Peace & Justice 12/20 at 9 a.m. – Reza Jalali
Written by Tom Walker on Sunday, December 17, 2017
This Wednesday Bob and I will talk to Reza Jalali and Andrea Blanch, President of the Center for Religious Tolerance. Reza is a Kurd from Iran, a human rights and refugee activist who has lived in Maine since 1985. He’s also speaking at Fogartyville Tuesday evening, December 19, at 6:30 about the refugee experience in America. Contrary to the common myth that Islam has arrived in the U.S. with the arrival of recent immigrants, Islam and Muslims have been part of the American Story for many centuries. Muslims have arrived in the New World as explorers, slaves, immigrants, students and refugees since the 14th century. Many would argue that Islam, with 4-5 million followers, is an American religion.
As a member of Amnesty International USA Board of Directors, Jalali led delegations to different refugee camps in Turkey and Bosnia. He has participated in numerous United Nations-sponsored international conferences in Korea, Japan and Austria. In 1992, he visited the White House as part of a national delegation to discuss the plight of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq.
A Muslim scholar, educator, and writer, he is the coordinator of multicultural student affairs at the University of Southern Maine and advises Muslim students at Bowdoin College. His most recent work includes the 2013 book Homesick Mosque and Other Stories as well as the 2015 play The Poets and the Assassin, which offers historic and contemporary insights into the plight of women in Iran.
He writes “As a human rights and civil rights activist, I find advocating for Maine’s newest immigrants a natural role, and a calling … After coming to Maine, a state with a large white population, as a displaced person, I fully understand the significance of educating the public not only to get rid of false information and popular stereotypes, but to re-humanize our new neighbors, who have arrived in Maine in search of safety, security, economic opportunities, and human dignity.” He co-authored the 2009 book New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors, which told stories of recent immigrants. He is also the author of The Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle, a children’s book. “New Mainers are already adding to the richness of life and the economic scene of the state,” Jalali says. “The question being asked is whether we, as a community, choose to support them to overcome some of the challenges they face, or let them fail as a group.”