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Thursday, February 18, 2010 04:12:31 PM,Sarwar Kashani, IANS
New Delhi’s Islamic Centre rolls out red carpet for Farah Pandit
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New Delhi: Wearing a black business suit and a pearl necklace sparkling in the dimly lit lawns of the India Islamic Cultural Centre here, Farah Pandith, the US Special Representative for Muslims, bowed her head low and listened with rapt attention as a cleric recited a verse from the Quran.
The verse was about Allah's command asking people on the earth to be just with each other and Pandith, a Kashmiri-born American diplomat, seized the opportunity trying to convince Indian Muslims that the US was a friend.
The 42-year-old envoy, on her four-day visit to India, Wednesday evening seemed to connect with her audience well as she began her short speech with the traditional Muslim greeting "Salaam Alykum," or "peace be upon you", of course in a heavy American accent.
Pandith highlighted President Barack Obama's "vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect".
"I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you," she said, addressing an invited gathering of mostly Muslims.
Pandith assumed the coveted post in June last year, days after Obama's bold overture to the Islamic world in his historic Cairo speech on June 3, 2009. The president in his speech had expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and called for Americans and Muslims to abandon their mutual suspicions and do more to confront violent extremism.
Pandith is not the only Muslim in the Obama administration. The president recently appointed Rashad Hussain, a deputy White House counsel, to be the special envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an intergovernmental group with 57 member states that calls itself the collective voice of Muslims. Hussain is a Quran expert who has memorised the holy book in his early age.
Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago, is also in the White House on Obama's advisory council for faith.
Pandith said the US was focussing on the Muslims because they formed one-fourth of the world population.
"Our country wants to build partnership with the Muslims. Secretary (Hillary) Clinton asked me to work with the Muslim community as much as we can."
And the key focus, she asserted, would be young generation. Her endeavour was to reach out to the grass roots of Muslims "in the countries where Muslims are either in majority or minority", she stated.
Pandith was on a her first official visit to India after she was appointed as the Muslim envoy June 23, 2009, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"And since then (her swearing in on Sep 15 last year), I have been travelling all around the planet to befriend Muslims for a common good," Pandith said, adding: "We are doing this in a wide range of initiatives in fields like science, technology, education and health."
She said the relationship with Muslims would have to move from government-to-government level to "people-to-people contact".
"We are engaging young Muslim generation in dialogues and conversations to build trust and remove misunderstandings," she said.
Pandith had to confront some harsh questions from other speakers about the United States' Afghanistan, Iraq and Middle East policies.
She listened to them, smiled and shook her head while they were speaking, but diplomatically avoided answering them directly and repeatedly said that America wanted to develop "an intellectual partnership with Muslim masses".
Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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