Mass. Muslims to meet Gov., seek broader voiceMassachusetts Muslim leaders, moving to transform their often marginalized community into a vibrant civic force, will meet face to face with Gov. Deval Patrick this weekend in what they’re billing as a landmark event.
Organizers say about 1,000 Muslims from groups around the state, including 15 mosques, plan to attend a Saturday forum with the governor at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in New England’s largest mosque.
Leaders plan to talk to Patrick about what Muslims can contribute, describe bias they face and ask the governor to make specific commitments to raise awareness about their faith.
It’s the first time such a large group of Muslims have had an audience with the state’s highest-ranking elected official, said Yusufi Vali, a community organizer at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.
“I think what is happening this night is exactly what needs to happen,” he said. “What people will see that night is Muslims aren’t scary. … They do want to have a stake in this country and make it better.”
Boston College religion professor Alan Wolfe said the meeting could have lasting importance for area Muslims.
“I think there’s still a substantial reluctance on the part of non-Muslim Americans to accept Islam as part of the American religious rainbow. This is an important step to overcoming that,” he said. “It’s a symbolic recognition that Muslims are a political community, and the only way you get accepted in America is through politics, really.”
Estimates of the state’s Muslim population vary widely, from as high as 130,000, to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that puts the number at no more than 33,000 out of a population of 6.6 million.
There’s a broad range of incomes, education levels and ethnicities within the group, from newer Somali immigrants, often in working-class jobs such as cab drivers, to established families from India and Pakistan employed as engineers and doctors. But their varied backgrounds mean local Muslim voices have sometimes been fragmented or muffled, event organizers said.
But Vali said Muslims share weariness and anger over being branded dangerous because of terrorism by Islamic extremists, and the accompanying extra attention by law enforcement and airport security. There’s also a conviction the political class prefers to keep them at arm’s length.
Vali noted President Barack Obama has not visited an American mosque since he took office — and did not during the campaign — though the White House cites several initiatives to reach out to Muslims, including briefings with more than 100 Arab-American leaders during the last two years to update them on various domestic and international issues.
Area Muslims came to realize nothing would change until they united and tried to engage elected leaders, said Suzan El-Rayess, a graduate student working with event organizers.
“We felt like now is the time,” El-Rayess said. “We don’t have a seat at the table. We want to be active decision makers.”
Bilal Kaleem, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Boston and the event’s lead organizer, said research shows that getting groups involved in the political process combats extremism within them. Ahmed Salaad, who works with the Boston-area Somali community, added engagement can also ease fears about Muslims.
“If you don’t know me, there is always the fear of the unknown,” he said.
The governor agreed to the meeting about three months ago, and organizers began holding small group meetings throughout the state to learn what Muslims were concerned about and what they’d like to change, Kaleem said.The result was a list of several commitments Patrick will be asked to make Saturday, including visiting at least two Muslim institutions in the next six months; arranging a meeting with law enforcement agencies to discuss training for interacting with the Muslim community; and convening a meeting with the state education chief to improve awareness of religious requirements of Muslim students and teachers, such as fasting and prayer.
To show their concern for the broader community, they’ll also ask Patrick to fight usury by moving state money out of banks that avoid the state’s interest rate cap, Kaleem said.
The governor hadn’t made promises prior to the meeting. In a statement, a spokeswoman for Patrick, Kimberly Haberlin, said the governor “is committed to listening to the concerns and good ideas of all Massachusetts citizens.” But event organizers said, no matter what, Saturday’s meeting was just a beginning.
“We don’t want to have this event and then rest on our laurels,” El-Rayess said.
I have stated over and over, that Islam is a two-tier threat. One being violent Muslims, the other is the political aspect of Islam. The political threat of Islam, is an even bigger threat to life as we know it, than potential suicide bombers. Governor Patrick is meeting with them, and they are coming with a list of demands. A list that will be never ending. Lets face it guys, Muslims are here to takeover, and our Constitution is not protecting us from Islam, it is actually enabling it. The rules need to change, or America will continue to change to suit Islam.