Browsing "albanyia"
Sep 19, 2010 - albanyia    4 Comments

The Egg & Memories

Last night I attended a local fundraiser at The Egg. It’s called that because, well, it looks like an egg! It’s an unmistakable landmark of this area. When anyone drives up here and enters the city via the main highway there it is. Right there on our skyline. Mainly it’s a theater where they have various performing arts shows and things. Inside is a huge hall with a stage, along with many smaller theater rooms and meeting halls. It’s all part of a something called the Empire State Plaza. Which is this huge state-funded cement complex of buildings/museum/library/archive/theater built in the 1970s. I actually read a very fascinating history of it recently so check it out: http://www.lofaber.com/albany/essaymaking.html
(It was meant to be a futuristic star trek-ish complex, half-underground and half-above, a cultural, arts and business center, but turned out to be a huge anachronism.)

I can’t really remember the first time I’ve been there, the Egg – probably in the 3rd grade when I was 8 we went there for a field trip to watch some ballet/musician thing, have no idea. There’s also a little museum, the only museum around here, that we’ve been to many times on field trips or our parents just took us on random Saturdays. The plaza itself – we went to countless times as kids, to play on the wooden playground, to walk around the huge reflecting pools and fountains. I recently found a really old picture of my brother and I when I was around 5, probably when we first came to America, (my Dad in 70s beard and pants, even though it was the 80s!) sitting near one of the fountains at the plaza!

Every 4th of July there’s a huge fireworks display here and festival all day, our mother used to bring us when we were kids on the bus, we’d bring a sheet and spread it out and run around all day. For some reason I think there was also some kind of dental/medical offices down in there somewhere too? Because I vaguely remember going there for something like that. Later on I used to go with high school friends for the fourth and hang out all day eating fried dough, walking around the stalls, buying glo-in-the-dark necklaces and staking out a place for the fireworks show. There’s also countless festivals at the plaza every year, like the Festival of Nations – food and dances and stalls from every country, an Indian festival, Greek festival etc.

It’s really a quintessential Albanyian thing, the first place we bring visitors, although they don’t seem to get it. :)

Anyway it was kind of weird, very weird actually to have a fundraiser for a Masjid there. The main hall is huge, like really huge. Could probably fit 2000-4000 ppl. We had probably 400-500 max in there so it felt really empty. Not sure why but it felt like a lot of people were missing, perhaps they were away or because it was a new strange place for them they didn’t come. It is very expensive to rent out and there was some controversy apparently over that, ie the usual ppl saying it was too expensive, why have it there, etc. But I actually think it’s a very interesting choice. I mean why shouldn’t we rent it? Aren’t we Albanyians as well?

The place was set up really nicely with the food catered, with waiters and workers taking care of all that, with nice drinks (including bottled drinks of every kind!) and big cups and ice (trust me these things are veryyyy rare at Muslim events, ur lucky if u get a half cup of orange soda!) The sound system was beyond excellent. I mean you could have a screaming baby next to you (which I did) and still be able to hear everything. They also played a nicely put together video on a big screen about the Masjid and updates on it. A ton of kids were in a seperate meeting room with a magician, movies and stuff to do! So excellent. I know tons of parents appreciated that. The kids didn’t even want to be in the boring main room they were having so much fun over there .

The speaker that came was very funny and interactive and did the fundraising very well. Alhamdulillah we raised over a million dollars in pledges, that’s DOLLARS! An absolutely unheard of number in this area for any type of fundraiser. It was great, and hopefully inshaAllah will bring us closer to actually building a Masjid. We also tried broadcasting the whole thing via internet streaming and some ppl even donated via text!

The speaker was someone I knew years ago (I’m talking 10+ years) who was a real supporter of my website when it first started up. I was hesitant to say salam in case he didn’t remember me, but he did! Thinking about that time I feel very nostalgic about when the internet was new and Islam on the internet was even newer. What hopes and dreams we had. What hopes and dreams we had running around as teenagers on the plaza. Not saying that everything turned out terrible and that we were never to fulfill those, just that things shifted and changed and some different things were realized and new hopes begun.

Anyway this feels like a lot of sharing, which reminds me, why do I post all these personal things on my blog so you guys can read them!! Is it fair that I keep writing and strangers keep reading? :) I think one day I’ll limit my blog to only other ppl that have blogs, that way it’s a two way street!

OK so for now here are a few pics from the event:

Sep 12, 2010 - albanyia    14 Comments

On Sept 11th, 2010 – NYC Rally to Support the Mosque

On Sept 11th, 2010, I found myself in a very surreal experience:  Traveling to New York City on a bus full of non-Muslims nine years to the day of 9/11. As a Muslim-American, I can’t even tell you the pain we feel on the 9/11 anniversary. Not just for what happened on that day, but for all the consequences of it, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the millions of people killed, to the FBI round up of Muslims, hate-crimes against Muslims, discrimination and bias, to the anti-Mosque Islamophobia Quran-burning crusades of today. All of these events have somehow inexplicably led me to being on a bus heading to the very spot 9 years later…

To us, September 11th, 2001 is  a defining date in our lives. There was life before 9/11 which seemed happy and promising, and life after 9/11, full of constant defenses against attacks and painful experiences. At one time we thought America could be the place where we could practice our religion freely, raise our children and live good fruitful lives. I can’t help thinking that those who landed on Plymouth Rock had the same idea. Leaving England for a New World, they hoped to practice their religion freely and establish an equal society.

The bus I traveled on was sponsored by a few organizations in this area including a local Mosque, the Muslim solidarity committee (a group of almost all non-Muslims which have been constant supporters of us in this area), and Project Salam (an advocacy group pursuing all the wrongful prosecutions of Muslims). Not surprisingly, there were only a handful of Muslims on the bus. This upsets me, but I’ve learned the vast majority of Muslims in the US are pained and saddened by what’s happening but they have steadfastly refused to do anything about it. They sit in their homes, continue to watch television, buy their BMWs and pretend that life is like pre-9/11 until something happens to them. How long this denial will go on, I don’t know. And perhaps it’s too late now for us.

Arriving at the planned site of the counter rally in New York City we found it swarming with reporters from all over the world. Organizers were still setting up and there were pre-made signs with slogans like ‘No to Racism and anti-Muslim Bigotry’, ‘Islam has been in NY for 400 years’, and ‘Muslims are Welcome here’. These were heartening to see. As soon as I and another Muslim sister stepped off the bus wearing Hijab, reporters immediately started asking us questions and interviewing us. This was really surprising because we were expecting to attend a really and not actually be interviewed by anyone! We weren’t really prepared and I’m not sure if our answers were the best ones. I’m sure everyone knows by now that being interviewed by the media is a double-edged sword. They tend to take the one or two phrases we say, what they think will go best with the angle they are going for and use it, they almost never convey what you wanted to. The trick for us is to get across how/what we want to present in as few sound-bytes as possible. I think they were attracted to us because we were visibly Muslim. I did want our viewpoint to be heard, but I also wanted them to interview non-Muslim Americans who were supporters.

Some reporters were actually very aggressive like one who asked me if I thought the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim. I said that their act was one of terrorism and did not follow the beliefs of Islam, but he continued to ask “But ARE THEY MUSLIM?” with the camera and lights in my face. I should have said ‘This isn’t relevant to what we’re doing here today’ and bring up the real points, but I guess you live and learn. I also didn’t have exact figures of how many Muslims there are in America (3-6 million) or how many Muslims died in 9/11 (62 names are known, 60-100) or exactly what floor Muslims used to pray in the World Trade Center (17th floor south tower). Next time I think it’s a good idea to go over these things on the bus going down in case anyone asks us. Mostly I talked about how Muslims used to work and pray in the World Trade Center and also died on 9/11 and asked why it was such a big deal now to have a cultural center two blocks away. Also a lot how Islam doesn’t equal terrorism or all Muslims aren’t terrorists. How I didn’t think the Pastor from Florida represents all of Christianity or all Christians, and the same should be said for the perpetrators of 9/11.

sept11th_rally_sign

There were about 2000-2500 supporters at the rally, and we were located at least four or five blocks away from the rally against the Mosque/Tea partiers group. There was also another rally of a couple hundred of some religious group, not sure what that was about except they had a lot of signs about how homosexuality was a sin and that “Islam was a lie”. The 9/11 memorials earlier in the day were also placed closer to Ground Zero than we were. At our rally, we heard some speeches from various speakers about the anti-Islam phobia that was spreading across America, about religious rights and how important support of Muslims was right now. The people in attendance were mostly non-Muslims from all walks of life…teachers, students, older people, peace activists, war veterans, Christians, Hispanics, African-Americans, babies… Many smiled at us and were extremely kind. A very strange experience as a Muslim Hijabi in New York City I can tell you! We then marched a few blocks around the park holding up our signs.

A few of our bus group went over to see what was going on at the anti-Mosque rally and reported back that they were in one open block and seemed like 1000-2000. They also had a humongous flat screen TV jumbotron to broadcast the speeches (compared to our truck and megaphone). They also had signs like ‘Bigots are Americans too’??!?! Many supporters went over there to see what was going on, unfortunately creating confrontations and shouting matches that were pounced upon by TV cameras and shown in the media and also maybe increasing their numbers so some reports said there were a lot more anti-Mosque protesters than there were supporters!

On our side we had maybe one or two anti-Mosque protesters walking by who yelled ‘Traitors! Go back home!” There was also one Hispanic/Italian woman standing nearby as we were leaving with a small sign that said “Islam=Terrorism” saying ‘Izlam,Terrorists’, ‘Izlam, Terrorists’ over and over again in a heavy accent. I went up to her and said “I’m a Muslim and I’m not a terrorist”. She wouldn’t look me in the eye and continued repeating that. The only other negative incident I had was when we went to the McDonalds nearby to eat something and an African-American woman came up to me and started showing me a book of printed photographs of 9/11 and said she was in one of the towers. She then started talking about “Shariah law and stoning in Iran”. I told her that we lived in the United States and that had nothing to do with us and then she started quoting (misinterpreted) verses of the Quran. I told her you can’t take verses of context and misinterpret them and then at that point I just realized there was no point, and left.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the main problem. The anti-Mosque people are not against the Mosque. They are against ALL OF ISLAM. They really hate Islam, Muslims and everything to do with us. They are “anti-Shariah” which is the stupidest thing I’ve heard of in the world. No country in the world has complete Shariah law (which is actually extremely flexible and wholesome) yet these people think Muslims will take over America and impose Burkas on them. It’s just so ridiculous. I can’t imagine anyone intelligent actually really thinks this, but they just use it to propel their dialogue of hate. They also equate Islam with terrorism. They say all Muslims are terrorists and that Islam teaches terrorism and that we want to take over the world, etc etc, whatever. They just hate all Muslims and want to expel us from the United States. Their message is so neo-Nazi I’m waiting for the day they come up with their own symbol and hail.

I really wished I had told that woman at McDonalds and the Italian woman to walk over to the Tea partiers and see how they treated them. At the last rally a non-Muslim African-American man had been walking passed them and they thought he looked foreign and surrounded him and started harassing him!! They hate all immigrants and all people of color and I found it sad that those women didn’t realize that.

There is so much misinformation and outright lies being spread about Islam. This is one of the roots of the problem. Unfortunately our lack of Dawah (teaching about Islam) really is an extreme weakness and perhaps downfall right now.  We need to open our Mosques, we need to have interfaith programs, we need to teach our neighbors. We need alliances. We need to do so much work just to prove our right to exist. The right of Islam to exist. But again, Muslims are too busy going to medical school (so they can buy that luxury SUV), trying desperately to fit in and be the least visibly Muslim or active they can.

After the rally was over, we walked back to the bus and on the way home took turns sharing our stories on the microphone. One of the reporters earlier in the day asked me how I felt being at the rally. I said ‘I was actually sad, sad because I had to be there’. It wasn’t a good day. To see so much hate and malignment of our religion is a very difficult thing.

