October 27, 2007–It took a Canadian Muslim medical doctor from Canada to offer a prescription for American Muslims to achieve political empowerment.
The occasion was the eleventh annual unity dinner of UMAT (pronounced â€œummatâ€) held in Toledo. The theme of the event was â€œAmerican Muslim Political Empowerment.â€ The keynote speaker for this event was Dr. Shafiq Qaadri; a practicing medical doctor and a newly-elected MPP (Member Provincial Parliament) of Ontario in the recently-concluded â€˜07 election. He had previously won the â€˜03 elections by 10,000 votes (after losing the â€˜99 elections by 1,200 votes).
â€œUMAT was established in 1996 by representatives of four major Muslim communities in Toledo,â€ said Dr. M.Yousuf Ahmed, President of UMAT, namely the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Masjid Saad, Masjid Al-Islam and Masjid Imam Ali.
â€œWe started this organization in 1996 to educate our community members about the political issues and encourage participation in the political process.â€ He stated that among the delegates elected to represent Ohio in the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles for the â€˜04 elections, two were Muslim and from UMAT. â€œThe annual UMAT dinner is considered as an event to attend by most of the local, state and national elected officials or hopefuls,â€ said Yousuf.
This year an elected Muslim member of the Canadian Government was invited to deliberate on the political issues in America and build on the success of Dr. Shafiq Qaadri. Also speaking was Zakariah Reed, a Muslim Toledo fire-fighter, about his ongoing tribulations at the US-Canada border crossing. He recounted mistreatment, harassment and terror for him and his family at the border whenever he returned from a Canadian trip after visiting his parents-in-law. â€œThey have the first question during his long interrogation ordeals,â€ Zakariah said, â€œWhy I became a Muslim and changed my name. The homeland security personnel usually have their weapons out in front of me.â€ â€œI approached my congress-person for getting the issue of red alert at the border resolved, it didnâ€™t help. I approached [my] Ohio senator, he did not respond.â€
He pointedly asks â€œWhat would I expect from a senator who owns a couple of rental properties in Israel and receives money from AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee)?â€
Dr. Shafiq Qaadri in his keynote speech drew upon his being the historical first Muslim Pakistani in the Ontario Parliament. â€œSince the inception of the provincial government in Ontario in 1792, the first Muslim of Pakistani origin was elected as MPP in 2003,â€ said Shafiq, â€œIn a population of 13 million, now there are four Muslim elected members in the recently concluded elections of 2007 from a total of 107 MPPâ€™s in Ontario.â€ The Muslim population of Ontario is approximately 400,000, i.e., 3% of the total population.
Born to Pakistani parents in Chicago, Shafiqâ€™s father went back home to serve as a nuclear scientist in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and then moved back to Canada when Shafiq was still young. After the familyâ€™s return, Shafiq completed high school and medical school in Toronto in 1988. During his academic career, he won several scholarships and a Medical Research Council Scholarship in Clinical Neurosurgery. He was also a Canadian National Debating Champion. He practises medicine in the west-end of Toronto.
â€œInspiration into political process is critical for emerging communities in America and Canada. For American Muslim Political Empowerment, we say YES. For Muslims it is important to take part in local, city, state, and national election process.â€
â€œHow do we embark on political empowerment?â€ â€œI offer four steps:
1. Professionalization of the approach to politics, as a serious business and not something that can be taken up by volunteers, or as a hobby.
2. Involvement at all different levels, participation in political process is much broader than voting or onetime work. It requires strategizing behind the screens in closed rooms and developing a long-term game plan. It takes years of involvement to build a strong base and not holding 3-4 fund raising events. â€œMoney not only talks, it sings and serenades.â€ Seeking opportunities to present honest feedback and having resources takes the involvement to behind-the-scenes meetings and gets an ear and seat at the table of thinkers.
3. Not being indifferent to other groups, liaise with other groups. Forging alliances helps in building a common platform; our own needs become associated with other communities.
4. Offering services, from placing signs, the lowest level of participation, to becoming precinct captains, treasurers, and getting other positions. Getting certified by the people in position of the politics and decision makers will get us invited for conferences at local, state and national level.â€
Shafiq used the analogy of playing chess for involvement in politics. â€œThink of the politics as games of chess being played at different levels for different objectives in Muslim countries â€“ oil, stabilizing monarchies for multi national gains, on and on.â€
In response to a question after the presentation, Dr. Shafiq Qaadri replied, â€œ The responsibility of having young Muslim generations in America active in politics rests squarely on the parents. The parents must motivate and push their children in political activities starting from young age.â€