Muslims Against Islamists: Interview with Pakistani Activist Anila Ali

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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) and a contributor to the largest Pakistani paper in the U.S., The Pakistan Link.

Anila currently serves the city of Irvine as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Irvine Public School Foundation, a non-profit entity, as well as on the board of Irvine’s Children, Youth and Families Commission. She is 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.

Anila also serves on the board of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a non-profit that promotes understanding and dialogue. She is the founder and board member of the American Muslim Women’s Empowerment Council. She is the recent recipient of President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award 2011. She also serves as chairwomen of the International leadership Foundation (ILF), a non-profit promoting civic awareness in the Asian American ANd Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community.

She has written a children’s book on tolerance, Mommy am I a…? and is working on her second book, Three Steps Behind, which addresses the oppression of Muslim women.

The following is ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s interview with Anila Ali:

Ryan Mauro: Anila, can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve struggled against the Islamists? How have Muslims and Muslim groups here in the U.S. responded to you?

Anila Ali:  As a patriotic American and a faithful Muslim, it is my duty to condemn all forms of violent extremism. Extremists have hijacked Islam and in some ways, caused irreparable damage. So much so that misconceptions about Islam and Islamic practices are widespread, and it’s hard to dispel them.

Islam is a peaceful religion, which has been misrepresented completely. Islam and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad clearly illustrate the importance of staying on a moderate path and being tolerant. I’ve been taught that the Quran confirms the truths in the Bible and Torah, and that Muslims must believe in Jesus and Moses in order to be true to their faiths.

That means respect for all faiths and understanding of all peoples. My own struggle has been just that. I’ve seen the extremists hijack the religion and turn public opinions against it. Moreover, they have used isolated and out of context verses in the Quran to argue their case. The Quran is a book that teaches us how to live a better life and also recounts historic battles that early Muslims fought and those verses have been misused by these fringe elements to incite hatred.

Women have many more rights in Islam than you may think.The Prophet Muhammad’s wife was his boss and a most able woman. Having suffered from severe discrimination, my own struggle has been primarily to create awareness about the women’s rights abuses and to create awareness about human rights abuses.

In that struggle, I’ve gotten many threats by “Taliban Boys” and some other groups outside the U.S. My website has been hacked with hate messages several times because of my condemnation of the Taliban.  As for Muslim Americans, especially women, well, they have responded really well to my message.

They have come out in droves to engage in civic life and give back to their country. You know that American Muslim Women’s Empowerment Conference has grown since last year — we had 500+ Muslims in attendance who stood side by side with their local and federal government agencies, they learnt about civil rights from the FBI and at the same time, learned about their Islamic rights. They all believe and follow the constitution of the United States.

Some Muslim groups may think that my message is too pro-Western. It needs to be; the West is my home. But what we all must do is to stop giving voice to extremists, so that their voices can be completely muffled. The fact is that by giving them a forum, we enable them to proliferate their cause, which is hate for others. The key for any successful anti-extremism policy should be to give voice and power to the moderates. That’s what we have not done much yet.

Mauro: What is your view of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and others that have grown out of the Muslim Brotherhood?  Should Muslims support them?

Ali: I don't support CAIR or any other organization that incites hatred for our law enforcement agencies. Muslims must work with their law enforcement agencies so that they can be partners in eradicating extremism and terrorism.

I don’t subscribe to the views of any Muslim organizations or individuals who teach extremism or hate for my country, its institutions, and for the men and women in uniform that keep me and my family safe. I don’t subscribe to any Muslim organization that teaches that women and minorities don’t have equal rights in Islam. And I don’t subscribe to any organization that teaches hate against any other human being. I know that the silent majority of American Muslims that are slowly becoming aware and more engaged than they were ten years ago, also subscribe to my point of view.

Mauro: What is the effect of these groups constantly vilifying the NYPD and other government agencies and accusing their critics of simply hating Muslims?

Ali: Our law enforcement agencies, like LAPD and NYPD, are doing a great job. We as American Muslims should come forward and partner with them. Truth is, they must be doing something right.. Tthey have kept us safe from enemy attacks since the heinous 9/11 attack on our nation. The work that the LAPD’s counterterrorism force is doing is to be commended. They have reached out to the Muslims and developed a relationship of trust. More agencies should do the same. Keeping America safe is our duty as Muslims. I am against anyone vilifying our law enforcement, as they are the ones that risk their lives to keep us safe.

Mauro:  Sometimes anti-Islamist Muslims are ridiculed as being right-wing Republicans, but you worked hard to get President Obama elected. Why should Muslims who support the Democratic Party support the struggle against Islamism in America and abroad?

Ali:  Did you know that most Muslims have traditionally been Republicans? In fact, I remember that when President George Bush was running for the first term, Muslims were being urged by their leaders to support him. Things obviously changed after the wars. Many Muslims are registered Republicans and identify closely with the social values of the Republican Party.

Keeping America safe and rooting out extremism is an American problem, not only a problem for the Republican or Democratic Party. When it comes to this issue, Republicans and Democrats must unite and the same goes for American Muslims. Republicans or Democrats, they must put their political differences aside to keep America safe. However, Republicans should do more to engage Muslims once again and not marginalize them.

I have reached out personally to so many Republican representatives, Rep. Peter King, Rep. John Campbell and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, to attend Muslim events, conferences and simply to meet the moderates, their constituents, but they don’t seem to want to engage with us. Now does that get them more points with their base, perhaps? But it surely gives the Muslim Republicans reason to feel sidelined.

I support President Obama, and I am proud to say that he was able to get the Most Wanted Terrorist in the World, Osama bin Laden. He has also successfully dismantled Al-Qaida, which is also a victory for Americans. Muslims, all over the world must unite to root out intolerance, extremism and oppression against women and minorities. If they don’t, they are really not following Islam.

Mauro: Tell us about your upcoming conference, and why those that are concerned about the Islamist threat should attend it.

Ali: In my opinion, the Islamic extremism starts with the oppression of women. Women are the focal point of a family. They are the ones that raise a village,so to say. Oppress them and you’ve repressed the future generations of Muslims. Enlightened moderation begins when you accept that women and minorities have equal rights in Islam. Extremists will want their women not to leave the four walls of their homes; they’ll want their women to starve rather than go out to work; they’ll not give equality to non-Muslims; they’ll use out-of-context verses from the Quran to spread hate speech and oppression against women and minorities; they are the ones that declare fatwas against anyone speaking against Islam.

On the contrary, the Prophet urged us to be tolerant and let God protect all the Holy Books. If Muslims in America follow the actual teachings of the Prophet, “They will love they neighbor as thine own.” With that said, if we empower the American Muslim woman, support and educate her to seek help when needed, become financially independent, guide her children, not be afraid to voice her concerns, interact with her local and federal government agencies; she will become a partner in building a safer tomorrow.

Our conference has been received extremely enthusiastically and you know that we had a huge waiting list this year. The best thing about our conference is that it is women empowering other women. We invite you all to meet and engage with us to help us serve our country better. God bless America!

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.

(The American Muslim Women's Empowerment Conference (AMWEC) 2012 was held on April 29th, at Buena Park Resort Hotel, Ca)

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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