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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More