Debbie Does Da'wa: Khalil Gibran Jihad school principal Almontaser exploits 9/11 and anti Muslim bias claims to spread Islam
Dhabah Almonteser propagates Islam under the guise of "diversity consultant" and "multicultural educator"
MIM:In 2003 Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser was honored at a Muslim Unity event at Madison Square Garden where she sat on stage with what was a Who's Who of radical Islamists in the United States. The purpose of the event was to to launch the Internet Islamic School whose mission statement declares their intent to do' da'wa i.e. convert non Muslims to Islam and prevent Muslim children from intergrating into "the melting pot". Almontaser's slated Khalil Gibran Islamic Academy is exactly the type of school which the participants were urged to establish and will doubtless please the IIU organisers both in the United States and abroad.
According to the IU mission statement:
MIM: Almontaser was among 75 people out of 5,500 who were honored on the stage where she sat together with Ibrahim Dremali,Siraj Wahhaj (an unindicted co conspirator in the 1993 WTC bombings) and Ashrafuzzam Khan the head of ICNA Queens. Khan has been accused of being a death squad leader who personally executed 8 teachers in Dhaka in 1971.
New York's famous Madison Square Garden, April 13th turned into a showcase of Muslim unity, when Muslim scholars and national and community leaders gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the Internet Islamic School sponsored by Islamic Internet University (IIU).
The event delivered on its promise, a "Grand Display of Muslim Unity". The idea was a simple one, to bring all those leaders, scholars and speakers who hold an influence over the various Muslim populations together, on one stage, in a show of unity. Perhaps, in the history of North America a total of about 75 Muslim leaders of national, regional and local leaders plus scholars of Islam, irrespective of their color, ethnicity and school of thoughts, were seating together on the stage.
The year old IIU (www.studyislam.com), started on the right foot by acknowledging the contributions of Imam Warith Deen Mohammad to Islamic learning with an honorary doctoral degree-the first such diploma awarded by this fledgling institution-offered words of advice that Muslims should "administer the medicine of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet."
Hosted by the management of the Islamic Internet University (IIU), the task of making this one-day a reality took a year of careful deliberation, unwavering persistence and a profound sense of obligation. The work of Zaheer Uddin, the founder of IIU, Dr. Sulayman Nyang of Howard University, Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Dr. Abdalla Idris Ali, the part of management of IIU, along with some sixty volunteers was not in vain. For a few hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, in midtown Manhattan, the diversity of some 5,500 attendees of all ages and backgrounds was matched by the diversity of the leadership seen onstage.
The other honoree of the evening was author Yahya Emerick, whose latest creation is the Idiots Guide to Understanding Islam, accepting the Award of Excellence stated that, "the Award of Excellence should be given to all the sisters who where their Islam like a badge, no brother will ever know what that is like."
The purpose of the event as introduced by the master of ceremonies, Saffat A. Catovic was to demonstrate the need for an accessible and structured Islamic education for all Muslims. Emphasizing the importance of education, Catovic stated that there are four types of people adored by Allah (swt): the scholar, the student, the listener of knowledge and the lover of knowledge.
IIU is an example of the great strides Muslims have made in bringing Islam to the public. There was a time when students used to travel great distances to sit at the feet of scholars, sometimes to listen to just one hadith. Today, thanks to the IIU, with the click of a mouse in the comfort of our home, we can now imbibe the knowledge of scholars from around the world.
"We need something like this annually, to celebrate every year that the University grows older." exclaimed Ayesha K. Mustafa, the editor of The Muslim Journal "It's about creating unity, forming alliances and building networks."
Sr. Ayesha Mustafa along with Sr. Ayesha Al-Adawiyah, President of Women in Islam, and Sr. Debbie Almontaser, a cultural diversity trainer and consultant for the NY Department of Education, were among those invited to sit onstage. Both agreed that the success of this event was in that broke down the barriers of nationalism and egotism while focusing on education as a tool to further the prominence of the Muslim community. Among the guests were Imam Zaid Shakir, a renowned speaker, Shaikh Mohammad Nur Abdullah, President Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Dr.Mazammil Siddiqui, former President of ISNA, Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad of Hampton University and Vice President of Center for American Muslim Research and Information, Shaikh Mukhtar Maghraoui, a well-known speaker and da'ee, Shaikh Ibrahim Najm, a well-known scholar from New York, Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, first President of ISNA, Dr. M. Yusufuddin, President of ICNA New York, and Imam Jamil Abdul Latif, Ameer of New York Majlis Shura. Speakers included Maulana Yusuf Islahi, a renowned scholar and author on many books in Urdu, Imam Ibrahim Dremali, Imam, Islamic Center Florida, and Ashraf Zaman Khan, former Vice President of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) who spoke in their native languages showing how knowledge, Islamic knowledge, transcends nationalism.
Sheikh Dremali made an impassioned speech denouncing the concept that any one nationality is superior, "There is no faith without brotherhood and without brotherhood there is no faith." He stressed that superiority only comes to those who possess the most knowledge and taqwa (piety).
The urgency of the day's message lay in the necessity to empower and encourage the Muslim youth through education and activism. Who better to espouse these ideals then Imam Zaid Shakir who has for years advocated the role of the young in the course Islam must run.
"Move confidently into the future, do not be intimidated because no one can do anything to hurt you when Allah (swt) is with you" implored the Imam. "Preserve your religion. By being the moral conscience and the moral voice for this country, you will be the moral conscience and moral voice for this world. REMAKE THE WORLD!"
While it was the youth that were given this challenge, those who spoke made sure to promote the need to incorporate the work of the sisters. Imam Shakir stated, "Put our sisters talent, skills and knowledge to use. No more tokenism or marginalization, but use the valuable resources that the sisters represent."
The thought provoking moment of the evening came when IIU president Zaheer Uddin told the true story of a young girl who could not discern between whether her grandmother was doing push-ups or praying. Although it elicited a bit of laughter, it brought to everyone's attention how dire the state of Muslims are when the youth are loosing out on an Islamic education.
The benefits of the IIU are not only that it can teach Islam at all levels and for all ages, but that it also is to a tool to disseminate reliable information. Zaheer Uddin showed a multimedia presentation that outlined several stark points about the passivity of the Muslim community in acquiring knowledge. Not only are their many well-designed web sites on the Internet created by non-Muslims to aggravate the misconception of Islam, but that these sites underscore many a Muslims own lack of knowledge. Even more disturbing is that the combined circulation of the five major Muslim publications adds up to only one hundred thousand when the Muslim population in North America is over seven million. The presentation ended with a brief demonstration on how the IIU works, by providing an easy, affordable way to learn and to stay active in learning about Islam.
Dr. Abdalla Idris Ali, and Imam Siraj Wahhaj both Vice Presidents of IIU, conducted a fundraising for IIU. Before the conclusion of the program three resolutions were presented and approved by the audience. One of them was a vital resolution that challenges all Muslims to improve and increase their da'wah making efforts.
The event started with a young boy stepping up to the podium just after the Qari had finished reciting verses from the Quran. He stood there, small in stature but confident nonetheless, in front of the massive Madison Square Garden theatre. In his soft voice, he read the translation. Behind him about 75 seated scholars, speakers and renowned guests. It proved a remarkable moment, as the audience looked toward today's generation of Muslim leadership, while catching a glimpse of what tomorrow can bring if only we dare to pursue our Islamic obligation of knowledge.
Saba Ali is a rising graduate student at Newhouse School of Mass Communication at Syracuse University.
Click to see the pictures of this event
Not Always As Sweet
By Debbie Almontaser
I came to this country from Yemen, Arabia at the age of three. I remember it was a cold March night, and when I woke up the morning after we had arrived in upstate New York, I looked outside the window and saw, to my delight, that there was sugar everywhere, sugar covering the streets and all the trees. My father said "no, honey, it's not sugar, it's snow." I did not understand what it was since I had never seen it. He opened the window and he let me touch it and I said "well, can I taste it?" Of course it did not taste like sugar, but I loved that I could play in it.
But not everything about America was as sweet. At first, I did not speak English, and the other children laughed at me. I learned the language quickly after that, and at a young age I became the interpreter for my mother and father when they needed to go to the doctor or to any other appointment. As I grew up, I faced great difficulty searching for my identity as an Arab-American. I remember one year, I decided to put a henna design on my hand for my Arabic friend's wedding party. At school, my teacher sent me to the bathroom to wash my hands even though I told her it would not come off. Because of the design, my classmates would not hold my hand or touch anything that I had touched. Another time, I went to school wearing the hijab, the headdress worn by Muslim women. The whole day, one student after another taunted me.
I did not wear it again until I married and moved to New York City. That is when I noticed all over Brooklyn African American Muslims wearing the hijab. I admired them for their grace and beauty in their modest Islamic dress. They seemed comfortable and content with their presence in public. No one stared at them or made remarks about their appearance. I began to reflect about my religion and culture. How can American converts embrace a religion I was born into and I can't embrace it with pride? After a great deal of soul searching I decided to follow my heart and cover my hair. Wearing the hijab empowered me to reach my personal and professional goals. It gave me a high stature. People recognized and respected me for what I knew, not for my physical presence. Being a modern woman in traditional garb has made me a role model for young women across the city. I symbolize the co-existence of both worlds during a complex time. I came to realize that New York City is a place that is accepting of all cultures, races, colors and creeds. I finally found a place where I felt comfortable and could call home.
Still, when my daughter, at the age of nine, decided she would go to school wearing a hijab, I was worried. I prayed all day that history was not going to repeat itself. When she came home, I waited nervously to hear what had happened. "Mom," she said, "everyone liked my hijab. Everyone said I look beautiful in it."
My daughter, Shifa, is now 13 years old and wears her hijab all the time. She is your typical American girl whose passion is music and being on the phone with her friends, especially her best friend, who is Jewish. Shifa went to her bat mitzvah.
I also have two sons. The older one, Yusuf, decided to join the US Army three years ago. I was torn because I'm a person who loves peace. But this is what he wanted to do and so we supported his decision. However, now I say to myself I wish I had not supported him then. On September 11th, he was activated to report to his unit, and then was sent to Ground Zero. He has been there ever since. In the beginning, he was part of the rescue mission, and I waited anxiously by the phone every night hoping he would call. But he could only call every three or four days, which felt like months. What's worse, usually he called during the day, when we were away at work. He left a message on our answering machine: "Mom, Dad! It's Yousif. I'm okay. Don't worry about me. I'm eating better now and sleeping a little longer. I'll call you soon. I love you."
After he had been there two weeks, his job switched to patrolling the area. More recently he has been assembling telecommunication equipment.
I spend my days worrying about his physical and emotional well-being. He has experienced something that only grown men in the army usually experience, and he is only 19. I know he has shown his honor, love and dedication to his country, but my concern is, how do others perceive him? Do they recognize his deep commitment? Especially now, since Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians have become scapegoats for many frustrated people.
Recently Yousif came home for the night; it was the first time since the tragedy. His presence at the front door was a relief for sour eyes, but I almost did not recognize him. I thought, Oh my God, he could pass for his father's brother today, because this experience has actually made him look like he's aged at least five or ten years. When I asked him "how is it like there?", he couldn't talk about. And God only knows when he will be ready to talk about it. The evil doing of others has stripped my child's innocence on many levels. He remains with visions of destruction and uncertainty.
In the school where I teach, PS 261, students, teachers and parents have been incredible in the way they have been sensitive and supportive of the Arab and Muslim community. On September 13th, all of my colleagues and parents were very happy to see me at work; they all came over and hugged me and kissed me. A group of parents offered to escort the Arab and Muslim children to school for as long as needed. I ended up going out into the community to reassure Arab and Muslim parents that they need to send their children to school, that they should not worry about their safety there.
Since September 11th, I have been involved in so many projects to safeguard my Arab, Muslim and South Asian neighbors in Brooklyn. This all evolved from my membership in the Brooklyn Dialogue Project. It is a group of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and others who meet on a monthly basis, just to talk about the issues of the world and give each other a sense of hope and support. Immediately after September 11th, some members of the dialogue called to check up on how my family and I were doing. Based on the concerns and issues I raised, I was invited by these members to go to their churches and synagogues and to speak on behalf of the Arab- American and Muslim communities in Brooklyn.
Arab- American and Muslim women have become very limited in their daily routines. I for one was a prisoner in my own home for almost a month after September 11th. I was afraid to go out in public alone because I wear the hijab. My husband became my escort; he drove me to work and drove me home. He did everything that I needed to get done outside because I feared for my safety, if not my life. We were afraid of having someone attack me physically or verbally. There have been many attacks in the city. Women wearing the hijab have been chased and had their hijabs pulled off. Many have been spat on. Gangs of teenagers beat three women in Brooklyn. One woman walking down the street with her child in a stroller was stoned with cans, bottles and trash. An Islamic school in Brooklyn was vandalized with eggs and dog droppings. Local businesses had their windows or awnings destroyed.
These are some of the incidents that have been reported. However, there are some that have not been reported. Many Arabs, Muslims and South Asian do not know enough English, or know enough about their civil rights, to make reports. Some fear being detained by police or discovered by their attackers. Many think that reporting what happened to them will not change anything. They feel isolated and outcast by New Yorkers in general. Many feel guilt and shame for what has happened, even though they had no involvement whatsoever in the hideous acts of terrorism.
Why can't all New Yorkers treat Arabs, Muslims, and South Asian with respect, love, trust, and compassion? Many of my friends at work and in My Aspiring Leaders Program at Baruch College fear for me as much as my family does. Many have asked me to take off the hijab in public and wear it when I get to work or class. I very much appreciated their concern and told them not to worry. But taking off the hijab was not something I would do. I cannot compromise when it comes to my beliefs. I would rather die than take it off. For me, it would almost be like asking me to walk around topless.
I am blessed to have such caring friends because they have not let me travel by foot or train alone. Many have extended themselves to support me emotionally and physically. Some are escorting me to work, college, and around the city. Others are calling on a continual basis to cheer me up and tell me how much I mean to them. Because of their continuous love and support, I was encouraged to start helping my community rather than stay home and feel sorry for myself. After speaking at different churches and synagogues, I realized that many people within the community did not know their Arab and Muslim neighbors on a social basis. So I decided to open my home to neighbors, friends and people I met at the churches and synagogues. I wanted them to get to know who we are and how much we have in common. I had over a hundred and thirty guests. Who are now good friends and allies.
This open house opened the doors for me to help my community on many levels. Many of my guests were very eager to help, such as the Christian Children's Fund. With their facilitation and moral support, members from Park Slope and myself were able to develop the Brooklyn Bridges Project, which offers to escort people who are afraid, makes legal and mental health referrals, and tries to educate people about Arabs, Muslims and South Asians. Another group with which I have become involved is developing with the help of expert educators from across the city a curriculum that will be distributed to New York City schools and universities. All this volunteer work has literally become a full time job.
What's important now is that we need to come together as a community to be educated and educate others as you would children: There are people who do bad things, but there are many people who do good things. We must get to know each other by speaking to one another. We need to make sure that everyone's voice is heard rather than silenced, to overcome our fears. We need to take this unfortunate event as a way to build bridges with the communities that are affected. We need to develop relationships with our Arab-American, Muslim and South Asian neighbors and merchants to develop understanding and insight. We need to show our solidarity by morally and ethically supporting their existence as Americans.
One of my Israeli guests said to me, "I have always wished to get to know an Arab on a personal level but had no idea how to go about it, thank you for opening your home, your life and your heart."
For those of you who are interested in finding more information about ways to promote understanding and justice, the following are some useful resources:
The Study Circles Resource Center helps communities organize study circles - small group, democratic, peer-led discussions that give people opportunities to make a difference in their communities.
