High school student Hamza Sultan spoke at the Islamic Center of East Bay’s during the open house on Sunday, Dec. 13th.
By Allen Payton
Muslims, Jews, Catholics, including three Francisco Friars in monk robes, and other Christians joined together on Sunday, December 13th, at the Islamic Center of East Bay in Antioch, at an open house meeting and vigil, and to say prayers for the victims of the massacre in San Bernardino, earlier this month.
In an email invitation to Antioch Mayor Wade Harper and Council Members, Mohammad Chaudhry, President of the Center condemned the killings.
“The Muslims associated with the Islamic Center of East Bay, Antioch, Ca are holding an Open House Meeting and Vigil in the memory of the senseless killings of 14 innocent people, and the wounding of 27 at San Bernardino, Ca.,” he wrote. ”They wholeheartedly condemn the massacre of these victims, and they share the grief and sorrow of the bereaved families. As a mark of solidarity with the departed souls, Islamic Center of East Bay, Antioch, Ca shall hold this Open House Meeting…at the Center. You are requested to join us in prayers for the deceased, and for peace in America, and everywhere.”
Signs across the front of the room had messages the Islamic Center members want the community to know.
“I love America as much as you do,” stated one of the signs. “Every inch a proud American,” stated another. “America stands for values not hatred and division,” stated yet another.
Several speakers shared their thoughts and perspectives on what impact the San Bernardino killings have had on Muslims in Antioch and East County, the fear it has caused and what can be done to build better understanding and relationships.
Hamza Sultan, a 16-year-old Muslim and student at Heritage High School in Brentwood, read a variety of prepared statements.
“We must empower the gun control movement in America,” he said.
Sultan also had some tough words for those of his faith committing acts of terrorism. “Islamic extremists cherry pick from the Qur’an to justify their actions,” he stated. “If they would complete the sentence they would know the sins they have committed.”
“The killing of one human being is like the killing of all humanity,” Sultan continued. “The saving the life of one human being is the saving of all humanity. If the San Bernardino shooters would have realized the privileges they had in this country they would have lived lives of peace.”
“Using our First Amendment rights can enlighten…about the truth of Islam,” he added.
Sultan also spoke of the true definition of jihad, which means struggle, and includes on the battlefield.
He also mentioned and finished by mentioning “purifying ourselves. There’s no better place to do that than in the United States of America.”
His mother, local pediatrician, Dr. Sobia Sultan, who works for Kaiser in Antioch, shared her experience and concerns.
“I moved to this area, 10 years ago when the medical center was built, serving as a pediatrician,” she said. “This is a beautiful place. We have to do more interfaith work.”
“Due to circumstances beyond our control there is a change in the atmosphere,” Dr. Sultan shared. “A feeling of fear coming into our community.
“You don’t need to be fearful of me. I’m your friendly, neighborhood doctor,” she said to laughter from the audience.
“I have built a lot of bonds in the local community,” Dr. Sultan continued. “I have seen this beautiful community spirit here.”
“ISIS, what have you, added on by the fear mongering politicians and the media,” is causing “peace loving, good meaning people are scared of Muslims.”
“Is there anything we can do to push back against the atmosphere of fear,” she asked. “Open your homes, your hearts? Invite them in to pray.”
Dr. Sultan had shared concerns about the fear and challenges she and her family have experienced.
“We’re not afraid of buffoons like Donald Trump, but the 57% of the silent majority,” she stated. “Muslims are also fearful. Everything negative on the TV is associated with Islam. I worry about my children, our future. I want them to live in the America I came to 20 years ago. I want them to believe in E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one. My children are being marginalized. They sometimes are called terrorists. Also when they don’t participate in things that others do.”
Dr. Sultan finished on a positive note saying, she was happy “that we’re not alone that there are others who stand with us in this subject.”
Antioch resident, Tabarak Mughal, spoke briefly.
“We are all Americans and we should all support the values of this country,” he stated.
Antioch Council Member Monica Wilson, followed him and offered her thoughts and comments to those in attendance.
“Thank you so much for this beautiful ceremony,” she stated, then quoted one of the signs on the wall behind her in agreement. “Please do not judge me without knowing me.”
“Let’s hold onto the positive spirit, the positive programs,” Wilson continued. “How do we push back this wall of hate? This is the beginning. How do we spread it to the broader community?”
“I’m really encouraged by the positive energy, today,” she added. “Let’s not make this a one-time thing.”
Finally, Chaudhry shared his closing thoughts.
He spoke of the fire that burned the Center in 2007.
“Wherever we go we go with our identity,” he said. “If we are not safe, here we are not safe anywhere. You can turn your adversity into prosperity. This is a place, a house of God. Come.”
“Unless I visit a church and hear the things they say, am I going to learn of their faith? Chaudhry asked. “We don’t have to wait for something bad to happen. We have to be the people who take the initiative.”
He then spoke of the people who were killed in San Bernardino “at no fault of their own,” then referred to the 11,000 people who have been killed in the U.S. each year, in the 14 years since 9-11. “Forty-five got killed by Muslims,” Chaudhry stated.
“True faith is what unites people,” he continued. “All people of faith, they approach God in their own way. We are all human beings. How come we divide people?”
He spoke of “the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.”
“Now I understand why they made this a secular country,” Chaudhry added. “Everyone tries to monopolize God. But he is the God of all. His ways are strange.”
He then encouraged those in attendance to do something to help foster understanding.
“This is not our cause. It’s your cause, too,” he finished.
The speeches were followed by a time of prayers in an adjacent room of the Center.
The Center is located at 314 W. 19th Street and fronts on West 18th Street. For more information call (925) 756-1652.