Remarks Given By
Frank F Islam
Interfaith Leadership Award Concert
Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for your warm welcome. It is truly a pleasure and honor for me to be here at the 37th Annual Interfaith Concert.
I like to express my deep gratitude to Rabbi Gerry Serotta for his interfaith leadership and for giving me this award. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with him for the vision we share and the values we cherish, nourish, and nurture.
Let us give him big round of applause
Thank you Congressman Raskin for those kind comments. Thank you to the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington for honoring me with this Leadership Award.
While I am the one receiving the Interfaith Leadership award, I accept it with all humility and on behalf of the members of the Conference and those of you in the audience who are working diligently together to build bridges, to break down the barriers, and to promote dialogue of understanding and a shared sense of community throughout the DC area.
You are doing the heavy lifting required to create a more unified and just community here in the metropolitan area. And, I am doing what I can to help lighten your load. I see us as partners and collaborators in this interfaith endeavor.
It has been an endeavor that was made more difficult in this presidential election year because of the harsh and divisive language of the campaign, in which one candidate’s message separated people by race, religion, and national origin. But, the American people have spoken through our electoral process. No doubt many of us here did not get the outcome we may have wanted, but, we will accept the result. We love our country; we will serve it; defend it; and never stop struggling. We will continue to fight for the soul of our nation. Americans of all faiths and background need to come together and redouble our efforts to reject hate and bigotry in all forms. We must continue to fight for a fairer and stronger America. We are stronger together. And, together, we can help shape a better future.
We can do that through our creeds, through our seeds, and through our deeds. Let me elaborate briefly on each of these.
Our Creeds. (Pause) I stand before you a Muslim with the last name of Islam.
Think about that. Depending on who is looking at it given conditions in the United States and around the world today, it might be said that I am either doubly blessed or doubly cursed.
I feel strongly that I am doubly blessed. Here’s why.
I grew up in a religious family in India. Being a Muslim has taught me many things – but the most important is that the whole purpose of religion is to provide justice and a path to justice for all of us.
That includes animals and nature itself. According to the Holy Qur’an, God asked “Who will take care of all of my Creation. The mountains said the task was too great; even the angels declined to take on the challenge. But then Man jumped up and said ‘We will take care’. So we made a contract with God to protect his Creation.”
I have learned as a Muslim to believe in the unity of all creation and that everything and everyone is a reflection of God on earth. Because of that I have also learned that there are just people and that just people do just things.
I treasure my faith. My faith firmly believes in equality, dignity, compassion, respect, tolerance, justice and peace for other faiths.
My faith keeps me calm and provides me with a sense of optimism that gives me peace. With my personal peace, I can work with others of different faiths and different creeds for peace and to build stronger communities.
Therefore, it is a joy for me to be with you representatives of eleven historic faith communities who are tearing down the walls between us rather than building them.
You are indeed doing God’s work. Not the work of your God or the work of my God, but the work of our God – our God as members of the same universal spiritual family.
In November of 1963, just weeks before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, speaking before the Protestant Council of New York City, said, “The family of man is not limited to a single race or religion, to a single city, or country…the family of man is nearly 3 billion strong. Most of its members are not White and most of them are not Christian.”
President Kennedy went on to say, “The members of this family should be at peace with one another.” I agree with President Kennedy as I am sure all of you do, too.
We people of different faiths, of different creeds should be at communal peace here in Metropolitan Washington – and that is the state you are working to achieve.
Let me move from our creeds to our seeds.
Our Seeds. (Pause) The press release for this event noted that one of the reasons the Interfaith Conference gave me its Leadership Award is for my support of the Athenaeum Symposium at Montgomery College.
Some of you may not be familiar with Montgomery College. Let me tell you a little about it. Montgomery College is a community college located in Montgomery Country, Maryland – the county in which I reside. The College sponsors the Athenaeum Symposium to provide its students access to presentations by leading experts in areas such as international affairs, arts, politics, and economics.
The Symposium educates, informs and helps to shape those students. It plants seeds. That is why I support it and have since 2013.
As you all know, you in the Interfaith Conference are in the seed planting business as well. Your education and training events and publications such as Strengthening the Teaching About Religion and the Swastika Educational Brochure open people’s eyes and minds and help them to look beyond themselves and prepare them to become more positive contributors and community builders.
Our creeds and our seeds lead to our deeds.
Our Deeds: (Pause) let me begin talking about our deeds by taking you back to India once again. In India, my family lived in a small town called Azamgarh
It was there that my parents taught me to: Treat people in the way that you want to be treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Do what you can to serve your community.
In the neighborhood where I grew up, all of us from different backgrounds and different faiths learned to work side-by-side because we were bound together in the service of others.
I have carried that collaborative and communal approach developed during my formative years to my business, philanthropic and civic involvement.
I currently serve on the Advisory Board of the U.S. Institute of Peace – an organization devoted to the nonviolent prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict around the world. The majority of those “ideas” at USIP are directed at non-violent solutions to increase human and civil rights.
Mahatma Gandhi told us, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I try to live my life in accordance with Gandhi’s advice and to practice what I preach.
I know that those of you here today because of your involvement with and investment in the interfaith conference do so as well. I also know that in touching on the topics that I have that I am preaching to the choir.
The concepts of creeds, seeds and deeds are not new to you. In fact, they are the bedrock of your existence and the essence of your being. I appreciate your listening to my layperson’s perspective on them.
I also appreciate being invited to attend and participate in this concert. I can think of no better way to bring people together than through music and the performing arts. And, I can think of no better reason to bring people together than what you in the Conference are doing in your mission to increase religious and cultural unity in the Washington Metropolitan area.
My hat is off and my hands are together for you. If I was a better singer or a dancer, I would croon or move across this stage for you. Given my skill level, however, I will leave that to the concert performers.
In closing, as I said in the opening remarks, I accept this interfaith leadership award for me on your behalf and to recognize your leadership as interfaith leaders. I look forward to our continuing collaboration to unify more creeds, to plant more seeds, and do more good deeds.
I know that is God’s will and it should be our way.
Thanks for your attention and letting me speak with you today. Good luck and God speed. God bless you all
Let the concert continue!