Westland-October 21- The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) held their 21st Unity Banquet and Gala at Burton Manor in Westland. This yearâ€™s topic was â€œIslamophobiaâ€.
The guests included Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Gregory Roberts, Director of the Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives.
However, this year was different because it also included a member of the mainstream media, Grace Gilchrist, Vice President of WXYZ, Channel 7, who was awarded the Fairness in Media Award.
Dr. Sayyid Syeed in his keynote address derided Islamophobes who are waging a campaign against Muslims. He said â€œwe must see that multiculturalism and pluralism flourish–that is the basic premise of this beautiful country.â€
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, feels that including members of the media is a step in the right direction, but feels that the issue of â€œIslamophobiaâ€ is bigger than the Muslim community.
â€œThis is really painful for the Muslim community, as well as, a big challenge on how to remove the ignorance and bring education to ourselves and others,â€ said Elahi, â€œItâ€™s a big responsibility for the Muslim community to reach out to the media and deal with this issue.â€
According to Victor Begg, Chair of CIOM, bias against members of the Jewish and Catholic communities is understood by many Americans; however, â€œIslamophobiaâ€ is still unrecognized.
In the CIOM newsletter Begg states, â€œWhen the rights of one minority are corrupted, it is the responsibility of all Americans to speak up. Islamophobia has implications to harm not only American Muslims but also America as a whole. Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are interlinked.â€
Elahi and Saleem Qureshi, CIOM Treasurer, both agree that the mainstream media and interfaith dialogue are the keys in this struggle.
â€œItâ€™s a way for the different religions and communities to put their hearts and minds together to stop this ignorance,â€ said Elahi.
â€œWe should develop communication with the media and other ethnic groups so that they can learn about the good of Islam and they can spread that information to their own communities,â€ said Qureshi.
Qureshi also adds that some of the fault lies within the Muslim community.
â€œIn the past we have never made an effort to reach the media and if you donâ€™t reach them, then they donâ€™t care,â€ he says, â€œWe need to show them that we are important members of society.â€
Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, Mark Brewer, says that â€œIslamophobiaâ€ is a major concern for Michigan. He says the party is against the Patriot Act and secret evidence, which he considers discriminatory and â€œun-American.â€
He feels that Michigan is more susceptible to this problem because of the high number of Muslims living within the state, but believes that knowledge about Islam and Muslims will lead to better understanding for other Americans.
â€œI think thereâ€™s been more exposure and education for the community. We also need to be on guard more because there is more potential here for this type of discrimination,â€ he said, â€œI think we have made tremendous progress in Michigan, especially since the Gulf War. But we must remain vigilant.â€