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American Muslim

San Francisco Chronicle - July 29, 2007

Jefferson Award Presented to Samina Faheem Sundas
American Muslim's leap of faith extends the hand of friendship

Shelah Moody

Samina Faheem Sundas, a community activist and a Sunni Muslim from Pakistan, had been living comfortably in the Bay Area with her family since 1983. But her life, like so many others, changed forever after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I was in Costco when I first learned about the tragedy," said Sundas, who wears the full-body dress and head scarf traditionally worn in Pakistan. "I just started crying. I remember there was a man who looked at me and asked, 'Why are you crying?' I couldn't even find words to answer him. I was hit twice at that time, one because of the tragedy that took place, and two, because it gave me a sample of what my life was going to be like after that. Even though I have been a citizen for a long time, all of a sudden I was considered an outsider who does not have the right to cry about the worst tragedy that happened to our country and the innocent lives we lost."

Two years later, Sundas founded American Muslim Voice, a grassroots organization that seeks to foster lifelong friendships between Muslims and all communities through interfaith dialogue.

According to Sundas, after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims and fear of Muslims were at a record high. She wanted to form an organization that would ease fears and provide Americans with firsthand contact with members of the Muslim community.

"We started opening our homes, even though at that time Muslims were really afraid to let people in because they did not know whether someone was going to be your supporter or someone was going to hate you. But we decided that these kinds of desperate times needed totally courageous acts of faith. I always have believed that Americans were open-minded, kind, compassionate people, and if they knew the plight of Muslims, they would understand and they would support us. I am very happy to report that my faith has been renewed over and over again. We have made beautiful relationships with all ethnicities and all faith groups. I know this path can take us to the peace that we all want in our world."

Sundas' efforts have paid off. This year, American Muslim Voice was presented with the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize by an interfaith and peace organization called Fellowship of Reconciliation.

"They usually like to honor somebody who is working closely with Martin Luther King's dream," Sundas said.

Sundas said she typically devotes 18 hours a day to social activism and serves on the steering committee for Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice in Palo Alto. She is co-founder of Fear to Friendship, a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural friendship and education in the wake of 9/11. Sundas also founded Global Peace Partnership, a partnership of American Muslim Voice, Global Peace Partners and Peace Alliance.

On July 19, her 52nd birthday, she participated in a board dialogue between youth and adults as a human-relations commissioner for Santa Clara County. Organizations such as Global Exchange and Code Pink have invited her to speak at their events.

Sundas also devotes a lot of her time to human rights issues, such as immigration.

"A few months back, she heard about a family facing deportation and she raced into action to try to help," said Craig Wiesner, who serves on the Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice steering committee with Sundas. "Within 48 hours, she helped organize a press conference and a posse of supporters to accompany the family to Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco."

Sundas, who speaks Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi, studied English literature and religion at Islamia College for Women in Lahore, Pakistan. In 1979, she and her then-infant daughter, Misbah (now 30), came to America to join her husband, who was studying at UC Santa Barbara. The family eventually moved to Arizona, where their son was born. She came to the Bay Area in 1983 when her husband was accepted into Stanford University's electrical engineering Ph.D. program. They separated a few years later. Sundas opened a preschool, which is now run by her daughter so Sundas can devote all her time to American Muslim Voice.

"This is really my commitment: that I am going to continue bringing people together who care about the human race," she said. "I look at myself as a trunk of a tree. My roots are in Pakistan, and my branches are the relationships I have made with my fellow Americans. The fruit of the tree are my children, and someday, my grandchildren."

For information, visit amuslimvoice.org and www.multifaithpeace.org .


The Argus -  July 28, 2007

Pakistani native earns service award for Muslim group
Newark activist founded American Muslim Voice

By Todd R. Brown

NEWARK — Samina Sundas isn't satisfied with vague notions of building bridges between different ethnic and faith groups. The founder of the Newark nonprofit American Muslim Voice has a loftier goal in mind: true world peace.

"You cannot have peace without social justice, and you cannot have peace without getting to know each other," she said. "We want to challenge people — what do you do to create that peace? Unless all of us get invested and get involved in that, peace won't happen."

The Pakistani native also heads Global Peace Partners, which strives to create long-term partnerships among diverse groups. The work keeps her calendar full.

"My weekends are busier than my weeks," she laughed. "That's by my choice."

Sundas is being honored as a recipient of the Jefferson Awards, which recognizes "unsung heroes" for community service. Locally, CBS5 TV news, KCBS news radio and the San Francisco Chronicle choose someone each week for the honor.

"It's one of the projects I'm most proud of here," said CBS5 producer Stephanie John. "They're doing amazing things for their neighbors."

John said Sundas was nominated for her "tireless work to promote understanding cross-culturally" and will be invited to a January banquet with the other Bay Area recipients.

"She really, truly believes we can make a more peaceful world if we just get to know each other," John said. "And she works really hard to make that happen."

Sundas, 52, was director of a home preschool for more than two decades until she turned the job over to her daughter, Misbah Kiran, 30. Sundas also has a son, Mohammad Saqib, 26.

"My roots are in Pakistan," said Sundas, who lives in Palo Alto. "I think of myself as a trunk of a tree, and my relationships here are the beautiful branches, and the fruit of this tree are my children right now and, someday, my grandchildren."

After she started American Muslim Voice in 2003, Sundas criticized Homeland Security officials for urging Muslim air travelers to register with the government before flying. Part of the program was suspended.

Last weekend, she helped organize a peace picnic at Central Park in Fremont. It attracted about 200 people of various backgrounds.

"I had 250 plates, and they were all gone by 2:30, so we were in trouble," she laughed. "Our spicy chicken halal was a big hit. We didn't have any leftover food besides six burger patties."

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis co-founded the Jefferson Awards in 1972 with then-U.S. Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and former Robert Kennedy staffer Sam Beard.

"Their idea was to create a Nobel Prize for public service," said Margaret Nasta, spokeswoman for the Delaware-based group.

Five of the local recipients will be given silver medals at the banquet and have a chance of going to a national conference for the awards.

Sundas said a Jewish friend recommended her, underscoring Sundas' effort to bring diverse people together to build real world peace, one by one.

"The most valuable heirloom is this world and how we leave it," she said. "All of us are interconnected."

CBS5 will broadcast Sundas' story at 6 p.m. Wednesday, at noon Thursday and at 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 4. KCBS and the Chronicle also plan reports.