By Hiba Haque, Detroit
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan Chapter (CAIR-MI) celebrated its 11th anniversary at its annual banquet at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn last Sunday, attracting about 900 people, including renowned journalist and Pulitzer Prize Winner Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, who gave the keynote address.
The honorable Congressman John D. Dingell, who has been the longest serving member of the United States House of Representatives, was presented with the ‘CAIR-MI Civil Rights Defender and Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the event.
Congressmen Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. André Carson (D-IN), Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI), and several other state and district representatives were also present at the event, including Mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero, Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, judges of the Wayne County Circuit Court, and chiefs of the Dearborn and Canton Police Department. Lt. Todd Mutchler of the Canton Police Department, who is a co-founder of the ‘Canton Response to Hate Crimes Coalition’, was awarded with the ‘CAIR-MI Excellence in Diversity Award’ at the event.
Several Imams, including the notable Imam Johari Abdul-Malik (of the Dar Al Hijrah Center in Virginia) who was the fundraising speaker, respected priests, and representatives from over 20 Muslim centers and churches joined the gathering; with all the honorable guests truly representing those who lead the efforts in maintaining justice and peace in the community.
Mr. Bill Gallagher, from Fox 2 News Detroit, was the MC at the annual banquet, which was aptly themed “Uncensored: The Freedom to Speak”, covering a vital issue in need of emphasis at this time.
The event opened with the recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an, and welcoming remarks by the banquet coordinator, Suehaila Amen.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Bill Gallagher lauded CAIR as being in the forefront as a leader in the civil rights arena, with a responsive staff that effectively dealt with the continuous challenges they faced.
President of CAIR-MI, Dr. Jukaku Tayeb, asserted in his speech that American Muslims are ‘peace-loving, patriotic citizens of this country’, and the challenging situations they encounter can be diffused with love and tolerance. He welcomed peaceful engagement with Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has planned a protest in Dearborn this April.
Rep. André Carson, who represents Indiana’s 7th district, and is one of the two Muslim Congressmen in the US, emphasized the importance of the political engagement of the Muslim community, and the significance of advocacy groups such as CAIR. “We need a bold leadership today,” he said, leaders that are “unafraid to speak truth to power”. He commended CAIR on being proactive in its protection of Muslims’ civil rights, and also indicated that Muslims should recede from a ‘reactionary’ stance, and alert authorities the moment they see any instance of radicalization among community members.
Honorable Congressman John Dingell, who was presented with the ‘CAIR-MI Civil Rights Defender and Lifetime Achievement Award’ stated that CAIR was a “great organization, dedicated to the ideals of this nation.” He held up a copy of the Constitution, indicating the values that it protected and which all citizens have a right to defend.
In his powerful keynote address, Leonard Pitts Jr. recited verses from the poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes, giving a stark reminder of the fact that America’s ‘promise’ of freedom and equal rights for all has yet to be fulfilled. He pointed to the ‘unspoken casualty’ when it came to the image of Muslims in the media. Whether it was the speculations about President Obama being a Muslim, or the overstated statistics of the growth of the American Muslim population, people would forget to ask why it should even be an issue of concern if the cases were true. Following 9/11, there was no mention of Muslims who were victims of the attack, neither does the media acknowledge Muslims who “fight extremism” around the world, Pitts indicated.
He reminded the audience that outrageous xenophobic reactions have taken place throughout American history with different ethnic groups, and it’s just the “names that have changed”. It continues today with Muslims being stigmatized.
He told Muslims to be “loud and bold” or else others would define who they are. The modern generation should use the communication technologies they possess to put forth the correct image of Muslims. “Time is neutral. Time does not make change. It is people who make change,” Pitts said.
CAIR-MI Executive Director Imam Dawud Walid noted the recent accomplishments of CAIR-MI, including its work to defeat the Arizona-style immigration bill proposed in Michigan in 2010, its efforts towards gaining approval for a mosque to be built in Sterling Heights in the midst of Islamophobic protests, and its pressing for investigation into the invasive and aggressive tactics against Muslims by security agents at the US-Canada border, among its other work in the past year. Imam Dawud thanked Rep. John Conyers for his support in the US-Canada border investigation.
CAIR-MI has also conducted sensitivity trainings with police departments and school teachers, and continuously trains and encourages Muslims towards greater civic engagement. It recently co-organized the ‘Muslim Capitol Day’ in Lansing last week, where Muslim citizens engaged with Governor Snyder and other elected officials.
Highlighting CAIR-MI’s vital role in protecting Muslims from Islamophobic attacks, Imam Dawud said he expected even more challenges to come. “There are people working to strip our rights from us” he pointed out, and that “freedom is not free.” The community’s continuous support and engagement is necessary, and he told us to look to our brothers and sisters in North Africa for inspiration.
Other speakers from CAIR-MI included CAIR-MI Board Trustee Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, Vice President Lila Alcodray-Amen, Staff Attorney Lena Masri, and Outreach Coordinator Raheem Hanifa.
CAIR-MI Board Trustees Haaris Ahmad and Moheeb H. Murray presented the Rosa Parks Scholarship Award to eight deserving 12th graders, who had submitted essays on how the “actions and legacy of Rosa Parks are relevant in today’s society, and what lessons we can use in the current civil rights’ challenges”. The scholarships were sponsored by the University of Michigan Dearborn, the Henry Ford Community College and CAIR-MI.
Imam Johari, who was the fundraising speaker at the banquet, praised the institutional strength of CAIR, and its continuous action towards safeguarding the rights of the community. “CAIR saves lives,” said Imam Johari, referring to its efforts in preventing hate attacks and informing the public.
Following dinner, the event ended with a dua’ recitation by Imam Dawud Walid. CAIR-MI must be congratulated for its consistent dedication towards protecting the rights of the Muslim community in the US, and we must all realize the significant work that it does, and support it in its valuable efforts.