Tolerance.org aims to create a national community committed to human rights. Its goal is to awaken people of all ages to the problem of hate and intolerance, to equip them with the best tolerance ideas and to prompt them to act in their homes, schools, businesses and communities.
Whole Nation: Whole Nation is dedicated to bringing about reconciliation of the peoples of America.
Debbie Almontaser is an Arab-American who wears the hjiab or head-covering of a devout Muslim. She is also a schoolteacher and a mother whose son is a soldier standing guard at Ground Zero. Above all, she is a New Yorker.
From Yemen to Coney Island; From Teacher to Community Activist
Those who give their time freely to the "We Are All Brooklyn" cause have been working for peace in many ways. Larry Clamage found one such individual, who brings people of all different faiths and cultures together through both her community activism and her professional career.
TV report transcript
"My name is Debbie Almontaser. I am an educator as well as a community activist. The past five years, I've been residing in Midwood, Brooklyn, in the Coney Island Avenue area of Brooklyn—which is a very diverse community, you know: Christians, Jews, Pakistanis, Muslims, Indians, people from all over the world. But after September 11th, this very diverse community had fallen apart.
So, I left my job as a classroom teacher, took a leave of absence, to do Islam sensitivity training; Arab culture training, as well as presentations at churches, synagogues, community based organizations…wherever there was a need.
There was such animosity and fear, that it was important for me to help people understand who Arabs, Muslims and South Asians were.
Looking at my own personal family, each and every one of us had this horrible thing called racism and discrimination happen to us because we are Arab and Muslim. It affected us, my husband and I, but the way that it affected my children was much more. It was devastating for them to think that some of our neighbors hated us so much. Not only did we feel hated, but we also felt fear.
I remember it was September 18th, that I had to come into the city to go to CBS studios for a quick interview. And people on that train were looking at me… People would look at my hijob and look at the size of my bag and the way I'm holding it. It was just a very uncomfortable feeling to have all eyes on you, treating you like you're a criminal.
And it was then that I realized that people, the first thing they see is a Muslim woman. They don't see a woman who had been here all her life, who is an American as apple pie. And it was very difficult for me to be seen in that light…that I'm recognized first for a religious background rather than for an individual.
The fear and the hysteria that was existing within our community also existed in our schools. There were a few family members of either teachers or parents who died on September 11th. The Arab and Muslim and South Asian communities really feared having their kids go to school. So, they kept their kids home for weeks on end.
Children didn't understand who their peers were, only what they've heard and read about through the media.
In the midst of all this I realize there was a great need to develop a sense of understanding within our schools, to really better treat them as peers rather than enemies or kids to fear.
So, we were fortunate to get the Christian Children's Fund to pay me a part-time salary. I was able to work part-time and also do this work for free in our schools.
I did this through a great deal of workshops with teachers and students as well as with families, where we looked at ourselves as individuals and shared our own personal stories in order to understand and develop a sense of respect for the culture of the other.
Through this training, we broke these barriers, where we started to make people feel comfortable to be a part of the bigger community.
And out of this we organized interfaith events around issues of discrimination, bias, etc.
And you know, those issues do come up of people feeling solidarity with Israel or people feeling solidarity with Palestinians -- but people are strong enough not to let their views be acted out in the United States. They understand that they have a lot to lose.
The Coney Island area is really a living testimony that people are working quite hard to accommodate their neighbors.
One perfect example is the peace walk—over 200 people walking side-by-side together to bear witness that people of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim background can co-exist in peace.
To see this unique diversity and people being able to coexist in a community is quite amazing. People of all different faiths and cultures can live together. I think it's really beautiful.
Dhabah (Debbie) Almontaser
Revson Fellow 2004-2005
Coordinator of External Programs in Conflict Resolution and Multicultural Education
Region 8, New York City Department of Education
Debbie Almontaser is currently Coordinator of External Programs for Brooklyn public schools. As a multicultural specialist and diversity consultant, Ms. Almontaser facilitates teacher and public workshops on Arab culture, Islam, conflict resolution, cultural diversity, and Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed around the city, and at local and national conferences. Ms. Almontaser also serves as a consultant to Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. Muslim American Series Project, Independent Production Fund's Islam Project, Educators for Social Responsibility, the Interfaith Center of NYC, and the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association's (CAMBA, Inc.) Diversity Project. She sits on the board of The Dialogue Project, Women In Islam Inc., among other organizations. She is also a co-founder of Brooklyn Bridges, The September 11th Curriculum Project, Justice for Detainees, and the We Are All Brooklyn Coalition. Ms. Almontaser co-designed and developed a curriculum for the Muslim Communities Project at Columbia University and for Educators for Social Responsibility/Metro. She has a B.A. from St. Francis College and an M.S. in multicultural education and reading from Adelphi University. She also holds an M.S. from Baruch College's School of Public Affairs through their Aspiring Leaders Program. During her Revson year, Ms. Almontaser took courses from the International Center for Cooperation & Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College and received a Certificate in Conflict Resolution. The Conflict Resolution Certificate program is a rigorous and thorough program of study in the field of conflict resolution exploring local and global conflicts as well as the various mediation models. Ms. Almontaser plans on incorporating these courses into a doctoral program.
MIM: Almontaser's biography as an Owen Consultant shows the range of activities she is engaged in as "diversity consultant" which give her the opportunity to missionise to non Muslims about Islam and that she has been involved with Islamist propagandising projects such as the program "The Legacy of Muhammed".
Debbie has co-designed and developed a curriculum for Columbia University entitled Re-Embracing Diversity in NYC Public Schools: Educational Outreach for Muslim Sensitivity that engages students to develop interpersonal and intercultural understanding based on respect for ethnic and religious diversity. As with her workshops, Debbie's curricula help students to become more culturally sensitive and aware of bias and bigotry and how to combat such behaviors.
Debbie serves as chief consultant and advisor for Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. "Muslim American" Series, and the Independent Production Fund on the Islam Project (producers of Muslims and Legacy of a Man: Prophet Muhammad PBS Productions) She was also a member of the steering committee for A Community of Many Worlds: Arab-Americans at the Museum of the City of New York. Debbie is a board member of The Dialogue Project, a board advisor for the Same Difference Interfaith Alliance, and a cofounder of Brooklyn Bridges and the September 11th Curriculum Project.
The events of September 11th significantly changed the interethnic situation in the USA. The American specialists did not hide that the terrorist actions started a wave of anit-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The presentation of Debbie Almontaser - an American of Arab origin who is a practicing Muslim - was particularly interesting. According to Muslim tradition, she wears a Muslim headdress. It was interesting that she established a connection Firdaus very quickly: they prayed together early in the morning every day. Debbie teaches at a school in New York. After the terror attacks of September 11th some parents actually started asking how they could possibly trust their children with a Muslim. Debbie is a great teacher. She loves the kids. She was very insulted that she was treated so badly, simply because she was a Muslim. But she decided to not give into the insults. At her own house, she declared an open house and invited all her neighbours to get to know her better: how she lives, where she works and what is important about her Muslim faith. Over 200 people came. The head of the local Christian community gave her his card and offered his help. Debbie was not ashamed to call and, with the help of the Christian church, the Muslim woman received patronage for her first project which was devoted to opposing the increase of antimuslim moods. Debbie's activites drew the attention of employees of CAMBA, and she was invited to work with CAMBA as a trainer. Debbie and Jill Strauss, another trainer from CAMBA, compiled a number of useful examples of personal and professional experiences of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who were discriminated against after the events of September 11th. The American specialists avoided long theoretical arguments but rather preferred lively conversation and interesting examples from their activities. To copy all American deeds exactly is not an easy task and is not the goal of the project because copying the activities of CAMBA in Russia would not be meaningful. Nevertheless, the performances of the Americans experts became the source of many interesting ideas. After the Americans' part at the seminar ended, Ashot Airepetyan and the trainer of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Victoriya Shukhat, asked the participants of the seminar a question: "What, according to your perspective, was interesting about the American experiences