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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs