Themed "Bridging the Divide: Religion, Race, and Politics," the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) held its 2017 convention Nov. 5 at the Los Angeles Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Nearly 1,000 people gathered for an extraordinary day of learning and hearing powerful calls to civic action.
"American Muslim communities and American immigrant communities are going to be our salvation," declared Connie Rice, a leading civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles.
Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints Church of Pasadena called for more MPAC chapters. Prof. John Esposito of Georgetown University commented that Islamophobia has grown recently to a much higher level.
MPAC board chair Seema Ahmad described Sue Obeidi, MPAC's Hollywood bureau director, as a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey, George Takei and others. Obeidi, who writes about the industry's inclusion and representation of Islam and Muslims, works with studios to create accurate and humanizing portrayals of Islam and Muslims in film, television, and on digital platforms.
Salam Al-Marayati, president of MPAC, opened his speech by saying: "Our nation has never been more divided since the Vietnam War, and maybe since the Civil War." He added, "Sometimes I read about myself being attacked by the right and the left on the same page! That means I'm moderate, and MPAC is taking the middle ground."
Al-Marayati went on to note that President Donald Trump traveled to the Middle East talking about religious tolerance with the dictators, while instead he could have talked to American Muslims right here on the South Lawn of the White House. "Religion is like water," he continued. "If you suppress it, it becomes stagnant, but if you let it flow, it will purify the surroundings. Tyranny suppresses religion, and freedom liberates it."
He concluded by saying, "Whoever says that Islam is at war with the West, I say it's a lie. Islam proved it can talk to Christianity."
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Greenleaf Christian Church, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and architect of the Moral Mondays Movement, delivered an impassioned call to action. It is our responsibility, as people of faith, to collectively organize in addressing the pressing challenges of our nation, he emphasized. "God says that if we do God's work well, He will use us to change the moral narrative of this nation, and to help us. Together we will save the soul of America, and the soul of this democracy. I'm calling on you to render a moral challenge for the moral crisis that we face in America."
"There is a link between Islamophobia and racism," Rev. Barber stated, and what we're seeing today has been going on for the last 50 years. Ever since the Nixon Era, the plan has been to play every American against the other and divide our society. He concluded: "Christian nationalism is a public statement wrapped up in the flag of big business. This kind of religion has justified slavery for more than 200 years. We've got to make a change, it's our time now to stand up to save America."