9/11 Unity Day USA My story is your story

Dr. Mike Ghouse   September 11, 2018   Comments Off on 9/11 Unity Day USA My story is your story

9/11: My Personal Journey from 2001 through 2018 and my commitment to America

Since September 11, 2001, many stories have been told and experiences shared, but here is one story among many, that I hope my fellow Americans ought to hear, particularly those who are afraid of everything and everyone and believe in conspiracies.

9/11 is one of the most significant days of my life, and I have made a lifetime commitment to dedicate this day, every year to serve my nation by bringing Americans together for the safety and security, and peace and prosperity of America.

As a Muslim, I am deeply committed to America, the land of the brave and the free with liberty and justice for all
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I hope this piece prompts you to think of the problematic encounters you may have had dealt with people of different faiths. This is a long story, and I hope it offers insights into what it takes to build a cohesive America, a genuinely free America where no one has to live in apprehension and fear of the other.

Please remember God is a good and a just guy. He has not signed a deal with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus or others behind each other back, and he treats all of his creation with the sameness as a teacher treats her students, or a chef wants his patrons to enjoy his cuisine. There is serenity in being fair and just, it is the ultimate goal for harmony and balance in the society. Can we be fair to each other?

This is also the story of the birth of Unity Day USA, a day to bring Americans Together.

The idea for Unity Day USA was first conceived on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It is an initiative to come together to stand up for the safety, security, and cohesiveness of America.

On this Unity Day, we the people of the United States of America of every faith, race, ethnicity, culture, and background will gather to express our commitment to co-existence, unity, prosperity and well being of our nation.

Our civic leaders including Mayors, Council members, State representatives, Senators, Congresspersons and other officials will honor us with their presence. I hope each Mayor at will give a one-minute speech to share his/her thoughts about co-existence and promoting social cohesion in their respective cities.

Additionally, our men and women in uniform including police and fire chiefs will be continued to be honored for their outstanding service to our nation. Leaders from various faith communities will share a few words of wisdom from their respective scriptures, beliefs or oral traditions.

Unity Day USA is about re-affirming our faith in the goodness in humanity, and the longing for harmony and co-existence. The rituals include but are not limited to Native American, Atheist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Earth-traditions, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Wicca and Zoroastrians; thus it is an all-inclusive event.

It is an excellent experience to feel a sense of unity with fellow Americans that will bring a feeling of coming home to where we drop all of our identities to be united together as an American family.

As Americans, we uphold, protect, defend and celebrate the values enshrined in our constitution. Our faiths reinforce the idea of one nation with liberty and justice for all.

As a Muslim, I am deeply committed to America, the land of the brave and the free with liberty and justice for all.

Pictures, comments, sound bites are all at www.Unitydayusa.com.

On the day of 09/11/2001

Dallas, Texas. About 10:00 in the Morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was called in by AM Radio 1150 to address the situation; and 950 AM also joined in to simulcast the program. The great tragedy had left everyone speechless and had frozen everyone from doing anything. I was shaking but was committed to make sense out of the chaos and bring coherence to the day, and pave the way for relevant action.

I was on the air for 7 hours straight, standing on my feet and getting just about every community, religious, civic and business leader and the general public on the air to talk about the situation. Many of them read prepared statements, and one by one they condemned the attack. I did not even get to eat or take a break. The calls were pouring in, and I was wholly absorbed in the situation.

Among many who jumped on the idea to hold interfaith prayers were Mr. Joel Brooks of American Jewish Congress, Ms. Vinoda Kumar of the DFW Hindu Temple, Mr. Mohammad Suleman of the Islamic Center of Dallas, Mr. Poras Balsara of the Zoroastrian community and Kevin Rafraf from the Baha’i Temple, the list was endless. All the announcements and pronouncements were going on the radio live from every community leader. Mr. Taiyab Kundawala of India Association agreed to hold and announce the prayer vigil at the association, and the fundraising was set up the very next evening. Mr. Mansoor Shah of Pakistan Society was there to do anything that needed to be done. Mr. Ashok Kumar Mago of the Indian Chamber of Commerce also joined in on the Radio. I apologize to many friends, whose name have gone blank on me. I would appreciate if you could share them. This will go as a chapter in my upcoming book on Pluralism.

While this was going on, my late wife Najma had called in to announce about the blood drive, and sure enough, hundreds of people were lining up at Wadley Blood center. She drove to the facility, and the folks told her that the lines were too long and asked us to hold off the announcements till the next day. I wish I could get hold of the CNN tapes from the next day where they interviewed me for over 10 minutes at the Radio Station we were hanging out. Our friends and my late wife said that every word I said on the TV was just the right word, what a relief! I was tense but determined to clear the muddy waters.

9/11 is one of the most significant days of my life, and I have made a lifetime commitment to dedicate this day, every year to serve my nation by bringing Americans together for the safety and security, and peace and prosperity of America.

As the community was fully involved on the air with me, the Interfaith-faith prayers, blood donations, and fundraising for the men and women in uniform were all in place by evening. The fog was clearing up, Osama bin Laden was the bad guy, and Muslim-Americans had nothing to do with his actions, nor did they authorize him to terrorize anyone. Indeed, he placed a wedge between Americans that still need to be undone. I had literally declared war against this man.

Atheists, Baha’i, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Jews, Native Americans, Pagans, Sikhs, Wicca and Zoroastrians along with area city mayors, FBI, police and fire chiefs and community leaders graced the first interfaith event in Frisco. Out of which a new tradition evolved called Unity Day. It continues year after year.

A few of us formed a team from different religions and went from place of worship to place of worship and shared the prayers or gave a small talk about the respective religion. That’s where we built the relationship of trust between us for me to read the Jewish Prayers when Joel Brooks was not available, recite the Zoroastrian Prayer for Poras Balsara, Jain prayers for Pradeep Shah or Hindu Prayers for the Hindu community and of course, I represented Ben Moghaddas of Baha’i faith and was always a substitute for the Muslim community. There never was a shortage of Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs in interfaith activity at that time. However, it has dwindled down now. Muslims are not participating as much, and at many places, I am the only Muslim participating in smaller interfaith events. They go to the big ones though.

One of the biggest walls between Hindus and Muslims was dissolved that week. President of The Dallas Islamic Center, Muhammad Suleman asked me to pull the religious groups for the interfaith prayers, and I was pleased to include Hindu prayers. Vijayshree Venkatraman came and chanted the Om Shanti Mantra amidst all other prayers. Perhaps it was the first time Hindu prayers were recited in a Mosque complex. I am sure it is done in India, but it was a new experience for Muslims in Dallas.

If there were one gratifying moment in my interfaith life, that would be one. The other ones are chanting the Jainism’s Navakar Mantra at the Maya Temple in Mexico, Hindu prayers in the Snotes at the Mayan Temples, getting Baptized in the name of God at the place in Jordan River where Jesus was Baptized and dancing with the Pagans in Melbourne and spending time with the Native Australians.

In 1993, I published the first issue of Asian News Magazine which was co-edited by Abraham Thomas. A new standard was set in bringing the communities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka together. The highlight of the paper was a great calendar and write-ups on the essence of every possible festival that took place in Dallas. Then in July of 1996, AM Radio 1150 approached me to begin the Radio Service for the communities; indeed it was the first Talk Show Radio for the city which paved the way to full-time Radio services. These two items highlight the pluralism work that was going on. Every Saturday on the air, we had a segment called Festivals of the world where we shared the essence of every religious festival; we had religious leaders from Aztec to Zoroastrians and every one in between sharing the spirit of their celebrations on the air.

Unity Day USA – established.

The idea for Unity Day USA was first conceived on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and took its current form on Sunday, September 11, 2005. It is a Muslim initiative to come together to stand up for the safety, security, and cohesiveness of America, my initial team included Lee Holcomb of UT Dallas and other volunteers and women members from the Plano Mosque who handled terrific refreshments.

During the planning session of the event, I was opposed by a few to hold prayers from all religious groups in an alphabetical sequence. They preferred that Muslim Prayers be done at first and others to follow, someone did not want Islam to be in the Middle of Hinduism and Jainism. Even the idea of the Abrahamic faiths first and others following it was floated. I was not in favor of it as I have always believed in equality of all humans and by analogy all religions, we dug in our heels.

Before it got messy, I called Imam Dr. Yusuf Zia Kavakci and asked his guidance on it, and I was praying for wisdom from him and was willing to walk away from the event if there was preferential treatment to any group. He thought it over and said, Islamically I was on the right track to treat everyone on equal footing. However, he said, if you want to be political, you choose. I asked him if I could put those words in an email and send to the group, and that was the end of the conflict, what a relief! This Imam is a blessing to our town. Indeed I have written a few more of the interfaith moments between us.

The prayers were indeed led by 13 groups of religious leaders. Regina Rafraf led the Baha’i prayers, Ben Boothe prompted the Buddhist prayers; Christian prayers were influenced by the late Baptist Minister Roy Harrell with a team of clergy from Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian, Catholic, and other denominations; Swami Nityananda Prabhu led the Hindu group representing 7 different Hindu Temple; Islamic prayers were led by Imam Dr. Yusuf Zia Kavakci with Shia, Bohra, Ismaili, Sufi, Warith Deen Muhammad, Sunni, and other Muslim traditions, Pradeep Shah led the Jain prayers, Rabbi Haas led the Jewish prayers, the Sikh prayers were led by Bhai Harinder Singh and Ramneek Singh, Wicca prayers were led by Brian Langford and the Zoroastrian Prayers were lead by Poras Balsara. In the later years Native Americans, Pagans, Earth-based Traditions, Atheists and others have joined in, no one is excluded. However, a few continue to insult us and refuse to join standing shoulder to shoulder with people of different faiths.

FBI Chief Danny Deffenbaugh, Mayors or Mayors pro-tem and Police chiefs of Plano, Frisco, Richardson, Dallas, Garland, Carrollton, Addison and representatives of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Representative Florence Shapiro were all on the stage. Among the civic leaders were Dean Hobson of the UT Dallas among others.

My conversation with Maria Arita of Fox news was interesting. She wanted to know if it was challenging to pull these various groups together. She could not resist the inherent bias and blurted out, “was it the Moslems that were difficult?” I said no, and the answer will be in my upcoming book. It’s a fantastic story of interfaith.

In the 3rd annual Unity Day event, we discovered something beautiful about how we hold things inside. I have real relationships with my friends in different religious communities, and they share whatever bothers them, usually is it about Muslims. Everyone wants to genuinely find the truth and thanks to my friends from the Zoroastrian and Sikh Communities who held back the issue for two years.

Dr. Harbans Lal and Firdosh Mehta asked me to find out why Muslims walked out on them when it was their turn to pray in the first Unity day? Remember the Alphabetical sequence? I thank Bhagavad Gita for instilling in me with “finding the truth is one’s own responsibility”… we dug up and found out that it was the prayer time for Muslims when the Sikhs and Zoroastrian got on the stage. I shared that story and told our friends attending the event that you have got to admire our Muslim brothers and sisters when the time for prayer comes up, they drop everything as nothing else is a priority to them, and Mayor Pat Evans appreciated the hint. If that time were during the speech of the Mayor, they would merely fulfill their duty to God and pray. Isn’t it amazing what was construed as dislike to hear the Sikh and Zoroastrian payers, was not? It was such a relief to our friends Dr. Lal and Mehta.

