On September 27, 2019, the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States, in collaboration with Emory's Candler School of Theology, and the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP), hosted a Lunch and Learn at the Ismaili Center and Jamatkhana in Decatur, Georgia, on the topic of "Dissent in Democracy."
Judge Halim Dhanidina, appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court bench by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012, served as the keynote speaker. Judge Dhanidina is an Ismaili Muslim with the distinct honor of being the first Muslim and first South Asian American to serve as a Superior Court justice in the United States.
Judge Dhanidina’s inspiring lecture included an interactive discussion on how healthy democracies rely on dissent, where individuals must constructively question the status quo in order to ensure a just and prosperous society, where all voices are heard.
Mary Ann Pickard, a Master of Divinity student from the Candler School of Theology said, “One of the things that stuck with me today is the response I received when I asked the judge how we can battle cynicism or the feeling that perhaps our voice doesn't matter. The judge said that the one thing you can guarantee is that your voice will never be heard if you tape over your own mouth; and if you give in to cynicism, it actually sparks the beginning of the end for democracy."
Another student from the Candler School of Theology, Christy Eubank, said, "I loved today's topic and will now look at dissent a little closer. The judge said that dissent gives voice to people and that was something that struck me deeply. Giving voice to people in the margins is something that I feel very passionate about, especially as someone who comes from a privileged place in society. I never saw the topic of dissent in that way. It gave me hope for the way the system is even designed."
Attendees included members from Atlanta's interfaith community, along with community and civic leaders. Rev. Dr. Deanna Womack, Assistant Professor of History of Religions and Multifaith Relations, and her students from the Candler School of Theology also attended the event. Guests were offered a tour of the Jamatkhana to better understand the Shia Muslim identity, values, and ethics, and to learn more about the Ismaili community globally, and in the Southeast region.
The day ended with an evening program at the Ismaili Center and Jamatkhana in Norcross, Georgia, where Judge Dhanidina engaged in dialogue with Munir Meghjani on the topic of "Faith and Public Service." Judge Dhanidina shared how he has been able to incorporate the ethical values of service and compassion in his profession as a judge.
This event was of special interest to students and professionals in the fields of law and public service, as well as all Jamati members who wish to look at their careers through the lens of service to the greater community.
Dr. Behnoosh Momin, Communications Coordinator for the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States, quoted from Princess Zahra’s speech given on volunteerism in the new millennium in Edmonton, Canada on the 25th of August, 1998. She said, “Service is a means for each individual to actualize Islam’s ethics of inclusiveness, of compassion, of sharing, of the respect for life, and of personal responsibility for sustaining a healthy physical, social, and cultural environment.”
Dr. Momin went on to cite the Ismaili Community’s voluntary spirit. “The experience of the Ismaili community, where youth are introduced to the ethos of volunteerism through simple tasks in Jamatkhanas, go on to contribute towards more complex endeavors as they advance academically and professionally.”
This event also marked the launch of the Census 2020 Education Campaign, in partnership with the Georgia Muslim Voter Project. This initiative aims to educate people about the upcoming census and inform them about the importance of participating so that each individual counts.
Earlier in the week, Judge Dhanidina was the keynote speaker at the LAMP Seminar at Georgia Tech University. He spoke on “Keeping the Faith: What Secular Law has Taught Me about Religion.” The talk was followed by a panel of responses by religious and civic leaders as well as an exhibition titled, “Refuge or Refusal: Turning Points in US Immigration History,” from the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.