News / USA

American Muslim Moves People From Fear to Friendship

Prompted by the 9/11 attacks, Samina Sundas founded American Muslim Voice

Samina Sundas, founder of American Muslim Voice, welcomes guests to an iftar meal.
Samina Sundas, founder of American Muslim Voice, welcomes guests to an iftar meal.

Multimedia

Audio
Jan Sluizer

Alarmed by the sense of mistrust of Muslims she felt after the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago, Pakistani-American Samina Sundas started American Muslim Voice.

The organization, which now has chapters across the United States, works to build bridges across religious and cultural divides, in meeting rooms  and at dinner tables.

Breaking bread together

Sundas’ Palo Alto, California, home is frequently filled with crowds of people from assorted backgrounds and ethnic groups. They mingle in a welcoming atmosphere Sundas learned from her parents in Lahore, Pakistan.

“They did not treat a rich person or a poor person differently. If somebody walked in our house, regardless of who they were, they were considered guests and they were respected equally," Sundas says. "That’s where I learned my social justice. My parents did not preach a lot of Islam, but they practiced a lot of Islam every day. So all that made me who I am today.”

College-educated in Pakistan, the young Muslim woman came to the United States in 1979 to join her husband, who was studying in California. After they divorced, Sundas supported herself by running a daycare center. However, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, demand for her services dried up.

Sundas felt parents were responding to anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. “There are always two ways you can look at it. You can get mad or you could just look at the problem and find another solution."

Samina Sundas mingles with guests at a recent gathering she hosted.
Samina Sundas mingles with guests at a recent gathering she hosted.

That’s what Sundas chose to do.

First-hand contact

"I looked at the problem, I understood the magnitude of that and then I decided that, ‘OK, my fellow Americans really don’t know us. So the best way to deal with this problem is to just really focus on providing first-hand contact of Muslims to my fellow Americans.’ And that’s when I founded American Muslim Voice.”

Her organization’s goal is to build bridges across religious and cultural divides. It hasn’t been easy.

“The Muslim community is afraid. They want to hide and American Muslim Voice is telling them to come out. Do just the opposite," she says. "And while they’re afraid of just losing their identity, we’re telling them just mix up with your fellow Americans and fellow Americans are very afraid of Muslims.”

Sundas looks for opportunities to ease those fears. She works closely with other groups which advocate peace, justice, interfaith cooperation and nonviolence. She attends numerous meetings and has traveled to Washington to speak with members of Congress.

Guests gather for a meal at the home of American Muslim Voice founder Samina Sundas.
Guests gather for a meal at the home of American Muslim Voice founder Samina Sundas.

Building bridges

She often hosts large dinner parties at her home, believing that people who break bread together cannot be enemies. Those gatherings also provide a chance for inter-religious dialogue and education.

Neil Penn, one of Sundas’ Jewish friends, says she's always looking for similarities between people, rather than differences.

“She communicates, in very concrete and tangible terms, a sense of valuing other people and creating an atmosphere of inclusion," Penn says. "By the way she treats others, her attitude and the projects she works on takes from the depths of her faith tradition that peace and reconciliation and human dignity are not just abstractions but something that she is trying to make real in day-to-day life.”

For Sundas, her work is about moving communities from fear to friendship.

“I think the beauty of American Muslim Voice’s work is that we have brought people together that otherwise would not have come together. Our organization is the only one that says, ‘Don’t remain separated. Don’t just remain me, mine and I. It is us. It is we. It is ours.’ So that is something that we have done.”

Making progress

Sundas knows she's set a difficult task for herself. But after eight years, she is beginning to see some progress.

Members of her mainstream mosque have become more willing to support her work, putting aside the traditional resistance to female leadership. People now turn to her if they need a voice for understanding and reconciliation, and she is happy to provide one.

Sundas’ latest campaign - as she told her guests at a recent Iftar meal - calls on all Americans to open their doors on the first Sunday of each October, starting this year on October 2, to share a meal with a neighbor or someone they want to know better.

"All the horrible things that are happening in this world today, they’re happening because people don’t know each other. That is the only reason," Sundas says. "Once you break bread together, once you will have my meatballs and eggplant and all that, you would never hate me. I can guarantee you that. That is very, very simple. Open your doors, open your minds, open your hearts, open your souls. Let each other in."

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs