By Adil James, MMNS
The not-for-profit TMO Foundation began its foray into onto the national stage this past weekend with a fundraiser and awards ceremony whose keynote speaker was Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author who was the Middle East Bureau Chief for the New York Times.
Awards for the Foundationâ€™s recent essay contest were presented by Mr. Hedges and TMO Founder Dr. AS Nakadar to the top essay writers from the TMO Foundationâ€™s 2010 essay contest.
In attendance were approximately 350 – 400 guests, many of them the prominent leaders of Michigan mosques, such as Imam Musa of the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center, Imam Ali of the MCWS mosque, and Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR Michigan. Many of the TMO Foundationâ€™s prominent supporters were also present, among them directors Mr. Shafi Lokhandwala and Muhammad Saleem; another supporter in attendance was Shahid Tahir, who has also been involved with the Muslim and Pakistani communities, as well as maintaining very close ties with Michiganâ€™s Democratic party scene since well before the 2008 presidential elections, and through today.
The TMO Foundation is a journalism-related not-for-profit corporation. The Foundation is intended to provide funds to support research projects, and will also foster the development of Muslim students of journalism and communications, owing to the vision of the founder of both TMO and the TMO Foundation Dr. AS Nakadar, that media wields tremendous influence in society.
The TMO Foundation Awards banquet began with recitation of Qur`an, Surat Ya Sin (s).
The MC for the event was TMO Editor-in-chief Dr. Aslam Abdullah, who spoke glowingly of the achievements of TMO and of the importance of Muslim media.
Dr. Nakadar then gave an introduction that covered recent accomplishments of The Muslim Observer in influencing the national debate in key areas, for example the Facebook controversy, and the Kurt Haskell eyewitness account of the Christmas day bomber. He also spoke about the killing of Imam Luqman in Detroit. In some of these examples and others, reporting by The Muslim Observer appears to have influenced and moved events on the ground in important areas.
Dr. Nakadar emphasized that the not-for-profit TMO Foundation would foster investigative journalism, would study political involvement of Muslims, and would seek to increase the involvement of students.
To date, the TMO Foundation has provided several thousand dollars in scholarship funds to Muslim American journalism and communications students, and has encouraged them by printing their articles and essays in The Muslim Observer. The Foundation has also begun sponsoring research projects. So far it has conducted research into several areas, including politics and into halal laws in American states.
The research into politics, by Nargis Rahman, considered the disproportionate legislative influence of one Muslim community (in Hamtamck, Michigan), as compared with other Muslim communities with comparable or even greater percentage of the local population.
The research into laws relating to halal products was done by Ayub Khan, and found that although several states have laws relating to halal products (namely New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, California, New York, Texas, and Maryland), those laws are not enforced.
Mazen Asbahi then spoke at the event. Mr. Asbahi is an attorney from the Asbahi Law Group which is based in DC, Detroit, and Chicago.
Mr. Asbahi focused his speech on the recent defense of Muslimsâ€™ Cordoba Mosque in close proximity to Ground Zero by New Yorkâ€™s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who Asbahi emphasized was as a Jewish Republican (and mayor of the very city attacked on 9/11) someone that perhaps very few Muslims would have expected to defend Muslims.
Asbahi repeated Bloombergâ€™s arguments defending the Cordoba Mosque, that Muslims were among those callously murdered on 9/11, and that America was founded on a principle of mutual cohabitation unfettered by religious or ethnic bias and that to counter this principle in relation to the Cordoba Mosque would be â€œuntrue to who we are.â€
Asbahi also argued against Muslims isolating themselves. â€œIf all your social time is spent with Muslims,â€ argued Mr. Asbahi, then your isolation puts you in a virtual ghetto despite whatever wealth or comforts you live in.
â€œThe most important determinant in opinions of peopleâ€ regarding Muslims is â€œwhether they know a Muslim,â€ he explained. Asbahi quoted Hamza Yusuf who argued at an ISNA convention in years past that he converted to Islam not to join a tribe but to be with the truth.
Asbahi finished with a beautiful quotation of a Langston Hughes poem called Let America Be America Again, the theme of which was that the promise of America (then as now) was unfulfilled in relation to the person speaking the poem, a voice which intended to speak for African Americans and many other peoples who had then and appear to still be, to varying degrees, excluded from the American Dream.
Mr. Hedges then began his keynote speech, and described his interesting history in relation to religion and journalism; starting from his fatherâ€™s deep personal commitment to social justice and building to his own choices of conscience that caused him to be fired by the New York Times for saying things in relation to the Iraq war which, though in hindsight appear to be absolutely true, were unutterable at that dark post-9/11 time period as Bush and others set the stage for the Iraq war.
One of Chris Hedges most telling points was his quoting an exasperated journalistic colleague who at one point years ago exclaimed, â€œYouâ€™re not a journalist, youâ€™re a minister pretending to be a journalist.â€
Hedges explained that he had â€œdeep-sixedâ€ his career repeatedly, â€œstanding fast to moral principles.â€ Hedges argued that people are not rewarded in this life for their virtue. In fact, Hedges even argued that the definition of whether a moral imperative was involved in an issue was that â€œthere must be a cost for a stanceâ€ on that issue.
Hedgesâ€™ loyalty to the principles taught him by his father is admirable–and a theme of his speech was that, in fact, what he gained from his fatherâ€™s teachings on personal action in relation to social justice is that â€œHe gave me the freedom to stand for the principles that he stood for.â€
Thus, when almost anyone else would remain quiet in order to hold onto a career or a job, Hedges has repeatedly spoken in favor of his beliefs, to his own detriment.
Following Mr. Hedges speech there was an awards ceremony at which awards were presented to the essay contest winners and others, including Zuleka Hussain, who won the essay contest, Ayesha Jamal, Deanna Suleiman, Dianna Elbasha, Hamdan Azhar,, Musa Odeh, Nidah Chatriwala, Sahrish Salem, and Sulaiman Salem.
There was also a fundraising effort led by Dr. Aslam Abdullah, who encouraged all to donate and enlisted the help of Mr. Chris Hedges and other speakers to encourage the audience to donate generously.