Distinguished guests, Members of the Progressive Muslim Forum, Mayor Khan, Friends, and Ladies and Gentlemen:
I want to thanks all of you for your warm welcome and thank you for your hospitality.
Thank you for that kind introduction.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Khurshid Alam for inviting me to deliver this address. Let us give him a big round of applause.
It is my distinct honor and privilege to be here with all of you this evening for this wonderful event during the season of Ramadan. I want to extend best wishes to all Muslims a joyful Ramadan Kareem. May the spirit of Ramadan illuminate the world and show us the way to peace and harmony
If you looked at the program, I have been allotted 20 minutes for my remarks tonight. Rest assured that I will not take up all of that time, as I know it is late in the evening and we are all ready to break our fasts.
I am also mindful of what President Woodrow Wilson said when he was asked to give a speech. He responded, “How long is it to be. If it is to be twenty minutes, I am ready now. If it is to be ten minutes, it will take me two weeks to prepare. If it is to be 5 minutes, it will take me one month.”
I haven’t had one month to work on my talk, but I have put in considerable time to keep it short, focused and to the point. The topic that I was asked to speak on is “The importance of tolerance and diversity adding value to Peace & Economic progress of global Nations.”
Now, that’s a mouthful and somewhat abstract and conceptual. I will speak to that topic. But, to make it a little more concrete, the title that I have given to my talk is “ISIS, Donald Trump, Muhammad Ali, You and Me.”
Let me begin with ISIS. As you all know, a little more than one week ago, a Muslim terrorist in Orlando committed the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States killing more than 50 innocent victims and wounding more than 50 others. In the midst of this horrendous act, he made a 911 phone call and pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS,Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi.
Needless to say, the actions of this lone wolf terrorist have touched off a wide-ranging fire storm of commentary, concern and controversy across the United States.
I raise that cowardly act at the outset of my talk because it represents the tragic circumstances and conditions that we are dealing with in the 21st century in attempting to bring tolerance and diversity to nations and a world that are becoming increasingly intolerant and fragmented.
I also raise it because that act has absolutely nothing to do with the Muslim faith that you and I know. It is the attempt by a radical terrorist, as have been others in places such as Paris, Boston, and Brussels, to hijack our religion and to misrepresent it and to try to turn others in countries around the world against us.
The leading imams in the United States have reacted to this brutal shooting by calling for a day of Muslim unity to be convened on the mall in Washington, D.C. on July 23 to condemn these killings and other hostile acts and to take pro-active steps to prevent them from happening in the future. They have asked all Muslims and supporters of a tolerant, diverse and peacefully society to join with them on that day.
This action by the Muslim community is a big step forward. Muslim communities should do everything possible to help eradicate the menace of terrorism, hatefulness, and bigotry.
Unfortunately, at the same time in the United States, there is a countervailing force and a big step backward being urged by the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Again, as you know, Trump has called for a ban on all foreign-born Muslims entering the United States. He doubled down on the call for that ban after the Orlando shootings – even though the shooter there was a native born American of Afghanistan heritage.
Trump does not restrict his attacks on Muslims. He doesn’t use a gun but because of his machine gun mouth he doesn’t need one.
He has also gone after Mexicans. He doesn’t want to ban them. He just wants to build a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States to keep all illegal immigrants out of the country.
In a recent interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, Trump repeatedly said, “I am building a wall.” I reacted to that comment by Trump by writing a blog for the Huffington Post.
In that blog, I stated, “That comment struck me as odd in that Trump is not building a wall. He is talking about building a wall. Moreover, if a wall was ever to be built, Trump himself would not build it.
Then, the more I thought about it, I came to understand that for once Mr. Trump is being accurate in his pronouncement. He is indeed building a wall.
That wall is one of bigotry, hatred and divisiveness between the American people and America and much of the rest of the world. This is no small feat. But, it is a mean feat and demeaning one for our nation and its citizens.
Near the end of the blog I concluded, “Donald Trump has said he is building a wall. And, this great nation and its citizens are paying the price.”
That’s not just my opinion. It’s also the opinion of Michael Hayden, former four star general in the United States Air Force and head of the CIA and the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush. Hayden has declared that Trumps Muslim comments are helping ISIS and putting Americans more at risk in the United States and around the world.
In contrast to Donald Trump who moves the United States backward on the issues of tolerance, diversity and peace, Muhammad Ali moved the United States and the world a giant leap forward on those same issues during his lifetime and his memory continues to do so.
This was attested to by the tribute and memorial service convened in his home town of Louisville Kentucky a few weeks ago.
Ali led his life in three acts. In the first act, he was a three time heavy weight champion of the boxing world. In his second act, he stood up against and refused to go into the service during the Vietnam War because it was against his religious beliefs as a Muslim. He gave up his heavy weight crown because of that courageous act. In his third act – and the one that most people know the least about – he campaigned continuously across the United States and around the world for interfaith peace, love and understanding among people of all creeds and colors and background and belief.
His three hour ecumenical memorial service brought that third act to national and international attention in a truly powerful and stunning way. If you have not seen it, I commend it to your viewing. It reaffirms who we are as Muslims and the fundamental generosity and kindness of our Islamic faith.
The service featured imams, and religious leaders of all other faiths including Jewish, Christian and Buddhist. It also included members of Ali’s family and President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal who were close friends of the champ and whom he invited to speak
During his comments, President Clinton described Ali as “a universal soldier for our common humanity.” Crystal told the story of how he invited to Ali to be the co-host with him for an event at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1999.
Ali not only served as the co-host he went to Jerusalem and helped raise a lot of money. As Crystal described it, here was the most famous Muslim man in the world working together to help a Jewish friend accomplish something important.
The money from that event was used to establish a group called Peace through the Performing Arts at Hebrew University. The group comprised of Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians actors and directors working together in peace to mount theatrical performances. This integrated group still performs plays that promote “our common humanity.”
In other words, they carry on the work of Ali. As so, should all of we.
Muhammad Ali always said that he was the greatest. But, he also understood both implicitly and explicitly that each of us has greatness within and that the challenge and opportunity during our lifetime is to find our calling and to let that greatness shine not for us personally but upon and in collaboration with others.
This brings me back to you – to all of you here this evening, and most especially to the members of the Progressive Muslims Forum.
But, by looking at the Forum’s mission which includes the following words, “We stand for peace, tolerance and friendship with one another and share the vision of strengthening our society through understanding, valuing diversity and a true respect for each other. Our focus is in working together with all communities, faiths & government bodies including statutory and voluntary bodies”. It seems to me that I am preaching to the choir.
You have found your greatness by practicing “civic engagement”. In my opinion, civic engagement takes five primary forms:
- Individual – being the best one can be and personally responsible for one’s actions
- Organizational – contributing to the success of the groups (e.g., business, religion, associations) to which one belongs
- Political – participating in those processes that shape the structure and nature of government
- Community – collaborating to make the locale and the world in which we live a better place
- Social – advocating for justice and equality of treatment and opportunity for all
I applaud each and all of you for your civic engagement efforts no matter what form they take. I am especially pleased to be here with Mayor Khan and to recognize his political leadership which is focused on unifying London rather than dividing it as his predecessor was prone to do. I say carry on!
Finally, let me turn to me for a brief moment. I am a Muslim with the last name of Islam.
Think about that. Depending on who is looking at it, it might be said that I am doubly blessed or doubly cursed.
Seriously, like Ali, I have led my life in three acts. As you can probably tell, none of those was as a heavy weight boxer.
My first act was “Developing.” It was focused on going to school at Aligarh Muslim University in India and then coming to the United States to get two degrees and to pursue the American Dream. The second act was “Doing.” It was focused on becoming an entrepreneur, building a successful information technology firm and achieving the American dream.
I am now in my third act “Giving Back.’ In this act, I am focused on making contributions which I consider investments to help world become a better, safer, and saner place.
Through our Foundation, my wife Debbie and I provide scholarships to a number of higher education institutions in the United States. We also have committed to build a new school of Management Complex at Aligarh Muslim University in India. I would not be the person I am today if it were not for Aligarh education. Aligarh students have always been our best hope. My investment in the School of Management is my way of saying thank you and keeping the hope alive. I firmly believe my investment will yield exponential return.
Here, the progressive vision of America is worth thinking about for a moment. America has long succeeded because it has been open to new people and new ways of doing things. The most successful parts of America are often the most diverse and also the most tolerant.
That is not an accident.
In the modern world, ideas and creativity is an essential driver of innovation and thus growth. And diverse societies are more creative and innovative. They are a post-modern alchemists dream.
Mr. Mayor, creating cities that can attract talent from around the world, and that can create an environment where people of different cultures, different faiths, different races, genders and sexualities can all work together in peace and harmony is now critical to success in the global economy. It is a challenge that I am confident you will rise to, and one your friends in America would be delighted to help you accomplish.
That is part of my story in striving to find my greatness by sharing and to helping others find theirs. I have been uniquely blessed. And, I am certain that those of you here have been as well.
That is why I am so pleased to be with here with you my fellow Muslims and your friends during Ramadan to reflect upon those things that we can do to benefit society and most importantly to help others in need.
Ramadan is a month of deeply spiritual time of reflection and recommitment and a special time for compassion, caring, sharing and giving. This is our chance not only be grateful for all the blessings we have been allotted, but an opportunity to give to those who are poor, who are hungry, who are less fortunate, and who have no means to break the fast. Ramadan reminds us that we have common obligation to uphold the dignity of every human being. Ramadan also reminds us that we need to stand firmly by rejecting the voices that seek to divide us or limit our religion freedom or civil rights.
I hope they have been an appropriate rhetorical appetizer before we break our fasts. I also hope our paths will cross again as we continue our quests as Muslims with a common mission.
Thank you for your attentiveness and thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you in this regard
Until then, good luck and God speed. God bless you all
May God’s peace be upon you?