The only highlight of my trip was praying freely on the sidewalk in New York City on one of the protest signs on the ground, surrounded by supporters. I was very impressed with the non-Muslims who were so supportive and defending Islam better than most Muslims. They kept repeating “Assalam Alaikum, Muslims are welcome here”.  It just proves my point that we just need to teach people about the basics of Islam. We do not need to convert anyone. The acceptance of it and psychological space can lead people to their own conclusions. No one has to AGREE with Islam, its beliefs or practices, but as Americans we should all realize the hope and dream of Plymouth Rock. We should all be able to live and practice our religions in peace.

sept11th_rally

See all the pictures here: http://jannah.org/gallery/main.php?g2_view=slideshow.Slideshow&g2_itemId=4601

Apr 9, 2010 - albanyia    5 Comments

Of small victories

Of small victories…

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Few take up the burden of their own victory: most give up their dreams when they become impossible.
- Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

Yesterday I attended a rally for Muslims prosecuted wrongfully. If you’re an old time blog reader, you know of the two men here who were lured by FBI agents and embroiled in an elaborate trap to convict them of terrorism. Yesterday a rally was organized by a non-Muslim group that is in solidarity with the Muslims. We all met in front of the main library in our town and heard a few speakers and marched with a plethora of signs all the way downtown to city hall. We yelled slogans like ‘hey hey, ho ho, entrapment must go’ and ‘who did the crime, fbi! who did the time, muslims!’

At city hall, a common council member was going to introduce a resolution asking the justice department to review all these cases targeting Muslims.

There were maybe a hundred supporters, including Muslims, non-Muslims, babies in carriages, little Muslim girls with hijabs and signs, every nationality and age and color, Muslims who wore hijab and didn’t, Muslims who looked like they were and looked like they weren’t. Many family members of Muslims prosecuted from various cases in other states and nearby came as well.

We all walked through the metal detectors, got wanded and went upstairs to the court hall. There, one by one different people went up to speak from their heart. Some tearfully, some passionately.

There was the lawyer on the case who talked about how in the first evidence given a document claimed a Muslim Imam was a “commander” but when they read the document they realized the FBI had mistranslated the word for “brother” as “commander” and totally had the wrong language even! The FBI admitted their mistake but all evidence after that was then made secret! Not even the defense lawyers who went through months of clearance were allowed to see the evidence. They were not able to challenge anything that could have been totally wrong like that. The judge at the beginning told the jury that there was “real evidence” why these men were targeted and completely prejudiced the jury. They were afraid to exonerate them even though they found them not guilty on all except one of the charges.

A little Albanian girl who was probably about 12 went up and spoke quite eloquently about how her father and his friends went to the Pochonos on vacation and went horseback-riding, played pool and then to a shooting range. Before they went to the shooting range they even asked the local cops if they could and were told it was fine. Long story short another person tricked and entangled, pro(per)secuted and convicted. She said she had two younger siblings who always ask about their father and she doesn’t know what to tell them and tries to comfort them. All from this little tiny girl! Hearts of stone would have melted.

A Palestinian mother went up and spoke about how her son was given life PLUS 30 years and he is only 21 years old over taking pictures at a reservoir. To see him in jail the family has to drive 19 hours and can only talk to him through glass in a highly secure CMU, a jail especially for Muslims. I thought about the pictures I took this summer at Lock 7.

A local Egyptian Muslim talked about how he came to the US 30 years ago because it was the land of opportunity, of fairness and justice. How Muslims want to be part of the society, to contribute and give back. And how he was appalled with what was happening in the U.S now.

A non-Muslim African-American mother went up and talked about how one day she looked at her Muslim son and realized that he was not well. After being tested they found out he had leukemia. The informant the FBI sent to him offered him money for treatment for his CANCER. And they later used this to convict him for terrorism.

An Indian Physics professor talked about how he came to the US so many years ago as an immigrant and hoped it would be a place of peace and prosperity. How these men, while they may have made mistakes, were not terrorists. How they were entrapped and prosecuted and taken from their families.

Case after case, community members, activists, peace advocates, civil rights supporters, family members, mothers, fathers, aunts, sisters, siblings, young sons and daughters, muslims, non-muslims, blonde, white, black, wearing jeans or jilbabs or suits went and spoke. I can’t even describe the beauty and eloquence and emotion of each speaker talking about things like injustice, anger, civil rights, love, family, faith and ideals.

I know for each activist, mother or child who spoke it was a cathartic experience. For the first time they were able to speak and be a witness to what had happened to them and what was happening around them.

Some council members cried as did we.

I was reminded of the story of the Christian king of Abyssinia. Who, when the enemies of Muslims came, asking him to hand over the Muslims taking refuge in his country, asked the Muslims about their case. The Muslims came forward and recited verses from the Chapter of Mary in the Quran. The king and his council members wept until their beards were wet and he said that the difference between Christianity and Islam was the difference between this line that he drew in the sand. He declared that he wouldn’t give the Muslims up for anything and would always give them protection.

Amazingly, a few council members got up and also talked. One with a heavy Russian accent talked about how even seeing the recent violent events in his country, he did not want the US to turn into the Soviet Union. He talked about the time his uncle was dragged away for nothing and put into a horrible gulag in Siberia. He talked about how his grandmother is still scared to even talk about anything political and about how people his parents knew just disappeared because of their political ideas.

Another talked about how the council now had a choice. What kind of America did they want to live in? The kind where secret evidence, illegal wiretaps, wrongful prosecution was OK or the kind where justice upheld. Did they want an America where people were arrested and jailed before they even committed a crime because of their beliefs?

One of the women council members talked at length about the tragedy of 9/11 and admitted how the US had gone too far in their treatment for Muslims and it was time to redress it now instead of 50 years from now like they did for the Japanese that were interred and all the other different groups that had been treated unfairly in the past.

Another council member said he thought that in being a representative here he’d just be working on things like parking and streets and building legislation. But he was so proud now to be part of something of great importance and wanted to represent the Muslims he knew in his own district that he saw everyday in their stores. He knew them and wanted to make sure they received the justice they deserved.

One of the council members objected to the wording of the resolution and they went into an unprecedented emergency mode to update it so that they could have more members support it.

One council member objected to ‘not having enough time’ to think over something so weighty. Another said he wanted to talk to his ‘elected officials’ to see what they thought before supporting something like this.

I wish someone had video recorded or taped it or I could somehow recall everything that had been said and convey it to you. I don’t think I will ever see an event like that again. It was unprecedented all around and just un-describable. I wish every person in the world could, like this council,  witness and hear each individual Muslim like this. Just to see their face and hear them. What a difference it makes!

It had been a very long emotional meeting. People came in and out, some went to another courtroom to pray. The babies fell asleep and were taken home. Finally after everyone spoke passionately and all debate was over… the vote. At this time, the room went silent and everyone came in, sat in the floor and listened to hear the roll call. Yes, yes, yes, present (meaning no/abstain), yes, present…and on it went. Finally the tally… it was 10-4 We won!!

The resolution had passed. And for the first time, and in a very formal way a government body had made a very very very small concession. And sent a very very very small message to the justice department. Message: what they did might have been wrong and needed to be redressed.

A very small stone in a very huge pool of suffering. The men are still in jail. Their families are still torn apart. A resolution doesn’t change innocence or guilt, just asks them to review the “methods” used in prosecution. Still…

Still.

We all walked back in groups jubiantly through the night air the way we marched, to a little tiny pizza shop downtown that one of the wive’s of one of the Muslims in jail still ran after her husband had been taken away. Struggling, alone, with 6 children to support, she had prepared some food for all of us. There everyone took up every available booth and counter space. We passed around pizza and salad and biryani and ginger ale. Some council members came too! Everyone hung out and we ate and laughed and talked and celebrated. It was a little strange, a lot full of wonder, an amazing evening. For the first time in a long time we felt… happy.

I almost didn’t write about this event, because I kind of felt it was a special, private moment for those involved. But then I thought maybe someone out there could use a tiny bit of hope… Also I would like those who were not involved and who have never been involved, the Muslims sitting on their couch or the Americans who don’t care, to know of our little win of justice, of our happiness…of small victories. It is we who are blessed through this opportunity to help others, not the other way around. All praise and thanks be to God.  :)

wsalam

UPDATE! Our wish has been granted!! Video of everyone speaking appears in the link below at Project Salam!!

Photos taken by Dan Van Riper

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