Anila Ali was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and studied in London, where she became a volunteer in the All Pakistan Women’s Association. In 1996, she came to California. She is an active member of the Council of Pakistan-American Affairs (COPAA), the author of "Mommy am I a…?" and a contributor to the largest Pakistani paper in the U.S., The Pakistan Link.
Ali is the founder and board member of the American Muslim Women’s Empowerment Council, which is the only Muslim women's organization that works on the ground with law enforcement and interfaith leaders to counter radicalization and build capacity in the Muslim community do they can be the first line of defense against radicalization. She is also the founder of the Irvine Pakistani Parents Association (IPPA), a non-profit organization that promotes community involvement and leadership and raises money for the public schools in the city as well as promotes South Asian peace through the arts. Ali is also presently the OC chair of the International Leadership Foundation, a non-profit that promotes the civic engagement and leadership of Asian American youth.
Ali also serves on the board of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a non-profit that promotes understanding and dialogue. A democrat, she is the recent recipient of President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award 2011.
She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about being a Muslim-American since the election. The views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Clarion Project. Ryan Mauro previously interviewed Anila Ali for Clarion Project.
Clarion Project: Since Trump's election many Muslim groups are feeling scared that he will implement repressive policies targeted at the Muslim community. How do you feel about such fears?
Anila Ali: There is a real fear in the community that a Trump presidency will mean restrictions on Muslims. There is talk of internment camps and it was in registry and that is generating a lot of misconceptions and fears. There is also a concern that Mosques and citizens will be monitored as well.
Personally, I have faith in the constitution of the United States of America and I feel majority of America knows and understands that you cannot make generalized statements about all Muslims and paint all Muslims with the same brush stroke.
But we have also realize that it is time that Muslims in America step up their game and get more involved in making sure that the neighbors understand who they are and that they are peace-loving patriotic Americans.
For it is mostly the fear of the unknown that spreads misconceptions.
Clarion: What should public figures be doing to calm inter-communal relations?
Ali: Public figures, especially the ones in the majority party, have a responsibility to represent all Americans. Their words can help alleviate fears about Muslims and stop the Muslims from getting marginalized. Show of support unity with all unities that maybe feeling slightly marginalized, will help them from further isolation.
The level of hateful rhetoric that I have heard in the past one month has been the worst since 911. It seems people have a newfound courage to tell "Muslims to leave the country," "pack up and leave the country" etc. Anti-Muslim sentiment is rampant and most people are not able to distinguish between a radical and a moderate.
There is a general perception that all Muslims condone violence and that all Muslims want sharia law in America. There is also a very toxic perception that Muslims like myself who are any patriotic, modern and progressive are lying as mandated in the Quran to convert people, the concept being taqqiya. This notion must be dispelled because the majority of Muslims don't even know what this concept is. Muslims who have come from South Asia have no idea of this Arabic concept because it is part of the Wahhabi Salafist ideology and Muslims like me, majority coming from South Asia, have never even heard of it.
These misconceptions in the mainstream community must be countered and dispelled.
Clarion: What do you think the impact of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would be if it passed?
Ali: If Arab countries can ban Muslim brotherhood why can't we? Any organization that has terrorist ties should be banned in the US. Any organization that condone the killing of an innocent, or promote so insights hatred for non-Muslims should be banned.
Clarion: What organizations or activists would you recommend as standing up for the rights of the community and are unaffiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or related organizations?
Ali: Of course I would promote my own organization American Muslim women's empowerment Council, formed to counter extremism which gives women a voice, promotes the real Islam, gives women equality and completely condemns all shapes and forms of terrorism and hatred.
Organization such as these that want to promote Islam should be the ones who are given a voice.
Due to the lack of moderate narratives, extreme narratives and voices will take over, including organizations that do not support the Constitution of the United States or which should be completely banned from the United States.
Whoever wants to follow sharia law should migrate to a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia.
Clarion: How has your experience of being a Muslim in America differed from your experiences as a Muslim in the UK?
Ali: When I moved to America 20 years ago things were different. Muslims were not labeled as terrorists and most people did not know where Pakistan was.
So I loved it because I blended in completely.
911 changed things. All sorts of people started asking me about my religion and my ethnicity. It was déjà vu for me. I grew up in the UK during the 70s when racism was it at its peak and I suffered through that era. I shuddered to think that the country that I had made my home and my children's home and love so much would become the UK of the 70s.
With that fear I knew I had a job to do that I had to tell everybody that I may be a Muslim but I am an American who loves this country and I will not let my children ever get discriminated against. At the same time Islam had totally been hijacked by terrorists and certain perverted versions of Islam were propping up through the funding of the Saudis.
In the absence of the tolerant moderate Islamic voices- radical extremist voices took over and warped a religion that really is a continuation of Abrahamic faith. Terrorists used the Quran as a tool to spread hatred and seize power and control. And a few evil perpetrators took over the voice over religion that really is peaceful. It also doesn't help that the terrorists do not talk about the life of the prophet because the life of the prophet is all about coexistence and tolerance and chock-full of examples of how he lived his life with Christians and Jews. It does not help that the Muslim world is largely undereducated and overpopulated.
And many Muslim countries do not give women equal rights despite those rights being mandated by Islam and so the oppression of new ideas and women continues to occur.
My job is to make sure that people understand that the true Islam has been hijacked and the Quran and the verses that the terrorists use are used out of context. What we truly need is a reformation of ideas and Islam so that we can be the progressive 21st-century Muslims that are tolerant accepting, educated and compassionate