Local human rights award recognizes interfaith work


by Autif Sayyed, American Muslim Community Center, 5/26/08 • On May 20, the City of Eden Prairie honored American Muslim Community Center (AMCC) and three churches–Eden Prairie United Methodist Church, Pax Christi Catholic Community and Prairie Lutheran Church–with its annual Human Rights Award. The award was in recognition of our participation in planning and executing the Interfaith Worship Service Program in 2006 and 2007. These events brought together hundreds of people of different faiths to celebrate the commonalities held by all and to promote peace, tolerance, and awareness.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

The AMCC strives to create an inclusive community spirit through its activities and programs. We have achieved this by embracing diversity as a strength rather than a weakness. The reasoning behind this approach is very simple.

Yes, We Are Different–But Why?

We are all different people. We’re so different that my fingerprints will not match yours, not even if you are my twin brother or sister. So it’s not surprising that when we start searching for differences, we can find innumerable ones. Our different ages, genders, ethnicities, physical features, and religions might make us wonder: Why did not our Maker make us all in the same mold? What really was the reason to make us different from each other? Was it to demarcate the “better” people from the “worse” people just by comparing their age, gender, racial background, and other traits? Are differences amongst us a reason to celebrate or to agonize about?

Muslims find their answer in the Quran:

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous.” (49:13)

“If God had so willed He would have made you a single people but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues….” (5:48.)

In a similar vein, the Prophet Muhammad mentioned in the last sermon he gave at the Hajj pilgrimage, “O people Your God is One God and your father is one father, for you are all descendants of Adam, and Adam was created from clay. The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. No Arab is superior to a non-Arab and no non-Arab is superior to an Arab. No dark-skinned man is superior to a fair-skinned man and no fair-skinned man is superior to a dark-skinned man, except by his piety. I have declared this to you as God is my witness, and may those who are present inform those who are absent.”

Similar messages from other faiths also downplay our apparent differences and emphasize righteousness, piety, and peaceful co-existence. So why do some still use our apparent differences as an excuse to create fear, hatred, and violence? As someone aptly stated, it’s very easy to hate a person you don’t know. Diverse groups of people reside in our neighborhoods, often right next to each other. Still, if they don’t really know each other, they will be susceptible to stereotypes.

If left unresolved, this situation can create fissures and barriers in society. However, a thoughtful approach can utilize diversity to create a feeling of unity and togetherness amongst all sections of society.

What’s Behind the Fear? Lack of Familiarity

Our country has been undergoing increasingly rapid diversification in the last few decades, with more ethnicities, religions, and races adding colors to the great beautiful mosaic. Minnesota is no exception to this trend. Most Minnesotans have welcomed diversity with an open heart. However, a small minority has reservations about this change. Some even fear that their well-established lifestyle is going to be changed by people who are not like them.

Lately, Minnesota’s Muslims have been in the spotlight because of several high-profile issues. The recent issues of “flying Imams,” cabbies refusing passengers who’re carrying alcohol, “undue accommodation” for Muslim students in community colleges and allegations against a local charter school have played to some people’s fears about Muslims. However, the real reason behind the fears is a lack of familiarity.

Some Muslims are also guilty of harboring similar unfounded fears, and they prefer to socially limit themselves to other Muslims. They fear that their distinct religious and cultural identity will be diluted if they associate with people who are different.

However, this fear is justified only if we deliberately hide our differences. If we voice our opinions and thoughts clearly without forcing anyone to accept them, and also recognize the rights of others to voice their opinions–even if we don’t agree with them–we will enrich our society.
As Jesse Jackson said, “America is not like a blanket–one piece of unbroken cloth. America is more like a quilt–many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven together by a common thread.”

I believe that common thread is a desire to live in a society that is just, peaceful, and progressive.

Meet the Award Winners

American Muslim Community Center (AMCC) is a Twin Cities-based non-profit organization that has been catering to the needs of the Muslim community since 2000. We have made a special effort to facilitate greater familiarity and interaction between all faith-based communities. AMCC has organized and participated in several activities that have brought together Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and people of other faiths for a good cause.

AMCC has gone out to paint the homes of the underprivileged, collected food for local food shelves, participated in events showcasing different cultures, and organized joint services and events with Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, and Buddhist groups. We have established bridges with people of other faiths, and in the process we have broken down stereotypes amongst all groups, including ours.

AMCC shares a special relationship with one of the co-winners, Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie. Many years ago, when our community was searching for a place to offer its weekly congregational prayer, Pax Christi generously offered us the use of their building, and we have since been using it for most of our community activities. We immensely value this relationship and appreciate their generosity. We also share a warm relationship with the other co-winners, Eden Prairie United Methodist Church and Prairie Lutheran Church.

It’s is an honor for AMCC to be accepting this year’s Human Rights Award from the City of Eden Prairie on behalf of the local Muslim community. This award recognizes the hard work and effort put in by numerous members of the community. We hope that we can all continue working together to create better understanding and to build stronger bridges.

Autif Sayyed lives in Chaska and is currently the secretary of American Muslim Community Center (www.amccmn.org).