Senator Cardin Meets With Prince George's County Muslims

Reprinted from the Muslim Link



After the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin’s Office reached out to the administration of the Diyanet Center of America (DCA) and to the members of the Prince George’s County Muslim Council (PGCMC). On June 20, 2016, this initiative resulted in a roundtable meeting.

The meeting took place in the Ottoman Reading Room of the Fellowship Hall at the Diyanet Center of America, where the Senator and 30 local Muslim leaders as well as several elected officials centered the discussion around the concerns of Muslims, sandwiched between the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings.


Elected to the Senate in 2006, Maryland’s junior Senator currently serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin is a senior member of the Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW) and Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee. He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee (SFC).


He has been a Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission since 1993, serving as Chairman of the Commission in the 111th and 113th Congress. In 2015, he was named as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the 57-nation Organization Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. He has served as the Ranking Member of the SFRC East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy Subcommittee and previously was the Chairman of the International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee.


The Senator spoke after an introduction by President of PGCMC Jameel Aalim-Johnson, the floor was open for questions.


Several attendees commented on police relationships with community. “Laws enacted that take civil rights backwards— North Carolina. His voting record does reflect his stance. Some issues brought up were on immigration— how it is far more difficult to get visas,” said Sharif Salim of DCA.


Imam Ahmad Azzari, of Prince George’s County Muslim Association, questioned the support of the United States government for the current Egyptian government considering it came to power through a military coup of an democratically elected government.


Another concern brought up was terminology like ‘radical Islam’ and ‘jihadist’ used by a lot of conservatives. Some in the meeting felt that these terms are purposely being used to demonize Islam itself. The senator assured the attendees that these are terms that he does not use.


“A big problem is that Muslims are starting to use these terms as well,” commented an attendee.


A spotlight was also shone on the issue of bullying of Muslim students in school.

‘Between the news items and the rhetoric used to discuss Islam, Muslim students are suffering’— a former principal conveyed to the senator. The attendees brought up that in Prince George’s County, teachers, staff and even Muslims in administration deal with bullying and isolation because of their faith.


Madeleine Dieng, a registered pediatric nurse who works with children with special needs in the Medicaid population, a mother of four, a member of the public relation committee at PGMA, is a director of the Islamic Freedom Foundation. The main challenges that we face: the growing Islamophobia, discrimination at work or during travel, wearing hijab. She wanted to know what the senator could do for his Muslim constituents.


“We appreciate the condemnation of Islamophobia but actions speak louder than words,” said Dieng, “we need action.” The senator was asked for changes to institutionalize with the passage and implementation of law. “What steps is he ready to take? We need to build a bridge between his office and us,” she commented.


The senator promised a dedicated liaison on his staff for the Muslim community.


Sharif Salim, the Community Liaison at DCA, stated that it was a ‘good visit’. “He took the time, spoke with compassion in regard to Muslims and some for the obstacles we are facing. He was supportive of Muslim efforts and contributions. He stayed away from the current electoral year rhetoric that we are in,” shared Salim.


A request made to the Senator was that qualified Muslim names be kept in mind when nominations (executive or judicial) or recommendations to different commissions, civilian committees, courts, judgeships, etc. are required. Those Muslims already in positions should be considered for promotion, if satisfied with their performances. “Voices are heard if coming from within the commission as opposed to people speaking on their behalf,” said Aalim-Johnson. “He was sincere about the effort and didn’t mince words and gave us more time than expected. It’s the beginning of a positive relationship- the weight is on us to take follow up steps,” said Aalim-Johnson to the Muslim Link.


“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” reminded Aalim- Johnson, who pledged to follow up with Cardin’s staff on the requests made by attendees and urged others to do so as well. Resumes should be ready for Muslims who are qualified to sit on governing bodies.


“The Prince George's County Muslim Council appreciates the outreach by Senator Cardin and his staff to our community during this time when the rhetoric disparaging Islam and Muslims may be at an all time high.  The frank and open discussion with the Senator just what is needed to improve understanding and develop relationships,” read a statement released by the council. “We look forward to working with Senator Cardin to address the needs of the Muslim community and those of our fellow neighbors in Prince George's County.”


A similar event took place in Baltimore County. “[Senator Cardin] is there for our religious rights and embraces us as part of the American fabric,” commented Aalim-Johnson.


He will continue to work closer with Muslims particularly PGCMC regardless of who is in the Oval Office. The senator said that he would return for other events. “He shared that he had recently been to Turkey and was impressed with the Diyanet Center and the cultural outreach of the largest Islamic campus in the Western hemisphere,” said Sharif Salim.


The Senator was given a tour of 16th century Ottoman style masjid.

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