Gregory Gomez, the Apache American surprised everyone and continues to remain the talk of the town. When Gomez went on to the stage with our Hopi Chief Ambrose to cleanse the environment (Done with feathers, a native tradition and I have been washed a few times). The first words the Native American spoke thrilled the audience, it was ironic, unexpected and truthful, he said, “Welcome to my country.” The most significant appreciation came from Richardson Mayor, Gary Slagel without missing the beat.

A few more of the moments are at http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2011/09/do-Jews-Christians-and-Muslims-better.html or in Dallas Morning News at http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/09/texas-faith-do-jews-christians.html.

The Biggest Achievement of Unity Day

The pinnacle achievement of Unity Day was on 9/11/2013 – Here is the full story about it and a film is in the making with the title “Sacred.” A New Paradigm for Muslim World. Indeed, every year, our friends who attend the event have said, they feel right about being prejudice free and free from stereotyping others, that is the power of the Unity Day.

Throughout America, we have the same federal laws for the criminals as well as the good people among us. Criminals violate the rules, and the right people don’t. The problem is not the law books or enforcement, but the few who do not follow the proper laws. It is the same story with a few Muslims, it is not the Quran or Islam, it is them, those few.

We don’t stereotype people based on actions of a few.

As Americans we need not swayed by the current events in the world with the ISIS, Al Qaeda, and their likes, they are shamefully within the comparable statistical range of the world. The same percentage of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or others behave the same; mind their own business, and a similar proportion is extremists. Read more at Two Islams.

Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Racism, Homophobia, Xenophobia, and Misogyny destroy the fabric of the nation and keep each other’s throats. We need to clean up ourselves and build a safe America for everyone.

Islam teaches one to be non-judgmental and consistently encourages individuals to do good. It emphasizes about individual responsibility towards the peace and security of society at large. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) described a good deed as an act which benefits others whom you don’t even know, such as planting a tree that serves generations of wayfarers with fruit and the shade. The world is a better place today because of a good legacy bequeathed to humanity by people of all faiths that came before us. We owe it to coming generations to leave the world a little better than we found to usher an era of justice and peace. Indeed, this is the same message, every messenger of God in every faith or a peacemaker or wise men and women have reiterated.

On my part, I am committed to building a cohesive America, and last year the Unity Day was held in Florida, and here is one of the most powerful stories, which is being made into a film.

How to build a cohesive America, watch this 10 Minutes video at www.AmericaTogetherFoundation.com

Our dream

Each one of us has a dream… a dream to have livable wages, a loving family, children, a home, reliable car, decent health care, and comfortable retirement.
A majority of Americans want a just society with safety and security. We want to live our lives as good neighbors and let others live theirs.

Our right

Our founding fathers laid the foundation of the creed for such a society, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our spirit

Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the same in his famous speech, “ I have a dream that our little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Our world

Native American Chief Seattle said it correctly; “All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does it to himself.”

Our questions

Based on the previous statements and a commitment to one nation and one America, what are we doing individually to preserve that web?
What are our initiatives?
What are the divisive issues?
Are we going to alleviate these phobias?
What is your vision for America?

Our responsibility

President Kennedy pointed us in the right direction, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” When we give to the country, we collectively receive as well.

Our empathy

Are we connected enough with each other? Can others empathize with us or even understand the truth about us? We are no different than them in our endeavors and aspirations of life.

Our action

Let’s explore daily opportunities to make America a better place for each one of us. Let’s treat others as we would wish to be addressed and have compassion for others who might look different.

If we can learn to respect the otherness of other and accept the God given the uniqueness of each American, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

We are committed to providing education, workshops, and training for future leaders. We have programs in place to move forward. All we need is your support.

Our contribution

It takes time, effort and money to bring positive changes; will you consider contributing $25, $50, $100, $500, $1000 or up?

You can do a one-time donation or recurring monthly donation through our PayPal account on our website.  http://centerforpluralism.com/donate/ 

Dr. Mike Ghouse is the Executive Director of the Center for Pluralism in Washington, DC. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. More about him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikeghouse/

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