulcast the program. The great tragedy had left every one speechless and had frozen everyone from doing anything. I was shaking but was committed to make sense out of the chaos and bring coherence to the day, and pave the way for relevant action.
I was on the air for 7 hours straight, standing on my feet and getting just about every community, religious, civic and business leader and the general public on the air to talk about the situation. Many of them read prepared statements, and one by one they condemned the attack. I did not even get to eat or take a break. The calls were pouring in and I was completely absorbed in the situation.
Among many who jumped on the idea to hold interfaith prayers were Mr. Joel Brooks of American Jewish Congress, Ms. Vinoda Kumar of the DFW Hindu Temple, Mr. Mohammad Suleman of the Islamic Center of Dallas, Mr. Poras Balsara of the Zoroastrian community and Kevin Rafraf from the Baha’i Temple, the list was endless. All the announcements and pronouncements were going on the radio live from every community leader. Mr. Taiyab Kundawala of India Association agreed to hold, and announce the prayer vigil at the association and the fund raising was set up the very next evening. Mr. Mansoor Shah of Pakistan Society was there to do anything that needed to be done. Mr. Ashok Kumar Mago of the Indian Chamber of Commerce also joined in on the Radio. I apologize to many friends, whose name have gone blank on me. I would appreciate if you could share them. This will go as a chapter in my upcoming book on Pluralism.
While this was going on, my late wife Najma had called in to announce about the blood drive and sure enough, hundreds of people were lining up at Wadley Blood center. She drove to the facility and the folks told her that the lines were too long and asked us to hold off the announcements till the next day. I wish I could get hold of the CNN tapes from the next day where they interviewed me for over 10 minutes at the Radio Station we were hanging out. Our friends and my late wife said that every word I said on the TV was just the right word, what a relief! I was tense, but determined to clear the muddy waters.
9/11 is one of the most significant days of my life, and I have made a life time commitment to dedicate this day, every year to serve my nation by bringing Americans together for the safety and security, and peace and prosperity of America.
A major change occurred in my life around that time. I was an Atheist for a long time, not a belligerent one but the pluralist kind, and for the first time in about 30 years I chose to be called a Muslim in Public Sphere. Thanks to my father for inculcating the values of Pluralism in my initial set up. More at Indian American Pluralist
In the random readings of holy books that I continue to do, I came across a verse in Bhagvad Gita, “finding the truth is one’s own responsibility”. The timing was perfect as Islam was being attacked, indeed, that was the reason I had walked away from Islam in the late sixties. This Bhagvad Gita verse inspired me to go find the truth.
Karen Armstrong’s book on Muhammad had made a huge impact on me. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a divine, distant and a mystical figure to me until I read her book, it made me look to him as another human whose life and decisions I could relate with. He was bent on building cohesive societies and just about every one of his actions was grounded in a singular theme; mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwil so all can live in relative harmony. More at How do I relate with Prophet Muhammad and Prophet the Pluralist.
I made it my business to hone on the verses in Qur'an that had driven me away from Islam. I had made several attempts and each time I did not like the translations I read. The verse, “finding the truth is one’s own responsibility” did not allow me to gulp down what was apparent about Qur'an. Over the years of searching, I discovered that Quran was deliberately mistranslated by politicians who wore the label of Christianity as well as Islam.
However there are over two dozen translations which are alright ( I cannot claim the credit, but I was a catalyst in bringing to attention and now since 2012 editions a few major mis-translations have been corrected. ( Apology to Jews and Christians ) . The best one among the available translations is by Muhammad Asad. However, we need a new translation which the average person can relate with and reflects the universality of God. All the mis-translations are at www.Quraanconference.com
That was my background in relating the story of 9/11.
As the community was fully involved on the air with me, the Interfaith-faith prayers, blood donations and fundraising for the men and women in uniform were all in place by evening. The fog was clearing up, Osama bin Laden was the bad guy and Muslim-Americans had nothing to do with his actions, nor did they authorize him to terrorize any one. Indeed, he placed a wedge between Americans that still needs to be undone. I had literally declared a war against this man.
Atheists, Baha'i, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Jews, Native Americans, Pagans, Sikhs, Wicca and Zoroastrians along with area city mayors, FBI, police and fire chiefs and community leaders graced the first interfaith event in Frisco. Out of which a new tradition evolved called Unity Day. It continues year after year.
A few of us formed a team from different religions and went from place of worship to place of worship and shared the prayers or gave a small talk about the respective religion. That’s where we build the relationship of trust between us for me to read the Jewish Prayers when Joel Brooks was not available, recite the Zoroastrian Prayer for Poras Balsara, Jain prayers for Pradeep Shah or Hindu Prayers for the Hindu community and of course, I represented Ben Moghaddas of Baha’i faith and was always a substitute for the Muslim community. There never was a shortage of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs in interfaith activity at that time. However, it has dwindled down now. Muslims are not participating as much, and at many places I am the only Muslim participating in smaller interfaith events. They go to the big ones though.
One of the biggest walls between Hindus and Muslims was dissolved that week. President of The Dallas Islamic Center, Muhammad Suleman asked me to pull the religious groups for the interfaith prayers and I was pleased to include Hindu prayers. Vijayshree Venkatraman came and chanted the Om Shanti Mantra amidst all other prayers. Perhaps it was the first time Hindu prayers were recited in a Mosque complex. I am sure it is done in India, but it was a new experience for Muslims in Dallas.
If there was one gratifying moment in my interfaith life, that would be one. The other ones are chanting the Jainism’s Navakar Mantra at the Maya Temple in Mexico, Hindu prayers in the Snotes at the Mayan Temples, getting Baptized in the name of God at the place in Jordan River where Jesus was Baptized and dancing with the Pagans in Melbourne and spending time with the Native Australians.
In 1993, I published the first issue of Asian News Magazine which was co-edited by Abraham Thomas. A new standard was set in bringing the communities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka together. The highlight of the paper was extensive calendar and write ups on the essence of every possible festival that took place in Dallas. Then in July of 1996, AM Radio 1150 approached me to begin the Radio Service for the communities, indeed it was the first Talk Show Radio for the community which paved the way to full time Radio services. These two items highlight the pluralism work that was going on. Every Saturday on the air, we had a segment called Festivals of the world where we shared the essence of every religious festival; we had religious leaders from Aztec to Zoroastrians and every one in between sharing the essence of their festivals on the air.
Unity Day USA - established
The idea for Unity Day USA was first conceived on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and took its current form on Sunday, September 11, 2005. It is a Muslim initiative to come together to stand up for the safety, security and cohesiveness of America, my initial team included Lee Holcomb of UT Dallas and other volunteers and women members from the Plano Mosque who handled wonderful refreshments.
During planning session of the event, I was opposed by a few to hold prayers from all religious groups in an alphabetical sequence. They preferred that Muslim Prayers be done at first and others to follow, someone did not want Islam to be in the Middle of Hinduism and Jainism. Even the idea of the Abrahamic faiths first and others following it was floated. I was not in favor of it as I have always believed in equality of all humans and by corollary all religions, we dug in our heels.
Before it got messy, I called Imam Dr. Yusuf Zia Kavakci and asked his guidance on it and I was praying for wisdom from him and was willing to walk away from the event if there was a preferential treatment to any group. He thought it over and said, Islamically I was on the right tract to treat everyone on equal footing, however he said, if you want to be political, you choose. I asked him if I could put those words in an email and send to the group, and that was the end of the conflict, what a relief! This Imam is a blessing to our town, indeed I have written a few more of the interfaith moments between us.
The prayers were indeed led by 13 groups of religious leaders. Regina Rafraf led the Baha’i prayers, Ben Boothe led the Buddhist prayers; Christian prayers were led by the late Baptist Minister Roy Harrell with a team of clergy from Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian, Catholic and other denominations; Swami Nityananda Prabhu led the Hindu group representing 7 different Hindu Temple; Islamic prayers were led by Imam Dr. Yusuf Zia Kavakci with Shia, Bohra, Ismaili, Sufi, Warith Deen Muhammad, Sunni and other Muslim traditions, Pradeep Shah led the Jain prayers, Rabbi Haas led the Jewish prayers, the Sikh prayers were led by Bhai Harinder Singh and Ramneek Singh, Wicca prayers were led by Brian Langford and the Zoroastrian Prayers were lead by Poras Balsara. In the later years Native Americans, Pagans, Earth based Traditions, Atheists and others have joined in, no one is excluded, however a few continue to malign us and refuse to join standing shoulder to shoulder with people of different faiths.
