IMAGH’s 10th Eid Milan Highlights How Ideas Can Shape the World

BY JAWAHAR MALHOTRA

Top Left: Donors to the IMAGH Scholarship fund with Houston Community College Trustee Neeta Sane (second from right). Top right: 6-year-old Omar Patel who read the tiawat Quran, with emcee Shazia Khan.

HOUSTON: Neither the heavy downpour nor the occasion of Father’s Day could dampen the spirits of the 500 invited guests who came to this year’s Eid Milan gala organized by the Indian Muslim Association of Greater Houston and held last Sunday, June 16 once again at the Marriott Hotel in Westchase. And once again, in a continuation from past years’ on its focus on religious tolerance and inclusion, this year, the IMAGH reached out to both Christian and Hindu Nationalists to show how people can co-exist and thrive.

In an echo of last year’s presentation by Dr. Gary Branfman, the rabbi of the synagogue of Victoria, Texas; this year, the featured speaker was a former Marine, Richard McKinney, a veteran who had made several tour of duty in the Middle East. After he had returned to his hometown, Muncie, Indiana, McKinney explained how he was filled with rage against Muslims.

“I had a hatred that was so deep and embedded in me,” McKinney said, “and planned to blow up the local mosque and kill 200 people.” He went to scout out the place and got into a discussion with the imam there, which was the beginning of his conversion to Islam. In two short years, he went from hatred toward Islam to become the head of the mosque. Now he goes around the country to speak and said “people of faith should put your hands out together.” He story was featured on CBS’s Sunday Morning program in March by producer Josh Seftel.

On the other side of the spectrum was the chief guest Ramesh Bhutada, a staunch supporter of many Hindu causes and the national Vice President of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and advisor to the Board Hindus of Greater Houston. After the landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India and the rise of Hindu Nationalism, which has made many minorities – especially Muslims – uncomfortable and concerned for their rights, Bhutada’s presence at the gala was an effort to show the more moderate side of the BJP and assuage these fears.

Bhutada explained that the HSS was primarily involved in character building of youth. “We wish to have an open dialogue contracry to what is projected in the media and foreign interests who want to keep communities separate,” he went on, adding, “The RSS and HSS want communal harmony among all religions.”

“We cannot look backwards. India’s development cannot be complete without the development of minorities,” Bhutada said. He then described how, four years ago, he was introduced to a young poor Muslim man, Arshad Shaikh, in the old part of Hyderabad and had agreed to help him financially. The young man went on to establish Kalam Center, a vocational training center for boys and girls and now has several branches and many enrolled students.

When it was his turn to speak, the guest of honor Indian Consul General Anupam Ray called Bhutada’s inclusion in the gala and his acceptance to attend “most extraordinary”. He then expanded on the idea of India’s cultural heritage through stories that resonate in the Indian psyche like that of Kabir’s death or legend of Guru Nanak’s death.

“Poverty, disease, internet, technology has no religion,” he declared. “Religion should unite all of us.” He then recited by heart the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, which prominently uses the word “secular” in the opening line. He used the occasion to bid goodbye as he is expected to leave for his next posting as soon as the Government decides what that will be. The IMAGH hosts presented him with a black Stetson as a farewell present.

This year’s theme for the gala was “Strength, They Name is Woman” and a video presentation produced by Fateh Ali Chatur showed clips from speeches by Malala Yousafzal, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner speaking after receiving the award; Mother Teresa and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking in Parliament after the recent massacre in a mosque there.

Breaking the speeches up was a segment of entertainment by Indian flutist Pravin Godkhindi who was on the last leg of his 18-city US tour. He performed onstage accompanied by his son Sharaj and older brother Kiran on the tabla and the three had the audience in raptures and mesmerized with their mastery of the flute, adding to their repertoire some Bollywood numbers that they encouraged the audience to either sing along to or clap in beat.

The IMAGH recognized an individual and organization for their community service: Tasnim Vada, a tireless volunteer who headed last year’s Milan and fashion show, was awarded the 2019 Latafath Hussain Award for Exemplary Community Service and the Houston Chapter of Seva International, a volunteer group that helps people in distress through relief and rehabilitation. Accepting the award was Gitesh Desai, who earlier this year was awarded the Parvasi Bharatiya Award in India, the country’s highest civilian award.

Shazia Khan, a RJ at Radio Dabang, was the evening’s emcee. Opening the program was 90 year-old Tyebji Shipchandler, affectionately known as “kaka” (Uncle); Sarah Shekhani on the US national anthem and Ismet Warsi the Indian and 6-year-old Omar Patel reciting the tilawat Quran. IMAGH President Munir Ibrahim made some welcome remarks and co-founder and past President Latafath Hussain added his special notes of welcome and thanks.

One of the winners of last year’s IMAGH scholarships to three deserving students: Masooma Batool, spoke briefly of what she had been able to do with the award and her future goals. There were video messages from Paru McGuire, the enduring President of IMAGH’s sister organization for seniors, Club 65 who gave a quick rundown of its monthly activities and Mohammed Khan, President of SAYA geared to young people who spoke about that group’s work. This year’s dinner was catered by Nirvana restaurant, whose owner and master chef Salim Ahmed was at hand to supervise.

 

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