A week ago there was a fundraising dinner in Toronto organized by the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services (JFHS). Nearly 1,500 people turned out for the event, raising more than $175,000 for relief and development projects in Palestine. The standing room only event was co-sponsored by the city's large Muslim organizations and held at the International Muslims Organization (IMO).
The event was one of the largest dinners held in Toronto and many gave despite their donor fatigue from giving to many other projects, centers, and schools. And despite the many differences in culture and background of those who attended, they united to support a cause they all believed in.
One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Muneer ElKasim, who delivered a powerful message to the highly charged crowd, made a simple yet poignant observation. He said that for too long Muslims have been brainwashed to think through the prism of ethnicity. I would take this further to include school of thought as well. In fact, far too many of our mosques, schools and centers are run along issues of ethnicity or schools of thought. They don't interact with the others on an official level. Certainly, some members may participate in more than one or two groups, but by in large, most people cling to their ethnic group. How many non-Arabs have gone to an Arab run mosque and felt unwelcome? How many Arabs have gone to an Indo-Pak run mosque and felt excluded? How many have gone to mosques where they forget that they are in North America due to absence of English? How many recent immigrants have gone into established mosques and looked down on the "liberal" Islam practiced there? How many established people have gone into immigrant mosques and felt insulted by the "backward" Islam practiced? How many times have you gone to a function where only either the young or old attend? The list can go on and on.
The fact that people were able to break down these barriers for this event gives hope. But unfortunately we fall into the trap of giving in to what the media feels worthy of highlighting. Had the mainstream media ignored the present crisis in Palestine, we would not have come together as much as we have. Why do our communities allow the mainstream media to dictate what is important to us? When Bosnia is the cause, we don't care about Palestine. When Kosova is in the news, we forget about Kashmir. When Chechnya gets front- page coverage, we ignore the plight of Iraqis. Why does our enthusiasm die when the media coverage decreases?
It is our responsibility to seek out information on the well being of our fellow human beings. In this day and age of the proliferation of alternative media, there is no excuse for being ignorant and passive. Granted, every time there is a crisis in the Muslim world reported by the mainstream media, the community comes together and forms a task force to deal with it. First there was the Bosnia Task Force, then came the Kosova Task Force, the Chechnya Task Force and now we have the Palestine Task Forces. Before we learned of the term "task force", we had solidarity groups with Afghanistan, Somalia, and others. I am sure this practice exists in most major North American cities. In no way does this diminish the efforts of those who have put their energies into these initiatives, for they have done a great deal and deserve our praise and prayer. Yet, I think it is high time that we stop reinventing the wheel each time a new crisis develops. Why does each city not set up a committee representing the various mosques and organizations in the city to deal with such issues on an ongoing basis? If we can have committees representing the various mosques for moon sighting, then why can't we give as much importance to the plight of our brethren?
A few years ago, while working on a case involving a mosque legal dispute with a multitude of parties, a prominent Jewish lawyer once commented that though his community was more divided than the Muslim community. However, they maintained a united front when dealing with issues of importance to the entire community.
A committee should be in each city bringing together all the major centers - representing the many ethnic groups, new immigrants, established groups, youth, older generation, and the various schools of thought. They should be systematically addressing issues of concern to universal Muslim brotherhood and disseminating information in a coordinated manner can go a long way in improving our effectiveness, efficiency and in the end our standing in this society.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and writer. He is also a columnist for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and a regular contributor to iviews.com.