FBI Chief Danny Deffenbaugh, Mayors or Mayors pro-tem and Police chiefs of Plano, Frisco, Richardson, Dallas, Garland, Carrollton, Addison and representatives of congress woman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Representative Florence Shapiro were all on the stage. Among the civic leaders were Dean Hobson of the UT Dallas among others.
My conversation with Maria Arita of Fox news was interesting. She wanted to know if it was difficult to pull these various groups together. She could not resist the inherent bias and blurted out, "was it the Moslems that were difficult?" I said no and the answer will be in my upcoming book. It’s an amazing story of interfaith.
In the 3rd annual Unity Day event we discovered something beautiful about how we hold things inside. I have sincere relationships with my friends in different religious communities and they share whatever bothers them, usually is it about Muslims. Every one wants to genuinely find the truth and thanks to my friends from the Zoroastrian and Sikh Communities who held back the issue for two years.
Dr. Harbans Lal and Firdosh Mehta asked me to find out why Muslims walked out on them, when it was their turn to pray in the first Unity day? Remember the Alphabetical sequence? I thank Bhagvad Gita for instilling in me with “finding the truth is one’s own responsibility”… we dug up and found out that it was the prayer time for Muslims when the Sikhs and Zoroastrian got on the stage. I shared that story and told our friends attending the event that you have got to admire our Muslim brothers and sisters, when the time for prayer comes up, they drop everything as nothing else is a priority to them and Mayor Pat Evans appreciated the hint. If that time were during the speech of the Mayor, they would simply fulfill their duty to God and pray. Isn’t it amazing what was construed as dislike to hear the Sikh and Zoroastrian payers, was not? It was such a relief to our friends Dr. Lal and Mehta.
Gregory Gomez, the Apache American surprised everyone and continues to remain the talk of the town. When Gomez went on to the stage with our Hopi Chief Ambrose to cleanse the environment (Done with feathers, a native tradition and I have been cleansed a few times). The first words the Native American spoke thrilled the audience, it was ironic, unexpected and truthful, he said, “Welcome to my country”. The biggest appreciation came from Richardson Mayor, Gary Slagel without missing the beat.
A few more of the moments are at http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2011/09/do-jews-christians-and-muslims-better.html or in Dallas Morning News at: http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/09/texas-faith-do-jews-christians.html
God willing my upcoming book will share some of the most difficult and humorous interfaith moments.
The pinnacle achievement of Unity Day was on 9/11/2013 - Here is the full story about it and a film is in the making with the title "Sacred". A New Paradigm for Muslim World. Indeed, every year, our friends who attend the event have said, they feel good about being prejudice free and free from stereotyping others, that is the power of the Unity Day.
- 2.2 Million Americans imprisoned
- 14,827 persons were murdered in the United States in 2012
- 84,376 forcible rapes reported to law enforcement in 2012 http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012
Bill Blasio is not a rapist because he is the Mayor of New York, and New York City alone raped 1000 women last year, what a shame!
Throughout America, we have the same federal laws for the criminals as well as the good people among us. Criminals violate the laws, and the good people don’t. The problem is not the law books or enforcement, but the few who do not follow the good laws. It is the same story with a few Muslims, it is not the Quran or Islam, it is them, those few.
We don't stereotype people based on actions of a few.
As Americans we need not swayed by the current events in the world with the ISIS, Al Qaeda and their likes, they are shamefully within the comparable statistical range of the world. Same percentage of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or others behave the same; mind their own business and a similar percentage are extremists. Read more at Two Islams.
On my part, I am committed to build a cohesive America, and last year the Unity Day was held in Florida, and here is one of the most powerful stories, which is being made into a film.
Each one of us has a dream… a dream to have livable wages, a loving family, children, a home, reliable car, decent health care, and comfortable retirement.
Our founding fathers laid the foundation of the creed for such a society, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness".
Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the same in his famous speech, “ I have a dream that our little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Based on the previous statements and a commitment to one nation and one America, what are we doing individually to preserve that web?
What are the divisive issues?
Are we going to allay these phobias?
What is your vision for America?
President Kennedy pointed us in the right direction, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. When we give to the country, we collectively receive as well.
Are we connected enough with each other? Can others empathize with us or even understand the truth about us? We are no different than them in our endeavors and aspirations of life.
We are committed to providing education, workshops, and training for future leaders. We have programs in place to move forward. All we need is your support.
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America Together Foundation
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