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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    The Complicated Math of AIDS

    A lot, and then some: the huge - and complicated - cost of the AIDS epidemic

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora