First of all you are invited to join us at 5:00 PM on Sunday, September 11, 2001 at the Unity Church of Dallas to hear and share reflections on 9/11. Details at www.Unitydayusa.com
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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 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 and 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.
About 10:00 on the Morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was called in by Rehan Siddiqi at AM Radio 1150 to address the situation; and Amir Morani of 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 someone from the Baha’i Temple, the list was endless. Mr. Taiyab Kundawala of India Association announced 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 called in to announce about the blood drive and sure enough, hundreds of people were lining up at Wadley (I believe it was 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 Muhammad Suleman and me for over 10 minutes each 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.
9/11 is one of the most significant days of my life. 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 a Muslim in Public Sphere. Thanks to my father for inculcating the values of Pluralism in my initial set up.
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; the 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. That book made me look to him as another human with 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.
I made it my business to hone on the verses in Quraan 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 gulp down what was apparent about Quraan. Over the years of searching, I discovered that Quraan was deliberately mistranslated by politicians who wore the label of Christian as well as Muslim. Steve Blow in Dallas Morning News put my thoughts in the words that I cherish, “In the Middle Ages, European leaders commissioned a hostile Quran translation to foster warfare against Muslim invaders. Later, Muslim leaders produced another translation to inflame Muslims against Christians and Jews.” Relax, the first translation is not in circulation but is used by the rightwing Christian and Jews to support their tirade, the second dangerous translation is by Hilali khan, unfortunately it is there and Muslims are now aware of it. However there are over two dozen translations which are OK to alright. The best among available one’s is by Muhammad Asad and we need a new translation which the average person can relate with and reflects the universality of God. More about this at: http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2011/09/do-jews-christians-and-muslims-better.html.
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 donation 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.
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 Asia which was upgraded to 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.
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.
Islam teaches one to be non-judgmental, and consistently encourages individuals to do good. It emphasizes about individual responsibility towards the peace and security of society at large. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) described a good deed as an act which benefits others whom you don’t even know, such as planting a tree that serves generations of wayfarers with fruit and the shade. The world is a better place today because of a good legacy bequeathed to humanity by people of all faiths that came before us. We owe it to coming generations to leave the world a little better than we found to usher an era of justice and peace. Indeed, this is the same message, every messenger of God in every faith or a peace maker or a wise men and women have reiterated.
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Mike Ghouse is committed to building a cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day to the media and the public. He is a speaker thinker and a writer on the topics of pluralism, cohesive societies, Politics, Islam, interfaith, India and Peace. Over a thousand articles have been published on the topics and two of his books are poised to be released on Pluralism and Islam. Mike’s work is reflected in 4 website’s and 27 Blogs indexed at http://www.mikeghouse.net/ and you can find all of his current articles at www.TheGhousediary.com