Monday, December 8, 2003

Bridge builder leading NCCJ



By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Dr. Inayat K. Malik moved to Cincinnati in 1967, there were only a handful of Muslims living in the area.

"You could count them using your two hands," said Malik, a native of Pakistan who now operates a urology practice in Montgomery. "We had no place to get together and worship. We used to gather in people's homes, in banquet halls or wherever we could get a place."

Today, there are an estimated 10,000 Muslims in Greater Cincinnati. They own the Islamic Center, which sits majestically along Interstate 75 in West Chester.

Malik, 63, was elected Sept. 1 to serve a one-year term as chairman of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) for Greater Cincinnati. He is the first Muslim to preside over the organization in its 59-year history.

Robert "Chip" Harrod, the executive director of NCCJ, said the election of Malik is significant when one considers that relations between Jews and Muslims in America and elsewhere are being challenged by international events. Harrod said the move represents NCCJ's quest to be more inclusive of different religious communities.

In 1998, the NCCJ changed its name from the National Conference of Christians and Jews to better reflect its mission to build inclusive communities. Malik succeeds attorney Jack C. Rubenstein, who is Jewish.

"Dr. Malik is a born bridge-builder who has been instrumental in constructing some very solid relationships between the local Islamic community and other religious faiths in Cincinnati," Harrod said.

The Enquirer sat down with Malik, long active in regional civic, inter-religious and cultural affairs, at his Montgomery Road office to ask him about his new role.

Question: What experiences in your life contributed to your desire to work with the NCCJ and its mission to fight bigotry and discrimination and promote tolerance and understanding?

Answer: I am a physician who deals with people of different backgrounds. And I find it very easy to relate to people. I think NCCJ relates to people and tries to promote a positive change.

Q: What does your election as NCCJ chairman represent for local Muslims?

A: I think it is a significant step in the evolution of this community. Eight years ago when the Islamic Center opened in West Chester, Muslims in a way arrived on the scene and came to be recognized and have a presence in the area.

I think this shows that Muslims are here and are a part of this society, not a separate enclave. We need to recognize that (Muslims) are a part of the American landscape. It also speaks to the openness and progressive nature of the NCCJ that the organization was not afraid to ask a Muslim to be chairman of the board.

Q: What are some things you'd like to see accomplished under your tenure?

A: One of the things about NCCJ is that it is mostly a very low profile organization. You don't hear much about NCCJ, yet it does a lot of good. ... How many people in Cincinnati know whose idea it was to have the (National Underground Railroad) Freedom Center? It was NCCJ's. What I would like to do is raise the profile of NCCJ a little bit. For an organization to be effective, for its voice to be heard loud and clear.

The other area I want to also focus on is promoting inter-religious dialogue. The best way not to hate somebody is to get to know him. It is very difficult to have bad feelings and negative feelings about somebody that you get to know.

Q: How would you characterize the inter-religious relationship between Jews and Muslims in Cincinnati? Is that relationship affected by international events?

A: I think we've had a good relationship with the Jews in the community. They have been open to inviting us to their synagogues to speak to them. We have gone to their homes to have dialogues with them. We've invited Jewish rabbis and others to come to the Islamic Center to speak to us.

As we learn more about each other's faiths we find out that we have a lot more in common than we have different. Once you take skin color away or take down the language barrier, we all have the same aspirations. So I think overall we've had very good relations.

Q: We are more than two years removed from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. How have you seen the Greater Cincinnati area change, either for better or worse, since that time?

It has been a challenging two years for Muslims in this community. We have not suffered as much hate and discrimination as some other communities have and I think it's partly because we have been very open in reaching out to (educate) the community.

There have been some instances (of backlash) in the community that, thank God, have been relatively minor. We have grown as a community and recognize that we can't hold people accountable for the actions of a few on the extreme and that you can't paint people with a broad brush. You have to look at individuals as they are. Our challenge has been great since Sept. 11, there is no question about it.

Dr. Inayat K. Malik

Born: 1940 in Pakistan and later moved to Cleveland, then Cincinnati.

Occupation: Urologist. Operates a practice in Montgomery.

Education: Master's degree from King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1963; received post-graduate training and internships at Lakewood and St. Alexis hospitals in Cleveland, 1964-1967; did residency at University of Cincinnati Medical Center in 1967.

Organizations: Founding board member of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati and current board chairman; former president of medical staff at Bethesda North Hospital; chairman of the Islamic Educational Council; board member of the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue; member of the American Red Cross and the Health Improvement Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.

Family: Married to Ishrat Malik. They have five daughters and five grandchildren.

About NCCJ: The National Conference for Christians and Jews was founded in 1927 to bring diverse people together to address interfaith divisions, race relations, and social and economic barriers among persons of different faiths, cultures and ethnicities. In the 1990's, the group changed its name to the National Conference for Community and Justice.

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E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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