NY Muslim appeals for greater tolerance
Andre Wright, Staff Reporter
AMIR ABDULLAH Abdul-Akbar, director of the Caribbean-American Programme for Empowerment (CAPE), an aid organisation based in Brooklyn, New York, is making an appeal for Muslims and members of other faiths to be tolerant of different religions in order to sustain the spirit of peace.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week, Mr. Abdul-Akbar, who hails from Franklin Town, downtown Kingston, says he has a different perspective on religion than many mainstream Muslims.
"I work with every religious group and every organisation," the CAPE director said, "whether they be Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Baha'i. I don't believe in dissociating myself from people of other faiths. I have a different concept of religion, it is not simply a title. We all serve one God."
Mr. Abdul-Akbar noted that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, though there was increased tension and hostility targeted towards Muslims, much of the hostility has dissipated since then.
"There was a lot of anti-Muslim backlash, especially against Arabs, people from the Middle East and Pakistanis," he said. "At school, my son was spat at five days after the attacks and I had to go to the principal and sort out the situation. People even 'mashed up' the window of my vehicle and I know it was because I had Muhammad written on it."
But many onlookers still view Islam as a religion that at best, promotes and justifies violence as a tool for proselytising, or at worst, attracts quacks and psychopathic wackos. And whenever Muslim scholars do just enough to exonerate Islam's name from extremism, some militant or blood-thirsty faction undertakes an act of gruesome terror.
Just last Monday, a Muslim gunman opened fire on U.S. doctors in a Yemeni Christian-run hospital in Jibla, about 170 kilometres from the capital Sanaa, killing three of them, and injuring one. The captured Islamic militant, Abd Abdel Raziq Kamil, a 32-year-old man, said in doing the dastardly act, he was getting closer to God. It is the mindless rationale and ideologies that these extremists propound that make some people scared of Islam.
But, according to the CAPE founder, the West must be careful not to use the activities or philosophies of militants and extremists as a basis to make broad generalisations. "Islam needs no reform," he says, "people need reform. What we are seeing the media does a lot of bad to Islam. I have a big problem with the situation. Every day Christians kill or Jews kill, but the media never say 'Jewish terrorist' or 'Christian terrorist'; but when Muslims kill, the media call them 'terrorist' and 'barbaric'.
Mr. Abdul-Akbar, who still has a distinctive Jamaican accent, said that the media need to realise that "people do things on their own account and associate it with Islam." Even adherents of the faith, he says, are sometimes misguided in the religion and people in the West have conceptions of what is 'Islamic' without true grounding. "Some Arabs give the West the view that Islam is an Arab religion. Yet the first person that Muhammad converted was an Ethiopian even the Arabs play it down," he said. "Some Arabs came to the United States with racist intentions, but after the events of September 11 and the harassment they got, they realised that they were 'black', just like the rest of us. Since then, a lot of them talk to you better and treat you better."
Mr. Abdul-Akbar, who was an Imam in Jamaica for 15 years before leaving for the United States in 1979, founded CAPE along with Leonard Mason nine years ago. "We try to help people in the Caribbean, not only Jamaica because I'm Jamaican. We work with various organisations to bring aid to people in the form of food, clothes, medical equipment. We even hold classes in Brooklyn in English, mathematics and computer applications."
He says several Jamaican organisations have benefited from CAPE such as the Kingston Public Hospital and Kingston schools. However, he said one of his main problems with bringing aid to Jamaica is the level of Government and Customs bureaucracy which delays the receipt of much-needed supplies.
"Sometimes stuff even rots on the wharves," the CAPE director said. "No Government official wants to address this problem. Delano Franklyn was over here recently and I told him about the matter, even the Finance Minister, Omar Davies, I've talked to. A lot of hospitals in Manhattan got excess medical supplies after 9/11 and they called me to give me some of these items."
Mr. Abdul-Akbar's frustration is telling.
"Sometimes even when I have received things, I don't even feel to send it to Jamaica because of the difficulties. Even as we speak, right now I have US$200,000 worth of aid supplies to pick up."
According to Mr. Abdul-Akbar, the Caribbean-American Muslim community is making good strides in the 'Big Apple' in the fields of politics, education and business. He estimates that in New York and New Jersey there are about a half-million Caribbean-American Muslims, 30,000 of whom are Jamaican.
Mr. Abdul-Akbar is appealing to Jamaican organisations or schools, especially in the rural areas, which need aid, to make contact with the Caribbean-American Programme for Empowerment at PACCAPE@aol.com.
E-mail Andre Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2003, Jamaica Gleaner (Jamaica)
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